5 Best Small Tube Amps: Low-Watt Tube Amps Under $500
|Image||Guitar Amp||Summary||Check Price|
|Vox AC4TV||This great looking, affordable, and sweet sounding tube amp gets you the famous Vox tone at reasonable volumes. It doesn't have much clean headroom, and lacks reverb & headphones output. If you can live without those, it's hard not to recommend the AC4TV. Best of the Best||Amazon|
|Blackstar HT-5R||Marshall offshoot Blackstar brings you an extremely versatile small tube amp. Tons of features equals a high price tag, and it doesn't have the same tonal character as its competitors. Still, we recommend this one if you want the most features and the best overdrive tone.||Amazon|
|Fender Blues Junior III||Bedroom warriors beware - this amp is louder than the others on our list. That said, nobody does glassy cleans better than Fender, and the spring reverb is sweet. Overdrive is not its forte, and it's a bit on the heavy and pricey side.||Amazon|
|Bugera V5 Infinium||Bugera (Behringer's amp division) has made the ultimate affordable recording and bedroom tube amp. Reminiscent of the Vox AC4TV, but less expensive. It's voiced a little darker, and not well suited to metal guitarists, but with all its features and amazing budget price it's hard to pass up. Best Bang for Your Buck||Amazon|
|Orange Micro Terror 20-Watt Head||This being just an amp head, you'll need a cab to go with it. It's a one-channel amp and a bit of a one-trick pony, but it's so good at what it does. Unmistakable British Orange tone, superb portabilty, great features like a headphones output, and very budget-friendly.||Amazon|
The guitar amp you use is a hugely important part of getting your perfect tone. There are thousands of amps out there of all shapes and sizes from hundreds of manufacturers, but one category that has been catching fire over the last 2-3 years is small, low wattage tube amps. There’s nothing quite like the tone achieved by an all-tube amp, but it seems many (if not most) guitarists are not in a situation where they can turn the gain and volume up to 11, which is what’s needed to really push those tubes and make the amp realize its tone potential. Maybe you live with your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse/roommates, maybe you have a small apartment with thin walls, or your neighbor’s house is close enough where they can hear you play. For these reasons, a low-watt tube amp which lets you crank up the gain and hit the tone sweet-spot while keeping the volume low sounds pretty appealing to most players. We all want that creamy, overdriven tones from our Vox, Fenders, and Marshalls... we just don’t need 100 watts of power.
The problem is nearly every amp manufacturer makes one of these types of small tube amps now, so choosing the right one for you is an exercise in frustration. Luckily, we did the hard work and figured out what the top recommended ones are, taking into account various playing styles and budgets.
- It’s All About That Tone
- How Did We Make This List?
- 5 Best Small Tube Amps Under $500
It’s All About That Tone
Some guitarists argue that for the bedroom warrior, a solid state or digital modeling amp is the right choice for its ability to provide pretty decent tone even at low volume levels. While solid state and modeling amps have lots of bells and whistles and have come a long way tone-wise, there’s no substitute for the tone of a real tube amp.
Which brings us to our point: The reason to insist on a tube amp is purely a matter of wanting the best tone. With a low watt tube amp, you can have the best of both worlds - versatility/portability, and that tube tone. It’s not quite apples to apples, since with a tube amp you’re giving up some versatility as compared to a digital amp like the popular Fender Mustang I V.2. The Mustang has numerous amp models, built-in effects, a USB port, and more. A tube amp will be more limiting, since it doesn’t have onboard effects (except for maybe reverb), and it’s going to have a single particular tone and character. However, that tone is unmatched by anything in the digital world, and moreover tube amps tend to respond to effects pedals much better.
Low-watt tube amps generally have less headroom, meaning that the point at which the clean tone starts to “break up” and you achieve that natural tube overdrive comes much sooner than their high-watt big brothers. You’ll typically have a gain knob to push the preamp, and then a master volume knob which lets you turn the overall level down, but still achieve that tube distortion. However, if you think 5 watts or even 1 watt makes for a quiet amp, you’re mistaken! A tube amp even at those watt levels can be incredibly loud. In our reviews below, we’ll make sure to note if the amps are good for quiet bedroom playing, band practice, and small venues for live playing.
