The thing you’ll find all of the best mini amp heads have in common is they pack amazing sound into a small package.
We’ve all dreamed of playing a sold out show in front of a wall of Marshall 4x12s, but it’s unlikely that many of us dream of lugging huge gear like that around. Fortunately, like a lot of modern tech, amplifiers no longer need to be enormous to put out huge power.
If you’re looking to scale down the size of your gear, whether it’s for portability, storage, or any other reason, you’re going to want to consider a mini amp head. Mini amp heads, just like full size models, plug straight into a speaker cabinet, or in some cases straight to front of house, but with the major benefit of being much, much smaller.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the 7 best mini amp heads for sale today. During the reviews we looked at tone, what kind of headroom each model had, how ear pleasing was any breakup, volume, and any extra features that made them stand out.
To keep the tests fair and consistent, each amp was played through a Marshall MX112R 1×12” extension cabinet, and we used the same Epiphone SG Standard throughout. We put together a simple pedal board for checking how well each amp handled pedals, which included a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive, a TC Electronics Corona Chorus, and a Donner Vintaverb reverb pedal.
Features: 25 Watts, EL84 Power tubes, On board attenutor
Benefits: Stage/studio ready, Full spectrum of tone, Handsome looks
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Features: 30 Watts, Built in variac, 3 Band EQ
Benefits: Great pedal platform, Easy sound shaping, Seriously lightweight
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Features: 20 Watts, Tube preamp/solid state power amp, Under 3lb
Benefits: Almost picroscopic dimensions, Punishing metal tones, Simple control layout
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- Our Top 3 Choices for Best Mini Amp Head
- Mini Amp Head Reviews
- How to choose the best mini amp head
- Final Thoughts on the Best Mini Amp Heads
Our Top 3 Choices for Best Mini Amp Head
Our Top Pick was the Bogner Ecstasy Mini. It’s a great choice for the all rounder who wants to be able to do everything from amplified acoustic cleans through to big, nasty crunch. It’s about as light weight and compact as amp heads come, and offers exceptional tonal variety.
If you’re trying to stick to a tighter budget, give our Best Budget winner, the Orange Micro Dark, some consideration. This hybrid tube/solid state amp requires little work to get gnarly metal tones, but with just a little roll back on the guitar, cleans up surprisingly well.
For those who aren’t restricted by budget, we can gladly recommend our Editor’s Choice, the Mesa/Boogie Mini Rectifier Head. The full size Rectifier amps are some of the most legendary in the business, and this Mini version builds on that legacy. It rewards its users with massive punch and unmatched clarity no matter the gain level.
Mini Amp Head Reviews
The Bogner Ecstasy Mini is an almost comically small amplifier head, but despite its tiny form factor, it was hugely impressive. It handled everything we threw at it and never skipped a beat. It’s a 30 watt class D solid state amp, and it weighed in at just under 4lb, which is a mere fraction of the 53lb behemoth that is the full size Bogner Ecstasy.
It had a full range of EQ controls, including bass, mids, treble, and even presence, so sound shaping was a breeze. Other controls included the Variac mode, which in essence slashed the head room, and allowed for even more breakup, which is something non-pedal users will appreciate, and a gain switch that had changed the focus of the gain between brown sound, and plexi.
We started off by checking how it performed with a dry signal, and we were really impressed with the tonal range given the form factor, and considering that it’s a fully solid state, the headroom was surprisingly good. It’s designed for high gain, but the cleans were still sweet and bell like, and we got good volume before it began breaking up.
With the Variac off, we played through the pedal board and really enjoyed the results. The pedals sounded good and weren’t overly colored by the amp, and at the same time, the distinctive tonal characteristics of the amp itself weren’t masked either. Pedal users will really enjoy using the Ecstasy Mini.
Verdict: The Bogner Ecstasy Mini is a superb choice for players looking to start using a mini amp head in their rig. It’s priced just right, and it sounds way bigger than it really is. This isn’t an amp you could play stadiums with, of course, but with 30 watts of power and the ability to hook up to a 4 x 12”, this is still a highly giggable amp. Even if you’re not planning to gig, the small form factor and ease of control also make it an ideal amp for everyone from bedroom players to those needing a studio setup.
