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Reviews of the Bender-120.ULT Amplifier Revised: 03-25-2000



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Review #1
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This review comes from a Beta Tester, Mario DeBartolo who rebuilt his Dynaco Stereo 120 amplifier using the Bender-120.ULT @ Level 3A Kit.
Synopsis: Most comparisons were conducted during the summer of 1999, between the rebuilt Bender-120.ULT Level 3A, a 60 wpc power amplifier, against the Bryston 4B, a power amplifier of 200 wpc+. These comparisons were using LP's and CD's through a modified PAS Preamp, with oil caps and using silver interconnects, using two different speaker systems, either an 8" Vifa / Seas 1" tweeter, or a Focal 7KOLL / Focal T-120 Titanium tweeter. Amplifiers were operating over the full audio range.
Sonic Rating Scale used:
Bass Response: [_] Rolled off [_] Boomy [_] Smooth [_] Just Right [_] Truly Superb
Midrange Response: [_] Not quite right [_] Smooth [_] Good [_] Excellent [_] Superb
Treble Response: [_] Deficient [_] Harsh [_] Smooth [_] Excellent [_] Truly Superb
Listener # 1 Name: Mario DeBartolo / Email Address: debartolo@taconic.net

Component System used to test The BENDER-120.ULT Rebuild Amplifier:
Turntable: JVC A20 & Denon, Stock Arm Cartridge: Grado F3+
Mfg. Interconnect Cable: Home made Pure 99.999 Silver 20 gague w/PTFE casing.
Source CD Player: Rotel B55, Radio Shack CD-3400 portable.
Preamplifier Used: Dynaco PAS-3 mostly stock, new oil filled caps, Holco Resistors, silver wire.
Preamp Topology: 12AX7's
Mfg. Interconnect Cable: also tried Kimber PBJ Length: 3'
Other Equipment: Bi-Amp w/Adcom 555

Speaker Syst #1: Home Made, w/6dB per octave xover Woofer Size: 8" Vifa and a 1" Seas tweeter @ 6 dB/oct. Speaker Wire Used: Kimber 4TC & 12 Gauge silver plated

Speaker Syst #2: Home Made Woofer Size: Focal 7KOLL, 6K31S @ 6 dB/oct. Tweeter Size: Focal T120 TIO2 @ 12 dB / oct. w/J. Diapoloto Crossover Speaker Wire Used: Kimber 4TC

Initial Ratings / Sound Perception of The BENDER-120.ULT Rebuild Amplifier:
- "Too warm at startup"
Bass Response: [x] Just Right
Midrange Response: [x] Excellent
Treble Response : [x] Excellent

Overall Impressions: "Clean, very, very fast, open and detailed (very) Kicks Ass ! Could hear what terry evans was saying in the background on "Come to the River" Bass was fast and tunefull. Also Muddy Waters "Folk Singer" was a real treat, heard stuff I have never heard before." "Space / Air".

Listener # 1 Name: K. Acton
Comments: "Very good! violins / organ."

Listener # 2 Name: M. Heckler
Comments: "WOW!"

Listener # 3 Name: G. DeBartolo
Comments: "Old records never sounded better."

Details of Comparison Amplifier # 1
Competing Amplifier # 1 Mfg: Bryston Model: 4B 8 ohm Rated Power Output Per Channel: > 200 WPC Details: One of the best Bass Amps made! Unknown Topology
Preamplifier Used: with and without PAS 3 Preamp Uses: 12AX7's Mfg. Interconnect Cable: Pure 99.99 Silver Length: 3' Speaker Syst - All three
Details of Comparison Amplifier # 2 Competing Amplifier # 2 Mfg: Dynaco Model: Stereo 70 8 ohm Rated Power Output Per Channel: <=50 WPC Push-Pull Tubes 6CA7/EL34's
PAS 3 and same equipment and cables
Details of Comparison Amplifier # 3 Competing Amplifier # 3 Mfg: Hafler Model: DH-200 8 ohm Rated Power Output Per Channel: <=100 WPC Topology: Hitachi MOSFETs
PAS 3 and same equipment and cables

