If we were going to look at the Best Tube Amps from fifty or sixty years ago, we’d be having a different conversation. Some of the names would be the same. One or two rehashed versions of amps from those days might crop up. But it was all different then.
From the early 60s and through the next decade and a half for loud performance valve amps, the Brits ruled the world. With the possible inclusion into that lofty elite of Ampeg for the bass.
Marshall, Orange, HiWatt, Vox, nobody else stood a chance for stage performances. Studio recording was different, though. In that refined atmosphere, few would argue with the quality of “The Twin.” Although, it must be said Vox had their moments with the ‘chimey’ ring.
Say hello to the transistor…
We did, but after a while, we realized. Forget the marketing hype and the incessant whining about the “digital age” the sound of a rock guitar was simple. Not a transistor, but an overdriven valve, pushed to the absolute limit. That was and still is Rock.
Say goodbye transistor…
For the live performance, they didn’t cut it. They have their uses, of that there is no doubt. And they are reliable and consistent. Some have a greater dynamic range, with lots of party tricks built-in. But they can’t create that “valve” sound. No matter what the marketing men and those paid to say will tell you.
So here we go, in “Search of the Lost Chord.” Let’s take a look at some of the Best Tube Amps that are with us today, starting with the…
- 1 Top 10 Best Tube Amps on the Market in 2021 Reviews
- 1.1 1 Blackstar HT20R MKII – Best Practice Tube Combo Amp
- 1.2 2 Fender ’65 Twin Reverb – Best Vintage Tube Amp
- 1.3 3 Orange Amplifiers OR Series OR15H – Most Durable Tube Amp Head
- 1.4 4 Marshall SV20H Studio Vintage 20 – Best Studio Tube Amp Head
- 1.5 5 Blackstar HT Club 40 – Best USB Tube Amp
- 1.6 6 Marshall M-DSL100HR-U – Most Powerful Tube Amp Head
- 1.7 7 Orange TremLord 30 – Best Clean Tube Amp
- 1.8 8 Peavey 6505 Plus – Best Metal Tube Amp
- 1.9 9 Vox AC30S1 – Best Top Boost Tube Amp
- 1.10 10 Marshall M-DSL40CR-U – Best Marshall Combo Tube Amp
- 2 Best Tube Amps Buying Guide
- 3 Looking for Something Else?
- 4 What are the Best Tube Amps?
Top 10 Best Tube Amps on the Market in 2021 Reviews
1 Blackstar HT20R MKII – Best Practice Tube Combo Amp
In 2004, four ex-Marshall employees got together to make some amps. You might think they would just be clones of the lot down the road. You would be mostly wrong. Yes, there are similarities, but Blackstar has its own identity and is proud of it. From working in a garden shed to its own premises, it has been an interesting story.
A compact valve amp…
The HT20R MKII utilizes the EL84 design to give great dynamics and versatility. With this little amp, you get the lot, from crisp and clean to screaming overdrive. It measures 20.87 by 15.35 by 24.41 inches and weighs 39.7 pounds. Therefore, it’s one of the best portable tube amps available.
It has a twelve-inch Celestion speaker that handles the 20-watt output. There’s a two-button footswitch. Also built-in is a high-quality Reverb and effects loop. Digital has some advantages.
There are two channels. One for a predominately clean sound, the other for overdrive. Each channel has two separate voices and a variety of sound options. There are full tonal controls included as well.
A variety of uses…
This is not an amp for loud performances unless you mic up. It is excellent for home use, rehearsals, or taking into the studio. For practice at home, there is built-in Power reduction to 10% of volume. This makes it one of the best home use tube amps around.
This allows you to get the full power and sound of those EL84s at a reduced volume without losing that sound. Furthermore, it has a built-in USB that allows you to send your valve tones directly to a computer for recording.
A good buy…
Not the loudest you will come across by any stretch of the imagination, but a nice tone. Whether it’s the clean, sharp crispy tones or overdriven, pushed-hard valve sound, it is impressive and a good buy. Set at a price point that isn’t going to break the bank and very well-made, it has a lot going for it.
- EL84s and a twelve-inch Celestion speaker.
- Two channels with some great tones, one with overdrive.
- Could be a little bit underpowered for some.
2 Fender ’65 Twin Reverb – Best Vintage Tube Amp
“The Twin.” That’s probably all you need to conjure up what this amp was all about. Sir George Martin wanted a crystal clear sound for the Beatles recordings. It was the Fender Twin John and George often used. But it wasn’t only them. This amp is one of the most popular tube amps in history, and rightly so.
This isn’t an original, of course. But the ’65 Twin has been meticulously created to get as close as possible to those originals. Single-coil or Humbuckers, this amp will give you great tones. One of the measures of a great amp is that it crosses genres smoothly and easily. This amp does exactly that.
