Today we are taking a look at the 5 best small tube amps in 2023 to get a good look at the best compact options out there.
Many of us need a smaller practice amp or something with less volume to satisfy the neighbors. There are a number of mini amp options out there but the smaller options tend to be solid-state amplifiers as the technology is easier to miniaturize.
For many connoisseurs out there a solid-state amplifier just isn't an option. Some of us have a penchant for the warm vintage tones of an analog amp and nothing else will do.
Luckily in the modern age, we live in there are many smaller options becoming increasingly available at a reasonable price to satisfy the tube lovers who need something with less of a footprint.
First up today is a very reasonably priced mini tube amp option from Monoprice a company that aim to keep the costs of equipment access as low as possible. It is a very versatile amplifier. It is a solid framed durable open-backed cabinet which is great for keeping tubes cooled. It harbors an 8 inch Celestion speaker within its confines. The Celestion Super 8s are quickly becoming a new industry standard for small amplifiers. They are crisp and have a great balance across their EQ frequencies and are surprisingly loud for their respective sizes.
The amplifier features simple controls with separate volume and tone, so the circuitry is less complex making it all the more rugged as well as easy to use.
It is just 5 watts and has a standard 12AX7 pre-amp tube which drives a single 6V6gt tube which provides smooth tones as well as great distortion.
It comes in classic cream style and is covered with synthetic leather with chrome corner guards to protect against bumps.
Pros: + Well balanced.
+ Great price.
+ Minimalist controls.
Why We Liked It - It is a well-mad affordably priced, low consumption option, ideal for a grab and go amp if you travel to jam.
Watts aren't equal - When you look at the power output of an amp, you need to take into account the type of amplifier to get an accurate impression. A 20W solid-state amp won't have the same volume as a 20W tube amp, and that's important to know if you are buying a small tube amp for home use. A 5-10W tube amp is ideal for practicing at home and still getting the tube experience. Once you get into 20W upwards, it's more of a gigging amp.
In recent years, Monoprice’s name has become synonymous with high-quality amps at budget prices. That’s exactly what this product is too. For an incredibly low price, you get an amp that delivers pure sound quality without any hiss or unwanted distortion.
The key components inside the enclosure are the 20w amp and the 8”, 4 Ohm speaker. This combination gives you power without costing you any of your guitar’s natural tone. If you’re a rocker who wants to create grungy distortion, then this amp will please you too, as it can provide you with a whopping 86dB of gain.
The price suggests that this is best used as a practice amp at home or for rehearsals with your bandmates. But it truly packs a punch. We think that you could easily use it for a small gig too.
It’s housed in a durable, hard-wearing enclosure that can withstand a few knocks when you’re taking it to gigs or jam sessions.
Pros: + Low Price
+ Quality Sound
+ 86dB of Gain
Why We Liked It - This little amp is ideal for anyone on a budget who doesn’t want to compromise on quality.
We’ve got another Monoprice amp next on our list. This one is in the next price bracket above our previous choice. The extra dollars mean a lot more power, though, and an improvement in sound quality too.
This amp gives you 40w of power, as well as a frequency range of between 60Hz and 12kHZ. There’s a 10”, 4 Ohm speaker also inside it. These components offer you a huge amount of volume that will certainly suit small to mid-sized gigs.
There are ample controls that allow you to shape your sound. Not only do you have the ability to alter the overdrive, thanks to gain and volume knobs, but there is also a three-band EQ for bass, middle, and treble. There’s another knob dedicated to reverb, just in case you want to recreate that shoegaze sound. The master volume knob will please Spinal Tap fans too, as it goes all the way to 11.
Pros: + 40W of Power
+ Master Volume Goes to 11
+ Reverb and Overdrive Knobs
+ Great Value
Why We Liked It - It’s another fantastic Monoprice amp that gives you the ability to shape your sound thanks to the multitude of controls.
Don't be scared to crank it - The point of buying a tube amp is to get that warm tube sound; otherwise, you'd just get a solid-state amp. With any analog or vintage-style gear, it's that harmonic and non-harmonic distortion that gives it so much character. In order to get that from a tube amp, you need to crank it harder, which saturates the power amp and pushes the speaker hard. Lower wattage tube amps will start to break up at lower volumes, so if you want more headroom, you need more wattage, which might upset your neighbors.
This one is a 10-watt tube guitar amp option, it has 2 channels with channel select, each has independent volume controls. It also has a line output/mp3 input and headphone option for silent practices.
This one is another that sounds much bigger than it looks, it has a lovely warmth, great crunch, and distortion and in general, far exceeds expectations of its humble 10 watts of output power.
It is versatile with a diverse set of sound with its clean and overdrive channels as well as gain channel Contour Control giving that meaty Marshall rock flavor. It features a custom built a 6.5-inch speaker and is extremely compact.
Pros: + 10 watts.
+ Clean Vs overdrive channels.
+ Emulated headphone and line outputs for recording.
Why We Liked It - It really delivers an authentic Marshall tone in a small and appealingly priced package. Having the option to switch between clean and overdrive channels is desirable and pretty much a must have for most guitarists. It is a fantastic small tube amp combo.
Last up in our top 5 review, is the rocker 15 from Orange a company known for making some tasty vintage style amplifiers. Now the price tag is far higher than the rest but it is certainly one of the best tube practice amps available.