> 50 Hours / Break in - Amplifier Comment Sheet
The BENDER-120.ULT Amplifier Sounded:
Bass Response: [x] Just Right
Midrange Response: [x] Excellent
Treble Response: [x] Excellent
Listener # 1 Name: Mario DeBartolo / Email Address: debartolo@taconic.net

Overall Impressions: The [ Bender 120.ULT Level ] 3a. is "Perfect with the PAS-3 & my speakers, images superb, low level excellent, very extended without sounding hard. ( could listen to it all day and do )."

Listener # 2 Name: G. DeBartolo
Comments: "Love the sound of Lorena McKenik's voice with this amp. Never sounds strained / congested. Powerful + Open."

> 50 Hours / Break in - Comparison Amplifier Comment Sheet
The Bryston 4B Comparison Amplifier # 1 sounded:
Bass Response: [x] Just Right [x] Truly Superb
Midrange Response: [x] Good
Treble Response: [x] Smooth

Listener # 1 Name: Mario DeBartolo / Email Address: debartolo@taconic.net
Overall Impressions: [ Bryston 4B ] "Unlimited power". In my small room, the [Bryston] 4B put a bass lock on that I have yet to experience. Almost too much bass. Bryston has less detail. ( sounds veiled ). Less sparkle and detail than the [ Bender 120.ULT Level ] 3a. [ Bryston's ] bass was full, rich, tuneful ( hard to beat )."

Listener # 2 Name: G. DeBartolo
Comments: [Bryston] "Does a OK job at voices / strings."

Using LP's as the Source: Listening Impressions of Listener 1
Listener # 1 Name: Mario DeBartolo / Email Address: debartolo@taconic.net
The BENDER-120.ULT Amplifier sounded better overall: [x] At low Volume. [x] At high Volume. [x] Faster in the Bass. [x] Clearer in the Midrange. [x] Sounded smoother in the Treble. [x] More realistic: on male voices. [x] More realistic on female voices. [x] on Solo Instruments. [x] on Complex Orchestra.
The Bryston 4B Comparison Amplifier sounded better overall: [x] At high Volume. [x] More defined in the Bass. [x] Went down deeper in the Bass.

Group Summary Comments: "The [ Bender 120.ULT Level ] 3a. sounded more real. Better at low level, quite passages, Could make out what is on the recording like no other amp tested, regardless of the source. Major Plus on Acoustic recordings."

Using CD's / DVD's as the Source: Listening Impressions of Listener 1
Listener # 1 Name: Mario DeBartolo / Email Address: debartolo@taconic.net
The BENDER-120.ULT Amplifier sounded better overall: [x] At low Volume. [x] At high Volume. [x] Clearer in the Midrange. [x] Cleaner in the Midrange. [x] Sounded smoother in the Treble. [x] More realistic: on male voices. [x] More realistic on female voices. [x] on Solo Instruments. [x] on Complex Orchestra.
The Bryston 4B (much more power) Comparison Amplifier sounded better overall: [x] At high Volume. [x] More Bass. [x] Went down deeper in the Bass.

Group Summary Comments: "Both sounded very good! The [Bender 120.ULT Level] 3a. sounded much more powerful than it has a right to. The [Bender 120.ULT Level] 3a. wins out on low / mid level playback, [Bryston] 4B wins on high volume / power control."

Reviewers Comments: "After most of the evaluation was completed, I bi-amped my system. Using the [ Bender 120.ULT ] Level 3A to drive the Vifa/Seas above 60 Hz. The [Adcom] 555 drives a sub with two 10" Ultimate drivers, using passive crossover. The system blows your mind!"


