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REVIEW: DARKVOICE 3322

post #1 of 485
Thread Starter 
In some ways, it has never been easier to buy a headphone amp: unlike years ago, there is no shortage of them on the market, with a bewildering number of different brands and designs available. This “bewildering number,” however, turns the choice of which new amp to buy into a difficult and time consuming process.

My choice was simplified somewhat by my preference for valve or tube amps. I do not dislike SS amps – I do not have enough experience of them to voice such a sweeping statement – but from what little I have heard I still favour the tube sound. Out of the bewildering array of amps out there, I short-listed several for consideration: the WOO AUDIO WA6; the YARLARD P100; the AUDIOTAILOR HM-1; and finally the DARKVOICE 3322. The WOO AUDIO WA6 was very tempting, but ultimately had to be rejected because of the punitive import duties and VAT charges. Equally, I had read good things about the YARLAND, but it was not available in Europe until the end of January 2009. The HM-1 was a bit of a wild-card. At the time, AUDIOTAILOR were as yet an unknown quantity, and because of this I decided to “err on the side and caution” and not buy one.

That left the DARKVOICE 3322. Unlike the AUDIOTAILOR, DARKVOICE were very much a known quantity: over the past couple of years, I have owned both the 332 and the FIGARO, and the company has built up a considerable following on the various threads at HEAD-FI. With the right headphones – preferably high impedance designs – the 332 was a fantastic amplifier, with a very powerful and dynamic sound. And with better quality tubes onboard, the sound improved even more.

The 3322 promised to build upon the reputation of the 332 and enhance its formidable performance even further. Technically, the 3322 resembles the 332 in some ways, but has been upgraded with higher quality components like VISHAY/RODERSTEIN output capacitors and resistors. Where it does differ is in the development of dual volume controls, like its bigger brothers the 337 and 337SE. I e-mailed DARKVOICE to ask them about specifics in the design of the 3322, but they as yet have not replied. I am not at all technically minded, but it may be assumed that the 3322 is a dual mono design.



While, technically, it resembles its predecessor, the 3322 is strikingly different aesthetically. I know there has been some discussion about the 3322’s appearance at HEAD-FI, with opinions expressed both for and against. Personally, I like it. Whereas the 337SE can be said to represent evolution, in that it was not markedly dissimilar from the 337, the 3322 is very much revolution when compared to the 332. It is a total break with the design philosophy of the 332, and for that matter a break with DARKVOICE’s design philosophy as a whole. The alignment of the amp has been changed from a traditional “front-to-back” design to a modern looking “side-to-side one. The tube placement has been reversed, the smaller 6J1s now switched to the back and the larger 6C19 (6S19) placed at the front on either side of the transformer housing. But most striking of all is the new case, constructed from 5mm thick brushed aluminium, a welcome change from the enamelled black, rather utilitarian finish of the old amp.



My choice had been made. Now it came down to where to purchase the amp. In terms of money, there were, surprisingly, wide variations in cost: highest of all was ANALOG METRIC at an astronomical £489 or $678. The average, excluding postage, was between £345 ($490) and £325 ($460), represented by E-BAY sellers HIGH END CASQUE and JASMINE_CHINE, although recently AUDIOPHILE CHINA reduced their price from $439 to $399 (again excluding shipping). These prices seemed high. Searching the internet, I came upon BOYIER.COM, a company who after some investigation appeared to be connected closely to DARKVOICE themselves. Better still, their prices were lower: £279 (plus £50 postage and £7 PAYPAL charges). With such a price reduction, the idea of buying the 3322 became irresistible.



All and all, purchasing the 3322 through BOYIER was relatively straightforward. The amp – after an obligatory five day wait - arrived very quickly and in perfect condition. It was shipped in a sturdy cardboard box with nylon straps securing it along both its length and breadth. Inside, the amp was enveloped in foam protection. A US style power lead was placed on top, together with an operations manual, written in DARKVOICE’s charming but imperfect English. Unwrapped from a polythene bag, the 3322 was found to be absolutely pristine. The only defect was one of the 6C19 tubes being slightly askew.