The Rocker15 is an undeniably excellent piece of kit, it has all the advantages of a compact small tube amplifier but it's 15 watts of power pack such a punch it is essentially gig worthy.
It features 3 premium industry standard 12AX7 tubes as well as a 12AT7 pre-amp and 2 EL84 power amps. It has 2 channels and straightforward controls. Channel 1 features 3 bands EQ gain bass and volume controls. Channel 2 has a power switch and built in-tube stereo /mono fx loop.
The expert authentic circuitry and dedicated controls are housed in the instantly recognizable open, backed Orange cab, with its notorious retro good looks and vibrancy.
Pros: + Switch between 0,5,1,7 or 15 Watts of output.
+ 2 channel.
+ Compact size.
Why We Liked It - It will set you back a fair few hundred more than the rest but we couldn't review the best without a meatier option. Despite its small footprint and low wattage the Rocker15 is a legitimate small gig option as well as being perfect for bedroom volumes.
Small Tube Amp Buyers Guide
If you need to play at bedroom levels, crave an authentic tube tone and simply won't settle for solid state or digital modeling amp then a small tube amp is going to be on your wish list.
The best small tube amps not only provide a lower output, but they are so much easier to carry about. Anyone who owns a high output all tube amplifier knows they can sometimes be pretty strenuous to transport.
There are many reasons why you might want to look for a small tube amp option perhaps you are specifically interested in low watt guitar amps but typically it is to lower the decibels in the effort to be good a neighbor, a considerate spouse or reasonable roomie.
What is a small tube amp?
A small tube amp as the description might divulge is a tube amplifier which is in a smaller size, the tubes themselves and circuitry is smaller as well as the cabinet it is housed within.
Tube amps generate heat as they warm through playing so they need some space or cooling method implemented especially in a more compact model. Typically they will be ported or open backed to make sure low ends are capably dealt with as well as let air into it.
It is also important to note for those of you who haven't played with a tube amp, they need breaking in, so to speak. The sounds you get form your brand spanking new amp will not be the general sound capability of your amp it will take a fair few hours of play to warm up to it's potential. Once broken in you will get the lovely, rich, buttery-warmth synonymous with traditional analog amps.
Which is the best small tube amp for Jazz?
Generally speaking for a Jazz amp you will want a better range of clean tones, for keeping your more intricate work clear. There is a range of decent jazz amps out there many with extra treble control featured brighter or twang-ier tones.
From those we have reviewed here today, we suggest the California Tone Research SET5 it is reasonably priced has a lovely smooth jazz vibe and a surfs rock twang. It is affordably priced and if the wattage is not quite enough they make higher output versions to cater to your needs.
How many tubes should a small tube amp have?
A low watt guitar amplifier, in general, will have fewer components to run. It should have a minimum of one pre-amp tube and one power tube typically you will find the cheap small tube amps will have this exact setup and not a lot more. The more tubes in the circuitry the more cash you are going to have to fork out. If you really only need solo practice volume levels you won't need much more through the headroom won't be huge before it breaks up.
Small tube amps are better suited to guitars because once they hit a certain clean volume level they begin to break up and distort which is great for a heavy lead break, but not so desirable for a bass.
Bass guitars are therefore limited to the amount of headroom available before the amp distorts with their total volume capped where the clean ends.
For bass guitar amplification you want something with a decent output around 500 watts minimum, with plenty of room to reverberate, as well as cool the tubes in. This is why bass amps tend to be much bigger in size. There are some small tube amps out their aimed at catering to basses and if it is just to practice audibly they may do the trick but be warned small amps running low frequencies tend to be fuzzy.
Our advice would be not to look at anything below 60 watts minimum and not to expect much below 100 watts.
What is the smallest tube amp?
There are a number of companies competing on micro tube amplification and as result we even see 1-watt tube amps being produced. The smallest tube amp title for us is awarded to the Zvex nano guitar amp, it is a revolutionary palm-sized, micro tube amp that packs a surprising punch running an output of just ½ a watt, and has some great features. It is a fantastic tool for traveling guitarists to practice on the road. Check out this video review;
The benefits of having something smaller to kick around the house on are glaringly obvious. The majority of us don't practice new tunes on our gigging amps. For bedroom levels, something ridiculously high output is just overkill and will quickly rub the neighbors up the wrong way.
Having a smaller quieter option in modern times is practically essential, not to mention they have the advantage of being taken as a traveling amp. Having access to traditional tube amplification with a smaller footprint and a lower output is a blessing. There are plenty of products to peruse, of those we reviewed we lean towards the Orange Rocker 15 but if the money simply won't stretch to that end of the budget scale you might want to try the Marshall instead. Despite its meager 10 watts is makes for one of the best small tube combo amps about. As ever we are optimistic our small tube mp buyers guide will have answered your niggling questions and given you enough insight into what to look for before you buy the best small tube amp for you.
If you regularly perform or need to be able to turn it down when it is inconvenient for others another idea might be to look at a tube amp head as a small tube option. You can hook them up to bigger rigs when the mood and timing suits or disconnect it for a lower level.
Did you Know
The thick full warmer sound of tube amps comes from their (at the time) revolutionary BBD circuitry.
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