Off-brand Bliss? The tube stuff from ASIA


#1

Some of the brands are known. Jolida, Woo Audio

But there are dozens of cheap tube headphone amps, tube DACs, tube amplifiers some brands have a toehold. Ming DA, Icon.

And others?? Little Dot, Bravo, Little Bear, Nobsound, DEAFidelity (I like how that reads). Stuff sold from Douk Mall in Shenzhen. Stuff from Malaysia. Surf the web, you find it. Bought from Tencent or AliBaba and resold. Some from factories where you can do a bit of custom ordering.

How much of a crapshoot is it? I won’t say I’m not tempted in the sub $300 range. Looking at what tubes they use. Takes me back to the days of my electronics class in high school and the “flash club” named for what happens when you miswire a DIY kit and turn it on for the first time.


Budget tube amps/ tube hybrids
#2

I’m 100% certain that Woo Audio’s gear is both designed and built in the USA.

Between “tube amplifiers” that don’t actually have the tubes in the circuit at all, DACs with tubes in them in inappropriate applications (and that wind up sounding quite poor as a result), and exposure to several such units that, despite quite a bit of hype in Amazon reviews, just sounded, well, “not very good at all” (trying to be polite) … I would say that:

  1. I personally wouldn’t bother - especially when options like the MCTH, Bottlehead Crack, various Schiit tube amps, and even the Garage 1217 stuff exists and is readily available.

  2. If you do, be sure to do proper research to be sure about what you’re getting.

I would also say that some of those off-brand amps LOOK very cool indeed. I just haven’t come across one that sounded as good as it should have for the price, let alone as good as you’d want it to (especially considering the look).


#3

Yes the look is great. But so is Vincent, and they’re reputable


#4

Unless Woo Audio has changed I believe Jack Woo and son work out of N.Y. manufactured and sold. They are high quality from my personal experience. I’ve own Wa7 Fireflies Dac Amp and I forgot the other. (Sorry)

I did just check and they are USA https://wooaudio.com


#5

The thing is, buy a bunch of cheap crap, and it’s no bargain, it’s potentially money down the drain, in addition to whatever you’ve had to spend on a decent replacement.

If you’re looking to dabble in something slightly tubey, maybe the money is better spent on a Schiit Vali 2 to start with. It’s a known quantity, it’s pleasant-sounding and it’s very cheap to run (tubes last ages, and it only needs one).

Sure, it’s a hybrid, so it’s not the most “tubey” as in syrupy, but it has some of that nice comfortable staging depth. It is also hilariously cute.

(The Lyr 3 looks like a decent option for not-too-expensive, also, as a step up. People who want to go balls out crazy with something OTL who don’t mind a spot of soldering might enjoy a Crack+Speedball too.)

However, if you’ve never had a tube amp before and wince at all the “tube rolling” drivel and general drama from HF, then a Vali 2 is an ideal starting point. Drop a nice inexpensive EH 6CG7 in there for about $20 and relax.

Edit: Bloody hell, Torq. I should read the thread before posting. Oh well!


#6

First, I did make a mistake to put Woo in the offshore group. It’s just that Woo came out in the new tube revival. So did Antique Sound Labs.

Oh I used to have tubes. A pair of Dynaco Mark IIIs. Transistor pre-amp, the Dynaco PAS3x, although I did use a Dynaco PAS 2 for a short while (it wasn’t mine). I should never have traded the Mark IIIs.


#7

I bought Woo Audio for the reason that it is designed and hand made in the United States, the reason you have to wait sometimes up to a few weeks is because it has to be made. I fully support a company like this that has pride in its product, and family run. This is not even close to the products that you are referring to.
You get no support from offshore companies that can close at any time, I had a small issue with a distributor in Canada, so I emailed Woo and they stepped in to help me out. Stop supporting offshore companies just to save money, it’s better to work hard and save up even if it takes longer and buy a quality item that will last and if you decide to sell then it will have value.
This hobby can get very expensive, but if your in for the long term then just build slowly with quality over quantity.


#8

I’m now sure how Bravo Audio ended up in the “off-brand” list, as the brand has been on the market for ages and the V2 is probably the single product most responsible for mainstream tube amp popularity. Inexpensive yes, flawed yes, starter product yes, but widely known and not an off brand at all. Its buyers are those who eventually become high-end buyers .

Etc. Etc.


#9

It’s my money, it’s my music, it’s my aesthetics, it’s my eyes, it’s my ears.

It is all what I like not what anyone else likes. In the end it is all subjective and how my ears hear it. No one is wrong. After all it is subjective. .

I have owned high end solid-state and tube equipment. To my ears solid -state has always sounded too sterile. I have always enjoyed color, and warmth which my ears enjoy.

Maybe I lean more as a result of growing up in the 50’s when it was mostly tubes. That really doesn’t matter because my ears love it. By the way I forgot to mention the mastering engineers who make decisions to polish the song to be the “gem” as they perceive it and they thought it was meant to be from the artist. Seems there are many subjectives in the chain from recording to the ears finally. Who is to say how it was meant to be heard. Only 100% accuracy would be “Live performance” and how many times has that been different depending on the performance that evening.

I like tubes and how my ears love them. I have been in love with them ever since I can remember. The best tube equipment I have owned has been made in U.S.A. Seems no matter where one changes mastering engineers, artists, amps, dacs, speakers, iems, headphones, wires, tube rolling, etc. In the end my experience teaches me it is all different flavors. I like vanilla more than chocolate. Once again “subjectivity”. We’re all right.