A good solid build, it measures 28.25 by 22.5 by 12.25 inches and weighs 70 pounds. It even has tilt-back legs. There are two 12-inch Jensen speakers and a full range of controls and EQ. It has six preamp and four output tubes, allowing you to push it hard or keep it clean.
It is rated at 85 watts, but that might be a little conservative. This is very loud. On the volume dial up to eight, there will be a traditional clean sound. Go over it, and you need to sit down and strap in.
As soon as you plug in and turn it on, you know. This is a tube amp, not some attempt at a digital recreation. The sound is based on their original Blackface circuitry. Fender made the Blackface from ‘63 to ‘67. This ‘65 reissue is based on that period and gives you the same legendary sound.
It is ‘chimey’ and big-sounding with a full range of tones. And to add to the flavor, they have included those iconic Spring Reverb and tremolo sounds. If you want the best reverb tube amp, look no further.
Quality comes at a cost…
If you can’t afford or even find an original, this is a more than adequate substitute. The look and sound are all there. Two channels with the extra effects on the second give you so much. Expensive? Some might say so, but we don’t. Worth every penny.
- The legendary look and ‘65 Blackface circuitry and sound.
- Everything you need to create those iconic sounds.
- Nothing at all.
3 Orange Amplifiers OR Series OR15H – Most Durable Tube Amp Head
From the early to mid-60s, Marshall had things pretty much their way. They looked great, and they were loud. Boy, they were loud.
But then, out of a little shop in the West End of London in the late 60s, Cliff Cooper launched something new. These weren’t loud. They assaulted your ears. That’s the only way I could describe hearing my first 100-watt Orange amp.
And not only that, they had a color scheme that, shall we say, was a little different. If you didn’t see an Orange amp. You were certainly going to hear it.
The build and look…
Always strong, always tough, and able to take knocks, nothing has changed with Orange. This amp is one of the most rugged tube amps ever. It measures only 7.87 x 7.87 x 15.75 inches, but with its wooden chassis, it weighs twenty pounds. Drawing heavily on the graphics from those heady late 60s, it is instantly recognizable. Recreating the classic Orange look.
But it doesn’t stop with the looks. With this tube amp, they have recreated that classic Orange sound. This is just a 15-watt amp. This one isn’t going to ‘assault’ your eardrums like those originals. But you will be surprised how loud a 15-watt amp can sound.
It has a three-band EQ and an FX loop. There are two EL84 tubes, with a further three for the preamp and one more for the Loop. It is a single channel amp with a four-stage Gain.
An Orange amp is unlike most others. It doesn’t sound like a Marshall, even though you might expect it would. But it is the same ilk. Cliff wanted to build an amp that would, as he put it, “wake up the neighbors.” He certainly did that with some style.
Owning an Orange amp is something everyone should do at some stage. Perhaps this is your time. You will have to get a cabinet, though. Make sure it can handle it.
- Tough build with all wood chassis.
- Great traditional look and sound.
- It’s an Orange.
- You will need a cabinet as it is only the head.
4 Marshall SV20H Studio Vintage 20 – Best Studio Tube Amp Head
Whenever guitarists discuss tube amps, it doesn’t take long to get around to this lot. The “Father of Loud” gave us something very special from his little shop in Hanwell, West London. In and out of the door every day were musicians later to become the best in the world. A special place and time.
An often-used term, but Marshall never manufactured an amp called a Plexi. Amps from the later periods in the 60s had Plexiglass panels. One of which was the ferocious 1959 Super Lead, easily one of the best Marshall amps ever made.
The term refers to amps from that period. In some ways, it is a badge of honor given to great-sounding amps, the JTM45 being another one.
And now a Plexi for all…
If you don’t want mind-numbing volume or to spend thousands of dollars, but want the Plexi sound, this could be the answer. The SV20H brings the Plexi sound to you in a 20-watt tube package. And 20 watts from Marshall can be loud.
Remember it is 20 “tube” watts. That’s why there is an option to switch down to just 5 watts. Mind you, that feels like it’s enough to blow someone out of bed next door.
What is built-in?
It has four separate inputs, EQ and Presence, and high and low loudness controls. There is also an effects loop and a DI input. It measures 13.8 by 33.7 by 15.9 inches and weighs just under 50 pounds.
This is what you might call a rather scaled-down version of the 1959 Super Lead. Saturated blues grit and mind-blowing Lead sounds. It is all packed in this amp. Both Townshend and Hendrix adjusted eardrums with that amp. This brings you the same sound.
Just to mention…
This is the head only, so you will need a cabinet. And the bad part? The cabinet will need what Marshall calls Studio Vintage specifications.
Back to the amp. This captures the sounds of an iconic period never to be repeated. If you want “Plexi,” here it is. And when you first turn it on, raise a glass to Big Jim. The creator of the sound of rock music as we know it.
