Budget tube amps/ tube hybrids

I was intimidating? :pleading_face:


That wasn’t him. That was his hand up some dead dudes neck like a puppet.


The cat is out of the bag. =( That was Maurice, my human meat puppet.



Great stream guys. It’s nice to see @ProfFalkin’s face, but it took 10 minutes to confirm
I wasn’t seeing triple or that @MRHifiReviews and/or @TylersEclectic hadn’t taken up ventriloquism with a couple lab-grown clones. Dr. Evil and Mini Me and another Me? I’ll leave more jokes about a super villain club in the Off Topic thread. It’s nice to learn that ZMF is the official sponsor of super villains.

I’ve recently been into tube amps in the $500 to $1,000 bracket so this stream was highly relevant. However, I’d split the “sub $1,000 tube amp” topic into true budget audiophile systems versus middle-range products. Many people getting into audio cannot imagine spending even $500 for a complete headphone setup. Comparisons with $2,000 headphones and amplifiers and $5,000 total budgets is a non-starter. For those who squeeze to spend $500, even $1,000 to $2,000 is way too expensive.

The Loxjie P20 must be understood in its price class and budget intent ($500 total). For the money, it maximizes the output quality of the Sennheiser 6 series and similar headphones. All of these are clearly limited versus $2,000 products, but many cannot afford better items or have an opportunity save up.

Random P20 comments:

  • It has very solid build quality and is superior to many more expensive brands
  • It sells for $99, and reaches its potential with $50 in upgrades (triple mica tubes and a larger power supply)
  • Its reason for being is that other sub-$100 tube hybrid amps often add no value, are electrically dangerous, and technical trash (cough…Bravo Audio V2…cough). The P20 is vastly better than its real competitors. It has a far larger and more defined soundstage than the lowest cost $50 random amps.
  • With 47 ohm output impedance, it has OTL parallels.This makes it suitable for Sennheisers, and delivers a stealth EQ (bass boost) for those with modest headphones and who can’t afford either an EQ or $2,000 amp.
  • For those who hear high-range noise (i.e., myself), any balanced amp can be better than any non-balanced amp for some dynamic headphones (especially Sennheiser). The P20 takes away so much noise that it shifts the presentation away from uncontrolled/unwanted brightness. This moves it to another level versus the more expensive CTH – which I sold.

Comments on EQ:

  • I view EQ as something needed for bad music sources at any price point. I often want it to correct terrible V shaped mastering, and mastering conducted on studio systems that couldn’t produce a clean high range. Some tracks likely had “sparkle” on small studio monitor speakers, but become bright on headphones.
  • EQ is indeed less important as one’s system budget increases. Entry-level audiophile headphones (sub $500) often have significant flaws and the owners have to live with it because they can’t afford a $2,000 to $5,000 system.

Thanks again.


I hesitate to post any listening reviews due to my hearing loss and doubts that my experience would carry over to other people.

Despite that, if the current Vali 2+ wasn’t among the considered choices you might see if you can add it sometime. I’m using it with the Electro-Harmonix 6922 (a $15 tube that fits in with the budget category).


This was a fun and informative watch. My only regret is that I didn’t watch live.


Agreed. And can we get two chat streams, one for questions, and one for heckling, conversation and side bars?


Believe me I would love that, it would be much easier for me to figure out what is a legit question and what is BS and dedicate more time to the legit questions, it might even shorten the stream length. We want it to be fun too, but you are right a balance would be great. The easier way would be to just no longer give those comments any energy. I will look at maybe changing the format up a bit next time around. Thanks for the feedback.


Has anyone here tried the Little Dot Mk III SE? It’s a hybrid, and I wonder if it’s clean enough for IEMs and powerful enough for a DCA Stealth.

I ordered it. Hanging out in Hong Kong because there’s a COVID outbreak there, but I have the Tesla tubes, too.

The 7hz Timeless should get here today, though.

1 Like

Interested to here what you think of the timeless…I have one coming at the end of the month

Timeless is pretty impressive for an IEM, but I haven’t heard other planar IEMs. I’ve got a few planar headphones, and just today got my HiFiMan Edition XS. The amp came a few days ago.

This LittleDot MkIII SE/HiFiMan Edition XS is the best combo I’ve ever heard. I’m running my music from iMac—>Schiit Wyrd—>Schiit Bifrost Multibit (first gen)—>LittleDot MkIII SE—>HiFiMan Edition XS (with 4-pin XLR cables).

