LaFigaro 336C: The OTL Starter

 

When I was going to write my first review for Headfonia, I suggested the LaFigaro 336c.  I thought, at its price point, it might be the legitimate competitor to the Bottlehead Crack for pairing with the legendary HD650 that people have been looking for.  I mean, the Crack is great, but there has to be something else out there, right?  The first review soon became a comparison between the Crack, 336c and the WA3.  Of course, for one reason or another, the WA3 and the LF336c fell through, and my first review became what got posted, and I didn’t hold out much hope for hearing the 336c.  Not that long ago, however, I go to the mail room in my apartment building, and what do I find?  I find a package from Yuking Audio containing the La Figaro 336 Classic.  You can’t imagine my excitement.  Does it dethrone the Bottlehead Crack?  Let’s find out.

Just a word on the following: I would usually talk about the amp by itself first, and then move into a comparison.  This time, however, I am going straight to the head to head.  (Also, I settled on keeping my Crack in its stock build.  That is what I am using in this review).  Let the shootout commence!

Customization and Build Quality

First, both the Crack and the 336c use the 6080 type as their power tube.  The 336c uses the 6sn7 for its input tube, while the Crack is the 12au7.  Now, the Crack, being a DIY amp, is going to have the edge in customization.  You want to change the type of wires?  The capacitors? The volume pot?  Heat up your iron and go to work!  Anything you can think of doing (and have the skill for) you can try.   The LF 336c obviously doesn’t allow for that.  Looking through the FAQ on their website (www.yuking09.com, also where you would go to buy the amp) it seems like they might offer some customization on request.  I am not sure of that however.  Their English is difficult to read, and communication with them can be difficult if you don’t speak Chinese.  That can be an important issue if you find yourself needing their customer service (and again, you don’t speak Chinese).

The Crack looks and feels like a DIY project, and I am perfectly fine with that.  That’s what it is, and there is something nice about being able to say you built something.   The 336c, on the other hand, looks and feels like a serious piece of hardware.  I love the way this thing looks, and, oh yeah, it is heavy.  That’s nice because, not only can you use it as an amp, but it can also be used to bludgeon robbers if they break into your home.  The amp feels very well put together.  There is nothing cheap looking or ill fitting on the chassis.  The word I would use to describe the build of the 336c?  Awesome!  I would find it hard to imagine seeing a cooler looking amp at this price point

So, at this point, that is the question.  Which do you prefer?  If you like to DIY, and enjoy a great deal of possible customization, the Bottlehead Crack has what you need.  However, if you want rock solid build quality, and the ability to tinker with your amp isn’t a big deal, go for the La Figaro 336c.  Of course, these are minor issues when compared to the one, all important issue: sound quality.  The sound quality of the Crack is well established.  How does the 336c fair?

Sound- all listening done with the HD650 unless otherwise mentioned

You can tube roll, of course, and greatly alter your sound, but as I can use the same power tubes in both (a Sylvania 6080 for instrumental and a GE 6080 for vocal), I can get a pretty accurate feel for the natural sound of each amp.  It breaks down like this.  The 336c is warmer, while the Crack is more neutral.  The 336c pulls out a little more detail from the sound, but is grainier.  The Crack is cleaner, but with the slightest bit less micro detail.  The 336c is more laid back.  The Crack is more forward.  The 336c has a deeper sound stage.  The Crack has a wider sound stage.  The 336c seems a bit more linear while the Crack pushes the mids out just a jot more.  Treble behaves on both amps, and I found the bass performance very similar.  That may be all well and good, but let’s see how that translates to actually recordings.  With Classical and instrumental music, the edge has to go to the 336c.  The greater sense of depth gives the music a more three dimensional sound, which is so important with classical.  It also comes with better layering to the sound.  I am listening to Brahms violin concerto as I write this, and the violin is positioned right in front of my face, with the rest of the orchestra well layered behind it.  It is wonderful to hear.  I find that the extra micro detail adds more to classic music than does the extra bit of clarity since the detail is there to hear.

