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10 best guitar practice amps of 2017 (Updated)

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Best Bedroom Guitar Amps 2017 As a guitarist, few things in life can beat the feeling of pushing a tube amp into the sweet spot, but let’s get real for a minute: unless you have a sound-proof rehearsal space, or you live in the countryside with no neighbors nearby, it’s not really an option for at-home practise.

So let’s look at guitar practice amps for home use.

Just 10 years ago, there were few good options on the market. Solid state amps sounded harsh and cheap, digital modelling was in it’s infancy, and the smallest tube amps available were usually 30W 1x12’s that would get immediate complaints from the neighbours. Thanks to advances in guitar amp design, as well as a the trend towards small guitar amps, that’s no longer the case.

In fact, it’s easy to get overwelmed by choices when looking for a practice amp, with the current overabundance of low-volume guitar amps available. After hours of testing, researching, debating, borrowing, jamming and listening, we have shortlisted our top 10 amps for the bedroom guitarist.

What makes a good practice amp?

What factors came into play while we were selecting our favourite amps? While we tried to score each amp according to a pre-defined list, it became quickly apparent that there’s one factor that influenced the rating above all else: the sound. None of the features matter if the amp doesn’t inspire you to play. For this reason two factors were quite important to us: speaker sounds and headphone sounds. Since more than half of our team are apartment-dwellers and/or family men, a decent headphone output was important as well.

Great sounding amps naturally scored higher with our test crew, even when other important features were lacking or missing. Since most of us also have pedalboards with our favourite stompboxes, amps that responded well to the pedals also naturally scored higher, and onboard reverb was always welcome - especially with the headphone output.

The Best Guitar Practice Amps 2017

While some of the options on this list are much more expensive than others, don’t be fooled by the price tags of the cheaper options. Every amp on our list of top 10 guitar practice amps 2017 is good enough for practice at home, recording and in some cases even gigging.

Amp Technology Headphones Reverb FX Loop CTA
Boss Katana 100 Digital Yes Yes Yes Check Price
Yamaha THR10 Digital Yes Yes No Check Price
Hotone Nano Legacy Series Analog (Solid State) Yes No Yes Check Price
Vox MV50 Series Nutube (Hybrid) Yes No No Check Price
BluGuitar Amp1 Nanotube (Hybrid) Yes Yes Yes Check Price
Blackstar HT-5R Tube (Hybrid) Yes Yes Yes Check Price
Joyo Bantamp Series Tube (Hybrid) Yes No Yes Check Price
Fender Mustang GT100 Digital Yes Yes Yes Check Price
Line 6 Spider V 30 Digital Yes Yes No Check Price
Roland CUBE-40GX Digital Yes Yes No Check Price

1. Boss Katana 100 - The best guitar practice amp to buy in 2017

Boss Katana 100

Announced in September 2016 and released a few weeks later in time for Christmas, the Boss Katana 100 made a rather quiet entry into the market. Sure, you may argue that it’s just another guitar modeling amp in a market dominated by established amp makers, but the Boss Katana should have your attention purely on the price alone.

Let’s get this out of the way: The Boss Katana is quite a bit bigger than most of the other amps in our test. With 100W output and plently volume, this amp is perfectly capable of doing gigs, yet it still sounded good at bedroom levels. It is also lighter than it looks, which made most of us believe that this could be our perfect all-in-one practice and gigging amp.

The Boss Katana 100 boasts a 100W solid state power amp driving a 12-inch speaker. You get five unique amp models: Clean, Crunch, Lead, Brown and Acoustic, as well as 55 customizable effects in three banks.

On the front of the amp you’ll find the amp type knob, gain and volume knobs, the three-band EQ, three effects buttons with their respective knobs, a presence knob, a master volume, power control, channel selector for five different presents and the power button and input jack. The rear panel features the power jack, aux in, phone/rec out, line out, effects loop, USB and two foot control jacks, one of which is specifically for the Roland GA-FC.

Amps

With the exception of the Brown setting, the Boss Katana doesn’t seem to try and create exact copies of famous amps. Rather, it feels like the engineers managed to extract the best nuances from similar amps and combine them into one setting.

Clean - Beautiful, crisp clean sounds.

Crunch - A dynamic yet big sounding crunch sound.

Lead - Covers the ground between the crunch and the high gain of the Brown setting.

Brown - High gain sound, inspired by Boss’s first amp offering, the ultra high-end Waza amp.

Acoustic - For connecting an acoustic guitar.

Effects

The Boss Katana features 55 different effects, with up to three banks available simultaneously. The effects are customizable via the Boss Tone Studio software, and are divided into five different sections: Booster, Mod, Delay, FX and Reverb.

The Booster section features a variety of different boosts, overdrives, distortions and fuzzes. Favourites in the team were the treble boost, blues overdrive, RAT and muff fuzz.

The Mod section provides access to different modulation effects, like chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, vibrato, ring modulator, compressor, various wahs and EQs and more.

The delay section has digital and analog delays, a tape echo, as well as reverse and modulated modes. The delay tempo can be tapped, which is great for keeping everything in time in live scenarios.

