7 Best Small / Low Watt Tube Amps Reviewed [2020]

Best small low watt tube amps buyers guide

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

1. VOX AC4 – Best Overall

Vox Bass Amplifier Head, Black (AC4C1-12) Check Price

The VOX brand doesn’t need any introduction. If you’re into guitar amps, you’ll have come across VOX models before. We’ve chosen the VOX AC4 as the best overall small tube amp due to its versatility. It sounds equally great whether you’re using clean or distorted tones.

The AC4 has only 4 watts of power, but it’s good enough for practicing and even some recording. If you need to play at a loud venue, you can then connect a 16-Ohm speaker.

The speaker cone is 12 inches and made by the world-renowned brand Celestion. It has the settings that VOX is famous for, including the “Top Boost” and “Clean Chime”

The tube sound is created by two tubes, a 12AX7 preamp tube and an EL84 tube.

For a VOX amplifier, this is cheap, but still with great quality. The AC4 still gives the shine and clarity that VOX amplifiers are best known for. For a budget, small tube amp, this could be a good choice.

Pros:

  • 4 watts provide good power levels for practice and recording
  • VOX sounds like “Clean Chime” included
  • Relatively small for a 12 inch speaker

Cons:

  • Bass frequencies are sometimes found to be lacking
  • Could do with more power for gigging

2. Blackstar HT1R Series Guitar Combo Amplifier With Reverb – Best Small Tube Amp With Reverb

Blackstar HT1R Series Guitar Combo Amplifier with Reverb Check Price

Even amps with wattages as low as 1 can give you decent volume and a great, clear tone. The Blackstar HT1R offers exactly that.

It’s lightweight, portable, and comes with a small but powerful eight-inch speaker. You can experiment with the included reverb and overdrive sounds as well as EQ and Gain.

This amp cleverly lets you switch from clean to overdrive channels. These settings give you a clear and clean sound or fuzzy distortion, so you’ll have a lot of versatility in your sound. The ECC82 and ECC83 tubes create the amplification.

A great feature is the line-in port. This is a good little practice amp, and being able to plug in an MP3 player lets you play along to your favorite tracks. You can even download backing tracks to play with.

Pros:

  • Small and portable
  • Effects include overdrive and reverb
  • Switch from clean to overdrive channels

Cons:

  • May not be suited to gigs due to low power
  • The sound is not bright enough for some users

3. Monoprice 611705 5-Watt 1×8 Guitar Combo Tube Amplifier – Budget Pick

Monoprice NIL 1x8 Guitar Combo Tube Amplifier (611705) Check Price

If you’re looking for an affordable but reliable tube amp, the Monoprice brand might be your new best friend. They offer all the way up to a 15-watt amp, but their smallest, low-watt tube amp is the 611705.

Though it only has 5-watts of power, it has a sturdy build and some impressive features, including a Celestion 8-inch speaker. You usually only find these speaker cones in more expensive options.

For quiet practice, there’s a button to switch to a 1-watt amp mode. Obviously, this lowers the volume a lot. 

The 12AX7 tube for the preamp is common among small amps. It drives a 6V6GT amplification tube and gives the tone its richness and bite.

The amp is surprisingly good for the price. The frequency range is 80Hz to 10kHz. This means some of the very bottom and top end sounds go missing, but this isn’t a problem for most guitarists.

Pros:

  • Fantastic value
  • Quality tubes and speaker made by Celestion
  • Simple controls

Cons:

  • Frequencies at the low and high ends can be lacking
  • No inbuilt effects
  • Not high-fidelity audio

4. Marshall Amps DSL1CR Guitar Combo Amplifier – Best Small Tube Amp With An Effects Loop

Marshall Amps DSL1CR Guitar Combo Amplifier w/Reverb Check Price

No list of the best amps would be complete without a Marshall amplifier. This 1-watt amp has an effects loop with send and return, so you can use your pedals to change your tone.

The DSL1CR is a 1-watt amp. That’s not a lot, but the power levels are enough for some recording and practice needs.

Like many of the amps on the list, it has an 8” Celestion speaker. These speakers are popular for a reason – their clarity and projection.

The DSL1CR may not have huge power, but it has the signature Marshall tone. These amps are known for their overdrive, and the warmth of the sound of this amp is surprising for its price and size.