In pictures, the 3322 is a very pretty amplifier. In the flesh it is even prettier: in fact it is an exceptionally pretty piece of equipment. It is smaller than I expected, but its bulk immediately impresses, weighing in at a substantial 6.0kg. Finish is simply first-rate. On the top of the amp, the holes for the two blue LEDs and the power switch are neatly countersunk, and the openings for the tube sockets and vents for the resistors are expertly chamfered. The new DARVOICE logo adorns, firstly, the top-plate, where it is rebated into the surface of the aluminium, and, secondly, the transformer housing, where it is crafted in matt black and glossy chrome.





Predictably, the tubes supplied with the 3322 are Chinese in origin, bearing the SHUGUANG stamp, and dating from 1978 to 1981. As with the 332, the tube compliment comprises 2x6J1s and 2x6C19s. The advantages of this are obvious: it means that those who already own a 332 can easily switch to the new amp without having to invest in alternative tubes. It also means that those who buy the 3322 can access the lengthy thread on the 332 and the “wisdom” contained there. Equivalents for the 6J1 are plentiful and relatively cheap. European equivalents include the EF95, M8100 and CV4010. US versions are the 6AK5 (add a W for better quality versions), the 5654 (add W or SQ for special quality types), the 403A and 403B. Replacements for the 6C19, or 6S19, are limited, though no less hard to acquire. Apart from the Chinese manufacturers, two Russian factories produced the 6S19 tube during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s: SVETLANA and ULYANOVSK. Two versions of the tube were made: the 6S19P and the higher grade or “ruggedised” 6S19P-B. Both can be bought, again relatively cheaply, on E-BAY.

The source equipment used to review the 3322 were a MUSICAL FIDELITY A3.5, MUSICAL FIDELITY X-DAC V3 (modded) and CORE AUDIO 6BC4 tube buffer. VALAB solid core silver interconnects were used to hook it all together. Headphones used were SENNHEISER HD650s and BEYERDYNAMIC DT880s (2005), both high impedance designs at 300ohms and 250 ohms respectively. The following review, therefore, comes with an important caveat: it applies only to the headphones used and does not extend to low impedance types, which have normally not sounded as good as those with higher impedances.

First impressions of the sound were disappointing: the amp sounded muddled and congested, and the top-end betrayed an almost ear-splitting degree of sharpness. But the fault was mine and not the amps: t is always a mistake to listen to any audio equipment without an extensive burn in period. More positively, the 3322 was silent, totally free from hum. After around 30hrs or so, the sound started to smooth out and open up. Things became more promising and my disappointment began to evaporate.



The first attribute I noticed was the bass performance: it was not that it was significantly deeper than the 332, but just more defined and articulate. Through both the HD650s and DT880s, whole bass lines emerged that I had never heard before, in music I knew very well, and used regularly to test the virtues and vices of any new equipment.

The sound continued to improve as time passed. But learning from earlier impetuousness, I decided to leave any final conclusions until at least 100hrs. Bass performance remained impressive. Thankfully, the treble lost much of its sharpness, in fact by around the 100hrs mark it had integrated into the other elements that make-up the sound. The treble is by no means aggressive, but it is extended and detailed. The balance is just about perfect.

But the most impressive facet of the 3322’s sound is the soundstaging. It is simply more spacious when compared to the 332, especially its width and depth. It is almost holographic in its presentation, especially with the HD650s. Vocals are planted very much centre stage, while the instruments float around them, each individually portrayed, some forward others recessed, in a representation that is, at times, uncannily realistic. Dare I say it, the 332 sounds rather “flat” beside the 3322.

The mids in the 3322 are also a strong point: it brims with detail, some of which were new, while others were reproduced in a more realistic fashion. All and all, excellent.

The weak link in the 3322’s chain, the chink in its armour, are the Chinese 6J1 and 6C19 tubes. I am not great fan of them, but to tell the truth they are not too bad: they are not good either, but they could be lived with. Replacing them, however, is vital if the full potential of the 3322 is to be unleashed. I installed a pair of AEG/SIEMENS 6AK5Ws and a pair of SVETLANA 6S19P-Bs, both of which are fully burned in.