The FX section provides the same effects as the Mod section, but in a second bank.

The Reverb section has five fantastic reverbs: Plate, Spring, Hall, Room and Modulated. The team was impressed with all of them, and we were able to get everything from “stadium sounding” reverbs to over-the-top ambient sounds.

Boss Tone Studio editor software

You can connect the Katana to your laptop via the USB port on the back, and then use the Tone Studio Editor to create, edit and manage your patches. The software opens up a much deeper level of control over your the sounds, and is intuitive and easy to use. While you can get great sounds without using the editor, it’s a great addition for those that really want to dig into the patches.

With the editor you get access to three different effects chain settings, a noise suppressor, an near-infinite settings for each effect type.

Boss Tone Central

Current users of Boss Multieffects units will probably be familiar with Boss Tone Central. This repository of tones is a place to discover and download patches from all over the world. If you’re ever stuck in a rut without inspiration, pulling a few patches from Boss Tone Central will likely get you out of it.

Saving and recalling patches

You’re able to easily save and recall four patches, as well as recall the current amp settings. While it’s possible to switch between the patches by pressing the small buttons on the top of the amp, we would recommend getting the optional GA-FC Footswitch. You can also connect two expression pedals to the GA-FC, which can be used to control effects parameters (like a Wah) or volume.

Power control

The Power Control is basically a loadbox, which reduces the power amp output. You can switch between Standby, 0.5W, 50W and 100W settings. By using the lower wattage settings, you’re able to push the power amp section for those nice saturated tones without being kicked out of your apartment.

Phones/Recording out and Line out

The Katana provides a superb speaker-emulated output for late night headphone practice or silent recording. We recommend adding a touch of extra reverb when using headphones to fatten up the sound.

Built-in tilt stand

Instead of leaning the amp against a wall, or wedging something underneath it, this surprisingly useful addition makes it easy to angle the Katana upwards, pointing the speakers at your ears.

Effects Loop

Let’s be honest: The Katana has all the effects you need built in. They sound great, and with the editor you’re able to fine-tune them to suit your needs. When you absolutely need to use that vintage echo or your favourite reverb, you have an effects loop to plug into.

The Boss Katana 100 is an easy recommendation for anyone wanting a giggable and versatile digital amp. It is packed full of amazing sounds and sensible features at a price point where other brands are selling far inferior products.

The price, along with the great sounds, and the all-in-one nature of the amp, make it our top guitar amp for beginners and professionals alike.
Pros Cons
Fantastic sounds None
Great editor
Big online patch repository
Affordable
Effects Loop
Headphone output
Check Price Here

2. Yamaha THR10 V2 - Best portable guitar practice amp to buy in 2017

Yamaha THR10

The first iteration of the Yamaha THR10 was released in 2013, with the V2 software update following year. While the amp may be a little more dated than other offerings on this list, it does so many things so well, that it still holds our number two spot.

The THR10 ticks all the right boxes as a practice tool for guitarists. First and foremost, it sounds amazing at both low volumes and “as loud as it goes” volumes. Even though the amp is digital, the tube-like tonal characteristics have turned many critics of modelling amps into fans of this little amp. It convinced our team of testers, many of which own one.

The amp features a variety of digital amp models (Modern, Brit Hi, Lead, Crunch, Clean, Bass, Acoustic and Flat EQ), as well as adjustable Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Tremolo, Delay and Reverb effects.

Other notable features include an aux input, patch editor and USB, five preset banks for saving presets, an onboard tuner, tap tempo for the effects, and the ability to run on battery power.

If we had to find something negative about this amp, it would be that there’s no effects loop. It would be unfair to penalise the amp on that omission alone though, since it’s designed to be a practice tool, not an amp replacement.

Amp Models

As stated the THR10 features eight amp models. Let’s look at those in detail:

Clean

The clean channel produced Fender-like sounds. Playing through a Telecaster at low gain provided great sparkly cleans. When dailing in more gain the amp responded with a beautiful lightly-overdriven sound, which could be tamed by turning down the volume pot on the guitar.

Crunch

The crunch channel provides clear crunch tones, from slight breakup on low gain to searing rock solo on high gain settings. Add a touch of delay and reverb for a full, classic lead sound.

Lead

The lead channel produces sounds reminiscent of classic Marshall Plexis - think Hendrix, Clapton, Page. While some found the sound a bit too dirty at higher gain, it has a rawness that, while rough around the edges, seems to fit the vibe.

Brit Hi

Bring on the modern, higher-gain Plexi! We found good blues-breakup tones at low gain settings, the soaring high-gain lead tones had us playing every metal solos for much longer than we should have! Tweaking the EQ also produced great rhythm tones for rock and metal.

Modern

Everthing from classic hard rock to modern metal, but with a good amount of clarity.

Bass

While not really relevant for the test, some of our reviewers actually tried it. Everyone was surprised at how well the little amp did with bass sounds. It responded well to the active pickups, and pushed a decent amount of volume, with a clear, clean bass tone.

Aco (Acoustic mic simulation)

Coupled with an electro-acoustic guitar, the Acoustic mode on the guitar amp provided usable acoustic tones. When coupled with the effects, it’s easy to see what a powerful tool this could be for acoustic players.