How Did We Make This List?
Rather than just listing 5 small tube amps with no rhyme or reason, we set out to discover what guitarists across various online communities are recommending. From reddit, to Gearslutz, to The Gear Page, our own community, and many more, we spend several days looking for discussions around “what’s the best small low watt tube amp.” We gather people’s recommendations and tally them up, to get an idea of what the popular ones are. We then took the top handful, read reviews, watch YouTube demos, and form our top 5 list. Finally, we go out to our local guitar shops to take them all for a test drive.
We like this approach since the word “best” is so subjective. Someone with an unlimited budget that loves metal might have a different definition of “best” than someone with $150 to spend that loves classic rock. By tallying up the amps that are recommended by guitarists across the web, we get a good cross section which includes models for most budgets, skill levels, and playing styles.
Disclaimer: While we say these are the top 5 small tube amps under $500, one is actually a tube/solid state hybrid, and one is slightly over $500.
5 Best Small Tube Amps Under $500
Without further ado, here are the most frequently recommended and highest reviewed small tube amps.
At A Glance:
Power: 4 Watts (switchable to 1 watt, and 0.25 watt)
Speaker Size: 10”
Dimensions: 13.78”W x 14.76”H x 8.46”D
Weight: 20 lbs.
On-board Reverb: No
British amp manufacturer Vox is a legendary name when it comes to guitar amplification. Vox amps are known for that quintessential British Invasion sound of the 1950s and 60s, famously used by bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, the Yardbirds, and many more. While other amps are often compared to that Fender sound or that Marshall sound, Vox amps have a unique sound all their own. It’s no wonder then that when looking for a low wattage tube amp, guitarists turn to Vox to check out their offerings. Well, it turns out the Vox AC4TV combo amp is the most recommended small tube amp based on our extensive research. The AC4TV is essentially a reissue of the 1961 Vox AC4. This is a 4 watt tube amp that not only gives you the famous, unadulterated Vox sound in a “practice amp” package, but it also comes with a very interesting feature to let you push those tubes and get a sublime overdriven tone at bedroom volume levels.
Features and Layout
Visually the Vox AC4TV is striking and elegant, and while some amps just blend into the background, this one might get you a few compliments. Its looks are supposedly inspired by the “TV” front styling of the 1958 AC15. As we mentioned, this is a 4 watt, all-tube combo amp. You’ve got a 12AX7 preamp tube, and an EL84 power tube (it comes stock with Russian-made Sovtek tubes, which are very nice). The speaker is a decently-sized 10” (it’s a specially designed Celestion VX10, which is also very reputable). The Vox AC4TV comes with just 3 very simple controls. The first knob next to the guitar input is TONE, which basically adjusts how bright or how dark the amp sounds. The knob after that is VOLUME, which as you might have guessed is the output level control to ensure that your roommates/neighbors/spouse/etc. don’t hate you. The third knob is OP LEVEL which stands for Output Level, and is arguably the most interesting one. It’s a 3-position knob which lets you select between 4 watt operation, 1 watt, and a quarter (0.25) watt; basically a built-in power attenuator. Provided you keep the VOLUME knob in the same place, going from 4, to 1, to ¼ watt cuts down the power of the amp for more manageable volume levels, maintaining the integrity of your tone. Remember, with a tube amp you really need to push it to get the best tone possible out of it, so if you’re in a situation where you can’t be super loud, just switch the Vox AC4TV to 1-watt or ¼-watt mode and turn up that volume knob to achieve distortion. Another interesting inclusion is a 16 ohm speaker output on the back of the amp, so you can hook this amp up to a bigger speaker cabinet when you’re playing live for instance. In terms of portability this amp is nice and compact, weighing just under 20 lbs.
