Custom Darling 1626 by Tom McNally

I've wanted to experience a "Darling" amp for quite some time, but wanted one a bit more elaborate than most that are seen for sale. I wanted a nice clean chassis, tube rectified, and hand wired. I had a set of Tamradio iron sitting on a shelf, and decided to put it to good use. When commissioning this amp I turned to Tom McNally, likely the most experienced Darling builder on the planet. He agreed to do the work, and turned around this gorgeous hand wired amplifier in just a few short weeks. One day I might add a volume control, but otherwise this is close to perfect. Tom’s work is top shelf for sure, and this amp is one of my favorites.

Based on the antique 1626 triode, used by the US Navy in WW2 as a ship to shore transmitting tube, the Darling circuit is the brainchild of Bob Danielak, who first used the tube in a single ended design back in the 90s, coining the term "Darling" for the diminutive ¾ watt output. Bob published his circuit in Sound Practices, and since then a wide variety of these amps have been produced and enjoyed by enthusiasts all over the world.

Like my favorite output tube, the 71a, this little 1626 puts out just shy of 1 watt of power. Unlike the 71a, that ¾ of a watt comes with quite a bark in the Darling circuit. This really does not sound like so little power! There is a lot of detail and bass here, but the sound retains that lit from within triode effect, much like a 45 or 2a3. The gain in my amp comes on fast, and runs out of steam a lot later than one might expect. On the nearly 100 db/wm Supravox panels, this little Darling will play loud enough damage your hearing and piss off the neighbors. Tom McNally and the Darling circuit deserve my highest recommendation.

Update: After a few years of use, the old Tamradio iron (harvested from a broken Sony TC500a reel to reel) has seasoned in, and this amp is really something special. I recently had a group of friends over and put this amp on right after turning off the big Thomas Mayer 45, and several people preferred the Darling amp! It resolves detail so well; on a good recording everything is right up front and so easy to differentiate, nicely layered and textured. This amp has snap and it makes bass that really belies the diminutive power output. Super highly recommended.