Mini-Me: TheToneKing.com talks micro-tube amps

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Every time we wander down to our local guitar shack, we catch sight of another micro-tube head that’s making its way onto the scene. That got us at TheToneKing.com thinking why players are moving away from 100 Watt behemoths and towards amps that aren’t any bigger than a breadbox.

Micro tube heads started popping up as early as 2005 with the Epiphone Valve Junior. At $99 bucks, it was easy for players to add one of these 5-Watt Class A tube amps to their arsenal. Then you had the Blackheart amps, which was another 5-Watter for about the same amount of dough. Both the Valve Junior and the Blackheart were cool amps for the hundred-dollar mark, but their tone was a far cry from most tube amps. And, once everyone figured out that they were one-trick ponies, even the small price point couldn’t keep the fad going.

Then, Orange came around with the Tiny Terror. While the Epiphone Valve had barely enough punch to tickle a mosquito, the Tiny Terror was like a kick to the throat. Because of the Tiny Terror’s ability to knock the heads of even the most discerning rockers, players didn’t even flinch when they saw the $500 dollar price tag. Of course, it didn’t hurt that, up until this point, Orange amps were generally in the $2000 dollar price range. But what really seemed to keep players coming back for more was that the Tiny Terror retained Orange’s signature British sound. Orange had managed to rock the world by making a micro-head that could compete with its big brother.

It’s not hard to figure out why everyone is moving away from the 100 Watt full stacks. For one thing, they’re a pain in the ass to move around. Try lugging a 50lb head, two 4×12 cabinets, and three or four guitars, and you’re ready for a chiropractor before you even step foot on stage.

Also, where the technology wasn’t there before, manufacturers have finally found a way to make a 15, 10, or even 5Watt head that can crank. Players could finally be relieved from the constant harassment by sound guys yelling at them to turn down their amps.

Now that manufacturers are making tube amps that are less than 10lbs that can rip your face off, it’s easy to see why players are opting to go small. Finding success on the heels of Orange, every manufacturer is looking to get on the micro-tube amp bandwagon. So, who’s got the goods?  Which manufacturers are doing it right? In true TheToneKing.com fashion, we thought it would be a good idea if we gave you guys a look at some of the biggest names in small amps.

The King’s Top 5:

 

1 – Orange Tiny Terror

 

Price: $769.00 MSRP  $599.00 Street

Wattage: Switchable 15 or 7 watts class A

Tubes: 2x12AX7 Preamp tubes and 2xEL84 Power tubes

Ohms: Separate 16, 8, or 2×16 ohm outputs

Dimensions: 30cm (12”) width x 17cm (6.5”) depth x 14cm (5.5”) height

Weight: 7kg (15lbs)

Features: One-Channel tube amplifier with three knob configuration (Volume, Tone, and Gain)

Pros: In spite of being a mini, the Tiny Terror has enough punch to play small clubs. The Tiny Terror really illustrates the difference between 15 Watts of Class A tube power and a solid state power amp section. Really, there’s no comparison. For those who thought that 15 Watts wasn’t enough to play a gig with, their minds were changed once they plugged into the Tiny Terror. $500 for a British-voiced amp that sounds like it should cost three times as much.

Cons: One channel. Some guys can’t get past that. Unless you’re one of those guys or gals that follows the old-fashioned Marshall rule of rolling back your volume knob for your cleans, you want to go with the Dual Terror (The Tiny Terror’s big two-channel brother) Also, for some, there wasn’t enough saturation in the original Terror. Although, I thought they were nuts. But, if more gain be your thing, Orange has the Dark Terror or the Jim Root Signature Terror for all of your ear-blistering needs.

2 – Hughes and Kettner Tubemeister 18

Price: $749.00 MSRP  $599.00 Street

Wattage: Switchable 18, 5, or 1 Watt

Tubes: 2x12AX7 Preamp tubes and 2xEL84 Power tubes

Ohms: 8 or 16 ohm outputs

Dimensions: 35cm (15”) width x 15cm (6”) depth x 15cm (6”) height

Weight: 5kg  (11lbs)

Features: Two-Channel amplifier with Lead Channel boost. Separate Gain and Volume for each channel. Three-band EQ (Treble, Mid, and Bass) shared by both channels. FX loop. Footswitchable (sold separately) Balanced RED BOX Output with authentic speaker emulation.

Pros: Another monstrous sounding amp! Two channels and separate gains and volumes for each channel makes this little critter flexible. Switching between 18, 5, and 1 Watt changes the character of the gain structure adding to its versatility. The azure glow of the face of the amp will definitely get your rig noticed on stage. I didn’t get a chance to test the Balanced RED BOX Direct Output with authentic speaker emulation but it does promise to be a really cool feature for recording artists who don’t want to go through the trouble of micing an amp.