The tone of the Vox AC4TV combo amp is decidedly British. I mean, let’s face it, that’s a large part of the reason you’re looking at a Vox. From the clean tone, to the slight break up, all the way to the most saturated distortion, this amp is well suited for blues (slightly “dirty” blues in particular), jazz, classic rock, and even some modern pop/rock. It is not the amp to use for you metal players out there. From a user review:
“...this is not a metal amp, by which I don't just mean thrash or death metal. I wouldn't even want to play 70's metal on a amp this 60's-sounding.”
The distortion sounds absolutely great. Even at 1 watt operation with the volume knob past 12 o’clock you’ll get some nice modern pop/rock sounding distortion. In ¼ watt mode, turn the volume all the way up to get the most saturation. If you pair that up with a humbucker-equipped guitar, you’ll achieve the most distortion possible that this amp can give you.
The clean tone of the Vox AC4TV is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, the clean sound it gives you is quite beautiful and really sparkles. Again don’t compare it to a Fender; it’s not “Fender clean,” it’s “Vox clean.” On the other hand, this amp gives you very little clean headroom. Meaning, it starts dirtying/breaking up fairly quickly as you turn the volume up, especially if your pickups are loud. If you’re after clean sound at high levels, we would suggest you steer clear of this Vox and look at the other tube amps in this guide. We had to use the volume knob on our guitar quite a bit to keep the distortion in check for as long as possible.
We love this amp, and it’s no wonder it comes so highly recommended to people looking for the best small tube amp. It looks great, it’s simple to operate, and it gives you the coveted Vox sound even at bedroom volume levels. That said, keep this in mind:
“Four watts turned up to the point of distortion is not nearly as wife safe as you may be thinking when you see this amp... it goes above bedroom levels. In other words, you will find yourself needing to use the 1 watt and 1/4 settings for practicing, so be glad the amp has them. This was pretty much the feature that caused me to get this amp over the other <10 watt tube amps on the market these days.” source
The Vox AC4TV is ideal for playing at home, having backstage, and fantastic for recording (set it to full 4 watt power for recording to get the best tone, and dial it back to 1 or ¼ watt for more quiet practice). For band practice, this amp might have trouble being heard over a loud drummer. All in all, if you dig the British Invasion tone and need to be able to dial in some sweet distortion at lower volumes, this is the small tube amp to get. Best of the Best.
Good looks, build quality, light and portable
Simple - all about the classic British Vox tone, even at lower watt settings
Versatile distortion for jazz, blues, classic rock, and modern rock
Takes pedals fairly well
Not for metal guitarists
Might not be loud enough for band practice with a loud drummer (you can use the speaker output and hook up to a bigger cab)
Not a lot of clean headroom, breaks up quickly
No built-in reverb
No headphones output
At A Glance:
Power: 5 Watts
Speaker Size: 12”
Dimensions: 17.48”W x 15.75”H x 9.33”D
Weight: 27 lbs.
On-board Reverb: Yes
Right after the Vox AC4TV, the most recommendations go to the Blackstar HT-5R. Blackstar is a relative newcomer to the guitar amp game and is quickly gaining popularity. The company dates back to 2007, when a couple of engineers working at Marshall Amplification decided to take their ideas and form Blackstar. Hailing from the UK, Blackstar amps have a decidedly British flavor and tone. The HT-5R is a 2-channel, 5-watt, all tube combo amp with Reverb (hence the “R” in the model name). It’s slightly larger and heavier than the Vox AC4TV, but still very compact and portable. Where the Blackstar HT-5R differs the most from the AC4TV is that it really focuses on nailing the overdrive. Also, for such a compact amp it’s loaded with features.
Features and Layout
Aesthetically, the Blackstar HT-5R sports a very clean, elegant, dark look. The build quality is top-notch and everything feels very well finished and nice and tight; in the “fit and finish” department you’re getting more than your money’s worth. This amp operates using two tubes; an ECC83/12AX7, and a 12BH7 Power Tube. The speaker is a 12” Blackbird 50. All quality stock components, so no complaints here.