Flat

The Flat EQ mode is for playing back music. Plug your phone in and enjoy. Simple.

USB Audio Interface

The doubles as an audio interface, so you can plug it directly into your computer for recording purposes.

Speaker simulated output

The headphone output on the THR10 was one of our favorites in the test. Anyone with a spouse and/or kids knows that late-night headphone practice is often the only practice time you get, this amp impressed us with great speaker emulation.

THR Editor app

When it’s time to tweak settings, it’s usually easiest to use a laptop. The THR Editor application is available for both Windows and Mac and is easy to use.

To summarise, the THR10 V2 is a feature-packed compact practice amp and recording tool with great sounds. All our testers love it, and a few even own one. We would recommend it to anyone looking for a small, simple, great-sounding bedroom guitar amp - if you don't need an effects loop.
Pros Cons
Excellent sounds None.
Onboard effects
Five banks for saving patches
USB Audio Interface
Small footprint
Stereo output
Check Price Here

3. Hotone Nano Legacy Amps - Best mini guitar amp

Hotone Nano Legacy

Pronounced “Hot Tone”, these tiny 5W class AB guitar amps from the Chinese manufacturer pack a surprising punch and incredible sound. While not as versatile as the THR10 or other digital modelling amps, what makes these so special is the full analog signal path and small footprint.

The Nano Legacy amps are available in four different guitar amp flavours: a Fender Tweed inspired amp called the Mojo Diamond, a Marshall Plexi SuperLead inspired amp called the Purple Wind, a Vox AC30 inspired amp called the British Invasion, and the Heart Attack, inspired by the Mesa/Boogie Rectifier.

Features across all three amps are:

  • Volume and gain controls
  • Three-band EQ
  • Effects loop
  • Speaker-simulated headphone out
  • Aux-in
  • Speaker out compatible with 4-16Ω speakers

With a footprint about the same size as a standard effects pedal, this amp may seem like a toy. Once you plug it in though, you’ll quickly learn why they have been getting great reviews. While 5W may not be enough to play gigs with, these amps make great home practice amps. Some of our team even have their Nano Legacy amps mounted directly on their “late night practice” pedalboards, for a quick headphone practice setup.

The effects loop is a surprising feature in amps with such a small footprint and at such a small price point, yet it works perfectly - as you would expect. It makes the amps a ton of fun to play around with, as well as a good stand-in for practicing with your regular pedalboard through a headphone or bedroom amp. Onboard reverb would have been nice considering the headphone output, but considering the small form factor, we think it can be forgiven.

While discussing what we could do with these amps, we came up with the crazy idea of running two in stereo into a Neunaber Iconoclast cab sim. This would give you a stereo direct-to-board guitar gigging rig, which can all be mounted on your pedal board! What a time to be alive!

Let’s take a look at the different models:

Nano Legacy Mojo Diamond

Inspired by the Fender Tweed, the ample headroom make this one a great pedal platform amp. Depending on the EQ and gain settings, the amp can produce sparkly, crips Fender clean tones, or slightly muddy overdrive tones. Pushing the preamp with stacked overdrive pedals generates beautiful blues and crunchy rock tones, although it’ll happily handle a high-gain distortion pedal for metal as well.

Nano Legacy Purple Wind

This one is based on the Marshall Plexi. It does everything really well - from clean sounds to typical classic Marshall overdrive. Throw a Tube Screamer in front of it and you’ll get that classic, saturated Marshall lead tone. Roll down the volume pot, and it cleans up for a great blues sound.

Nano Legacy British Invasion

As stated above, this one is based on the AC30. We spent many hours playing this one. From crisp cleans to typcial AC30 overdrive, it’s an inspiring amp to play.

Nano Legacy Heart Attack

While not really bad, this was the least favourite of the bunch. While it emulates the high-gain Mesa/Boogie sound really well, we found the clean sound lacking once the gain was turned down, and we also struggled to find the “sweet spot” in the EQ.

They're cheap, small, simple, cute, colorful, surprisingly loud and sound great, what's not to like? We think that every guitarist should have one or two of these in their collection.

We'd love to see onboard reverb, but you could easily add a micro reverb pedal into the loop if you absolutely need it. 
Pros Cons
Great analog tones No reverb.
Respond well to pedals
Effects loop
Three-band EQ
Small footprint
Great-sounding headphone out
The cutest amps of the bunch!
Check Price Here

4. Vox MV50 Series - Best new mini guitar amp of 2017

Vox MV50

New for 2017, Vox is the next company to enter the small guitar amp market with their MV50 range - a 50W amp in a pedalboard-friendly size. The MV50 amps are all analog, single-channel amps that feature a Nutube preamp feeding into a 50W Class D power amp.

The Nutube, developed by Korg, uses vacuum flourescent display technology to create rich tones similar to a traditional vacuum tube. The benefits over a traditional tube though, are much lower power usage, a much smaller size and much longer life expectency.

