Thanks to the ever-expanding world of amplifiers and the rise of demand in smaller, more compact, and cheaper musical equipment, the small amps of our time are nothing like what they used to be 10, or even 5 years ago. For the beginners, practicing musicians and people doing small gigs, they are the best choice. As mentioned, they are a lot more affordable; plus, they offer portability, which is also quite important.
The biggest players in the industry filled the market with 15-Watt amps that take mobility and ease of use to the next level. Besides, the clever combination of Gain and Volume knobs allows the owners to really crank up their amplifiers for that lovely distorted flavor without going deaf (which isn’t really possible with the big amps). In this review, we’ve got the best small amps that come with the best price-tags and tones.
The Art Of Picking The Right Amplifier
Disclaimer: we’ll only be discussing tube amps in this article. Even though solid-state and digital equipment sounds amazing these days, it still can’t compete with the analog warmth that tubes provide. At the same time, tube amps aren’t big on onboard effects and feature only one tone (as opposed to digital amps that emulate several models). The newbies might think that 1-Watt and 5-Watt amps aren’t good for anything, but it’s not really true.
That’s more than enough power to fill out a small/medium-sized room, which, again, is ideal for the practicing musicians. Alright, now that we’ve learned the basics, let us take a look at the more “advanced” aspects:
- When it comes to watts, in order for a certain piece of equipment to sound twice as loud, it needs to pack 10 times more watts (say, 100W against 10W). For a home setup (and even some tiny venues), 10-15 Watts are just right.
- There are two types of amps: heads and combos. Heads aren’t capable of generating any sounds; combos, in turn, come with built-in speakers, which makes them standalone. At the same time, combos are way more heavy and expensive. Finally, with a combo amp, you’re stuck with the default speaker and its tone. Yet, the heads need cabinets, and that might cost you more than a combo.
- The size of the speaker also matters. As a general rule, the bigger speakers have a stronger low-end response. A 10-inch speaker should be enough for a practicing musician’s amp. The bass players, however, might not be satisfied with the lack of precision in the bass notes. For them, a 12-inch speaker will be a better pick.
The List of the Best Small Tube Amp Heads
1 – ORANGE OR15H. Hands down, this is one of the best offers out there. The owners can switch between 7 and 15 Watts (with 7 Watts, the sweet distorted tones will come forward sooner). This amp sounds great and has some deep and nice tones. The price-tag might be a bit of a turn-off for the beginners: it costs 700 dollars. However, Orange made sure that every single one of those dollars is money well-spent.
2 – VOX NIGHT TRAIN NT15H-G2. Vox is a legend, period. As for this model, it provides amazing quality and reliability for just 500 bucks. Additional features include a Reverb and a 3-band EQ. The musicians on a budget will definitely appreciate the affordable price-tag. Besides, it weighs only 7.2 kilograms, which makes it one of the most portable small amplifiers on the planet.
3 – FENDER SUPER-CHAMP X2 HD. Fender revolutionized the game with the Super Champ series, and X2 is just what the doc ordered. This is a tube slash modeling amp – a rare combination. With 15 Watts under the hood, it’s an incredibly versatile amp. And, it costs just 300 dollars, which is a great bang for the buck. With this gear, you’ll be able to enjoy most genres of rock music, starting with heavy metal and ending with pop-rock.
The List Of The Best Small Combo Tube Amps
1 – FENDER ’57 CUSTOM CHAMP 1×8. Another legendary model from Fender. Back in the day, iconic musicians like Clapton and Aerosmith used the Champ series amps for their biggest hits. This particular model is a reproduction of a vintage amp and sounds great. The company did everything in its power to bring those vintage vibes back, and the resulting gear is marvelous. This isn’t a cheap piece of equipment but is definitely worth the 1000-dollar price-tag.
2 – VOX AC4HW1 1×12″. Don’t let the fact that this Vox amp is only good for 4 Watts fool you: it’s strong enough to fill out your bedroom. It’s got a 12-inch speaker that puts out a lot of heat. The tone and the trademark Vox “flavor” are there. The price-tag is a bit steep, though: $800. But if you’re ready to spend that kind of money on a small amplifier, AC4HW1 will become your new best friend.