Andrew Robinson began his career as an art director in entertainment advertising in 2003, after graduating from Art Center College of Design. In 2006, he became a creative director at Crew Creative Advertising, and oversaw the agency's Television Division, where he worked for clients such as TNT, TBS, History, FX, and Bravo to name a few. He now has one of the most popular AV-related channels on YouTube.
In a world dominated by megawatt amplifiers and HDMI conversion what am I doing reviewing a SET (Single Ended Triode) tube amplifier from a boutique manufacturer named Decware? The SE84C+ is the continuation of Decware's first ever amplifier the SE84C, which despite it's modest beginnings, has become a sort of cult classic among discerning audiophiles unconcerned with its two Watts per channel into four Ohm power rating.
• Read more about audiophile tube amps from Decware, Audio Research, VTL, VAC and many more.
• Read more about Decware here.
Retailing for $738.00 and sold direct through Decware's own website the SE84C+ looks more like a DIY kit than a slick, industrial design statement. While it may not exactly be a looker, its performance defies belief so long as you have efficient speakers, think 93dB for starters, with a stable load to mate to it. The SE84C+ is a Class A Triode amplifier with a power rating of 2.3 Watts into four Ohms and five Watts when the SE84C+ is bridged in mono mode. The SE84C+'s power increases as the Ohms decrease and Decware claims the SE84C+ is stable down to a single Ohm.
The SE84C+ is built using point to point wiring, no circuit boards here, and features a 5U4G tube for rectification, SV83 or EL84 tubes for its output and a single 6N1P, 6922 or 6Dj8 tube for the signal. All of the SE84C+'s tubes are self biasing and can be readily found either through Decware's own site or any number of online retailers making it cheap to upgrade or experiment with. Decware states tube life to be roughly 5,000 hours, so unless you like tube rolling this may be one of only a few tube amps that don't require weekly maintenance, in fact Decware recommends you leave the SE84C+ on 24/7.
The SE84C+ features two analog stereo inputs as well as a pair of five-way binding posts that can accept up to 12 gauge wire (bare) as well as banana adapters and spade lugs. There is a front mounted volume pot, yes the SE84C+ can function as an integrated amp, as well as two top mounted switches, one for input selection the other for selecting bias. Everything about the SE84C+ screams utilitarian, for there is not an ounce of fat anywhere; it's very, very Zen. The SE84C+ is hand built in the USA and comes with a lifetime warranty to the original owner.
• While not a looker, the SE84C+'s build quality is second to none. For an amp that is roughly the length and width of an adult hand its 17-pound chassis feels like it would withstand a nuclear blast. It has a very militaristic vibe to it and while the design may be ridged the sound it produces is anything but.
• The SE84C+'s tubes are cheap to replace as well as experiment with meaning you can really "tune" its sound to your liking or source material.
• The SE84C+ is lightening fast, provided you have efficient speakers, and very revealing. Well-recorded material will reveal it self to your ears in ways you never thought possible. Poorly recorded material will make you wish you never purchased the album.
• Midrange and treble are the SE84C+'s strongest suits both providing countless hours of effortless enjoyment, never fatiguing or harsh even at loud volumes. However, while the SE84C+'s midrange performance is stunning it's no slouch when it comes to the bass either.
• The SE84C+ images like a champ, in fact I haven't heard a more transparent amplifier in long time. The soundstage is vast and wide with terrific separation and placement.
• Dynamically, despite is meager power output, the SE84C+ is quite impressive with wonderful attack that comes from one of the blackest backgrounds I've heard from a tube amp and glorious decay allowing notes to hang in space just a touch longer than what you're used to.
• The SE84C+ is sold direct through Decware's own site with a 30-day money back guarantee. Of the thousands of SE84C Decware has sold they claim only 16 have been returned. That has to tell you something.
Read the Low Points and Conclusion on Page 2
• The looks of the SE84C+ aren't going to be for everyone and since it doesn't have a remote you can't really tuck it away unless you use another manufacturer's preamp, which may spoil the SE84C+'s pure sound.
• The SE84C+ does not play nicely with all speakers; in fact it doesn't really play nice with most speakers. Avoid speakers with complex crossovers or multiple drivers. If you're speaker has an efficiency rating of 89dB to 93dB the SE84C+ isn't going to play very loud nor have quite the poise I've described above. If you can find a speaker with a 95dB or higher rating you'll be far better off. Decware manufacturers their own line of loudspeakers that mate beautifully with the SE84C+.
• The SE84C+ is very revealing meaning if you're a recovering audiophile tweaker this may not be the amp for you, for it will reveal the differences and weaknesses in everything in your system from your source to the cables.
So what is this thing, this little Zen amplifier from East Peoria, Illinois. Is it a reference amplifier or is it a boutique style kit? Well, the SE84C+ is a bit of both. While it's appearance is a bit home made it's build quality and sonic prowess is on par with the biggest names in the business provided you have the right speakers to mate to it. If you're willing to build a system to its strengths the SE84C+ is a top-flight performer capable of sonic feats that will have you simply scratching your head wondering how something so unassuming can sound so sweet.