Orange has put a lot of focus on developing mini amp heads that sound as good as their larger models for some time now, and the Dark Terror is one of their best efforts to date. We absolutely loved the form factor – it’s a tiny box that tipped the scales at a little over 1.7lb, and it looks simply fantastic. It boasts 20 watts, but in reality it sounded more like something with 40-50 watts of all solid state power.
This amp had the simplest controls of all of the heads we tested, offering only a single input, and volume, shape, and gain knobs. The shape control is the closest thing to EQ on this amp, but really only controls the mids, with a scooped sound when turned hard left, and a strong mid focus when turned clockwise. Despite the simple control layout, pedal users will enjoy the FX loop functionality.
We went into the dry signal check knowing that this wasn’t going to be a high headroom amp. With a name like Micro Dark, we didn’t anticipate Princeton Reverb cleans, but once again, we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the clean tones we did get. Of course, it began breaking up way before we even hit half volume, but if you were going to close mic, or run into FOH with this, it would still have useable cleans.
With the pedal board set up we got even more great tones. With an overdrive pedal running in, and especially with a drop tuned guitar, it gave us enormous metal tones that you’d never believe came from this micro amp if you didn’t see it with your own eyes. Of course, having low headroom did mean that the pedals lost a bit of character at high volume, but we still enjoyed the overall tone.
Verdict: Fans of heavier genres will absolutely love the tones that the Orange Micro Dark somehow puts out, but that doesn’t mean those who play with less gain will be disappointed. It does rock and roll crunch very well, and while it isn’t the cleanest amp, it can still offer a bit of shimmer with the right settings and a good cabinet or PA system. It’s one of the lightest amps on the market, and can fit into a backpack with ease, so you can truly take your own rig anywhere you need to.
No one would argue that Mesa/Boogie make some of the best amps on the planet, and few of their products are more famous than their Rectifier series. Now, they’ve compressed these behemoths into a mini unit, the Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier Head, which is, in our opinion, the very best mini head that money can buy.
It’s an all tube amp, which understandably weighed quite a bit more than the others on test, coming in at around 12lb. But with 25 watts coming from 5 x 12AX7 preamp tubes and 2 x EL84 power amp tubes, it can handle almost any situation you could possibly put it in.
As you might expect, it had a full range of EQ controls, with separate dials for each channel. There’s master volume, gain, bass, mid, and treble controls, as well as a presence knob. We were able to easily shape our sound with this amp, although we were hard pressed to find tones we didn’t like.
It features 2 channels, clean and pushed, with pushed being the more high gain option. In clean with a dry signal we got some pristine tones, even at high volume, in fact, enough to keep up with a drummer, and with barely a hint of crunch.
Of course, with the gain cranked on channel 2 it was go time for massive overdriven tones. The saturation was sublime with the tubes warmed up properly, so there’s almost no need to add distortion or additional OD via a pedal, as the amp alone provides all you’ll ever need.
On the clean channel with the pedal board running in, we got great volume, and found that there was plenty of headroom. The chorus sounded particularly good, and we didn’t run into any muddiness with the reverb either.
Verdict: We defy anybody to find a better mini amp head than the Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier. Whether for studio use, practice, or even gigging, it has the fine control and the power you need to sound great in any situation, and it’s got the build quality to survive all manner of abuse. It’s not quite as lightweight, but you could theoretically still fit it in a large backpack if necessary.
In the interest of fairness for the test, the bulk of the review of the Vox MSB25 Mini Superbeetle was performed through the same Marshall cabinet as the other amps, but we did, of course, try it paired with the speaker cab it came packaged with.
This is a 25 watt hybrid amp, with a Vox Nutube preamp, and a solid state power amp. It’s a flyweight unit that felt no heavier than a boss FX pedal – this did pose some challenges when we had it sitting on top of the Marshall cab rather than wedged into the frame on its own cabinet, as it was too easy to knock off and onto the floor.