The MV50 doesn’t have much in terms of features. The front panel features three knobs, a VU meter for output level, and an instrument input jack. On the back you’ll find a speaker out, headphone/line out, power input, and a few switches. Unfortunately you don’t get an effects loop, which is very important to most of us that like to use a lot of pedals… and since we’re all gear-nerds, that’s pretty much all of us.

One thoughtful addition to the Vox MV50 is the slanted front panel, which makes it easy to adjust the controls when the amp is mounted on a pedalboard.

Let’s take a look at the different models and functions available on these amps

Vox MV50 Clean

As the name suggests, the MV50 Clean is designed with enough headroom to produce a clean sound, even when turned up all the way. Unlike the other two amps, the MV50 Clean has a Treble and Bass knob instead of Gain and Tone.

It produces wonderful clean sounds and should be very popular with jazz guitarists - warm yet bright and sparkly, with clear harmonics and note separation. It responds to pedals very well, and will make a great pedal platform amp for those that prefer getting their dirt from pedals.

Vox MV50 AC

The Vox MV50 AC is Vox’s own interpretation of the Vox AC30. The MV50 AC does a great job of capturing the chiming cleans and typical classic British crunch tone that the AC30’s are known for, and that a reasonable volumes!

While the MV50 AC gets well crunchy at higher gain settings, players with an affinity for heavier sounds will probably want to stack an overdrive pedal or two in front to push the tone a bit more. We had great results by running a TC Electronics Spark into a Tube Screamer Mini into the amp.

Vox MV50 Rock

As the name suggests, the MV50 Rock is meant for, well, rock. It delivers aggressive, high gain tones, inspired by “high gain British amplifiers”. On lower gain settings the amp provides excellent clean tones with a hint of breakup, but when you crank the gain is when the MV50 Rock starts to shine!

While the sounds of these little guitar amps is amazing, let’s take a peek into the rest of the features.

VU Meter

Situated between the volume control and the input jack is a round VU meter that displays the output volume. It is a stunning visual element that suits the amp well and entertaining to look at, but we have to ask if the space could not have been used for something more practical, like a 3-band EQ instead?

50W Output

While the amps all boast an impressive 50W class D power amp, there’s a caveat: it depends on the speaker. When you’re attaching a 4 ohms speaker, you’ll get the full 50W. However, 8 and 16 ohms speakers will only be driven at 25W and 12.5W respectively. This is a fairly big difference. A quick poll among our testing team showed that of the 17 cabs between us, only two had 4 ohm impedance. If you’re planning on using this amp with an existing cab, you may not get the headroom or volume levels you were hoping for.

Headphone/Line Output

The speaker-simulated output on the back gives you the option of silent recording an practice. The tones are very good indeed and should keep you practicing happily without disturbing your parents, spouse or neighbours.

Switches: Eco, On/Standby, EQ

On the back panel we have small switches to Eco, Power and EQ. Having the Power switch on the back of the amp is a little awkward. While it is right next to the power cable and therefor easy enough to find, it something that you’d expect to find on the front.

Eco mode is somewhat confusing. When Eco mode is OFF, the amp will switch off automatically if there hasn’t been any signal for 15 minutes. The amp doesn’t switch on automatically again though. To switch the amp back on, you need to either switch eco mode off, or switch the amp off and on again. We think. The manual isn’t exactly clear and we weren’t patient enough to wait for the auto-off. The manual also warned that “When the output level is extremely low or there is very little change in the sound, the auto-power off function may be activated. In addition, depending on the setting and environment, the amp may interpret noise as input, even if the guitar is not being played”, which doesn’t really inspire confidence.

The EQ switch just toggles between flat and deep EQ settings, the idea being that a bigger cabinet will sound fine with a flat eq, but a smaller cab, like the Vox B108, will benefit from a thicker sound.

The Vox MV50 Series is a great step forward in amp design and product development. The sounds are amazing and the volume levels are good enough for most of us. We would love to see an effects loop though.
Pros Cons
Amazing sounds No Effects Loop
Surprisingly loud Confusing Eco function
Small form factor No onboard reverb
Slanted front plate
Headphone output
Check Price Here

5. BluGuitar AMP1 - Most innovative guitar amp

BluGuitar AMP1

One of the most expensive options on our list is also one of the most versatile. Designed and developed by Thomas Blug, a long-term amp designer for Hughes and Kettner, professional musician and winner of the “Strat King of Europe” award, the AMP1 packs a 100W class D Nanotube poweramp into a package smaller than most multi-effects pedals!

Even though the footprint is small enough to enable you to mount the AMP1 to a pedalboard, the features available are more than impressive. With four channels, an effects loop, noise gate, speaker emulated headphone out, footswitchable boost and reverb, three-band EQ and more, this analog device gives the modelling amps in our test a good run for their money.

While playing with the unit and exploring the features, you get the impression that Blug made a list of all the dream features a gigging guitarist would want in an amp, and then just managed to fit everything in this small enclosure.

The features include:

Nanotube

The Nanotube is a super compact and long lasting type of tube, originally designed for military applications (apparently). The tube is soldered onto the circuit to eliminate typical tube-socket issues, and it should outlive you.

Clean channel

The clean channel produces chimey Fendery cleans, and handles pedals very well. The character can be adjusted via the small tone knob on the side of the unit, and the level via the volume knob on the front.

