Premier Guitar

DV Mark DV40 212 Amp Review

September 20, 2011

DV Mark, based in Chieti, Italy, may not be a household name to American guitarists, but it’s a growing brand with a reputation for excellent tube guitar and bass amps, the latter of which are sold under the Markbass name. Players from jazz/fusion axeslinger Frank Gambale to rock studio stalwart Danny Kortchmar have made DV Mark amps part of their rigs over the last few years. Much of the company’s success may have to do with its ability to build tube amps that sound great while deviating from the classic tube-amp templates that dominate the market. The DV40 is fine example of that strategy.

Not Your Typical Tube Amp
The DV40 looks more like a 2x12 cabinet than a combo at first glance. Covered in an attractive, smooth black vinyl with black plastic corners, the DV Mark looks rugged and built for gigging guitarists—there’s no retro-minded fussing or overwrought concessions to the boutique crowd to be seen anywhere.

At slightly more than 37 pounds, the DV Mark is surprisingly light for a 2x12 combo. Its tube complement consists of a pair of EL34s and three 12AX7s, and it features cool, practical features—like a rear-mounted Pentode/Triode mode and a top-panel Continuous Power Control that dials up power settings ranging from .5 to 40 watts—that add flexibility to the power section. Another nice feature is the Advanced Tube Control System (ATCS) Interface, which features a USB jack for connecting the amp to your computer, where you can view data about tube performance. There’s also a Bias switch around back that changes the bias from high to low for even more tonal options.

In an unusual design move, DV Mark placed the DV40 chassis on the bottom of the cabinet and used a ribbon cable to connect the chassis, power section, and the top-mounted controls. The unique approach to weight distribution makes the amp feel solid, balanced, and relatively light. The 12" speakers feature custom neodymium magnets made specifically for the DV40.

From left to right, the control panel has high- and low-impedance inputs, a Norm/ Bright switch, Gain and Master controls for channel 1, Drive and Master for channel 2, and global Bass, Middle, High, Riverbero (reverb), and Presence knobs. The Continuous Power Control goes from 40 watts to 1 watt in pentode mode, or 15 to .5 watts in triode mode. As the control’s label indicates, about halfway through the knob’s throw, power switches from class AB to class A operation. The DV40 212’s Pre Out, Amp In, and Footswitch jacks, as well as the Power and Standby switches are conveniently placed on the top panel. Another very thoughtful touch is the red LED that flashes when you’re powering up to let you know the tubes are still warming up. When the tubes are ready to crank, the LED glows a solid red.

The bottom back panel has the standard IEC input for power, and in addition to the aforementioned USB jack, Pentode/Triode and Bias switches, there are speaker outputs for 16, 8, or 4 Ω.

Out on the Range
While the DV40 pumps out tones that run a wide gamut, it regularly—and impressively—evoked at least four of my favorite tones: a 1980s Jim Kelley combo, Ty Tabor’s Gretchen Goes to Nebraska tones, Sheer Heart Attack-era Brian May saturation and sustain, and the sounds of a cranked ’70s Orange OR120.

Channel 1 is a good clean channel, but a great gain channel. There isn’t a lot of headroom there, but with the Continuous Power Control set to full pentode power you can get syrupy cleans and really mean grind by playing with the guitar’s volume knob, which I did with a ’50s Tribute Les Paul Studio.

Channel 2 engages an extra 12AX7 stage to add more gain—which effectively makes it more like a single-channel amp with a boost. You have to be careful with the bright mode in this channel, though, because distorted sounds don’t work nearly as well with channel two’s added top end as they do for the cleaner channel one. Further, on channel 2 the bottom end has a compressed, crunchy character that’s simultaneously tight and loose—it’s almost as if there were a germanium boost engaged. Even with the drive at the lowest settings, there is an interesting grind in the distortion that separates notes and lends a compressed, sharp-edged attack. The flute-ish, chopping quality of notes with this setting were what reminded me of the previously mentioned Orange. It’s fat and juicy, with a spitty quality that’s simultaneously raging, sonorous, and billowing with sustain.

The Continuous Power Control is a great feature that works quite well with both channels. In pentode mode, it’s ideal for, say, a club situation where you have to bring the volume down at minimal expense to your tone. In triode mode, volume can be drastically reduced, but at the price of a more compressed sound that has some unpleasant artifacts as the sound decays. I didn’t hear a big difference in the two bias modes: There was a little more clarity in the high setting that many players would be hard-pressed to notice, but tubes will likely last significantly longer in low-bias mode.

No matter where you set the tone controls, the DV40 retains its voice—but the EQ is effective for refining it. Presence and High have great range, and Middle provides plenty of cut and boost—but it isn’t great for scooped hard-rock or metal sounds.

The Verdict
The DV40 inhabits a unique place among tube amps. It’s rich, even though it doesn’t have a lot of headroom, and there’s tons of gain on tap—though it comes at the cost of some low-end definition. However, sustain and harmonics are plentiful, and I found myself really enjoying the experience of playing it—in fact, I used it on a variety of projects to good effect. It isn’t a Marshall, Fender, or Mesa/Boogie, and it’s a better amp for that individuality.
Buy if...
you want a light, unique-sounding combo with smart new features and many tonal options.
Skip if...
you need more clean headroom.

Street $1295 - DV Mark -