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Review #2
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This review comes from Beta Tester, Dennis I. Schneider who rebuilt his Dynaco Stereo 120 amplifier using the Bender-120.ULT @ Level 2 Kit.
Listener # 1 Name: Dennis Schneider / Email Address: Dennis@giosinc.com Dennis wrote:

"My Ult-120 just got pressed into service in a live performance setting -- driving Ramsa 200 speakers (mid-range pro sound reinforcement) in a room about 60 by 40 by 20. Calls for lots of power and headroom." "Your design kicked both a QSC1400 and a Carver M1.0T." Amazing headroom in the bass..."

"Zero noise.. not a lot of heat (original 120 ran fairly warm). All kinds of program material -- from really dynamic orchestral playback to live piano and vocals.

I know it's not exactly the comparison you wanted -- "but live sound reinforcement is a much more stressful use of ANY amp than my home media room. "If I had pushed the amp that hard in my home I'd probably shatter some glass..."

We had traded a ton of mail while I was rebuilding -- so I figured you knew it got built. About the only additional feedback I'd give is that replacing the line cord and it's strain relief might be a good thing to do on units as old as the -120.

While mine isn't actually decomposing, it does have that "I'm really old plastic and I might crack anytime now" feel to it. Recall that the one area where I diverged from your instructions was that I stripped ALL the interconnects off the two amp boards and followed the original Dynaco assembly instructions. (I found that keeping some of the wires hanging off and replacing others was awkward.). I also used the original Dynaco resistance checks (most were enough close to the new design) to determine if the unit was ready to apply power, and skipped the "light bulb" divider tests.

Reviewers Comments: "This critter is amazing!"

Dennis


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Review #3
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This review comes from Beta Tester, Mario DeBartolo, a later Review and Addendum to Review #1 above.

The Bender-120.ULT Level 3A Stereo Power Amplifier

Taken from notes during several months of review during post build period in 1999.


Associated Hardware:


Speakers:
1. Vifa 8" paper cone with rubber surrounds and cast frame with a seas 25mm aluminum domed tweeter. Xovers are heavy 14 gauge air core inductors, high voltage poly pro caps with oil filled by pass caps. Silver capped wire throughout. Heavy braced MDF walled, time aligned sealed cabinets, 1.1 cu foot.
2. Second test set were similar cabinets with a Focal DVC 7" Kevlar sandwich cone with rubber surrounds and cast frame driver mated with 32mm inverted dome Focal tweeter model: T120 TiOx. Crossover, first / second order DeApollito design marketed through ORCA.
3. Used with and without a Subwoofer. This dual 10" ultimate driver unit was tested in passive mode (driven by one Amp with 6db Xover) and also bi-amped using an Adcom 555 to drive the subwoofer alone.
Source components:
1. Rotel 855 and Radio Shack CD-3400 CD Players. Mhr>2. Grado F3e and JVC turntable / Denon turntable both with stock arms.
Wires: Kimber PBJ, and pure 5 nines silver (20 gauge with heavy RCA ends).
Pre Amps:
1. Dyna PAS-3 modified, with upgraded coupling caps (oil filled vitamin Q) and silver wire in the signal path. Perhaps, much more needs to be done, but it sounds very good.
2. Passive Preamp which basically consists of Shalco clad silver switches in a stepped attenuator configuration, using Holco 1/2 watt resistors to maintain a 10K load.
I compared the Bender-120.ULT Level 3A, to the Hafler DH-200, and the Dyna Stereo 70 using a variety of source material, alternating between both preamps, and playing the subwoofer in passive mode, or at times, separately bi-amped.
Bass:
The monitors naturally sound neutral to warm in the smallish room (11 by 14 feet) I have set up to audition the components in. The rooms bass reinforcement is strong due to the speaker placement in close proximity of the corners and (hard, mostly glass) rear wall that the speakers are near. The stone columns the speakers are set on with sticky putty give rewarding results when feed excellent source material. The most impressive thing about the Bender ULT 3A is the ability of the amp to startle you with its lightning fast attack speed. At first turn on the amp seemed overly warm, followed by somewhat thin balance. When fully warmed up (2 plus hours) the ULT takes on effortless speed and power, which is a wonderful quality that few amps I have heard can match. On Bela Flecks "Tales from Acoustic Planet", the sound of the string bass was the most realistic yet heard from my system. You could feel the stings vibrating the hair on your arms. The DH-200 was a similar tonal balance, but none of the life or the speed. The Stereo 70 sounded very good. My wife coined it as: the "Monet" of the group, wonderful color and balance but not the detail. The Stereo 70 lost it's cool when also running the subwoofer in passive mode. This test was a bit much for the valve amp, that is not suited to drive such a load. The Bender ULT 3A was able to drive the subwoofer in passive mode to satisfying levels in my room, without much loss of control.
The decay on the Bender-120.ULT Level 3A, is something of amazement; the amp goes from full tilt to zero better than any amp I have yet to hear. On Jesse Cook's "Gravity" CD, track 7's ends with a sudden drum hit that raised chills every time I hear it with the ULT. The decay is so real and the background so dead quiet. The control the amp yielded over the drivers in my system is something that must be heard. It was also apparent on most of the complex passages I played. The Bender ULT 3A was able to separate instruments better than any of the other amps I tested.
Mids:
The midrange on the amps yielded much information, and, as always, the real test of a SS amps' ability, is to compare to the lush sound of a valve amp. The DH-200 sounded ok, but many times somewhat hard, and many times I went looking for what was wrong with my set up. The DH-200 is quite impressive as an older SS amp that can be had for a little money. The ST-70 with the PAS was truly romantic. It was overly romantic, but I did enjoy it much.
The Bender ULT with the modified PAS preamp is a wonderful blend of detail and beauty. It gave you "what it is", with little editing. The hard sounding tracks sounded hard, the warm ones were warm. The ULT amp was a bit less likeable with the passive preamp, but the detail was better than any amp I have had in my system. Muddy Waters "Folk Singer" CD was as if I never heard it before. The additional details that were rendered clear and understandable was a marvel to hear. He mumbles at times in a mutt way, away from the mike in a manner that left me questioning his pronouncement of the folk language.
Using the Bender ULT / PAS, was the missing link in the full translation of the early folk language of this great blues artists masterpiece recording. What a treat it was to put on Disk after disk and suddenly able to explain what the sounds were that before were unexplained. Neal Young bumping into the mike stand, Bela Fleck kicking off tracks playfully. Using the passive preamp with the ULT was just as clear with more of a sterile character. The Mid-bass was tighter but also a bit toned down. The higher mids were not as romantic.
On Loreena Mckennitt's, "The Visit" CD, the character of her voice changed from Just out of this world, to just great, on the opening track. I kept listening to this disk and could not identify just what was happening to the sound.
My preference was the Bender ULT with my modified Dynaco PAS. It is possible the dynamics were the main reason for this. The PAS did add more drive to the system. The Stereo 70 sounded very good, but was not as life-like; it adds its own sound to her voice.
Highs:
Solid state amps in general have extended highs, but at the cost of sounding hard, etched, overly detailed. The PAS / Bender ULT combo excelled at presenting a realistic top end without suffering from the normal solid state sound. Bells and overtones were not mixed and blended, just clean, clear and real. The PAS / DH-200 was way behind the others in sound quality and detail. The PAS / Stereo 70 was good sounding but somewhat colored and lacked the detail of the ULT. In The Ginger Baker Trio's CD, the depth of sound the overtones/cymbal strikes add to the second track, I found gives a good indication of what is going on with any playback system (who ever recorded this track did a great job, capturing one of the great drummers of all time - at his best). The Stereo 70 falls short of the ULT, on this track at presenting the reality of Baker hitting the brass in the way he is so good at and staying as a separate entity. The fatigue of the solid state amp was a bit more at higher volumes but only when driven to much higher levels than the Stereo 70 would even dream of driving the system. The low-level resolution was much better on the Bender ULT.

Mario DeBartolo

Kit Builder and reviewer


This page is under construction ( Like software, the job is never done!....)
Last Update - 03-25-2000 2:00 A.M.


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