Drive channel

A choice of Vintage (inspired by the Marshall JTM45), Classic (British Rock) or Modern (American High Gain) voicings. The classic and modern modes have a tone knob on the side to adjust the character, as well as a volume knob to balance the levels between the channels. On the front of the unit you can also adjust the gain and master levels for the drive section.

Three-band EQ

The AMP1 seems to simply sound great with a flat EQ, but the extra adjustment would help fine-tune the sound.

Reverb

Some of our reviewers found the reverb to be too soft, but all agreed that it sounded great. Those wanting to create ambient guitar soundscapes would probably be plugging in their pedalboards anyway, so we decided it’s not an issue.

Adjustable Boost

The built-in boost is a transparent clean boost, that can be toggled by one of the on-board buttons on the unit. The level of boost can be adjusted via the small knobs on the side of the unit.

Programmable patches

In standard mode, the footswitches are just on/off toggles for the overdrive channel, boost and reverb. By turning the unit on with the reverb footswitch pressed, the amp pedal goes into “Preset mode”, enabling you to assign presents to the three buttons by holding the reverb footswitch for 3 seconds, and then selecting a button to assign the preset to.

Effects Loop

Not only does the AMP1 have an effects loop, it can also be switched between serial and parallel modes for more options.

Noise Gate

The noise gate has three settings, “off”, “soft” and “metal”. We found the “soft” setting to work well in most scenarios.

Speaker out (8Ω/16Ω Ohm)

Since the AMP1 is only an amp head, you’ll still need to connect something to the amp to make some noise. On the back you’ll find two outputs, one for 8Ω and one for 16Ω speakers.

Headphone/Recording output

When plugging into the headphone output, the internal headphone amp with speaker simulation is activated.

EASYLOCK Magnetic Attachment System

The AMP1 comes with a set of magnets, dubbed the EASYLOCK system. The basic premise is that you screw one set to your pedalboard and the second set to the amp itself. This saves the hassle and mess of using velcro, but still makes it easy to remove the amp from your pedalboard.

Works with standard or optional Footswich

A standard double footswitch can be used to control the AMP1. In this configuration, the external footswitch controls the clean/overdrive channel and boost on/off, and the footswitches on the main unit select either the Vintage, Classic of Modern channels.

When using the optional (but rather expensive) REMOTE1 footswitch, you’ll be able to store 36 presents as well as control the AMP1’s powersoak function, which can control the amp output from 0.15W to the full 100W. The REMOTE1 also features the EASYLOCK system, enabling you to easily add it to your pedalboard.

Can be controlled via MIDI

If you already have a MIDI controlled rig, you’ll be happy to know that you can control the AMP1 via MIDI by adding the optional MIDI1 converter. While we haven’t tested this ourselves, online reports are somewhat hit-and-miss about the easy of use.

The BluGuitar AMP1 is an expensive option, but we think the quality of the sounds, the well thought-out featureset, and the compact form factor make it worth it. This could be your gigging and bedroom amp, all the while being small and light enough to fit on your pedalboard or in a backpack.  
Pros Cons
Seemingly endless array of features Pricey
Loads of different, customizable sounds Small knobs on the side are difficult to adjust
Speaker simulated output
Effects loop
Three-band EQ
Lightweight with a small footprint
Programmable presets
Uses a standard power cable
Check Price Here

6. Blackstar HT-5R - Great tube tones in a small package

Blackstar HT-5R

Blackstar Amplification was founded in 2007 in Northampton, England by ex-Marshall employees. While the company is quite young as far as amp manufacturers go, Blackstar has managed to gain a solid fanbase with great tones at affordable prices.

While the Blackstar HT-5R is already a few years old, we can include it in this guide with confidence due to great tones, sensible features and solid reliability.

The HT-5R comes in both Combo and Head versions. We generally prefer buying heads, since most of us have more than one speaker cab already, and venues usually also have something you can use in a pinch. While the combo isn’t that heavy at 27lbs/12kg, it’s still easier to lug a head around.

The Blackstar range features a patented “Infinite Shape Feature” that works with the tone controls. The ISF knob allows you to go from American characteristics to a more British sound and anything in between. It’s an easy to use feature that greatly expands the tonal possibilities of the amp, and it’s the kind of innovation that we like seeing.

Another sensible feature it the onboard reverb. While it’s a no-brainer in bigger amps, we often complain about it being missing in smaller amps, with good reason: If you’re playing at low volumes, or especially through headphones, there’s no natural reverb. Being able to add a touch of reverb will liven up an otherwise dull tone. The Blackstar HT-5R even sweetens the deal by providing a stereo reverb, which sounds amazing through headphones!

You also get two footswitchable channels (with the footswitch included!), an effects loop, a three-band EQ, a 1x12/4x12 cabinet switch, and a line input for jamming along to your favourite backing tracks.

Here are our impressions of the amp:

Clean Channel

The clean channel goes everywhere from warm and jazzy to bright and sparkly. It responds beautifully to both humbuckers and single coils, and can be pushed into sweet breakup by adding a booster or overdrive pedal to your signal.