In terms of features, Blackstar has really been generous. Unlike the Vox with its single channel, this small tube amp has 2 channels - CLEAN and OVERDRIVE, which you can easily switch between using the included one-button footswitch. Each channel has its own set of controls. With CLEAN you get VOLUME and TONE - nothing surprising here, VOLUME sets the overall level and TONE sets how dark or bright you want your cleans. With the OVERDRIVE channel you get GAIN and VOLUME adjustments. This fine-grained control is a big part of the reason why you can make this amp sound great at low, bedroom volume levels. There’s an EQUALISATION section with a 3-band EQ (BASS, MIDDLE, TREBLE), and a very interesting ISF (Infinite Shape Filter) knob. ISF basically lets you shape the midrange - turn it to the left for a more American flavor (think Fender, MESA/Boogie), and turn it right for British (Marshall, Vox). The ISF setting works well for fine tuning your sound, and makes a noticeable difference in your tone. It’s not a make or break feature by any means, but it’s nice to have. Last but certainly not least is the REVERB knob. It’s not the best reverb in the world and doesn’t have the presence of Fender spring reverb, but it’s a great inclusion and allows you to save the money you would need to spend on a reverb pedal.
Turning our attention to the back panel, there are some very useful things Blackstar included to make life easier:
- The MP3/LINE input lets you plug in any device that plays music so you can practice and jam along.
- The EFFECTS LOOP is great especially if you have a looper pedal, which if put in the loop will let you record a clean rhythm riff, then switch to the distortion channel to jam on top of the clean loop.
- HEADPHONES output for silent practice, which emulates a 1x12 or 4x12 cab.
- SPEAKER outputs to hook this amp up to larger speaker cabinets.
The clean channel on the HT-5R is simply okay. A Fender amp has much more character in its clean tone, and the Blackstar’s clean cannot really be described as “glassy” or “shimmery.” It’s good, not great. As you turn the VOLUME knob up on the clean channel, it will break up nicely to some crunchy bluesy tones.
Blackstar is famous for overdrive, and it shows. Even at low volumes, the GAIN knob produces some amazing tones throughout its range. From modern rock to metal, you can achieve it with the HT-5R, at both “apartment-friendly” and small gig volumes. Given that Blackstar was started by former Marshall employees, it definitely feels more like a British-flavored distortion.
The Blackstar HT-5R combo amp is the one to get if gain/distortion is your thing. The Vox AC4TV is more if you love that 50s and 60s British Invasion sound. The HT-5R lacks some of that Vox character, but it’s far more versatile. While you can’t switch the power to anything lower than 5 watts, it’s actually quite playable at low volumes - definitely good enough for an apartment with thin walls (and if you need it to it will get loud enough for practice alongside a drummer or a very small gig). The clean channel has more headroom than the Vox, and it’s nice that the clean and distortion channels are separate. You have more tone shaping options, and more versatility with the effects loop and headphones output. The price is on the higher end of the amps we recommend in this guide, but it’s fair considering what you’re getting. Blackstar, color us impressed.
Great looks, impressive fit and finish
Great tone even at very low volumes
Nice bluesy breakup on the CLEAN channel
EQ and ISF provide lots of options to dial in your ideal tone
Loaded with features like an effects loop, headphones output, footswitch, and speaker outputs
Gain for days, from classic to modern rock to metal
The cleans are decent at best
The overdrive lacks some of the “character” of the Vox AC4TV
A bit pricey
Fender Blues Junior III
At A Glance:
Power: 15 Watts
Speaker Size: 12”
Dimensions: 18”W x 16”H x 9.18”D
Weight: 31 lbs.
On-board Reverb: Yes
A “best of” amp list just wouldn’t feel complete without Fender making an appearance. The next-most recommended small tube amp based on our research is the Fender Blues Junior III. This is a 15-watt all-tube combo amp with a 12” speaker and onboard spring reverb. A couple of important notes right off the bat:
- This is slightly above the $500 price limit we said at the start of the guide.