Hopefully each of our experiences will encourage other listeners to try different equipment based on our experiences. Its my ears and I’ll do what I want. " Happy Listening"

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#10

Little Dot has been around for ages. I used to have a Little Dot IV. Initially I liked the pure tube sound, but only with slower paced music (slower rock, country, vocal jazz), eventually I sold it. It does sounded great with vocal performances though.
That being said I would recommend a hybrid amp like Garage 1217 makes. That’s about as tube-y as I would want to get. You can pick one up for around $150,- and upwards. The owner is great and will happily answer questions. I own an Ember.


#11

How did anything end up on my list? I was web surfing tube amps until my eyes watered. Including price-sorted lists from eBay and Amazon. I was just trying to throw names out there.

I see that it had my intended result. I have NOT looked at tube stuff - other than to covet modern high end equipment - since my college days in the 1970s. So almost all the names that don’t appear in The Absolute Sound or similar magazines are Greek (Malaysian, Chinese) to me. And with my basic background, probably worse to most others.

I am seeing a few people helping to sort out this mess. And I thank you. Which brands are OK? Which a shot in the dark? I’m not likely to just plop down Burmeister, or even Moon and Conrad-Johnson tube dollars easily. I’m a tightwad. My ears are not Burmeister good.


#12

We are now in a new era of audio. While before my time, this change is much like how Honda, Yamaha, Toyota, and Sony upset the status quo back in the 1960s and 1970s vs. RCA, Harley-Davidson, Triumph, GM, Ford, Chrysler, etc. There seems to be a new product and brand name every week. Basically, quality is up and prices are down. My honest advice is to buy from a source that has a generous return/demo policy.

IMO, tube headphone amplifiers are aimed at three main markets. These markets are largely set by street price:

  1. Entry level products (<$100) offer reasonably good sound and a very different profile vs. solid-state amps. A primary function is to provide adequate power and smoothness for tough to drive products such as Sennheiser HD600, HD650, or HD6xx headphones. You mentioned several of these originally (Douk/Nobsound, Bravo, Little Bear).

  2. Middle-range products (<$500) improve on entry level and offer performance near the functional plateau of human hearing. These are meant for enthusiasts on a budget or sticklers for double-blind value. An example that I own is the Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid amp ($250). It’s clean, smooth, and does a great job with my HD600 and Focal Elex headphones. My ears are probably not good enough to justify spending more money…

  3. Higher-end products (>$500) appeal to hard-core and/or wealthy hobbyists. Woo Audio WA7 Fireflies is a nice example in this category. They are artistic and built well; let your budget, sense of style, and/or testing guide you in this realm. It quickly becomes subjective and emotional. Tightwads definitely need not apply.


#13

Tightwad is a relative term. The new Woos look great, and are only $1000, AND have one of the higher end ESS Sabre DACs in them. So, although it doesn’t say so, they ought to be compatible with the MQA/Roon/Tidal crowd. Again, just an educated guess. It’s part of a total system.

I don’t quite know what my tightwad parameters are I need some sort of a math limit function. It’s well before spending gets crazy. Like for a turntable, about $3G, although I lived with my AR XA and still haven’t gotten rid of it, even after I got the VPI Prime Scout. And I was happy with a decent vintage solid state amp for a long time. Sure, I’d like the Dynaco Mark IIIs back, but finding good ones ain’t cheap, and at 60 watts each, there’s a lot the won’t drive. Which is why I am in the $2500 range with the Wyred4Sound STI-1000.

I’ve considered some higher end amplification, but I just am not comfortable pulling the trigger on $5K plus. Likewise speaker cables. I’m using really old $2 per foot cables (wires) now. I need about 20 ft lengths, so entry to mid level Audioquest is $700+, even Anticables are $280 entry level and $450 or so for better ones. Is a different piece of wire worth it? The tightwad in me screams DON’T GET SILLY.

Speakers… a whole different story. When I do replace what I have, I anticipate that I’ll need to spend $8K to $15k. I really (and I mean really) like some speakers I’ve heard above that range - but even if I could easily afford it, something tells me that it’s selfish and stupid to blow big bucks $25k-60k on speakers. What happened to save the world/whales/environment and supporting world peace?


#14

It’s perhaps not well known, but Woo Audio do have some dealers, even in the US, that carry some units from stock. They don’t have every combination of amp, upgrade package and color, nor generally the entire model line-up, but they do have a reasonable selection much of the time - some of it available to ship same-day and most of it within 3 days or so.

I bought a WA6 a couple of years ago, and had that the next day.


#15

Not sure my wallet likes that “those who eventually become high-end buyers” bit…


#16

I’ll say this, my first 2 tubes where a Pete Millet Starving Student and a Indeed G3 [Bravo clone] the Indeed G3 had some mods done to it and made a nice compliment alongside the Starving Student

I also have a APPJ pa1502a in my reference system at the moment, an despite being a little nosier, I find it overall more detailed than something like a Schiit Valhalla 2 but here’s the catch!! I modded my $199 APPJ pa1502a!!

My view of the off brand Chinese amps is that some are well designed with garbage parts, and a decent value can be had if you’d like to perform some mods. However if your going to start de-soldering and soldering stuff in you might as well build a DIY. An I imagine there’s a Pete Millet design out [or some one else’s maybe] there that’s better than a lot of what you can buy around $300 [or maybe not I’ve not heard everything available]

So I guess if your not ready to build a unit from scratch, but one of the Chinese ones and tinker around with it! People have also had success modding Little Dot units too, for what ever reason you don’t see any one modding or experimenting with a lot of pre-built US models