- The Plexi sound in a compact amp.
- All that you need for “that” sound.
- You need to buy the right speaker cabinet to go with it.
5 Blackstar HT Club 40 – Best USB Tube Amp
Back to Blackstar again for another offer. The HT Club 40 MK II is an upgraded version of the original HT Club 40. A popular amp in its own right. With this, they have made it a bit better. A nice amp with some good sounds at a decent price point.
Blackstar makes rugged cabinets, and this one is no different. It measures 29.13 by 14.96 by 24.8 inches. It has an attractive design with its black covering and silver and black basketweave speaker cloth.
Inside there is a twelve-inch Celestion speaker that easily handles the 40-watt output. There are two channels, both of which work with a footswitch, which is included.
These are located on the front, and some might consider that an awkward place to locate them. Often being on top of the amp is easier for quick adjustments during a live performance. One input serves the two channels and changes using the footswitch, as we said. There is a clean channel with basic bass and treble controls, and volume control. Each channel has voicing options.
The second channel is for overdrive with Gain and Volume and an OD equalizer. There are controls for the built-in Reverb and a Master Volume. Also, a power reduction option allows you to play with your tones at a lower level of volume.
On the back is an effects loop that allows you integration for your pedalboard and a USB audio out. Also, a speaker-emulated output. This makes it one of the best DI recording tube amps on the market.
Celestion speakers have a reputation for delivering a big punch with a good midrange. No difference with this speaker. Overall the sound is good. Channel one offers crisp and crystal clear highs and a clean sound. Channel two gives you all the overdrive and power you will need. Whatever you need from hard-driving rock to a sustained Blues feel it is there.
- Good quality build with Celestion speaker and 40-watt output.
- Two channels offering a range of tones.
- Controls on the front rather than on top.
6 Marshall M-DSL100HR-U – Most Powerful Tube Amp Head
Back to Marshall for what they probably do better than anyone else. Make a 100-watt head that will blow your socks off. When it comes to the best tube amps, this one was a no-brainer for our list.
Monster of Rock…
Marshall first gave us the JCM2000 DSL, Dual Super Lead series in 1997. Right from the start, these became the go-to amp for a lot of musicians and bands. This amp comes from that revered background.
Of course, it was loud, but it was more the tone that set this amp apart from everything else. When Marshall gets it right, the others might as well go home. With the DSL, they got it right. As a result, this is one of the best sounding tube amps you will find.
These days there is a demand for these amps that far outstrips their availability. Marshall reintroduced it and tweaked it a little to give you the new DSL series.
Valves, of course. EL34s, to be precise, and four power tubes. They will give you the power to remove those much-mentioned socks of anyone who dares get too close.
Also, another four ECC83s for the preamp stage. These work with the master volume and gain and give you the tones that you are looking for. Additionally, this is the precise valve arrangement that the originals boasted.
There are two channels. One is for Classic Gain, the other for Ultra Gain. Each channel has two operational modes. On channel one, there is Clean and Crunch. On Channel two, there is Overdrive One and Two.
There are no EQ controls. Each channel has Gain and Volume controls. There is a resonance control that has been included to replace the fixed deep switch on the original amp. However, there’s built-in reverb and an effects loop. Plus, a two-way footswitch. This will operate changes to the channels or operating the FX loop.
You have the option of the adjustable power level. This will let you set your tones but at a lower volume. It is reasonable to call this a monster of an amp. It is. And Marshall has once again unleashed the beast from its cage. Don’t get too close; it bites.
A surprising fact…
It measures 13.8 by 33.7 by 15.9 inches and weighs just under 49 pounds. Designed in the UK but built in Vietnam. For anyone who thinks the Asian build is always of a lower standard, think again. You would never have known the difference with this contender for the best tube amp.
- Recreation of an iconic much-loved amp.
- Good build with all the power and sound you will need.
- You will need to get a very good cabinet.
7 Orange TremLord 30 – Best Clean Tube Amp
Back to Cliff’s boys again for another slice of Orange. If we are to be critical of Orange amps, it is this. To get the best out of them, you have to push them and push them hard. Very hard. The sound they make with all the lights flashing can be unbeatable. But down in the quieter, clean regions, they can be a little thin and watery.
This changes everything…
Orange fans and users will be well aware of what their amps are capable of. But this amp can change how some view Orange. This is a great version of the 50s and early 60s British sound. The Vox and the Selmer amps. They had crystal clear sounds and were ‘chimey,’ and you get that with this amp.
The moment you see it, you know who built this, and rightly so. It’s an iconic style. It measures 11.22 by 22.44 by 18.11 inches and weighs 25 pounds. Therefore, it is one of the best lightweight tube amps available.