Timeless is worth the price and more, but it has a narrow, confused soundstage. I don’t really care about that as much with IEMs, since portability with great sound is more important to me. I have JVC FDX1 for soundstage (minus low end grunt), but in general, I’ve never had much holophonic effect with IEMs. Maybe it’s my ears?


Paging @reallyoldcob

I’m moving discussion of the Darkvoice 336 to this tube amp thread. I’m messing around with the 336SE right now, and it’s best described as odd and funky. The sound quality can be decent, but you must do your homework and go in with your eyes open. It’s best suited for experimenters, or at least not purchased as a general purpose amp.

Compatibility: This OTL amp is best suited for 300 or 600 ohm impedance headphones. The sound is fine when one hits on the right tube/headphone combo, but it’s not intended for all headphones (e.g., not low impedance products from Focal, Dan Clark, etc.)

Feed speakers as a preamp: It has a line out and can work with your speaker amp. Some DIY people believe this degrades the sound and remove the internal wiring. I can’t comment either way.

Hum Issue: Yes, the 110 volt version hums like mad with some tubes. The Darkvoice seems to be the least compatible with Russian tubes (e.g., Foton, modern Tung-Sol). Mine is quiet with the bundled Chinese tube and Sylvania tubes. Some people advocate 72 hours of burn-in with new tubes while others modify the electronics. There are several standard modification processes.

Volume Pot: The usable range is tiny – just from 7 o’clock to 8 o’clock in my case. Some swap the pot while others use a preamp to feed it.

Power Switch: It’s long and thin and fragile. Some choose to swap it while it breaks for others.


The Darkvoice 336SE can have problems due to poor build quality. Private messages between myself and another who modified his shared that he had cold solder joints and deformed electrolytic capacitors due to the pressing of the amp in the Chinese factory of origin. On top of the quality problems, one has to get through the three day burn in process for each driver tube or modify the amp as you have already stated.
Now, once one looks past all of that, we are looking at a $200 tube amp. From this, I think it is a futile exercise to try to make a 336SE sound high end. Many moders love to tinker with the amp, but the majority of stories that you read about in the DIY forums tend to end with the same conclusion that the only way to get past it’s limitations is by completely gutting it and turning it into a Bottlehead Crack. So, everyone in this price bracket just goes for a Bottlehead Crack. I have left my 336SE stock and would not, and did not attempt to push it into high end territory.
My Darkvoice 336SE has a $15 Svetlana 6N5S power tube and a $5 Novosibirsk 6H8C. The resulting sound has recessed dull midrange frequency and rounded undefined bass that hits with a lack of authority yet somehow maintains an impressive amount of headroom. And, I absolutely love it. Why? Because I am not trying to listen for refinement and rich detail with this amp. That is what my other tube amps are for. These two inexpensive Russian tubes create a very artificial WET reverberation that is wide open airy and transports me to a place far from this world. It is my most fun amplifier and I only had to spend $220 total to achieve this. I have actually used this amplifier more than any of my other tube amplifiers ever since I bought it more than a year ago.


I concur with most everything you say. With cheap parts, dubious design decisions, and a cramped chassis one should accept the Darkvoice for what it is. The stock Crack doesn’t use great parts either. I’m using a preamp to work around pot channel imbalance, and have to avoid pushing the headphone jack in all the way or one channel fails to connect. The Crack kit sells for about $350 (or less on sale) and comes from the higher cost US, so don’t expect miracles from it.

The main sound quality difference between the two is that the Crack has better staging, is more extended, and has defined treble while the Darkvoice is thick/warm with rolled off treble. Actually, I strongly disliked the Bottlehead-supplied GE 6AS7GA power tube as rough and lacking extension. Switching to a basic Svetlana 6N13S power tube greatly improved its definition, timbre, and range. I also routinely run the Crack with long plate 12AU7 driver tubes to reduce its brightness and extend the bass.

Out of the box the Darkvoice is much warmer than the Crack and best suited for neutral to bright headphones (who’d have guessed with a name like Darkvoice??? Shocker!). Furthermore, it conveys the smooth rounding typical of 6SN7 driver tubes (versus the Crack’s 12AU7). Either amp can be made wet/reverb-heavy per the tube choice.

The stock DV 336 is a quick way to soften and transform headphones to a “fun” tuning, and the line out does the same for speaker amps. For non-critical listening one could spend much more for a similar effect. The Lyr 3 gets one to a similar place for twice the price and it works with a broader range of headphones. However, the Lyr 3 has a narrow soundstage and is quite rounded off. I’d not characterize it as producing technically superior or more enjoyable audio than the 336, just more versatile and without such goofy parts.