For folk, rock and music of that sort, the 336c does a mighty fine job, but here, the Crack betters it by a little.  Since I don’t find much depth to most pop or rock recordings, I find the wider sound stage to be more important.  It help makes the music more enveloping.  The same goes with the added detail.  It isn’t as important with most rock recordings as is that extra clarity the Crack brings.  The differences are little, but they can add up.  The biggest difference with vocal music is that through the Crack, vocals simply have more bloom to them. They do a better job of jumping out at you.  Voices sound very good out of the 336c, but out of the Crack, it is like Shirley Manson is whisper in my ear, trying to seduce me (which I like).

With my Superlux HD660, both amps did fine, however, being that the HD660 is a rock headphone, I give the Crack an edge here, although the Torpedo beats both of them in this case.  My Beyer DT770 AE is very low impedance, and not suited for either of these amps, however, the bass is so bloated when connected to the 336c, that it is sort of fun, in a really grungy sort of way.

Here is where my review originally ended.  I sent it off to L for feedback, and he responded with some good notes.  I decided to let the amps sit for a week and then listen to them afresh and see if anything new came to my ears.  Well, there is the power.  The 336c is a more powerful amp.  I don’t think I ever had to cross 9 o’clock to get my music loud enough, and that is with my quieter classical pieces.  No big twists of the wrist are required for this one.  It can also do one thing that the Crack can’t:  drive the HE-500.  It can drive those phones louder than I can listen with no distortion.  I am not claiming that it is an ideal pairing, but with mellow vocal music, and jazz, it was pretty enjoyable.  The 336c has a surprising amount of juice under the hood.

I did discover one other thing, and this one bummed me out, as I realized that I would once again have to write, “the Crack reigns supreme.”  This involves tube rolling.  The LF 336c has a naturally warm, laid back sound, and that sound is going to remain no matter what tubes I rolled.  With the stock Chinese tubes, the sound was warm, laid back and bright, which was a very uncomfortable sound, although don’t hold that against the 336c as I didn’t like the stock tubes that came with the Crack either.  However, the more neutral, cleaner and slightly more forward sound of the Crack makes it more responsive to tube rolling.  It does a better job of taking on the sound of the tubes, where as the LF 336c will always have its sound being pulled in the warm, laid back direction.  This just makes the Crack a better all around unit. Part of me was really hoping I would be the one to get to write, “the Bottlehead Crack has finally been bested!”  I still might be able to, but not in this review.  The thing is, I really do love the La Figaro 336c.  If you are looking for a warm amp, with a laid back sound, and you have a preference to roll dark, you might love this amp as well.  And its build is first rate.  The Crack, however, has it beat in versatility, and that’s a fact.  Sigh, the Crack still reigns supreme.

Still, this isn’t really a loss for the LF 336c as much as it is a win for us, the low budget audiophile.  To hear Mike tell it, it was only a few years ago that, without a $1000 amp on your shelf, you could never really see what the HD650 could do.  Now, we have two amps, both under $300 that can make the HD650, and boy does it sing.  Isn’t it great to be spoiled for choice!  And a special thanks to the people at Yuking Audio for bringing their wonderful 336c into the world.  Anyone who owns a HD650, and has a budget to stick with, owes it to themselves to have one of these amazing amps on their shelf.

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

86 Comments

  • Reply October 2, 2013

    L.

    The pictures were taken from the Lafigaro website as neither Mike or myself have the 336C to shoot pics. Appologies!

  • Reply October 2, 2013

    zepplock

    This looks almost identical to Darkvoice 336i. Same tubes, similar enclosure, similar design.

    • Reply October 3, 2013

      Dave Ulrich

      There is a good reason for that. The people who made the Darkvoice also made the La Figaro. According to them, the LF are upgraded versions of the DV gear.

      • Reply October 3, 2013

        zepplock

        I see, I was not aware of that. I can not comment on sound quality since I don’t have La Figaro but DarkVoice looks better 😉 That shiny plate and 3.5mm jack look cheap.

        • Reply October 3, 2013

          Dave Ulrich

          It is a 7mm jack.

  • Reply October 3, 2013

    Mike

    I listened to L’s bigger amp, was it the 339? I don’t know, I’d still go for the Crack for Senns and I’d still go with the Violectric for the Hifiman.