The controls were straight forward – and the classic Vox chicken head dials were a nice touch. On the panel there was voume and gain controls as well as bass and treble, and even reverb and tremolo. The reverb and trem were well received, and helped to provide a bit of extra shimmer. We were, however, disappointed to find that there was no control for the mids or presence, something that is present on other amps at a similar price point.
Like most Vox amps, there wasn’t a lot of clean headroom. Past 12 o clock, the tones got pretty grainy and brittle, although at lower volumes we found it to be soft and surprisingly nuanced. If you’re thinking it’s an AC15 on a tighter budget, you might find yourself disappointed, but if you realize that it’s a phenomenal alternative to a Vox tube amp for at home practice, you’ll find this amp excels.
With pedals running into the Superbeetle we got great results at low to mid volumes, just as expected based on the dry signal headroom. It handled overdrive well, and gave us some really nice, classic British rock tones at bedroom levels, and didn’t really start to get muddy, even with tons of reverb until we pushed it past about 50% volume and 75% gain.
Verdict: If you’re not looking for something to gig with, and you want an amp that looks nice in a living room or bedroom, and can get great tone without rattling the windows, the Vox MSB25 Mini Superbeetle is hard to beat. The included speaker cabinet is a nice touch, making this a turn key choice if you’re just stepping into the world of amp and cabinet separates.
One of the big downsides to tube amps for many is that you don’t really realize any benefits of paying the premium that comes with these models until you can push them into overdrive and hear that lovely, organic breakup, and for bedroom players, it’s rarely possible to do this. This is one of the reasons we really loved playing the Blackstar 1 Watt Tube Head!
With just 1 watt of power from a single 12AX7 preamp tube and a 12AU7 power amp tube, we were able to get creamy cleans and big British crunch, all without disturbing the neighbors. It’s a 2 channel model, with channel selections made via the OD select button. As for the rest of the controls, it features a volume dial, gain, reverb, and ISF EQ. There are 4 additional voicings that can be accessed by the Voice switches, too.
On the back of the unit, a far rarer feature is hiding – a USB out for direct recording. This was highly welcomed, and something we’d like to see more manufacturers include. For home studio hobbyists, this feature really increases the appeal of this little Blackstar.
As we tested the dry signal, we did quickly learn the limitations of such a low powered amp. There was very little headroom, and we found that the tube breakup came somewhere around 40% volume. Not only that, but the cleans we did get were more creamy than they were glassy – not a problem if that’s your preferred sound, but if you need bell like clarity, this amp might not be for you.
At higher volumes with the gain cranked we absolutely loved this amp! It’s about as much fun as anybody could have with a mini head.
With the pedal board attached we did find that we lost a lot of the pedals’ inherent character. The breakup from the amp was great on its own, but we found it difficult to manage together with the FX, and this resulted in a noticeable loss of clarity, especially with the reverb and chorus pedals.
Verdict: It wasn’t without its flaws, but the Blackstar 1 watt tube head delivered big on tone, and gave us effortless breakup. It isn’t something you could, or that you’d want to even try and gig with, but for bedroom practice, or experimenting with recording at home it’s one of the best.
Hughes and Kettner isn’t exactly a household name like Marshall, Fender, or even Orange, but with the Hughes & Kettner Spirit of Vintage, you’re getting carefully crafted tones, beautiful boutique looks, and exceptional overall quality. At 4 ohms, it will put out an astonishing 50 watts, or 25 watts at 8 ohms, which is more than enough for casual practice, and even small gigs at the higher output.
Following the pattern set by some of the other lower cost options in this test, the control layout was a little sparse, and included a volume knob, gain, and master volume. EQ is controlled by a single tone knob, and there’s a sagging dial to replicate the power sags that a real tube amp experiences from the voltage drops that occur with a change in attack.
We found that the headroom was a little low with this amp – and while there are other versions available, some with more headroom, in our opinion this model offers the best all around tone. At low volumes we did like the cleans, we found them to be soft and responsive, and at point ever harsh or brittle, even with the tone all the way up.
