Trying tubes without breaking the bank

I’m almost done with my headphone collection. I’ve tried all I really want to try, with the exception of tube amping. The main reason I have avoided it thus far is that it seems so finicky. You buy an amp but then the tubes are shit or the amp buzzes, or this or that, and you end up investing a lot of time and money making it what you want it to be.

I just want to experience real “tube sound” even if it’s a diminished version, and go from there. Maybe it will inspire me to delve deeper, or maybe I’ll decide it’s not for me. If the latter ends up being the case I would prefer to not have dropped a bunch of money on an amp. I’d love to hear some suggestions for reasonably priced amps that I can try stock and get a real idea of what tubes are about. Bonus points if I can get it on Amazon and just return it if I don’t like it.

Some really solid options would be the Little Dot MK2 or the DarkVoice 336SE. Perfect for experimenting and really good tube amps for the money. True OTL designs, unlike some of the cheaper (or pricey) hybrid options that just use the tubes to add a subtle sound in a solid state design.

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What heapdhones do you have to use with the tube amp?
A cheap way into tubes would be the darkvoice but people either love it or hate it. If you’re looking for a really good tube amp that I feel could be most people’s endgame I would look at the Eddie Current ZDT jr. The original batch of them had a hum in some units but that’s pretty easy to fix with better shielding around the transformer. The second batch of them is also said to be dead silent. Tubes for the ZDT are also cheap at ~$50 and under for the highly regarded ones including telefunken and mullard, might sound like a lot for 2 tubes but compared to the best of the 6922 that most amps use it’s a steal. Used the ZDT goes for ~$300 but they are well worth it. Also really easy to sell as they didnt make a lot of them

I forget about the ZDT Jr, another great price of kit. The only downside is you have to go through massdrop

Yeah, going through massdrop is a pain. I dont think they are making anymore of them so 2nd hand is the only option

HP-3 on the way, currently have Verums, HE4xx, 58x, Triple Driver over ears, and X2s.

I was looking at the ZDT on Drop but like you said, it may never come back. The Dark Voice seems like a roll of the dice, lots of people love it but others hate it or have problems with it and it has basically no warranty from what I’ve read, plus everyone insists you have to swap their stock tubes which brings me up to almost 300 dollars for something that has no warranty or return option. I might try the Little Dot, though Zeos mentioned in one of his reviews that it didn’t sound as “tuby” as some others he had tried. Idk.

A lot of people buy tube amps to experiment with different tubes and swap them out. While I will say this can lead to some really impressive results, tbh the darkvoice and Jr tube amp don’t necessarily need to be swapped to sound good.

Also, headphones can play different with tubes, so that can lead to mixed results and reviews

If you are DIY inclined you can build one yourself, I’ve tried both a hybrid and a true SS design from Pete millet and can confirm that the man is spot on with some things in design, the Jonokuchi is a true tube amp that may be interesting, if I wasn’t making some amps for market release with my father I’d consider checking it out, but ive got too much as it is :frowning:

Love my Little Dot mk2 in fact it’s the only amp I use to drive my 660’s these days. The LD mk2 is cheap but punches way above it’s price point and there are a load of tube options easily available if you fancy going down that rabbit hole :+1:

I decided to give the Little Dot a try. Amazon has free returns so I can get this out of my system with no risk to my wallet.


I can’t see you returning it tbh…enjoy :+1:

I hope you’re right, I’m excited to try something different. I have a THX amp, so going from something clinical to something more… Musical, I guess? Should be interesting.

I got the Little Dot today and enjoyed what it was doing. It was more subtle than I expected but it did make the sound more relaxed. Because I’m insane and I don’t want to have to have the urge to upgrade later down the line I’m returning it and getting in on the Darkvoice drop, last day for it too, I believe. Also did some homework and ordered a few tubes to experiment with. NOW I’m done.

Until I somehow become rich and can afford Empyreans, that is.

Well I wouldn’t suggest using the mezes on an otl tube lol. But now you know what tubes can do and what you would like