In relation to build quality, it is to be noted here that the tube sockets have been improved upon. On the 332, the sockets, especially those for the 6S19s, were of poor quality, with the result that they gripped the pins of the tube very loosely. These sockets have been upgraded to what look like ceramic types; needless to say, they grip the tube tightly and securely.



With the 6AK5W/6S19P-B combo onboard the sound improves. What is immediately apparent is what can only be called the “body” of the sound: in comparison it has lost a certain degree of thinness, no doubt due to the Chinese tubes, and everything seems more fleshed out and delineated. These are only preliminary experiments, but the 332 - and for that matter the 336i and 337 - responded well to tube rolling. The 3322 appears to follow in that tradition.



What DARKVOICE set out to achieve with the 3322 is an amplifier that took all the strengths of the 332 and improved upon them. I think they have done it. When I listen to the 3322 all the predecessors sonic characteristics are present – the power, the dynamism, the finesse – but it has all been improved upon, and improved upon in a noticeable way. It is not a “night and day” improvement, the 332 was too good a foundation for that degree of difference, but it is an audible improvement in every area of the sound that pushes the performance of the 3322 onto another level. Whether it is worth the extra money – in my case a considerable £79 – only the individual can decide. A considerable sum of extra cash for a noticeable improvement in sound quality? I think that is a good trade off. For me, the 3322 is worth the every penny, and I can give it my full recommendation.
post #2 of 485
Thanks for the review
Very nice
boyier <--- Do they have a english site as well?
post #3 of 485
Thank you for great review Godkin!
Maybe some internal shots, if it's not a big hassle...
post #4 of 485
Nice pictures.
post #5 of 485
Godkin, first of all thanks for promising and delivering. Secondly I really like the writing style - its very imformative, yet simple and you've peppered the writeup with pics - eye candy is always fun, and its involving. Thirdly, great photography skills.

Fourthly, I was hoping you'd say the treble extends nicely and isn't rounded off; I like the highs to be a little more discernable and you did just that.

Neat review - I was waiting for it!

^^I don't think its dual mono, else DV would have surely advertised it. The 337/337SE has that written all over the front, this doesn't. Waiting for you to post their reply...
post #6 of 485
Don't do this to me Godkin !!!! I was happy with my 332, now you have got the cogs turning again. Upgraditus is setting in.

Nice review. The price you paid for yours is about the same as I paid for my 332, if I remember correctly. Maybe due to exchange rates etc but the price seems like a good one to me.
post #7 of 485
Thanks for the review - I concur! I got mine the other day from Jasmine (who I had purchased my 337 from in early 08) - replaced the tubes with Mullard M8100 and Svetlana 6C19P-V's and it is all the things you point out. I never warmed to the DV337 - it was probably the tube's it used - so I sold it. I'm keeping the 3322. The truly big surprise is it drives my Denon AH-D5000's with ease - best they've sounded (the other cans I use are the Senn HD600's and they sound very fine as well) - mine is still burning in but I'm pretty surprised by this little guy - a keeper!
post #8 of 485
Looks very nice! What are the measurements as it is hard to tell by the pics?
post #9 of 485
Thread Starter 
Thanks, guys. This is my first full length review so your support is very much appreciated. Vandal, sorry it took so long and thanks for your comments. I don't know if the amp is dual mono or not, and I kept changing that part of the review, but hopefully DARKVOICE will get back to me. Deleda, good to see another owner out there, and surpirse, surprise, it works with low impedance headphones. Great.
post #10 of 485
Thanks, Godkin.

Nice review.
post #11 of 485
Congrats on your purchase and the very nice review. How about a back panel pic?
post #12 of 485
Very nicely written review Godkin with lovely pictures to boot.
The fact that you were able to give comparisons with the previous DV332 were particularly useful and I'm glad that DV have improved upon their already good DV332.
Thanks for taking the time to give us your impressions. Happy listening
post #13 of 485
Informative review Godkin,seems like a lot of amp for the money.Shame the 337 hasn't got the same style aluminium casework.
post #14 of 485
Nice review and great pictures! You got yourself a real beauty there!
post #15 of 485
Great pictures, and nice review.
Thanks!
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