Tube amplifiers might seem like a niche piece of gear- the sort of thing only a select group of people might want. But the fact is that if you’ve already invested more than a hundred dollars into your headphones, then it’s not much of a stretch to find a way to hear them at their best.
Now, tube amps aren’t the most portable of gear- you’re not going to take them on a plane- but they don’t have to be too big or bulky. And thanks to some great new models, they also don’t have to break your budget.
The Little Dot 1+ tube amplifier is compact and affordable but doesn’t skimp on build quality. The included tubes aren’t anything special, but most folks will want to replace them anyway with their own preferred type.
Thankfully, that’s simple to do with the Little Dot 1+, and its all-metal housing and hefty build mean that it can hold up to some serious moving and shaking.
1/4-inch output is ideal for low-impedance, high-end headphones, and you can use an adapter for your standard mini-jack models- we recommend pulling out some over-ear Grados and putting on something light and airy to really appreciate the power even at low volumes. RCA inputs plug into your DAC or direct to your source of choice.
One question that some folks ask: why the tubes? We’re used to a transistor-based world, with most of our audio gear relying on ever-smaller pathways.
But the fact is that they are over-loaded, like trying to cram a boatload of water into a thin tube. With high-definition audio sources especially, the result is music that sounds thinner and flatter than it has to.
Analog signals- and that means tubes- offer more flavor, texture, and warmth. For EDM tunes, it doesn’t matter much, but for jazz and classical, blues, and anything with vocals it makes a huge difference.
We did notice a little bit of noise at lower volumes (or during silence) that you wouldn’t find on some larger, more expensive amps. And the overall aesthetic isn’t anything special, nor will the packaging impress.
But the volume knob is a pleasure to use and unlike with solid-state amps, a tube amp allows you to customize to your desires simply by switching out the tubes. Available now online and in stores for under $140, it’s certainly easy on the wallet!