Overdrive Channel

Thanks to the ISF feature, the overdrive channel will give you sounds ranging from classic light breakup all the way through to modern metal, all sounding great at reasonable volumes. We had lots of fun playing around with different guitars and stompboxes, seeing what we could coax out of the amp.

Speaker-emulated output

Headphone output is important to us on a practice amp, and we’re happy to report that the Blackstar HT-5R has one of the better-sounding speaker emulated outputs. It can be switched to emulate either 1x12 or 4x12 cabinets, and it never sounded flat or lifeless, probably helped along by the lovely reverb. We could definitely see ourselves running using the line out for recording or even gigs. Switching the amp into standby mode will disable the speaker output, enabling you to practice silently though headphones.

Reverb

The digital reverb on the HT-5R impressed all our testers. It adds a fullness, brightness and life to the sound, and will inspire you to play just “one more song” before going to bed. When turned up all the way it may get a bit too experimental for most, but everyone will find a usable sweet spot.

Effects loop

Unlike some of the other amps in this test, Blackstar was sensible enough to include an effects loop in the HT-5R. We are gear nerds, collectors and hoarders, and we like playing with various effects. Having an effects loop not really a “nice to have” at this point. Blackstar is kind enough to add a level switch to the effects loop, which can be used to make the amp play nicer with rack effects as well as older effects units in the loop.

Affordable

While not the cheapest in this test, the Blackstar packs amazing sound and sensible features into a modestly priced and well designed package.

An easy recommendation for those wanting a simple, great-sounding analog amp. We loved the Blackstar HT-5R when it was released, and we still love it today.  
Pros Cons
Great sounds at low and moderate volumes None.
Many possibilities with ISF
2 Channels
Effects Loop
Lovely onboard stereo reverb
Great-sounding speaker emulation
Check Price Here

7. Joyo Bantamp Series - Best new small tube amp of 2017

Joyo Bantamp

The first teasers of the Joyo Bantamp appeared about a year ago, and the first much-anticipated production models are finally available. While often referred to as a tube amp, the Bantamp is technically a hybrid amp featuring a single 12AX7 preamp tube paired with a 20W solid state class D power amp.

The entire Joyo Bantamp series produces great tones at low and moderate volumes, and the compact size makes it a great home practice amp. While not as feature-filled as the digital offerings in this test, the amps provide inspiring analog sounds and simple features: volume, gain and tone controls, two switchable channels, an effects loop, bluetooth aux in, headphone output and 8Ω - 16Ω speaker output.

Our two main gripes with the Bantamp series though: No footswitch and no three-band EQ. Even the high-gain models have great-sounding clean channels, but not making the channel foot switchable means that it’s simply not practical to use. During initial tests, the single tone knob seemed to provide enough tonal variety to satisfy us. However, once we tried a simple EQ pedal in front of the amp as well as in the loop, it became clear that these little amps have even more to offer.

The Joyo Bantamp is currently available in six flavours:

  • Atomic
  • Bluejay
  • Jackman
  • Meteor
  • Vivo
  • Zombie

Let’s look at these models in a bit more detail:

Joyo Bantamp Atomic

The Atomic is voiced to sound like the Vox AC30, and like all the Bantamps features two channels: Clean and Overdrive. The clean channel impresses with bright, chimey clean tones, with just a hint breakup when pushed. It responded really well to the Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini we always have lying around.

When switching to the overdrive channel, we were able to get everything from dirty blues sounds to classic rock tones.

Joyo Bantamp Bluejay

An American voiced clean amp, Bluejay stands for for Blues and Jazz, apparently. Unlike the rest of the series, the Bluejay has normal and bright channels. Both channels are clean, reminding us of a mix between the typical Fender clean and a JC120.

By adding our trusty Tube Screamer Mini in front of the amp, we were able to push the clean channels into beautiful bluesy crunch territory. It even sounded great with a TC Electronic Dark Matter for metal tones. Players that play mainly clean, or that get most of their sounds from effects units should consider one of these.

Joyo Bantamp Jackman

The Jackman is aparently inspired by the classic Marshall JCM series. As with the others, it features a clean and overdrive channel. The sounds go from bluesy cleans all to the way through classic rock, to full saturation heavy metal.

The Jackman produces inspiring sounds and is huge fun to play through. It is definitely worth a closer look for the guitarist that likes to dabble in various genres.

Joyo Bantamp Meteor

Inspired by Orange Amps, the Meteor features clean and overdrive like it’s counterparts. With a wide range of sounds available, from classic rock to modern metal, the Meteor provided lots of fun. Turning the tone control would take the sounds from thick and lush to bright yet rounded, with a crisp midrange.

Joyo Bantamp VIVO

While we couldn’t get our hands on a test unit yet, the Bantamp VIVO is inspired by the Peavey 5150, and features clean and overdrive channels. We’ll update this post as soon as we can get our hands on one.

Joyo Bantamp Zombie

Inside the small enclosure of the Bantamp Zombie you’ll find big, dirty Mesa/Boogie Rectifier inspired tones. Again featuring clean and overdrive channels. This amp is definitely aimed at the modern metal player, but we were actually blown away by the clean channel first!

Going from sparkly clean to crisp, bluesy overdrive, the clear midrange and ample headroom make the clean channel a versatile amp by itself. Add an overdrive pedal for a bit more push and it breaks up beatifully into heavier blues or even classic rock territory.

Flick that switch though, and the Zombie comes out to play. There is gain, and lots of it! Even with all the gain though, the Zombie manages respond to input dynamics, and maintain note definition and articulation. Palm muted riffs maintain a percussive tightness, and leads cut through the mix beautifully. And the best part: this amazing tone is available at low to moderate volumes!

Bluetooth Aux-in

After enabling the Bluetooth function, you’re able to connect the Bantamp to your smartphone or other device, just like a normal bluetooth speaker. While aux inputs are always a welcome addition to practice amps for using backing tracks or click tracks, we can’t help but find the Bluetooth part gimmicky. A simple input jack would do the job equally well.

Channel switching

Switching between the two channels is done via a flip-switch between the input jack and the gain knob. While it’s easy enough to reach, not having the option to connect a footswitch is a huge miss. We understand that the amp is tiny, and that there’s only so much space, but we would happy have the bluetooth function removed in exchange for a footswitch.

Headphone output

All the Bantamp models sound great at low volume, but headphone output is still essential for late-night apartment and bedroom practice. While we’re happy to at least have the option, the headphone sound is not as good as others in this test.

The Joyo Bantamps offer exceptional tones. These professional sounding, compact amps have a lot to offer. While 20W may not be enough to keep up with a drummer, we can imagine using them at gigs where the amp is mic'd. 

While we'd love to see footswitch compatibility and better headphone sounds, we can't really complain because of the amazing tone for price value.
Pros Cons
Great sounds No footswitch for channels
Great low price Three-band EQ would be welcome
Effects loop Bluetooth Aux-in is gimmicky
Respond well to pedals No onboard reverb
Headphone output
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8. Fender Mustang GT - Best app connectivity

Fender Mustang GT

There is tough competition in the digital modelling amp arena, and rightfully so. Both the hardware and the software have improved exponentially in recent years, and most manufacturers have made sure that their offerings sound incredible. Fender also brought modern connectivity and great user experience design to the table.

While we didn’t have the Mustang GT 200 to try, both the Fender Mustang GT 40 and the Mustang GT 100 sounded quite good. All the amps in the Mustang range have 21 amp models and 46 effects available. We honestly didn’t find a single amp that sounded typically digital, and all the amps responded to picking dynamics and input volume as you’d expect from a quality tube amp.

While the sounds are overall really good, there seems to be something lacking. It’s difficult to put a finger on exactly what is missing, and we spent many a beer discussing it, the Fender just doesn’t measure up to some of the others in this test.

The amp models on tap range from super clean jazz sounds to super dirty modern metal and everything in between. The on-board effects all sounded great to our ears as well, although the ommision of an effects loop on the 40W model was a bit of a let-down.

The Fender Tone app is a pleasure to use, with a beautiful interface that’s intuitive and logical. Handing the phone to one of our team members for the first time, he was able to fiddle with the settings without any instructions from the rest of us. The onboard controls are there, and are easy enough to use as well, but the app really blew us all away.

The optional 4-button MGT-4 footswitch gives you control over your patch selection, effects, a tuner and the built-in looper.

After spending a considerable amount of time with the latest breed of digital modelling guitar amps, we’re really impressed by what’s on offer in general, and we’re very excited about the future. The Fender Mustang GT is a solid addition to the fray, but we can’t recommend it over the Boss Katana.

While our review may come across as negative, the Fender Mustang GT is a great amp. While it currently isn't quite on par with some of the competitors, we hope that a software update will add that missing element to the available tones. 
Pros Cons
Superbly executed app Sounds were a bit lacking
Wireless connectivity
Many sounds available in online
Headphone output
Stereo Effects Loop (GT100 and GT200 only)
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9. Line 6 Spider V 30

Line 6 Spider V 30

No list of small home practice amps would be complete without the addition of a Line 6 amp. Line 6 was one of the first companies to focus on digital modeling amplifiers when they launched back in the mid 90’s. While the technology left much to be desired 20 years ago, the current offerings are incredible.

The Spider V 30 is the smallest of the Spider V line of amps. It has a small yet surprisingly loud 8-inch speaker, in a compact combo format. All the Spider V models feature a whopping 78 amps models, 23 cabinet models, and 101 effects models! There’s something in this little box for everyone.

The controls on the amp are intuitive and easy to use, despite being able to control such a wide array of effects. The front panel only has a handful of knobs and buttons which allow you to find and dial in your tone, and the back has inputs for power, USB, aux and an optional Line 6 Footcontroller.

Unlike some other amps in the Line 6 range, the silver speaker grille and black vinyl covering on the Spider V give the impression of a grown-up amp. Not flashy or trying to show off, and simply letting the tones do the talking - which they do very, very well.

If you’re curious about the actual amps and effects available in the Line 6, you’re in luck - the full list is available here{:target=”_blank”}.