- Of all the apartment and bedroom-friendly amps on this list, this is ever-so-slightly less friendly. In other words, while you bedroom warriors can certainly use it and get some sweet tones, this amp can get windows-rattling loud!
That said, the Blues Junior encompasses everything there is to love about Fender amps in a very compact package. Let’s dig in and figure out if this is the right small tube amp for you.
Features and Layout
This amp has classic Fender good looks. It’s basically like someone took a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe and shrunk it. It’s a little bit heavier than we expected at around 30 lbs. Still, that’s light enough to be very portable and not sustain any injuries from lifting it. It’s about the same dimensions as the Blackstar HT-5R, so it will tuck away nicely under a desk or in the corner of your home studio or bedroom.
This is a 15-watt tube amp, and it comes with 5 Groove Tubes (three 12AX7 preamp tubes, and two EL84 power tubes). The speaker is a 12” 8 ohm 50-watt Fender Lightning Bolt speaker by Eminence. All very high quality components. Remember, tubes require some maintenance over time, so the fact that this amp has 5 as opposed to just 2 or 3 means you’ll have to maintain more things. Like the Vox AC4TV, this is a single-channel amp, and if you’re at all familiar with guitar amp controls the knobs on this amp won’t surprise you. You’ve got VOLUME to control the preamp gain, a 3-band equalizer (TREBLE, BASS, MIDDLE), MASTER for the overall output level, and a REVERB knob to dial in how much reverb you want. There’s also a small FAT switch which boosts the midrange and gain a bit (you can hook up an external footswitch to toggle this). And finally, just like the other amps on this list there’s an external speaker jack.
Sound-wise, the Blues Junior III is classic Fender all the way. Meaning, the clean tones are spectacular, and words like “glassy,” “bell-like,” and “sparkling” have all been used to describe it. There’s a decent amount of clean headroom before it starts to break up; not a ton, but more than on the Vox AC4TV. There’s really not much more that needs to be said, as the Blues Junior’s clean tone is the best one around. This amp is a champ when it comes to taking pedals, so if you’re an effects user you’ll love how well it responds to anything from fuzz to distortion to delay. Speaking of effects pedals, you probably won’t need a reverb pedal since the amp’s onboard spring reverb is just incredible. Be careful, as dialing in a little reverb (around the 2 or 3 position) goes a long way.
In terms of gain and distortion, in typical Fender fashion it breaks up beautifully for some dirtier jazz or blues, and you can turn down the MASTER and increase the preamp VOLUME to get some very nice saturation. It sound warm and full, and you get that pure tube overdrive. Unfortunately, dirt is not it’s biggest strength. The Blackstar HT-5R is a better choice for you modern rock, hard rock, and metal players.
In terms of loudness, this is where the Fender Blues Junior III suffers a bit as an apartment or bedroom-friendly practice amp. There is no attenuation to turn down the wattage like on the Vox, so you’re sort of stuck with 15 watts of power. This thing can get LOUD. Definitely loud enough to play live in a small club. Users give it mixed reviews at bedroom levels, with some users saying it’s too loud to play at high volumes at home. We found that when playing clean the volume is manageable, but when you push the amp to get a fat overdrive it gets a bit too loud for apartment living (specifically if you have a small place or thin walls). Anything past about 3 on the MASTER knob and you might be getting some complaints!
So there you have it, the ups and downs of the Fender Blues Junior III combo amp. It’s basically a no-frills, straightforward Fender amp that does not skimp on the things people love about Fenders. In many ways this amp “stays out of your way,” meaning it just has a great simple tone that you can do with what you desire. To that end, it responds extremely well to different pickups and whatever pedals you run in front of it. Provided you’re not looking for hardcore distortion it’s hard to argue that it sounds beautiful and has very good presence, clarity, and punch both at low and high volumes. If you need to practice quietly most of the time, or if you need loads of distortion you won’t be getting the best of the Blues Junior so we suggest you look at another one. Otherwise, it’s hard to go wrong if you can fit it in the budget.