With the gain pushed hard we got some amazing Hendrix-esque tones – gritty and snarling, perfect for that vintage rock/blues sound. We were also amazed at how loud this little Hughes and Kettner was through a 12” speaker.
It handled pedals well, although we found that extra overdrive does result in a fairly noticeable drop in clarity. If you’re into psychedelia, pairing this amp with a maxed out plate reverb works brilliantly.
Verdict: This is one of the few nano sized amps we think would work for players looking to gig. Even if you’re just looking for a simple practice amp, we’re still sure you’ll love the Hughes and Kettner Spirit of Vintage. It sounds amazing at all volumes, and doesn’t lose any of that tone through good headphones, either.
Friedman are well known in music circles for their tight, well controlled tones (as well as their huge price tags), so when we found out that they made the Friedman BE-Mini Head, a compact, solid state amp that was modeled after their fantastic BE-100, we had to give it a go.
This model is a 30 watt solid state amp that (almost) faithfully recreates the full fat tones of their 100 watt all tube model. It sits around the middle of the pack in this test line up when it comes to size and weight, tipping the scales at around 4lb and measuring just 9.5” x 5.25” x 6.25”, making it easily backpack sized.
Our biggest gripe with this amp was that the power cord was borderline flimsy. Considering how well made the BE-Mini is, we’d have liked to have seen a more substantial choice when it came to the power cord.
Appearance wise, this was easily one of the nicest on test – we loved the leather effect black Tolex against the satin gold accents. On the front panel there were a full array of EQ controls, including bass, treble and mids, as well as volume, presence, and gain controls. It even featured cut and tight switches for even greater tonal control.
We loved how much headroom was offered with this amp. Friedman are also pedal manufacturers, so it would make sense that they design their amps to accommodate them with ease. The clean tones were shimmery and glassy, and we got good volume before we found them breaking up.
Of course, with the gain set high and the volume cranked, we got room filling, gut punching crunch and beautiful overdriven tones.
Playing through the pedal board we were able to maintain the integrity of the FX without losing clarity. We got some great, ethereal tones with the chorus and reverb, and with the OD pedal cranked, the BE-Mini gave us big, nasty chugging sound that would be perfect for metal players.
Verdict: If you like the idea of a Marshall, but you want tighter tones and more clean headroom, the Friedman BE-Mini head is a great choice. It does cleans and crunch well, it’s lightweight and portable, and has enough power to gig when paired with the right rig.
How to choose the best mini amp head
Mini amp heads are a growing niche, and because of this you’ll find that they vary wildly when it comes to everything from quality to built in features. Before shopping for your mini amp head, give some consideration to these factors.
The physical size of a mini amp is one of its defining features. There’s no set size at which point an amp becomes “mini”, but be aware that they aren’t all as small and light weight as each other. For example, a Mesa/Boogie Mini Rectifier weighs about 5 times more than a Hughes and Kettner Spirit of Vintage.
Size is mostly a factor for those who plan to take their mini amp head out and about with them, so be sure to think about your specific needs when making a decision.
Just as with size, the power output of mini amp heads varies wildly between models, too. If you like the idea of a mini amp head just to practice at home, look for between 1 and 5 watts for an all tube model, or 10 to 30 watts for solid state. If you plan to try and gig with your mini amp head, you’ll want at least 15 watts if you’re wanting to go with an all tube model, or 25+ watts on a solid state amp.
Another thing to consider is on board effects. If you’re looking to use a pedal board, you might be more interested in finding an amp with a ton of headroom to accommodate your signal chain. If you don’t have external effects, having at least some reverb as a feature on a mini amp head will help you to add texture to your tone.
Final Thoughts on the Best Mini Amp Heads
We had a blast trying out these mini amp heads – it was enlightening to see just how much power can be squeezed out of such small gear. To recap what we found, our top pick for a solid all rounder was the Bogner Ecstasy Mini. For players who want a great amp without having to spend too much, our best budget option, the Orange Micro Dark is a great choice. If you aren’t worried about budget and you’re just looking for the very best mini amp head on the market, look no further than our editor’s choice, the Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier.