Tiny amp beckons you to the dark side

Not content with having launched one entire sub genre of amplifiers in the shape of ‘lunchbox’ amps, British manufacturer Orange now seemingly has its sights set on first creating and then dominating another sub genre – the nano hybrid amp.

Whereas lunchbox amps like the Tiny and Dark Terror heads showed people you could combine high class, all valve sounds with unprecedented levels of portability, Orange’s Micro range of amps has shown you can shrink things down even further without sacrificing tone, features or character.

2012 saw the launch of the Orange Micro Terror, a 20w hybrid head which married a single 12ax7 pre-amp valve with a solid state power amp section to offer both the tonal characteristics of a valve amp and small footprint/high volume capability of solid state technology. It mirrored the larger Orange Tiny Terror in terms of features, right down to the shape knob for control of its EQ, yet was no larger physically than a bag of flour. It was, and still is, the ultimate practice amp. It was equally at home powering the accompanying 1×8″ cabinet as it was driving a monster 4×12, and the amount of volume on offer for something so small was mind blowing.

Orange Micro Dark Amplifier Head

Yet anyone who is familiar with Orange knows the brand has diversified its offerings over the years, from the hairy blues amps of the 60s and 70s through to the harder edged, heavier amps of today. And while the Tiny and Micro Terrors can both serve up tonnes of gain, it’s probably not the right kind of gain for players of certain styles.

The Orange Dark Terror plugged this gap admirably, taking the basic concept of the Tiny Terror and giving it a Halloween facelift and dollops of crushing, brutal gain on tap.

The formula clearly worked because late in 2015 Orange introduced the Micro Dark, which is effectively to the Dark Terror what the Micro is to the Tiny. It’s very small, very loud and frankly quite filthy. Thumbs up on all counts. Let’s take a look in more detail in this Orange Micro Dark review.

The Micro Dark is identical to the Micro Terror in terms of its size, shape, weight and control layout. It comes housed in an all metal chassis, and weighs a little under 1kg. It has a few new tricks of its own though, including a buffered effects loop to the rear of the amp making it ideal as a pedal platform.

By bypassing the pre-amp stage, modulation and delay effects are allowed to breathe and don’t become cluttered underneath the weight of all that gain. If nothing else it allows the player to decide for themselves what tonal characteristics they want from their effects, which is a welcome addition.

Across the front are controls for volume, shape and gain – more on the latter two later – along with a standard 1/4″ jack input and a second 1/4″ jack connector which allows the amp to play through headphones or into a recording device like a desk or audio interface. To the rear are the effects loop in and out connectors, an input for the 15v power supply and a connector for an 8 ohm speaker cabinet.

orange micro dark back

One thing to make clear; don’t be fooled by the lack of knobs on offer to tweak the sounds. There are a whole host of different tones on offer with just a little bit of tinkering. From more-than-passable clean sounds (yes, really) by knocking the gain down and boosting the volume, through to biblical levels of crunch and distortion, this is a truly versatile amplifier.

The gain and shape knobs work really well together too. I’m sure we’re all quite familiar with the all-in-one EQ controls found on many amps these days, from Blackstar’s ISF through to the shape controls found on Oranges, which attenuate or boost certain frequencies depending on the characteristics of the amp. From experience these controls generally have a sweet spot which renders approximately 40-50% of the control redundant. Too far either way and an all-in-one EQ can be nigh-on unusable, yet somehow here it works.

To the far left, the Micro Dark delivers throaty, rich mids which will be of great interest to fans of Black Sabbath or any of the 65,398,716 copycat sludge bands there are at any given time. To the right, the shape knob moves the gain into more 80s thrash orientated territory, scooping the mids to within an inch of their lives. Between those two extremes lie a great selection of thick, meaty, highly usable drive sounds which would appease even the most sceptical metalhead.

The gain settings are truly something to behold too. Put simply, this thing rips. In testing, we managed to get everything from Fleetwood Mac to Pig Destroyer. There can’t be too many amps which can say that. At lower settings there is a smattering of girth which we can see fuelling many a night of bluesy noodling. Around 12 o’clock you’re presented with a tone which is crunchier than a fat man jumping in a bath full of crisps, while past 2 o’clock you start getting into the realms of Very Serious Metal. It keeps on coming too; with four gain stages, the distortion keeps flowing out without ever losing its clarity or focus.

Orange micro dark head

All told, the Orange Micro Dark is a hugely impressive little amplifier. The sheer amount of volume the Micro Dark can put out is incredible. We tried it through a 1×12 cabinet and a 4×12 cabinet, and both were pushing out enough signal that, as well as being an ideal home or practice amp, make it perhaps the ultimate back-up amp for gigging players. There’s even an accompanying all-black 1×8 cabinet to further enhance its practice amp credentials. One thing is for certain; despite looking like a toy, it certainly ain’t one.

To see the Micro Dark in action, check out Lee’s great video on the Dawsons YouTube channel.