Beautiful, sparkling cleans Fender amps are famous for
Nice warmth and presence as it starts to break up
12” speaker has great sound and presence
Takes pedals extremely well, and responds nicely to different pickups
Loud enough for band practice and small gigs/venues
Loads of sweet-sounding spring reverb built-in
Classic Fender good looks and build quality
A little on the heavy side for a small amp
Not the best for heavy distortion, metal, etc.
Might be too loud for small homes and apartments, especially when you push the tubes
5 tubes = more maintenance
Bugera V5 Infinium
At A Glance:
Power: 5 Watts (switchable to 1 watt, and 0.1 watt)
Speaker Size: 8”
Dimensions: 14”W x 14”H x 8.6”D
Weight: 22 lbs.
On-board Reverb: Yes
As guitarists we feel extremely lucky to discover amazing gear that sounds and works great for a ridiculously low price tag. Such is the case with the Bugera V5 Infinium combo amp. This is a 5-watt amp with an 8” speaker, reverb, and the ability to attenuate the power to 1 watt, and even one-tenth (0.1) of a watt for quieter playing. When we started our research for this guide we didn’t know much about Bugera. As it turns out it’s part of the Behringer brand, and as such their mission is to fill the gap in the “value for the money” end of the amplifier spectrum. Well, we - as well as guitarists around the web - can attest to the fact that they did a great job building an amp that delivers some serious vintage tube tone for an amazingly low price.
Features and Layout
The little gear snob inside all of us might start out a little skeptical about budget gear from the likes of Behringer/Bugera. We’re here to put those fears to rest. In the looks department, this amp looks nice and classy. Unlike the Vox, Blackstar, and Fender, the knobs on the Bugera V5 are mounted on the front of the amp, not the top. The colors and materials are nice, and we really are unable to find fault in its build quality, at least on the outside. We’re happy to say it feels just as nice as the Vox AC4TV, and actually is very similar to it in terms of weight and stature. Operating this amp is very straightforward. Next to the ¼” guitar input jack you have a GAIN knob, TONE knob to control how bass-y or treble-y you want to be, VOLUME knob for the overall level, and REVERB to dial in the desired amount of digital reverb. On the back of the amp is a small toggle switch for an attenuator, and you can select between 5-watt power, 1-watt, and 0.1-watt. Exactly like on the Vox AC4TV, you can drive the tubes more at a lower overall level, which lets you achieve that saturated vintage tube sound, which is the whole reason you’re getting a tube amp in the first place! Another really handy inclusion by Bugera is a headphones jack on the rear of the amp for silent practicing (which when you have headphones plugged into it mutes the speaker entirely). In terms of tubes, there’s a 12AX7 preamp tube and an EL84 power tube. The speaker is a rather small 8”, and is a British-engineered Turbosound speaker. We didn’t really get a chance to dig into the INFINIUM technology but supposedly when the tubes need to be replaced, a light on the back of the amp will light up. There’s also a 4 ohm speaker output, in case you want to use a larger speaker cab.
All in all feature-wise it mirrors the Vox AC4TV, and actually has a leg up on it for including a headphones output and onboard reverb.
The Bugera V5 Infinium combo amp has its own sort of flavor to its tone. The distortion is reminiscent of the Vox, and the cleans are reminiscent of the Fender, but at the same time it’s voiced pretty differently. “A bit darker” is how some people have described it, which we would agree with.
The clean tone is good, and nobody will balk at it despite not being Fender clean. It’s sort of a darker sounding bluesy warm sound. The clean headroom is decent, definitely more than the Vox AC4TV. As it starts to break up you start hearing more of its character and vintage voice. Between the GAIN, TONE, and VOLUME controls it’s very easy to dial in a variety of clean and creamy overdrive tones. If you’re looking for very hard rock, metal, or other high gain sounds we suggest you stick to the Blackstar HT-5R, since the Bugera simply doesn’t go that hard. For those kinds of tones you’ll have to rely on some pedals, and you’re in luck there because the Bugera V5 takes pedals very well. It doesn’t have a dedicated effects loop like the Blackstar, but that’s forgivable since it sounded great with whatever pedals we tried in front of it, particularly a nice boost like the MXR Micro Amp.
