Matt McCracken | Jul 12, 2019 | 0
Bed-Heads: Mini Amp Heads That Pack A Punch
Guitars amps that are ready to rock at home or on the road
When it comes to choosing a mini amp head, we’re spoilt for choice nowadays. From retro-chic to modern metal monsters, there is something for every musical flavour. We’ve narrowed down the selection to make life a little easier. The beauty with these amp heads is that not only can you pair them with a diminuitive cab like the Orange PPC108, but you can slip them into your gig bag and take them to band practise, plug in your headphones and practise silently – and in some cases you can even record directly into your DAW of choice.
1. Blackstar HT-1RH MKII
Kicking things off for us is the Blackstar HT-1RH MKII, which as you might have guessed from the name is a second-generation model. However, it doesn’t just pick up where its predecessor left off, it pushes the scope of possibility far beyond that. For a 1-Watt amp head it produces a mighty output, thanks in no small part to an ECC83 preamp valve and an ECC82 power amp valve. Blackstar’s unique push-pull valve power amp design enables it to generate the dynamic range and response of a 100-watt stack, which needs to be heard to be believed.
Again, the front panel layout belies the impressive capabilities of this little dynamo. There are connectivity options for headphones for silent practise, which features speaker emulation so that you can rock out happily. Next to that is an MP3/Line In connection for playing along to external sound sources such as your smartphone/audio player. Wherever you are you can play along to your favourite tracks or practise along with your lesson app in peace.
All the hard-rocking power that could be asked for is available via the Master Volume and Gain pots, which are chicken head style knobs if you don’t mind. Blackstar’s patented ISF feature unlocks an array of tones to play with, whilst the carefully appointed Voice button allows you to switch between classic British style tones and aggressive modern American amp styles. On top of all that Blackstar only went and built-in dreamy studio-ready reverb to ensure you have pretty much everything need in one neat package.
If you check out the rear panel, you’ll find a footswitch jack, which allows you to connect your footswitch of choice for hands-free adjustment between voicing options. Alongside that there a speaker output connection for hooking the HT-1R MKII to a speaker cab. Last but by no means least, there’s a USB Audio out for connecting the head directly to your audio interface for seamless recording.
All that and it looks the business too! If you want the matching cab, then check out the Blackstar HT-112 MKII.
2. Orange Micro Terror and Micro Dark
Tiny amp heads that pack more punch than an angry boxer with a toothache, that’s what you get with the Orange Micro Terror and Micro Dark. Both weighs less than a kilogram yet they produce raucous tones that make the most ardent of metallers run for cover. Delivering a hefty 20-Watt output, they are high-gain cousins that are suitable for home practise thanks to headphone connectivity, band-practise if you elect to incorporate the aforementioned PPC108 Speaker Cab. Not only that, but as long as the PA system is up to scratch then you can play anywhere and everywhere from garage to grand opera house.
Front panel layout is delightfully simple with Volume, Tone, Gain on the Micro Terror, Volume, Shape, Gain on the Micro Dark. The Shape control varies midrange response, allowing you to generate anything from a balanced response across bass, middle, and treble, to a scooped thrash-like sound to a fat and beefy bluesy beast.
Aux inputs on both amps facilitate the connection of an external sound source, i.e. smartphone or audio players, for practising along to your favourite tracks into the wee hours.
3. Vox MV50 Hi Gain
If you thought 20-Watts at under a kilogram was impressive, what about 50-Watts at just over half a kilogram! The Vox MV50 Hi Gain model is stacked to the rafters when it comes to power. The trio of knobs on the front panel are nice and simple: Gain, Tone, Volume, and they do exactly what you’d expect them to. A nice touch is the retro-style VU meter display.
Spin it around and you’ll see that there’s more going on than you might have previously thought. From left to right you’ll find a Headphone/Line connection, again pretty self-explanatory. Or is it? The Line output actually features speaker emulation and doesn’t mute the speaker feed either, so you could send a signal to a speaker cab and use the Line out to feed the FOH desk or recording interface. Not too shabby, eh? What about that ECO switch? Well, those boffins at Vox put that there so if you leave the amp idling for 15 minutes it will spare you energy bill and switch itself off. The standby switch allows you to do just that, put the amp in standby mode rather than switching it off.
Going back a bit, what is it about the Vox MV50 that makes it such a sonic powerhouse? That would be proprietary Nutube technology, which produces outrageously sweet vacuum tube driven energy in compact and readily transportable form. Instead of lugging around an amp head the size of a small child, the MV50 is considerably smaller and no less powerful.
As well as the meaty Hi Gain options there also the MV50 Rock, which leans toward a classic rock character.
4. Laney Lionheart L5 Studio
Laney’s Lionheart L5 Studio is an all-valve dream with proprietary T-USB output for ludicrously simple re-amping and recording. At the heart of the L5 is a preamp tube arrangement with a trio of 12AX7s and an EL84 in the power amp. Across the front panel there are enough dials to control an aircraft, with switchable Clean and Drive channels boasting independent volume controls as well as Drive (Gain) dial to inject some real grit. Three-band EQ is on hand to sculpt and shape your tone, with a global EQ setting for good measure. The Bright switch emphasizes high-end clarity so that your lead tone stands out above the heady mix onstage, and brilliant studio-quality reverb lifts your tone to the heavens should you so wish.
Across the rear panel there’s a wealth of connectivity options at your disposal ranging from XLR D.I. for stage and studio use, T-USB connectivity as noted above, headphone connectivity, effects loop, 5-Watt and 0.5-Watt speaker output options for all the power at lower volume, footswitch connectivity and even Aux In. Laney have thrown everything into this marvellous creation.
Stylishly kitted out in retro blue leather with leather strap handle to match and exquisitely embroidered stitching, you wouldn’t know that underneath is marine-grade plywood that is built like a tank.
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If you’re looking for something a little heavier, then check out our “Best Metal Amps” article.