Let’s look at the main features of the Spiver V:

78 Amps, 23 Cabinets

We spent a few hours playing with the different amps, cabs and effects, and the overall impression was resoundingly positive. While we were not able to A/B test the amp models against the real counterparts, the amps felt alive and reactive. With few exceptions, every amp model from clean to metal was not only usable, but actually good with a lot just plain magnificent. The cab simulation added another dimension to tweaking the sound.

101 Effects

The Spider V’s effects are sorted into seven different categories: Drive/Dynamics, Modulation, Delays, Filters/Synths/Pitch, Wahs, Reverbs, Built-in Dynamics. Here you will find every effect your hear desires: Fuzz, Overdrive, Distortion, Boost, Compressor, Chorus, Flanger, Phaser, Tremolo, Echo, Delay, Ring Mod, Synths, Wah, Reverb and even EQ and Noise Gates.

Controls

With a such huge array of amp and effects models, editing and selecting your sounds can become a big challenge. The controls on the front of the amp do a good job of letting you select and edit your patches, and the color-coding helps you find your way easily.

Smartphone/Tablet connection and app

Once you get it working, the smartphone app is easy to use. It’s only usable via USB though, and the lack of Bluetooth turned into a rather frustrating matter. Since we wanted to try to app, we had to oder a micro-USB to OTG cable, something that most users probably don’t have in their home. After finally getting the right cable delivered, and getting the amp connected by switching the device into USB Host mode, the app worked great.

Line 6 FBV Pedal Compatibility

The amp is compatible with FBV pedals. One of our testers had the FBV Express MKII and reported no issues and standard, easy operation.

The Line 6 Spiver V is a great sounding, feature-packed little amp, perfect for home practice. The amps controls are well though-out and easy to use. We'd love to see an update with Bluetooth integration though.
Pros Cons
Great sounds No bluetooth, USB not ideal
LOTS of options No PC/Mac app
User-friendly
Solid build quality
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10. Roland CUBE 40GX

Roland CUBE 40GX

As one of the smaller amps in the CUBE series, the 40GX is a 40W combo guitar amp with a 10-inch speaker. The CUBE40GX features three independent footswitchable channels: Clean, Lead and Solo, three independent effects sections, dedicated reverb and delay sections, a three-band eq as well as a recording/headphone output.

The Roland CUBE series is well known for offering usable tones in a compact, reliable package. The little 40GX is no different. While the 80W may offer a little more volume and headroom, we opted for the 40W version because of the smaller size. The amp is surprisingly loud when cranked, but produces excellent tones at bedroom volumes as well.

The CUBE 40GX may seem to lack some of the features found in other amps in this test, but the great-sounding tones and ease of use scored favourably with everyone that tested it.

Let’s dive into the features in more detail:

Three channels

JC CLEAN

We assume this channel is modelled after the JC120. Being lucky enough to have access to a JC120, a quick A/B test was arranged. While the CUBE got somewhat close to the JC120 to our ears, there’s just no getting around the fact that the JC120 with it’s dual poweramps and stereo chorus and twin speakers has the fuller sound.

LEAD

With 10 different COSM amp models to choose from, there should be something here for everyone. A quick rundown of the different amp models:

  • Acoustic Sim - Acoustic simulator, optimal with a Strat or single-coil guitar
  • Black Panel - Modeled on the Fender Twin Reverb
  • DLX Combo - Modeled on the Fender Deluxe Reverb
  • Brit Combo - Modeled on the Vox AC30
  • Tween - Modeled on the Fender Tweed Bassman
  • Classic Stack - Modeled on the Marshall JMP 1987
  • Metal Stack - Modeled on the Peavey EVH 5150
  • R-FIER Stack - Modeled on the Mesa/Boogie Rectifier
  • Extreme - Custom high-gain model
  • Dyna Amp - Custom dynamic gain amp that responds to picking dynamics.

SOLO

A preset recall channel. Set the clean or lead channel and effects to your desired lead tone, then hold the SOLO button for a few seconds and the amp will save the setting.

Delay with tap-tempo

While the delay sounds are good and usable, we’re left somewhat disappointed with the tap-tempo feature. It’s nice to have it available, but since it’s not footswitchable it’s a pain to use.

Reverb

Two different types of reverb are available: spring and plate. The reverb is switchable via the footswitch, and the sounds are decent. Adding a hint of reverb is especially important while using headphones to liven up the sound a bit.

Effects

The EFX section offers five different effects: chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo and heavy octave. While you can’t adjust the parameters for each effect, they are all usable and of good quality, though somewhat limited if you’re used to using stompboxes.

Onboard tuner

Simply press the tuner button and the CUBE will enter tuning mode and mute the guitar output. Holding down the button for a few seconds enters chromatic tuning mode, which tunes to the closest note.

The CUBE is designed to be an all-in-one amp. It produces a wide range of good sounding tones, and sounds well at low and high volumes. If you are looking for a simple setup that can handle gigging, practice and recording, the CUBE 40GX is well worth considering.
Pros Cons
Great sounding amp models EFX section offers limited options
Simple to use No effects loop
Onboard reverb and delay Delay tap-tempo not footswitchable
Onboard tuner
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