Having a power attenuator is massively useful. We love that feature on the Vox, and having it on this amp is a huge plus since it puts this amp squarely in the spouse/kids/apartment-friendly camp. At normal 5-watt operation you get the full tonal range of the Bugera V5. Switch it down to 1-watt, and you’ll get the same sweet vintage overdriven tones at moderate volume. Switch it again to 0.1-watts, and now you’re at “quiet practice” bedroom and apartment volumes. Admittedly, at 0.1-watts you get a little bit of tone loss; the amp sounds darker and not as present. Luckily the TONE knob is quite responsive, and you can compensate a bit with it. This is a fantastic amp for recording, and for that we suggest you keep it at 5-watt operation to get the best results. If you’re concerned about the amp keeping up with bass and drums at band practice, don’t worry, it can definitely get loud. One reviewer has a great tip:
“...elevate it to around waist level. If you place it on the floor with the kick and bass cab, you'll spend the entire practice fighting to hear yourself. Waist level not angled with the volume over 3 o'clock works great. Don't worry, the Turbosound speaker can handle it just fine.”
Bugera really knocked it out of the park with this combination of portability, tone, and price. This is the perfect tube amp for recording, your bedroom or home studio, and even small clubs or churches. Our research did not really turn up any negative feedback, aside from the distortion not being suited to metal. Sure, you might be more of a Vox or Fender guy or gal, but that’s more your personal preference and not a knock on the Bugera. Still, we urge you Vox/Marshall/Fender people to try this one out, we think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. It takes pedals extremely well, and the attenuator will let you get that coveted tube saturation at very reasonable volumes. This is the ultimate affordable recording and bedroom tube amp. Best Bang for your Buck.
Really nice, creamy tone from clean, to slight break up, to full saturation
Good looks and build quality
Ample built-in digital reverb
Headphones output for silent practice
Attenuator lets you drive the tubes and get rich vintage tone at low volumes
Takes pedals very well
Amazing budget price
0.1 and 1-watt settings don’t give you the amp’s full tonal range
Super high gain and metal guitarists will find the distortion lacking
Small 8” speaker is a limiting factor to how good this amp sounds
Orange Micro Terror 20-Watt Head
At A Glance:
Power: 20 Watts
Speaker Size: 12”
Dimensions: 6.49”W x 5.3”H x 3.6”D
Weight: 1.87 lbs.
On-board Reverb: No
Rounding out the list of the best small, low wattage amplifiers is the Orange Micro Terror 20-Watt Head. While perhaps not as storied as Vox amplifiers, UK-based Orange amps have a legacy that dates back to the 1960s, and over time have become a staple for famous guitarists worldwide. Not mere clones of Vox, Marshall or Fender, Orange amps have their own sought-after distinct voicing, particularly in their crunch/distortion. Now, if you’re just getting into guitar amps, you need to understand that the Orange Micro Terror is a head, not a combo. The head is where the actual tone of the amp is “cooked up,” but you’ll need a speaker cabinet to actually hear what you’re playing. In other words you need to buy both the head and a cabinet. It’s widely agreed that the speaker cab that pairs very nicely with this head is the Orange PPC108 1x8 (which is what we tested it with), but we’ll talk about that later in the review.
Features and Layout
Two things initially stand out about the Micro Terror. It’s really small, and it looks and feels terrific! No really, this thing is tiny. About 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) wide, and weighs less than 2 lbs. It’s very well made, and even though tugging on the guitar cable might send this little thing flying, it would probably survive the fall due to the metal chassis. The graphics on it are really cool, and are consistent with the Orange vibe. We’re cheating a little bit by including this in a best small TUBE amp guide, because it’s not 100% tube. It’s a hybrid design, with a JJ Tubes 12AX7 preamp tube (which is what gives it its character), and a 20-watt solid-state power amp. Still, it comes up as a recommendation again and again in “what’s the best small tube amp” discussions, so the people have spoken.
