Until very recently, micro and mini amps were little more than novelty items. Yes, they could technically amplify an electric guitar, but there was literally nothing ear pleasing about the way they sounded – although the fact that most of them look like mini versions of famous amps was pretty cool.
Fast forward to today – not only do we now have some mini amps that aren’t bad, we have some that are actually extremely good – take for example the Blackstar Fly 3 Mini. This was the first amp in our mind that went beyond passable, and actually delivered a good range of tones while still remaining affordable and portable.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review, we’re taking a closer look at the Fly 3 Mini, the amp that we named as our best amp for metal under $100. If you’ve been on the hunt for an amp that can serve up metal tones and you’re on the tightest of budgets, you really won’t want to miss this one!
Blackstar Fly 3 Mini: Who Is This For?
The Blackstar Fly 3 Mini is an amazing little amp that works for anybody. It’s super compact, so it makes a great travel amp for players of all abilities.
If you’re just getting started in playing, this amp delivers superb sound quality at all volumes, so even when you don’t want to practice with headphones, you’ll be able to keep the decibels under control while still getting the sound you want – ideal if you’re trying not to disturb others.
Appearance / Features / Controls
Measuring just 6.7 inches by 5 inches, the Fly 3 Mini is small enough to fit in a backpack or gig bag, making it easy to take with you wherever you go. This makes it a great option for players who want to practice away from home. At a hair under 2lb when equipped with 6 x AA batteries, it’s also an extremely lightweight unit.
On the topic of power, as mentioned, it does take AA batteries, but it also takes a 9v DC adapter. The 9v adapter is sold separately, but we highly recommend purchasing this, because using 6 AA batteries at a time can become quite expensive.
The entire amp is made from ABS plastic, including the grille. At first it does seem a little flimsy, but this is probably a combination of the light weight and the plastic, but we can confirm that it’s able to take a lot in the way of knocks and bumps and still come out performing.
It’s a solid state amp with 3 watts of power driving a single 3 inch speaker. It also features a headphone jack, allowing you to practice quietly without disturbing anyone around you when necessary. If you want to play along with a backing track, it has this option thanks to the aux in input.
This is a 2 channel amp, and it has a surprising array of controls for such a small unit. There’s a button to switch between the normal and Overdrive channels, and it also features separate gain and volume controls. It even has an EQ dial that controls the ISF, or Infinite Shape Feature, which is Blackstar’s exclusive tone adjustment tech that can take the amp from a clean American sound to a moody British tone with the twist of a knob.
Finally, effects were limited to what was ultimately a very good tape delay feature.
Performance / Sound
The Blackstar Fly 3 has no business sounding as good as it does when you consider its price. It’s versatile, and every member of the KGR team decided they wanted one after hearing it.
Despite its small size, the Fly 3 Mini was surprisingly loud. It was able to fill a small room with sound, making it great for practicing at home, and thanks to the aux in, you could even use it as a speaker for playing music if you so choose..
The clean channel was clear and crisp, allowing us to dial in shimmering clean tones that were perfect for playing jazz, country, and blues. The overdrive channel, on the other hand, offered us a more aggressive tone with some pretty gnarly distortion, making it perfect for rock and metal.
The built in tape delay effect was able to add some amazing texture to the tone. While it tended to get quite muddy at maxed out settings, as long as we avoided dining the delay controls, it was a lot of fun to use with its slapback effect.
While an amp of this size isn’t likely to be used with pedals, we of course had to try to see how well it took them, and to our surprise, it did so with ease. We ran a Boss Super Overdrive through it, and found that it didn’t color the pedal, especially when in the clean channel, and the speaker was easily able to handle the additional gain.
Other Amps to Consider
The Blackstar Fly 3 is an amazing little amp, but competition is definitely stiff. If you’re not quite sure as to what it is you’re looking for, be sure to check out our favorite alternative choices below.
The Boss Katana Mini is arguably the very best mini amp around, and may have beaten the Fly 3 to the Best for Metal Under $100 title had it not been just a little too expensive! This amp is powered by the same amazing electronics as its big brothers in the Katana range and the sound quality is just as good. It offers 3 amp voicings, a full 3 band EQ, plus a delay effect. With 7 watts available, it’s got plenty of volume, and it’s still incredibly lightweight and highly portable.
Unlike the Blackstar and the Boss, the Fender Mustang Micro isn’t a combo amp, but rather, it’s a headphone amp, and in our opinion it’s one of the best around. It offers superb tones, and is genuinely pocket sized. It makes use of the same modeling engine featured in the larger Fender Mustang amps, and remarkably, can even be used as a USB interface for recording, making it potentially the smallest USB interface on the market.
Final Thoughts on the Blackstar Fly 3 Mini
The depth of tone we got from what was such a small amp was absolutely astounding. Our past experience with amps of this type had largely been with the Marshall “mini stacks” which as we pointed out, were little more than toys. The Blackstar Fly 3 Mini on the other hand, was a legit amp that we think could genuinely replace the kind of the 10 watt combo that many new players get started on.
It’s light weight, it’s affordable, and the tones were absolutely amazing, from nice sparkling cleans through to some real chug (albeit relatively quiet chug!). If you’re on the fence we’d advise you to hop off and make the purchase, you won’t regret it!