Cons: Even though I also listed this as a Pro, the gain structure change between wattages also makes it a pain to dial in similar sounds at lower wattages. Hughes and Kettner boast the Tubemeister’s wattage selections as being appropriate for the studio, rehearsal, and gigging. But, if your tone changes every time you switch wattages, then it’s hard to keep a consistent sound. The Tubemeister is made in China. While, there are a ton of great sounding Chinese made amps out there, and this is one of them, many players will be drawn to the German engineering of Hughes and Kettner. Can be a bit deceptive. And, the Tubemeister doesn’t come with a footswitch.

3 – Mesa Boogie Mini-Rectifier

Price: $999.00 Street

Wattage: Channel specific wattage selection. Switchable 25 or 10 Watt for each channel

Tubes: 5x12AX7 Preamp tubes and 2xEL84 Power tubes

Ohms: 8 or 16 ohm outputs

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Dimensions: 32cm (12.5”) wide x 17.5cm (7”) deep x 15cm (6”) tall

Weight: 5.5kg (12lbs)

Features: Two-Channel amplifier with two style modes per channel. Separate Gain, Volume, and EQ for each channel. FX loop with true hard bypass.

Pros: Has the most versatile gain structure of any mini-amp that I’ve heard. Crystal cleans to brutally heavy to rip your ear off shredding. The Wattage selection doesn’t dramatically change the gain structure. FX loop has a true hard bypass switch. Separate EQ’s for each channel. The style modes for each channel make for a huge range of tones. This is the only amp on our list that comes with a footswitch! The fact that you can change the wattage for each channel separately also is something that we haven’t seen at TTK. And, by all things holy, this little bastard is loud!

Cons: A thousand bucks! You can find a used Rectifier for a thousand bucks! That even makes pills as small as this one difficult to swallow.

4 – Carvin V3M

 

Price: $599.00 after instant rebate of $100.00

Wattage: Switchable between 50, 22, or 7 Watts

Tubes: 4x12AX7 Preamp tubes and 4xEL84 Power tubes

Ohms: Switchable between 4, 8 and 16 ohms

Dimensions: 38cm (15”) wide x 21.5cm (8.5”) deep x 17.7cm (7”) tall

Weight: 8.5kg (19lbs)

Features: Three-Channel amplifier with reverb. Separate EQ, Drive, and Volume for each channel. Switches for each channel include Intense/Thick (1st and 2nd ch) and Bright/Soak (3rd ch) Expanded EQ for each channel. Master Volume and Reverb controls. FX loop. Cabinet voiced Line Out. Footswitchable (sold separately) 120 or 240 VAC 50-60 HZ switch. Selectable Blue or Red Backlight LEDs. Basically, everything but the kitchen sink.

Pros: True fans of TheToneKing.com will remember our exclusive look at this head during our Winter NAMM 2011 coverage (scroll down below to watch), or one of our three vids checking out the V3M’s separate channels, and it’s still one of our favs. Besides for being the only amp in this list that has reverb, it’s almost as versatile as the Mini-Rectifier at about half the price. Plus, at a max of 50 Watts, it has the most power of all of our picks in this list. Besides, you can change the freaking LED backlights from blue to red! How cool is that!

Cons: Doesn’t come with a footswitch. Because there is so much built into this little amp, it can take some time to dial in your sound.

5 – Marshall Class 5

Price: $349 bucks

Wattage: 5 Watts

Tubes: 2xECC83 Preamp tubes and 1xEL84 Power tube

Ohms: 16 and 8 ohms

Dimensions: 49cm (19”) wide x 20cm (7.8”) deep x 21cm (8.3”) tall

Weight: 3.04 kg (6.75lbs)

Features: 5 Watt amp with true Class A circuit. Simple design. Volume, Bass, Middle, and Treble controls. All valve signal path.

Pros: About as bare bones as it gets. The Circuit is Class A from the input all the way to the Output. For those who want the purest tone possible, this is it. Besides, you’re getting a freaking Plexi for less that $400 bucks! Then there are the dynamics. The amp reacts more to your attack than any other amp in this list. For guys that are tired of all of those over-compressed sounds out there, you’re not going to find any amp that accentuates your unique playing style like the Marshall Class 5.

Cons: A Plexi is not is not for everybody. While this thing has a lot of bark, it might not have enough gain for some of our shredding brethren.

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There was a time in the 80’s that the Marshall mini-stack was one of the coolest things out there, and like most trends, even that one has come back. Less than ten years ago, players were still donning the wall of Marshall Stacks. Now everyone is making it easier on their spinal columns by making the move to smaller heads. And, why not? Most of these things sound as good, or better, than their big brothers, and they save you the embarrassment of constantly being told by the sound guy to turn the hell down.

