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Reviewer: David Kan
Source: Restek Radiant; Pioneer DV-578A
Speakers: Blueroom Minipod; Loth-X Ion BS-1
Cables: Aural Symphonic Missing Link power cable; Clearaudio Silver Line interconnects; Artech Prisma Speaker cables
Stands: Custom
Room size: 13' x 15' x 8' in diagonal setup
Review component retail: $790
In my mind, there's no such thing as the perfect audio system. System A could be wonderful for chamber music but system B might be better for orchestral works. That gives me a very good excuse for my on-going quest to start a collection of tube amps. So far I have four tube systems, three of them by Dared. Affordability and musicality are the prime factors. My first 6moons review was on the Dared VP-845, their flagship integrated. This time I went right to the opposite end of the scale. The VP-16 is the entry-level push-pull Class AB integrated amp. It employs two 6V6 power tubes per channel, delivering a modest output of 12wpc at less than 1% total harmonic distortion while occupying a footprint of only 13" x 8½". The stock tubes include four Shuguang 6P6P and two Shuguang 6N9P. The former are equivalent to the 6V6GT, said to be military grade and arrive sporting black glass. The latter are equivalent to 6SL7s and, being twin-triodes, are shared between the two channels as preamp and driver tubes. There's no valve rectifier.

I had to admit that the sound of the Shuguang tubes was better than their look. The VP-16 seemed able to pump out a lot of juice from these 6P6Ps and music making was intuitive right from the start. Oh, talking about the start, the first two minutes after power-on might freak some people out. One channel kept crackling with intermittent popping noise. I swapped the tubes around. The culprit, just as I suspected, was one of the Shuguang 6P6Ps. It tested fine on the tube tester but needed two minutes to settle in while the filament was warming up. I could have sent that tube back for an exchange but the additional shipping re-entry into Canada would probably cost more than obtaining one locally. So I opted for tube rolling with four Electro Harmonix 6V6GTs and two RCA 6SL7 NOS. Here came another dilemma. The amp, unlike other Dareds, is not auto-biased. There are no bias pots user-accessible from the exterior. To get to the pots, one must open the base panel. To open the base panel, one must void the warranty by damaging the factory seal on one of the fastening screws. Once again, shipping cost helped make my decision. It's a $790 amp for crying out loud. Plus, tube amps are easy to fix. A few emails to Dared Audio Imports quickly clarified a few issues pertaining to bias adjust. My experience with Dared in terms of reliability so far has been highly positive. Still and to be on the safe side, I patiently ran the VP-16 for one month to make sure no further problems appeared. During that time, I was surprisingly pleased with the performance from the stock tubes, which I later found out were in fact not only as musical as -- but more punchy than -- their Electro Harmonix counterparts.

Opening up the base panel revealed rationally laid out circuitry optimized for short signal paths. The signal's fed through the gold-plated RCA sockets and carried straight down to the input selector by means of braided/shielded silver wires, then re-directed to the 6SL7 tube sockets. The volume control is a Taiwanese HT brand. The circuit board is now double-sided as opposed to the singled-sided 2003 model published in the importer's AudiogoN advertisement. The four Auricaps remain unchanged but the replacement/addition of some non-inductive cathode resistors by Allen Bradley (USA) and a very large filter capacitor (Japanese Nippon) for the power supply are obvious. The 6L6GT are tuned to a grid bias of -40 volts but the adjustment is handled by a variable resistor. The proper procedure should be done with volume down all the way, no input signal, output loaded (connected to speakers) and with common-sense precaution to avoid electric shock. The 2005 model is slightly more user-friendly because each variable resistor is conveniently coupled with positive and negative probing points on the PCB (the 2003 model required measuring across the resistor). The four adjustment pots are the usual blue mini square. Clockwise equals decrease, anti-clockwise increase. The recommended setting is 0.2 to 0.25 volts DC. If you are seriously considering tube rolling with this amp, be sure to adjust the bias each time you roll. (If I can do it, anybody can.) The difference between the Shuguang/EH readings was as wide as 0.1 volt on my multi-meter.

The popularity of 6V6GT push-pull beam tetrode amps has never died out among DIY kits because they are topologically simple and easy to build. (It's an evergreen item in the Audio Note catalog.) For idiots like me, the VP-16 costs less than a kit and looks fabulous. The new model now boasts an open-type stainless steel tube cage with acrylic side panels that are lit up from below by LEDs to glow in the dark in a cool neon blue. For years, beam tetrode tubes like the 6V6 and 6L6 have been widely used for guitar amps for their punchy drive and fast transient. As far as production audio amps are concerned, they are not as popular as the EL34, which is also used in guitar amps (like Marshall) but a pentode and generally regarded as richer in texture. Bearing in mind the beam tetrode is a somewhat modified pentode -- usually larger in output but not in the case of 6V6 push-pull versus EL34 push-pull -- it is theoretically very linear and balanced across the frequency range. However, as we've always been taught, it's the amp that makes the tubes, not the other way round. So much for theory.