    Sorry if the comment is a bit off topic cause I have no experience with the 336C.

  • Reply October 3, 2013

    Aakshey Talwar

    Why don’t you test Project Ember by Garage1217.com? Have any of you heard it?

    • Reply October 3, 2013

      L.

      Heard of it, even have one. They’re like the Bravo amps as well: http://headfonia.com/bravo-hybrid-tube-amplifier/

      No new review planned, by far

      • Reply October 4, 2013

        Aakshey Talwar

        Which one do you have? Project Ember is a new design. It isn’t based on the Bravo or Indeed design. It is a whole new design. Lots of people prefer it to several other amps in the 300-500 pounds range. Never heard of a negative review of it yet. Which one do you have? Sunrise or Horizon?
        Ember is superior to both Sunrise Ii and Horizon.

    • Reply October 4, 2013

      Mike

      I have heard of it, yes.

      • Reply October 5, 2013

        Aakshey Talwar

        @Mike Which one? How did you find it? Did you listen to it across a variety of songs and what was the setup?

        • Reply October 7, 2013

          Mike

          Hi,
          Sorry I meant I have heard of the name of the amp, not personally auditioned it. I did write to them a few times but no response..

      • Reply October 5, 2013

        Aakshey Talwar

        One thing I’d like to tell you. Me and my friends tested HD 650 with a high end DIY DAC with Beta22 3ch upgraded/modified against a stock Project Ember. Both were excellent and could drive HD 650 with authority. Both had their plus and minus points over each other. However, the Ember was far crisper and more aggressive while being more lively, compared to the Beta22 which was dull in comparison but excellent still. 🙂 And the Ember is a dot neutral amp, not bright at all 😛

        • Reply October 7, 2013

          Mike

          Interesting comparison, Aakshey.

          I still reserve that bit of skepticism for the Ember, as I’ve never heard of anything they’ve built previously, and one other thing all the people who’s been talking big about it are people I don’t know personally (and whose judgement I can trust).
          I hope you understand my point of view but there are a lot of things said to be excellent on the internet that in reality is nothing more than overhyped stuff. Maybe it would be different if I’ve read some of your reviews and so I would have an idea of where you’re coming from.
          Still I’d be happy to take a listen to the Ember, if only they’d respond to my email.

        • Reply November 15, 2013

          Jean Charles

          Aw not you again..stop pestering people with your project amber mate. You got banned at diyah, head-fi, and you’re here now. You were even arguing on putting an amp to a wireless Sennheiser heaphone :/
          In short a lot of people find P Ember shit with the HD650s…get a Crack or La Figaro

          • Reply November 15, 2013

            John Junior

            What happen mate?

          • Reply November 16, 2013

            Mike

            Really?

            I didn’t know.

            • Reply November 17, 2013

              Jean Charles

              This is why Head-fi gets a bad reputation (and rightly so)…from people over hyping products they’ve never heard of. Encouraging you to spend over useless sponsored gear.

              …and this is why I now prefer Headfonia or Innerfidelity. You get to interact with serious people (though it seems others do always piss you off with s**t like this). Anyways keep up with the great work Headfonia

              • Reply November 17, 2013

                L.

                Thanks Jean

              • Reply November 18, 2013

                dalethorn

                That’s interesting – I thought people got banned from the Big Site for not hyping product enough. Oh wait – they must have been hyping the *wrong* product.

                • Reply November 18, 2013

                  L.

                  I think Head-fi still is cool. There’s a lot of good info there but also a lot of bad info. You just have to know which writers to trust and make sure you’re not listening to those “hypers” who never heard the unit or can’t compare it to other gear.

                  It’s not only a Head-fi thing, it’s the whole internet that works like this. And that’s all I’ll say and allow about headfi in this tread from now on. There’s no need to bash our nice colleagues. Thanks guys.

                  • Reply November 19, 2013

                    Dave Ulrich

                    Any big forum, from audio gear to motor oil, will be the same. Plenty of good and plenty of crazy.

