Love the good tones of tube amps but find them too loud for bedroom practice? This article will give you recommendations on tubes that sound great but wouldn’t cause your neighbors to scream at you.
The best low volume tube amp I recommend is that the Fender Super Champ X2. The tone is classic Fender even at the lowest volume setting. Coupled with its quality finishing and some nice effects to increase your playing versatility, it is a no brainer purchase.
Fender Super Champ X2 review
The Fender Super Champ X2 is a superb sounding tube amp that has some modeling components at the amplifier part. Unlike other modeling amps that claimed to be a tube amp, the Fender Super Champ X2 contains 1 12AX7 and two 6V6′ at the preamp and power amp stage. This makes it a true tube amp through and through.
- Tone: The amp sound fantastic, even at low volumes. It is warm and prone to picking attacks. One nice thing is that there more tone profiles available in the X2 compared to traditional tube amps. This is due the modeling effects that I mentioned earlier on.
- Effects: The X2 uses the Fender FUSE software and has some nice presets if you download them to the software. The good thing is you can assign these presets to the effects so with a simple touch, you can get that immediately without messing with pedals.
- Build Quality: It is a Fender so build quality is almost assured. The grill is nicely woven, with some nice shimmering that looks like the more expensive models.
- Portability: The X2 is lightweight and contains a useful handle at the top. This makes it pretty easy to move around.
- Distortion: You can still get a slight distortion in low volume but definitely not in the same range as when the volume is dialed up.
- Usability of FUSE: Depends on how good you are with software in general, you might find FUSE’s interface to be not as intuitive as it can be.
- No additional accessories: The purchase does not come with any dust cover or foot pedal.
Blackstar HT Series HT-1R review
Another alternative to consider is the Blackstar HT-1R. Similar to the Fender X2, it has great tone even at low volume.
In fact, it works much better in low rather than high. When you dial the volume up too high, a buzzing sound can be heard.
- Tone: This amp produces a stable and warm tone, with a surprising depth in sound even at low volume. For bedroom practice, it is satisfying , without disturbing your neighbors.
- Effects: The EQ control (known as the ISF) gives you the ability to switch from American to British sounding tone, with other tones in betweem. There is also the reverb dial that controls the reverb effect that this amp offers. Between these 2 controls, there is a surprising depth in terms of what you can play with. Even at low volume, the effects are pretty clear to hear.
- Build Quality: The box is sturdy but lacks the more class finishing of the Fender X2. It has a closed back design without giving out a boxy sound that many other similar amp are guilty of. In terms of connections, the Blackstar HT-1R allows you to connect outside sources to the speaker. It also allows you to do recording with its speaker emulated output jack.
- Portability: This amp is only a 1 watt so it will be light. Along with the top handle design, you can pretty much move this around in the house with no issue.
- Distortion: At low volume, you still can achieve some distortion
- Cost: It is cheaper than the Fender X2 in most stores.
- Buzzing: Even though most will not be playing this at high volume, do note that there will be a very slight buzzing if you decide to ramp it up all the way. For me, it doesn’t take away anything from this amp but to some, this might be annoying.
VHT Special 6 review
The final recommendation I have for great tube amp at low volume is the VHT Special 6. It sounds good right out of the box with its clean and warm tone.
- Tone: The VHT special 6 is able to maintain its warm tone at low volume. There is a surprising amount of headroom, which make the music sounds bigger than it is.
- Effects: This low wattage packs a punch in terms of effects. The volume and tone knobs act as your Q controls when you activate the boost mode. This gives you the flexibility to try out different tones and playing style without making it complicated. Breakups can be done for those who are into playing jazz and blues.
- Build Quality: The VHT special 6 is not made in the US but is still nicely built with solid grills and cabinet boards. Even you want it to be made in US, it will probably cost you 2-3 times more.
- Portability: Among the three amps recommended here, this might be the most portable. It is not only lightweight but the design is extremely compact.
- Troublesome to change tubes: The VHT has a mesh cover at the back, which means you need to play around with more screws than necessary to change the tubes.
- Tubes are made in China: The tubes are not the highest quality although they still make the amp sound great. If you can change them, you will get a even more crisp and clean output.
How to get guitar distortion at low volume
A common question asked is whether can you still get distortion when the tube amp is set at low volume. A lot of course depends on the amp, like what the Fender X2 can offer.
This is the easiest way to get guitar distortion at low volume is to turn the gain knob up. However, most gain knob are known as volume knob in amp. The real volume knob is called amp knob and is something you adjust to find the right volume for your playing.
Not many tube amps can maintain their sound quality at low volumes. The one I recommend here (Fender Super Champ X2, Blackstar HT-1R and VHT Special 6) have passed this test with flying colors.
If you want to enjoy your music via tube amps without annoying everyone else, you can’t go wrong with any of these.