The controls are minimal and couldn’t be much simpler. Your knobs are VOLUME, TONE, and GAIN (gain being the one that basically controls amount of distortion). Tone is flat at 12 o’clock, counterclockwise it cuts the high frequencies, and clockwise it cuts the low frequencies. It has a headphones output for silent practice, and speaking of practice it also has an 1/8” AUX IN so you can plug your mp3 player in and jam along with music. On the rear of the unit is a SPEAKER OUTPUT (4 or more ohms), which is important because you need to hook up a speaker to it to atually hear yourself play.
Unfortunately there’s no reverb on this amp, so much like the Vox AC4TV, you’ll need a reverb pedal if that’s something you want.
So, just like the Vox and Fender amps we reviewed above have the traditional Vox and Fender sounds, so too does this amp have the traditional Orange tone. Some users complain of not being able to dial in good clean tones, but we found if you mess with your guitar’s volume and keep the GAIN under about 11 o’clock it stays pretty clean (still not Fender clean, but a nice clean nonetheless). After 11 o’clock it starts to break up nicely, and that’s where the Orange tone really starts to shine.
As you crank the gain knob you’ll hit sweet spots for all sorts of genres - jazz, blues, country, rock, and maybe it’s a bit of a stretch but there are some metal tones in this little box. Some reviewers don’t think it’s suitable for metal:
“Crank the gain all the way and you get a nice fuzzy distortion. This amp doesn't really do metal but it's useful in many genres like punk, indie or classic rock...”
The Orange Micro Terror can get quite loud. If you crank the volume knob, the neighbors might complain fairly quickly. Luckily, it still sounds nice and “tube-y” even at low volumes, and if you have to be really quiet you can use the headphone jack. We paired this head up with the Orange PPC108 1x8 cabinet, which makes for a very nice compact setup. The PPC108 cab is just over 10” across, weighs less than 8 lbs., and it looks really nice with the bright orange color, especially with the Micro Terror head sitting on top of it (if black is more your thing, there’s a black version). It’s natural that an 8” speaker won’t bring the biggest and best out of your Micro Terror, but it’s perfect for around the house, in the studio, or small live spaces. That’s actually the great thing about the Orange Micro Terror being just a head. Its guts produce a fantastic tone, and your overall result will vary greatly depending which cabinet you pair it with. Eventually you can get a large cab to pair up with it, perhaps a 1x12 or 2x12.
The bottom line is that in the pursuit of great tone, if you like the way Orange amps sound with their “British crunch,” you’ll absolutely love the Micro Terror. It’s cheap - actually cheaper than the Bugera V5 Infinium, but we couldn’t call it the Best Bang for your Buck since you’ll need to spend another $100 or so on a speaker cab. Some users of this amp call it a bit of a one-trick pony, since it only has a single channel, the clean headroom is not the best, and it doesn’t exactly do the best metal distortion. That may be true to an extent, but it’s just so good at what it does. It handles pedals pretty well, so you use pedals to shape your tone however your heart desires.
At first it seems like hassle having to buy a head and a cap separately, but we actually like the idea of it being modular. If you’re just starting out, just get the small Orange PPC108 cab, and you’ll have a fantastic sounding and inexpensive setup. As you graduate to playing live in bigger spaces, you can keep the Micro Terror and just upgrade your cab. It’s portable, has that meaty Orange tone, and is an extremely good value for the money.
That classic British Orange tone, even at low volume
Can get loud if you need it to
Headphones output so you won’t wake up your kids or neighbors
Extremely nice build quality, simple controls, great looks
Tiny and super portable
Budget-friendly price tag
Needs a speaker cab purchased separately
Not as versatile tone-wise as the Blackstar HT-5R