  • Reply October 4, 2013

    netmask254

    Just took a look to their website, the English description is somewhat awkward and can be improved. However if you met some communication problem, I’d like to be a free translater 🙂

    This box looks good to me for its size looks like smaller than Crack (I really don’t understand why Bottlehead can’t have a much smaller one since the components/circuit are really simple), but personally I do think Crack looks more cool from the appearance.

    • Reply October 4, 2013

      Dave Ulrich

      Less surface area than the Crack, but still not a small amp. And I think the Crack looks cool as well.

  • Reply October 5, 2013

    Florian GERARD

    Hi lieven!

    Have you seen the new little dot 6080 based amp? Release in September…could be a good review.

    • Reply October 5, 2013

      L.

      Hi. LD review samples: not possible I’m afraid

  • Reply November 13, 2013

    John Junior

    336C with HD600, do you think this will sound very bad for rock, and metal? And do I really need Speedball for Crack to make them special? 339 really out of my budget. 336C is in my sweet spot price.

    • Reply November 13, 2013

      Dave Ulrich

      Well, I think the Crack plays better with faster music. I actually liked it better without the speedball.

      • Reply November 15, 2013

        John Junior

        Hi Dave. Thanks for the reply… Based from my reading, I get the same answer too… But some speedball is a must but some say it’s an option. If funding Crack is really hard for, 366C is my final choice.

        • Reply November 15, 2013

          Dave Ulrich

          The 336c is a very nice amp with the sennheisers

          • Reply November 15, 2013

            John Junior

            But Crack is better right? 😀

            • Reply November 15, 2013

              Dave Ulrich

              It’s a tough call like I said in the review, but overall, for the music you like, yes I think the crack is better.

              • Reply November 15, 2013

                John Junior

                Yeah.. But I’m thinking of the possibility that 366C can beat Crack if change to better tube. There’s a seller told me that the stock amp is a cheap tube…

                BTW, my friend email Darkvoice and he deny regarding LF is not the same from DV and they’re unrelated. I’m not really sure what he meant tho.

                And have you ever found a comparison for LF 336C vs DV 336SE?

                • Reply November 16, 2013

                  Dave Ulrich

                  Well, I believe Bottlehead still uses a tube lottery, so you never know what tubes will come with your kit. I wasn’t overly fond of the stock tubes that came with either. Tube rolling with affect the sound of either. Still, the crack seems to be naturally cleaner and faster.

                  And from what it says on http://www.yuking09.com/ , there is in fact a connection between DV and LF

                  • Reply November 16, 2013

                    John Junior

                    What you mean tube lottery? BTW, contradict from what my friend told me. Nevermind, I’ll ask him again. Or maybe I reading it wrong…

                    • November 16, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      I mean that Bottlehead doesn’t have a set stock tube. It depends on what they have around.

                    • November 16, 2013

                      Mike

                      That is true.

                    • November 16, 2013

                      John Junior

                      Thank you for the explanation… Sound like a lot of improvement can be done with tube rolling right?

                    • November 16, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      Improvement yes, but more you can tune the sound a bit to your preference.

                    • November 19, 2013

                      John Junior

                      Few more questions before I decide either 336C or Crack.
                      – What do you think for Crack+HD600? Neutral, warm, or slight warm?
                      – If it’s neutral, I wonder if the treble will “piercing” your ear in instrument like cymbal? Or it’s neutral with control treble?
                      – Get a base kit or get a speedball. How much is the improvement from basic to speedball?

                      Somehow 60% inside my self saying that I should get Crack but now, I’m looking for something warm like 336C. Sorry asking too much, I have nothing else to refer… 😀

                    • November 19, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      Well, I like the dacport lx, which is neutral. It is quite lively. If you are looking for something warm, you can always try some different tubes. As for the speedball, I would just start with the stock kit. Both Mike and I prefer stock. Plus, you could always add the speedball later if you want. Start with the stock and see how it goes. Try some different tubes.

                    • November 19, 2013

                      John Junior

                      Yeah… Your word make sense. There’s no fun in head fi if I didn’t explore the possibilities for stock right. I hope either both 336C or Crack can bring me something musical. My Aune T1 good, but I think I want more since the amp side of T1 is not that good.

