Compendium updated: April 28th, 2021.
We've reached an interesting point in the history of amplifiers, where for the first time an objectively "clean" amplifier can be gotten for less than $150. Clean amplification has so proliferated the market that many audiophiles are now setting their sights on amps that "flavor" their output with distortion and noise. As many first time tube amp owners are discovering, cleanliness may be next to godliness, but dirtiness is pretty darn fun.
The DarkVoice 336SE is an OTL tube amp that many have crowned the king of headphone tube amps. We’ve compiled reviews from across the web for your reference. What you’ll find here are the TLDR versions of the full reviews (which you can access with the provided links). We’ll continue updating this compendium as reviews come in.
From Joshua Valour's review of the DarkVoice 336SE, first published on November 18th, 2020:
From Z Reviews' review of the DarkVoice 336SE, first published on December 24th, 2015:
From Audio Science Reviews' review of the DarkVoice 336SE, first published on February 2nd, 2019:
“From objective point of, the DarkVoice 336SE is absolutely horrible. It is worse than it should be but at $310 for all that you get, I guess that is to be expected.
“People though get such products for their subjective qualities. There, I can confirm the appeal of using the 336SE with high impedance headphones of 300 ohm and higher. There is copious amount of power here, and what distortion there is, is masked for the most part. In my experience of either power amplifiers or headphone, how much power you have available determines fidelity first and foremost. Lack of power results in anemic sound which seems to lack impact, and even resolution. The high output voltage of DarkVoice 336SE gives it such a strong advantage that it can override its much higher distortion. With that distortion following perceptual masking, it is not as much of a detriment as it may seem at first.
“Going to lower impedance headphones is unwise though. There is insufficient current to drive them together with large output impedance which substantially degrades/changes the frequency response of the headphone. You are much better off with a powerful and distortion-free solid state headphone amplifier such as JDS Labs Atom and Massdrop THX AAA 789. They will get louder and will be cleaner to boot.
“So do I recommend the DarkVoice 336SE under any conditions and lose my objectivist license with it??? With high impedance headphones if you like what comes with tubes as far as maintenance, and can be blind to any safety issues here, sure, you can get the 336SE and I won't be there to hound you. Use it in other scenarios and you and I will have words!”
From Top Tube Amplifier’s review of the DarkVoice 336SE, first published on October 11th, 2020:
“Audiophiles will appreciate the fact that they can swap out tubes on the 336SE. This allows them to create a customized sound. Another impressive feature is its sturdy, metal build. Just by looking at it, you know you have a durable unit on your hands.
“When it comes to performance, the 336SE gives your music a detailed and well-balanced quality. One of its best features is its ability to work with any setup — be it your headphones, computer, external speakers, you name it.
“With this amp, you get a nice mix of classic vintage tube sound. Plus, the built-in tubes give a warm, mid-range effect to your music. It’s one reason why the 336SE is highly popular among audiophiles.
“While the 336SE has some wonderful features, there are also a couple of drawbacks. For one, it weighs 12 pounds, which makes it heavier and less portable than other amps. Plus, it doesn’t feature a carrying handle.
“Another problem is that it heats up after extended use. Also, the tubes get extremely hot after some time, so you have to be careful when handling them.
“A second drawback is that it doesn’t have a USB port or optical input. While the ‘old-school’ vintage look is charming, the lack of a USB port and an optical input limits the amp’s functionality.”
From Sound Maximum's review of the DarkVoice 336SE, first published on April 7th, 2020:
Changeable tubes allow you to insert your preferred tubes to get the sound you want
Has a low voltage version that can work where power supply is not full (110V)
Has both RCA and ¼-inch outputs
Quite bulky; not applicable for portable use.
It can become too warm to handle, making it unsuitable for shared spaces.
“DarkVoice 336SE helps you to combine vintage and modern sound all in one system.
“This combination is a real luxury for people that appreciate it. The value of such luxury is not in the price of the amp, it’s in the quality of the listening experience.
“The best part is that you don’t even have to break the bank to get it.”
Editor’s note: Emphases ours.