The tubes used in this amp are ECC83 for preamps and ECC82 for power.

If you need even quieter needs, you can use an attenuator to cut the sound by 90%. This is good for solo practice.

This amp gives you control over EQ and an built-in reverb. The “Classic” and “Ultra” gain channels give different sounds that work well for rock music and heavy guitar tones.

Pros:

  • Good power for a low-wattage amp
  • Attenuator for low volume practice
  • Reverb included
  • Marshall sound and dual channels

Cons:

  • The amp needs to be cranked for the best sound
  • Not enough power for big gigs

5. BUGERA V5 5-Watt Class Amplifier Combo – Best Small Tube Amp For Metal

BUGERA V5 5-Watt Class Amplifier Combo with Infinium Tube Life Multiplier Black, (V5INFINIUM) Check Price

Bugera is a more affordable amp brand. It’s owned by Behringer, which is known for cheap audio equipment. It’s not “elite” quality, but the Bugera V5 is a good little amp for metal and rock tones.

It’s a combo amp with 5 watts of power in total channeled through an 8” cone. It’s not made for big performances. Instead, it’s a great practice amp that actually offers pretty high volumes. These come from the standard 12AX7 preamp tube and the EL84 tube for power.

This is another amp with a power attenuator. This can give you 0.1W or 1W limits. This is great for playing at low volumes so you don’t annoy the neighbors.

Infinium technology helps the tubes in this amp last a long time. It stops them from getting damaged when cranked.

There’s a reverb built into this amp as well. It isn’t amazing quality, but it’s fun when practicing.

We’ve chosen this as our best small/low watt tube amp for metal because of its fuzzy sound. It reminds us of “ZZ Top” or old 70s metal.

Pros:

  • Great price
  • Low volume modes
  • Fuzzy, metal tone
  • Long-life tubes assisted by infinium technology

Cons:

  • The inbuilt effects are poor
  • The clean tones aren’t strong

6. VOX AC4HW1 Hand-Wired Top Boost Guitar Combo Amplifier – Premium Pick

VOX electric-guitar-amplifier-combos (AC4HW1) Check Price

It’s easy to confuse the VOX AC4HW1 with our “best overall” pick. Both are made by VOX, a powerhouse brand in the world of audio, but the VOX AC4HW1 is more of  a “premium” model. It costs more, but it has the quality to back it up.

This is a hand-wired option. It has been handmade by VOX with quality components like 12AX7 tubes and a Celestion 12-inch GM Greenback speaker cone. It’s a great fit for audiophiles and guitar aficionados

There’s a “Top Boost” channel for extra treble and clarity in the high-end, as well as “Cool” and “Hot” switches that can provide an extra drive. This amp really has some crunch, even at a 4-watt power rating.

The classic fawn color with vinyl styling gives this amp a retro feel. It’s heavier than other small tube amps due to the components and build quality.

If you’ve got a bigger budget and want a professional-sounding tube amp, then the AC4HW1 is worth considering.

Pros:

  • Excellent components and build-quality
  • Hot/Cool switch for drive
  • Top Boost for extra clarity

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • A bit heavier in weight than some other options

7. Orange Micro Terror 20W Amplifier Head – Best Small Tube Amp Head

Orange Micro Terror 20W Amplifier Head Check Price

If you’re in the market for a tube amp head, then the Micro Terror 20W amp head is a great one to look at. It’s got a lot of power and it doesn’t cost a huge amount. You need to hook it up to a cab for it to work, but this might be what you’re looking to do if you’ve already got a cab.

This hybrid amp has a great crunch and distortion sound that is signature Orange. Their amps are great for playing in a rock style. Like other options on our list, this amp has a 12AX7 preamp tube. 

The controls on this are easy. Gain and Tone are the main knobs to control your tone. You can also hook the Micro Terror up to speakers with a rating of 8 Ohm or above.

This tube amp head is lightweight and easy to transport for gigs. It has simple but effective controls. The aux input is a bonus if you want to use backing tracks or play along to your favorite songs for practice.

Pros:

  • Good value
  • A hefty sound and tone from a small head
  • Aux in and headphones out connectors

Cons:

  • Needs to be used with a cab
  • No effects included
  • Distorted tones not as good as other Orange amps, such as combos

Small Tube Amps Buyer’s Guide

best small low watt tube amps reviewed

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.