Did you know that with tube amps, low wattage doesn’t mean low volume?
Because tube amps are more efficient than other amplifiers, these little bad boys end up packing punch even if they don’t advertise masses of power.
In this article, we’re exploring the 7 best small / low watt tube amps that you can buy right now.
Ready? Let’s get started…
7 Best Small / Low Watt Tube Amps Reviewed
Small Tube Amps Buyer’s Guide
Still have some questions about purchasing a small tube amp? Still wondering what features to prioritize? We’ve created a buying guide to help you to make the right choice for your needs.
Tube Amp vs. Solid State – What’s The Difference?
A question that comes up a lot is whether tube amps are a better choice than solid-state. There are some key differences. Tube Amps use…well, tubes. These are vacuum tubes that help the amplification process. Solid State amps amplify with transistors.
You can hear the difference between the two types of amplifiers. You can get decent options in both, but there tend to be more portable, powerhouse types in the tube category.
Solid State amps don’t sound as warm and analog. They can distort in a way that sounds like audio clipping or “peaking”.
Tubes give a warmth, a fuzz, and a deep distortion that works great for most rock and metal. They aren’t perfect – the tubes get worn out and you’ll eventually need to replace them – but for many people, the sound is worth it.
Power and Small Amps
You might expect these small tube amps to be very quiet since their wattage is so low. However, tube amplification actually gives more volume from lower wattages than other forms of amplification. 4W is often good enough for recording, and 20W can really pack a punch.
The way they amplify is more efficient, so lower wattage doesn’t mean there’s no volume. Still, the bigger the wattage value, the more power. We’ve included some 1-watt options on our list. These are good for recording, and great for practice, but may not be as good live.
Power attenuators are also included sometimes. These restrict the volume by restricting the wattage. For instance, you can cut a 4W model to 1W and keep the volume lower. This is great if you want to avoid annoying neighbors or roommates.
Tone Modeling – Creating The Ideal Sound
Your choice of amp is a big part of your guitar’s sound. Choosing a tube amp over solid-state means you already have a basis for your sound, but further controls can make even more of an impact.
Some tube amps feature an effects loop. You can hook up your pedals and play around with guitar effects to your heart’s content. Others have built-in effects like Overdrive and Reverb. Even EQ and tone dials such as Overdrive and Gain play a big part. If you’d like more control over your tone and style, look for amps with some of these features.
British vs American Sounds
This can be a confusing part of choosing an amplifier. Amps are sometimes described as having a “British” or “American” sound. This is an abstract concept if you can’t hear examples of it.
Basically, British amps tend to have punchy mid-range tones. Americans offer “V-Shaped” EQs that are similar to headphone EQs, so the sound is optimized for human hearing.
You can read more (and hear examples) here to understand more about the British vs American tones of amplifiers.
Combo vs Head
A combo amp includes both a speaker cone and tubes to amplify the signal. A tube head needs to be combined with a cab in order to give you a full tone. A combo is definitely more convenient, especially for beginners – setup is easy and you’ll have less maintenance to do.
A combo also means you only have to buy one piece of equipment. If you want extra control, a head and cab could be a good option. For convenience, a combo is usually a better choice.
Conclusion & Takeaway
There are a lot of choices if you’re looking for a small, low-watt tube amp. Just know your needs and choose a model based on that.
If you want a great sound that works both clean and distorted, the VOX AC4 is a good choice. If your budget is higher, the VOX AC4HW1 Hand-Wired Top Boost Guitar Combo Amplifier is similar in power, but higher in quality. It has premium features and is handmade by the world-renowned VOX brand.
For a small practice tube amp with low wattage, you could look into the Blackstar HT1R. This has a great tone, and in spite of its small 1 watt of power, it’s loud and clear enough for practice and home recording.