The way it stands now, there’s a ton of micro-tube amps on the market. There’s a whole lot of good, but there’s also a whole lot of bad. At TheToneKing.com, we have our favorites. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other great amps out there to try out. Go to your local shop, plug in, and listen. You might find some gem that didn’t make our list. Then, when you get home, get on TheToneKing.com forums and make sure you let us know what you found.

In the meantime, stay tuned to TheToneKing.com where, next time, we’ll take at look at some low wattage heads that are keeping with the trend of less is better. And, while we’re at it, we might even let you in on some of our personal favorites.

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Filed Under: AmpsFeaturedReviews

About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for TheToneKing.com, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.

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  1. Rudi says:

    TubeMeister 18:

    “Switching between 18, 5, and 1 Watt changes the character of the gain structure adding to its versatility.”

    This is wrong! The power soak translates the power of the tubes into heat, is does not affect the gain structure of the preamp or the sound of the power amp. Of course, what you hear will be slightly different, the speaker itself will sound different at different levels, but the character of the tone stays the same.

  2. JR says:

    Mesa sounds awesome, extremely versatile and built like a tank. A few years from now the “used” market will tell the tale of thes amps….some will barely be remembered but the Mesa will hold its ground. PS Buy American… The China thing is over…they hate us, but love getting all our money….NOT mine! I’ll pay more to keep our country employed, and get awesome quality and warranty to boot.

  3. […] Mini-Me: TheToneKing.com talks micro-tube amps : The Tone King | TheToneKing.com Micro Tube Head Buyers Guide : The Tone King | TheToneKing.com i am considering getting the marshall class 5 myself,i hear it is pretty loud though but the new versions have a low power mode and the heads you can plug the jack in halfway to the headphone jack for the low power mode on the head version. not high gain though its basically a 5 watt plexi. ive also heard of the vari watt mod you can do its basically powerscaling and i think skip just improved on the london powerscaling. its an inexpensive mod to do if you dont mind doing it. there is some reviews over on thegearpage.net and people are saying it works really well to keep tone at low volumes, here is the link. Home also summer NAMM 2012 is coming up on july 14th you could see what they release then. i know at winter NAMM orange released the or15 but i havent found many demo's of it yet but i think andertons has one on youtube, i think it is in the 600-700 dollar price range though. […]

  4. click me says:

    hey awesome website, can you check out mine as well ty!

  5. Pete says:

    Can the Carvin get an orange(ish) sound with the added tone switch or is it more of a scooped metal amp?

  6. ZVEX says:

    Let’s not forget the world’s smallest production tube amp, the ZVEX Nano! It’s been on the scene for longer than any of the aforementioned top 5. Just saying…

    Keep on rockin’ Tone King.

    Cheers,
    ZVEX

  7. Hi there, You have done a great job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I’m confident they’ll be benefited from this site.

  8. Corey says:

    No Randall RM22? Great amp with modular preamps, so you can make it sound how you want. I have one and LOVE it

  9. Out of the 5 I would have to say the Mini Rectifier is my favorite.

    Although the EL84’s don’t pack as much as a 6L6 tube
    in the Dual Rectifier heads.

  10. catalan freak says:

    no HT5 or HT1…no laboga the beast…I can´t understand it…

  11. Jorge says:

    Dear King, and about Blackstar HT-5, HT-1 and ENGL Gigmaster 15 ? I missed them and I would ask to hear something about them from you. Thanks, Regards, Jorge.

  12. Axeman69 says:

    Great lineup of baby amps. Tho I AM a tad dissapointed, you didnt include the BLACKSTAR HT-5!!!

    I have the mini stack! While the 2 1x10s leave a lot to be desired, the head unit is amazing! I use it in my 1×12 Lorantz and it screams! Did our 1st gig with it unmiked, no problem!

    But the amp i think i will end up for good with will be the Carvin V3M! Everything you need in it!

  13. jay says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Meq8qe3v050
    Sounds a litte brighter than the 2×12 cabnets that come with it.This is my 5150 50 watt mini.The original demo sucked.

  14. jay says:

    Maybe if you get the chance check out the 5150 50 watt mini,i love mine.

  15. Karl says:

    it was good but i’d rather hear TTK play the guitar

  16. greg says:

    I love the Orange, but you did not even mention Egnater Tweaker 15. I built my own cabs, put two twelves in two cabs, one Jensen, one Eminence. It’s a screamer!:)

  17. Thansk for sharing your thoughts!
    The Tiny Terror is made in China as well by the way..

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