The Brown Note D’lite amp is a point to point tube amplifier based on a Dumble design and is available in kit form as well as completely assembled. There is no difference between the kit version and the assembled version. This particular review will be of the kit version; the assembly process as well as the finished product will be reviewed.
When you purchase the D’Lite 22 Super Deluxe kit from the Brown Note everything is included. High quality capacitors, resistors & switches; F&T and Sprague electrolytic capacitorss, NKK & Mountain switches, Head Cabinet (black, blonde or coco), Chassis, Brown Note/Heyboer Custom Transformer Set, .125″ G10 Garolite Eyelet Board Set, Tubes, all Electronic Components, Hardware Components, Teflon Wire & Shrink Tubing and lastly the Knobs. All you need to supply are the tools and some assembly skills. There is a wiring diagram and schematics available online. You can visit the Brown Note Forum where you can discuss the D’Lite and get support from other kit builders and from the owner of the Brown Note company himself. You can order the kit with a combo cabinet instead of the head cabinet for a small up charge. The speaker is not supplied with the cabinet but the Brown Note offers speakers for cabinets on their website.
If you decide to go with the D’Lite kit the first thing to do is check to see that all the parts and components are there. If you are missing a part contact the Brown Note right away and they will ship any missing ingredients promptly. After you look over the layout and schematics look at all the parts and familiarize yourself with them. You can also visit the D’Lite Forum and get helpful hints and ask any questions before you begin. There are many detailed photographs on the forum. There is a wealth of information there.
Being a guitar and amp tech for the past 25 years as well as custom amp builder since 1996 I found the D’Lite kit build to be relatively easy. The layout and forum are a big help. I feel that a novice with a little soldering skill and common sense could build the amp with little difficulty. The parts and components are very high quality as well as the cabinetry. The black powder coated chassis is perfect and looks exceptionally clean. All components fit in their respective places perfectly. There was enough wire and exact amount of small hardware to complete the build. I do not recall how many hours it took to build but I would estimate that a novice builder would have about 20 or so hours into it until it is up and running.
My personal D’lite build was a black tolex, 1×12 compact combo. I chose a 16 ohm, Celestion Gold 50w 12″ speaker. With this speaker I can safely run the amp with a pair of 6L6’s if I want a little more headroom and punch.
The D’Lite is based on a Dumble ODS design. Features include two channels (one for clean playing and one for overdrive), test points on the rear panel for bias setting and 4, 8 & 16 ohm speaker outputs. There is also a little trim pot on the circuit board (inside the amp) to adjust the amount of gain for the overdrive. The Brown Note suggests that you start with it at about 11 o’clock. Front panel controls are from left to right: Input, Volume, Bright switch, OD/Clean channel switch, Preamp Boost (PAB) switch, Treble, Mid, Bass, Overdrive Gain, Overdrive Level, Master, Presence, Standby switch and On/Off switch. Rear panel is where the IEC power jack, Fuse, Bias test points, Passive Effects Loop, Impedance selector and speaker jacks and footswitch jack are. The bias adjustment pot is on the underside of the chassis and is very easy to find. Channel switching, Bright switching and PAB switching can be front panel controlled or footswitch controlled. The footswitch assembly and switching relays are a separate kit that you have to order. Output power is approximately 22 watts with the 6V6 power tubes and approximately 33 watts with 6L6 power tubes. With 6V6’s the D’lite is sweet and warm with some nice added power tube breakup when pushed. It is about as loud as a Deluxe Reverb. With 6L6’s it becomes much punchier and broader. There is more dynamic headroom and is a little louder and bolder than a Deluxe Reverb. I found that there was plenty of volume to play with an 8 piece band with 6L6’s, no problem.
After the amp was assembled and powered up correctly using a variac or the light bulb method (see the forum for more on this) I proceeded to set the bias on my Mazda 6V6’s. I used Eh 12AX7’s for the preamp tubes. You can easily try many different preamp tubes and power tubes for different variations in tone. With this amp you can hear every nuance with a tube change. My D’Lite fired up without a hitch and I set the controls as follows: Volume 11 o’clock, Treble 10 o’clock, Mid 10 o’clock, Bass 9 o’clock, OD Gain 2 o’clock, OD Level 8 o’clock, Master 3 o’clock and Presence at high noon. With my Barden equipped Telecaster the clean channel sounded nice and warm with crystalline definition. It is hard to pinpoint the exact tone of the clean channel but I would say somewhere between vintage blackface Fender, a tweed Bassman or Twin with a little Vox thrown in, not a bad place to be. This particular amp does not have Reverb but somehow it shimmers without it. (You can order a D’Lite 22 with Reverb but not in kit form only as a complete amp). The EQ controls are very responsive and a little adjustment goes a long way. The Bright switch added even more edge above the Presence control but the amp never sounded harsh or had that ice-pick quality that makes your teeth hurt like some amps. The PAB engaged on the Clean channel made the amp growl and get really fat and punchy. Great for single note blues lines. Now it was time for the OD channel. With the PAB disengaged the Overdrive channel sounded very similar to the clean channel in tone but overdriven. The overdrive tone was smooth and rich with harmonic content. Sustain was excellent and you could get some great rock tones; Stones, Who, Skynyrd, etc. With the PAB engaged the amp goes into heavy saturation with long endless singing sustain. Every note is thick but still defined even with complex chords. All the Steely Dan, Robben Ford and Larry Carlton tones are here. You can get into Santana-land as well. Both the Clean and Overdrive channels are VERY dynamic, touch sensitive and respond very well to your guitars volume and tone controls.. There are many, many shades of tone by just using your picking technique alone. Add the two channels, PAB and Bright switch and there probably isn’t a sound you could not get. The tone of the D’lite is refined but not snobby and has its own personality. The bottom end is never mushy and has a certain percussive quality. It is small and compact and you wouldn’t need any pedals for a session or open jam.
Channel switching via the footswitch was very quiet without any pops or thumps. The footswitch has three switches. You can switch the Overdrive and Clean channel, Bright switch and the PAB. This is extremely versatile during live performances.
The Bottom Line: If you order a D’lite kit in the end you will have a very high quality point to point, hand wired, tube amp that will rival a lot of boutique amps on the market for about $1000.00 which is a bargain in my opinion. The components are of high quality and if you take your time and build it correctly it should last for decades without ever having any problems. A great practical project that you can use and enjoy.