                    • November 19, 2013

                      L.

                      Crack + 600: neutral to slightly warm but you can tube roll to make it warmer/colder

                      Piercing treble: depends on your tubes, probably not.

                      Base kit.

                      Just choose what look you like most 😉

                    • November 19, 2013

                      John Junior

                      Just choose what look you like most 😉

                      This is hard for me to answer to my self. Haha… Never tested both so I don’t know which one I like. For sure if I make a poll, people definitely will pick Crack.

                      Between these two, which one easier to find tube replacement?

                    • November 19, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      Well, they both use the same power tube, so that’s a push. I would say that the input tube on the crack, the 12au7 would be the easier to come by.

                    • November 19, 2013

                      John Junior

                      What you mean push sir? And from my search, 336C use 6sn7. Based on your experience and knowledge, any obvious different or maybe difficulties to obtain the tube?I read 6sn7 easier to find tubes too.

                    • November 19, 2013

                      L.

                      They’re both easy to find

                    • November 20, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      I guess I have had better luck with the 12au7. Sorry for the odd term. In the game blackjack, a “push” is a tie. So, since they both use the same power tube, the 6080, they are a tie in how hard they are to find, as they are the same tube.

                    • November 20, 2013

                      John Junior

                      What else should I take a look before purchasing either one of these two? Price, tube availability, capabilities covered. I think I’m more to Crack since can upgrade to speedball in the future, or maybe not? Crack should be perform really good with classical, opera and instrumental, acoustic genre too right?

                    • November 20, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      That’s what I use it for. Well, that and everything else.

                    • November 20, 2013

                      L.

                      Settle for the Crack. Easy, good. Cheap

                    • November 20, 2013

                      John Junior

                      Thanks guys… Will place an order. Waiting for Eileen Schmalle response…

                    • November 20, 2013

                      L.

                      They probably have a lot of orders now, I hope you can get yours fairly quick

                    • November 20, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      Don’t forget, when everything comes together, let us know what you think. I always love hearing other people’s impressions.

                    • November 20, 2013

                      John Junior

                      Yeah, will do sir… I learn a lot from you guys. Last time I get my HD600 as advised by Headfonia member too and I never regret it. I’m sorry if I bugging you guys too much. BTW, Eileen haven’t reply my email yet. Hopefully able to place an order, or else I just get LF 336C. I guess none of these two can be wrong. Speedball cost about $125, I guess $100 upgrading LF 336C is about more or less cost too.

                    • November 20, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      Are you unable to place an order through the Bottlehead website?

                    • November 20, 2013

                      John Junior

                      Not sure… Haven’t tried yet. I arrange shipping with Eileen… Is there anything wrong?

                    • November 20, 2013

                      L.

                      Orders and payment go trough the site, normally

                    • November 21, 2013

                      Mike

                      If only we’re getting a penny for every Crack recommendations L.

                    • November 21, 2013

                      L.

                      I know, but if it’s good, it’s good 🙂

                    • November 19, 2013

                      L.

                      Both very easy, 6SN7 might be more expensive.

                • Reply November 16, 2013

                  L.

                  Mike and me move the stock tubes however

                  • Reply November 16, 2013

                    John Junior

                    So it’s not the stock tube?

                    • November 16, 2013

                      L.

                      In short. Bottlehead just send tubes they found easily and cheap, so 2 customers might not get the same tubes.

                      Mike and me both use the stock tubes and we think they are great (I did switch the input tube, as said in the review)

                    • November 16, 2013

                      Mike

                      Yep haven’t found one tube sets that beats the stock tube.

                    • November 16, 2013

                      John Junior

                      I’m not sure if it’s true but the LF 336C seller from China told me that the stock tube mostly cost about $4-5.

