Orange Dark Terror Review: DA15H 15/7 Watt Tube Guitar Amp Head

97
GEARANK

97 out of 100. Incorporating 300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$649
Orange Amplifiers DA15H Dark Terror 15 15W Tube Guitar Amp Head

The Night Is Dark And Full Of Terrors

The Orange Dark Terror looks and sounds like a one-trick metal pony. After spending a lot of time playing through it and recording with it, I discovered it's a lot more versatile than it looks.

Most of the time, instruments and gear that were designed to cater to the metal market are either just good at that one thing or not good at all. A lot of modern musicians in the genre prefer to use either modelers (in the case of modern prog) or ratty vintage tube amps (for stoner/doom guys). I fall somewhere in between those two camps. On one hand, I love the precision and tightness of modeled amps as well as the flexibility of getting right down to the details with it. On the other hand, I love hearing cranked vintage tube amps sputtering and gurgling at full volume on doom and sludge albums.

I was looking for an amplifier that could complement my other, more vintage sounding amp, an Orange Brent Hinds Terror. The Brent Hinds Terror is loosely based on 70's Marshall Plexi's and given a twist (no pun intended) by Ade Emsley, Orange's amp designer and technical director. This fulfills my need for an old-school sound. I wanted another 15W amp head in my arsenal in case I needed something more modern and the Orange Dark Terror was the first thing on my mind.

Orange Dark Terror Switches
The Dark Terror is a compact, 15/7W All-Tube amplifier designed for heavier, saturated tones. The 7W mode is great in the studio for getting more power amp saturation without overloading more sensitive mics like condensers.

I was always aware of the Dark Terror ever since it launched but I never paid any mind to it. I was into amp modelling when it was released and didn't see and experience how fun having an actual tube amp could be during those times. That sort of led me to making the jump at getting one for myself.

The Terror line was conceptualized by Ade Emsley to be a "portable power amp distortion" based amplifier as he described at 0:58 of this clip of the history of the Terror series. Vintage amps sound best when the power amp also starts to drive so that's the niche that the original Tiny Terror sought to fill. Over the years, demand for a Terror amp with an effects loop prompted Ade to design the next step of the Terror line: The Dark Terror.

Orange Dark Terror Front
True to the Terror line, the Dark terror features a very minimal control setup. The shape knob takes the place of the typical 3 band eq.

It's strange how the amp came about; because the Terror series was designed around power amp saturation, putting in an effects loop between the preamp and power amp meant that the preamp has to generate the majority of the overdrive/distortion so that the effects loop can be inserted between the stages. Ade decided to make the preamp have 4 stages of gain like many modern high gain tube amps while maintaining the ethos of being able to drive the power amp at lower preamp gain settings. The higher preamp gain and cleaner power amp section resulted in a very modern sounding Orange Terror amp. Thus the Dark Terror came to be.

Orange Dark Terror Outputs
The Dark Terror was designed to have a tube buffered effects loop in between the preamp and power amp stages. Since the Terror series relies a lot on power amp saturation, the Dark Terror adds a few more gain stages in the preamp to keep the power section clean enough for delays and modulation.

It's a 15/7-watt, single channel amplifier with a Volume and Gain control that interact with each other to achieve specific tones. The Shape knob is a combination of a treble and bass control with a surprisingly wide range from really dark, Sleep-esque tones to scooped, old school metal and everything in between.

What really surprised me is how good the clean tones are. They aren't pristine Fender cleans but they do have a lot of vibe and it don't feel stiff like many high gain amps' clean channels. In conjunction with the effects loop, the Dark Terror is able to be used with reverb and delay pedals for atmospheric cleans.

All that being said, the Dark Terror is still just a single channel amplifier. That means to get to the clean tones, you either have to roll down the volume on your guitar or settle with one gain setting all throughout. While intuitive, the Shape control can be limiting in terms of very specific tonal settings. I would have loved to have even a 2 band EQ in place of the shape knob.

Orange Dark Terror Back
A rearward view of the Dark Terror. Visible through the grille are the amp's tubes. I marked the voltage for this amp on duct tape to make it easier for on-stage techs to see.

For those that rely on a clean tone, the headroom of the 15W amplifier might be a bit limited at lower gain settings. This head was made to rock out so if you're looking for a clean pedal platform, look elsewhere.

The best application, and where I personally use my Dark Terror is in the studio. it's a great studio amp for those that want a saturated power amp tone at volumes your condenser mics won't have to die for. For doomy, sludgy tracks, the Dark Terror is what I plug into the most.

Orange Dark Terror Sound Samples

Dark Terror Clean

Dark Terror Distorted - Rock

Dark Terror Distorted - Metal

All tracks recorded by Raphael Pulgar with the following gear: 2002 PRS Santana III, Laney Cub cab with HH speakers, Shure SM57 mic going into a Presonus ioSTATION 24c.

Specifications

  • Power Rating: 7 to 15-Watts
  • Preamp Tube(s): 3 x 12AX7
  • Poweramp Tube(s): 2 x XEL84
  • Controls: Gain, Shape, Volume
  • Input(s): Normal
  • Output(s): 8ohm, 16ohm, 2x16ohm
  • Misc:Tube Buffered Effects Loop
  • Weight: 12.46 lbs
  • Suitable for: Modern Rock, Alternative, Punk, Metal

Cons

  • Single channel only
  • Shape control limits tonalities

Pros

  • Great heavy tones on stage and in the studio
  • Good clean tone
  • 15W loud enough to keep up with drummers
  • Very portable
Orange Dark Terror Front

Overall

The Orange Dark Terror is a funny little thing. It's aggressive but can also be pristine at recording volumes. For live use however, it's all out or get drowned. It can easily keep up with heavy hitting drums on higher gain settings especially when pushing the power amp but for cleans, it might not be adequate. Where it really shines is getting that saturated chug in the studio at volumes that won't shake the walls. It's this controlled chaos that makes the Dark Terror a must-have in your amp arsenal.

About the Author

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

Gearank High Notes

Orange Dark Terror: Highest Rated Tube Amp Head Under $1000 - 2022.08
On October 18 2021 we announced the results of our annual analysis of guitar amp brands - Orange ranked #1.

Gearank Recommended

The Dark Terror has maintained a place on our recommended list ever since December 2017. During that entire period the only amp heads powered at 15-watts or less that achieved higher ratings were the Orange OR15H and Egnater Tweaker.

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Premier Guitar Jordan Wagner 90/100
Music Radar Stuart Williams 100/100
YouTube Plague Scythe Studios 89/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Used by These Artists

Demos

This photograph shows the size of the Dark Terror compared to the Micro Dark:

Orange Micro Dark beside Orange Dark Terror<.center>

This video by Toby's Guitar Gear Demos demonstrates the amp's sound using multiple settings.