                • Reply November 16, 2013

                  el34han

                  I have the advantage of speaking and writing in Chinese. Had a 40min talk with the designer of LF 336c and DV336SE, Master Zheng. (Well, that’s how Chinese pay respect to subject matter expert.) He said there’s not much improvement in tube rolling for LF336c because the circuit design is mature and the parts are good quality. The LF 336c is a upgraded DV336SE in circuit design and parts. He also is going to send me the circuit diagram with the 336c to me. I asked him about upgrading. He said there are three upgrade that can be done which will improve the sound quality by another 50%. Of course this is subjective estimate. But the cost of the parts will be close to US$100.
                  Don’t mean to stir up a LF336c VS DV336SE war. Just want to relay the designer’s view.
                  I you were thinking about buying get the LF336c. If you already had DV336SE enjoy your music and be happy.

                  • Reply November 17, 2013

                    John Junior

                    Hey, thanks for the very detail reply. I don’t own any of LF or DV amp and haven’t try them yet.

                    I’m not expecting tube rolling to improve the sound by 50% but I expect tuning to something that I want or the sound obviously changed, let’s just say from bright to warm etc.

                    So that’s explain why in the review above, “The LF 336c has a naturally warm, laid back sound, and that sound is going to remain no matter what tubes I rolled.”

                    • November 17, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      Well, I said that for a reason. I wasn’t a big fan of the stock tubes as I found them a tad bright, but you don’t see the difference in tube rolling with the 336c that you do with the Crack, for better for worse.

                    • November 17, 2013

                      John Junior

                      Ouch… I really hope that 336C really benefit tube rolling like most of tube amp.

                    • November 18, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      There is still absolutely a difference.

                    • November 18, 2013

                      John Junior

                      Uh… I’m confused… You said that you don’t see the difference in tube rolling compared to Crack before?

                      So, the tube rolling indeed overcome the bright at stock tube, at the same time allow user to tune to their liking. Sorry, I’m a little slow in this…

                    • November 18, 2013

                      Dave Ulrich

                      I said that the difference isn’t as great. You will still hear a difference.

                    • November 18, 2013

                      John Junior

                      I see… Thanks ya. *thumbs up*

                  • Reply November 17, 2013

                    Dave Ulrich

                    That’s for the reply! Are you going to attempt these upgrades? I would be curious to hear your thoughts.

                    • November 17, 2013

                      el34han

                      It will be at least couple weeks before I receive the amp, then it all depend on how the stock sound. Finding a good source of the parts is also difficult for me. After I rebuilt a pair of EICO HF60s fifteen years ago, I haven’t done much other than listening to music. If I do upgrade the 336c, I’ll definite let you know. BTW, I do’t have much history with head gears. The 336c and HD580, DT880/600 are my first gears. Probably easy to satisfy.

                    • November 17, 2013

                      John Junior

                      Hey… Kindly looking forward for your upgrade. Update us here…

      • Reply November 16, 2013

        Mike

        I like it better w/out the speedball too. 🙂

        A bit slower on the bass, but more detailed bass and more natural.

        • Reply November 18, 2013

          Jean Charles

          Did you revert back to stock crack? I am going to install speedball whenever I get the time to. I do remember the first time I auditioned a speedballed crack, I liked it a lot…though I do think it was some prototype with fancy caps and all that

  • Reply January 7, 2014

    John123John

    Not sure if this is allowed but..
    https://www.massdrop.com/buy/dark-voice-366se

    US only though

    • Reply January 7, 2014

      L.

      Massdrop is international. They ship everywhere. Good deal!

  • Reply April 18, 2014

    meh

    wat do u think dt880 with this? saw this locally here(portable amp seems not enuf for me)

    and also the violin concert seems to be the same as the philips golden ear(soundstage)..

    • Reply April 18, 2014

      dalethorn

      I read Edd’s lengthy review of the DT880 at Noble HiFi, and based on his comments about the sound being edgy, bright, or a little bit peaky with some music (rock especially), a good tube amp like this should help.

  • Reply January 9, 2016

    Khloe85

    Looking for a tube amp for the HD650 and HD700. I’ve been using them with my Burson Conductor but general consensus is that Senns sound better with tube amps.

    The amp should provide a spacious warm sound with good bass weight. Any suggestions??

    I’m looking at the Valhalla 2 and Lyr 2. I know about the Bottlehead but its DIY so I’m not interested. I would like to buy a fully functioning amp.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.