It has an output of 30 watts. That might not seem like a lot, but that is 30 “tube” watts. And it is an Orange amp. They tend to give you a bit extra. Driving it along is a single ECC81/12AT7 valve.
One input and the controls are easily located on the top of the amp. It has built-in Reverb and Tremolo. These can be operated by two foot-switchable effects.
Because of the TremLords post-tremolo loop, you can use it anywhere in a modern chain. It has different power options. The amp is rated at 30 watts. But it has a power reduction option that takes it down to two watts for practice at home. You can also run the amp on half power at 15 Watts. Using the power reduction that will take you down to 1 watt.
As we said at the beginning, it is the clean sound that is impressive. We all know what Orange will do when you let it attack. But the vintage feel this amp gives off provides a little bit of the old Vox-type sound.
Very 50s early 60s. It is not thin; it is a full and quite rich sound that carries a lot of clean headroom. A very good amp with plenty to get excited about.
- Orange build with plenty of overdrive sound about it.
- A great vintage-sounding clean channel.
- Quite expensive.
8 Peavey 6505 Plus – Best Metal Tube Amp
Founded in 1965, Peavey arrived on the back of the British Invasion. In some ways, it was an unfortunate situation for them. They did okay in the US. But in the UK, they were viewed as a bit of a non-entity. They sold a few units, but they had a problem.
They were coming up against Marshall, and they were never going to win that one. And at the end of the decade, Orange and HiWatt appeared. Any chance they may have had disappeared right then. But they continued to make good amps, the 5150 being the obvious example, and have carried on making them.
This amp was given its name in celebration of 40 years of making amps. It became a very popular amp with a lot of guitar players for its crunching sound. Especially with a host of metal players. And it has maintained its popularity.
It’s a tough amp ready for the road measuring 28.8 by 13.3 by 14 inches and weighing 53 pounds. The 6505s these days are made in China. It has its distinctive grille covering the front of the amp. As this is just a head unit, you will need a cabinet, of course.
Some good things indeed. It has six 12AXT tubes for the preamp and four 6L6GC power amp tubes. Two channels are controlled from a footswitch. One is what might be termed a rhythm channel, the other a boosted lead channel.
It will put out about 120 watts. Peavey is known for generating some volume. There are Resonance and the necessary Presence controls for both channels. Also, Pre and Post gain for both channels.
Great sounds but not exactly cheap…
To help you create your sound, there is a three-band EQ. Controls are located on the front, as is the norm with a head unit. A good powerful amp but maybe a little expensive for some.
- 120 watts of power from this all-tube amp.
- Plenty of tonal options.
- Some might think it expensive.
9 Vox AC30S1 – Best Top Boost Tube Amp
There is nothing that can be said about this amp that hasn’t already been said. An icon is not a powerful enough word. It was there right at the beginning.
It was behind Cliff Richard with the Shadows in the late 50s while he curled his lip and tried to be Elvis. Don’t say it; we agree. The AC30 was developed for the Shadows because their AC15s were not loud enough.
It has never gone away…
Beatles, Yardbirds, Kinks, Animals, Stones, they all had them. The Who didn’t. Perhaps that’s why there are some left today. They’ve never gone away. Piled up on top of each other three deep for Queen at Live Aid. They are an icon.
A sound that carries on…
Despite being an important part of early rock n roll, it is a sound that still inspires today. This is not an original AC30. We suppose you could call it a stripped-down version. But it does give you the full AC30 experience.
Top Boost Channel…
That top boost channel was what made the AC30, and that is what this amp is based on. It will give you a range of tones from that ‘chimey’ sound it was famous for, right up to a rich but maybe not fully formed overdrive.
It is a single channel 30 watt amp with one twelve-inch Celestion speaker. It has two 12AX7 preamp tubes, and then, guess what? That’s right, four EL84 power amp tubes. It creates a sound that made us sit up and take notice then and still does today.
It has been given a few extras. There are a built-in reverb and external speaker output and a send/return for effects. The sound is amazing, just as it should. It still looks great, and they have been very careful to make sure it looks like it should. It’s all there.
A word of warning…
If you buy it, be prepared for some long, late nights while you just sit and stare at it. It gets you like that. Certain to be considered as one of the Best Tube Amps.
- Great sound inspired by the Top Boost channel of the original.
- Iconic looks and great build quality.
- You must be joking.
10 Marshall M-DSL40CR-U – Best Marshall Combo Tube Amp
Let’s return to the ‘Boys from Hanwell’ for our last amp. That is how they were affectionately known before they moved 60 miles away to a big factory. This is another amp from the revered DSL range. However, this one is a combo.
Strong and secure, it measures 9.9 x 29 x 19.3 inches and weighs nearly 50 pounds. Compact enough to be taken around quite easily to gigs, but it is no lightweight. The output it generates is just loud enough for a small to medium-size venue.
A two-channel amp with one input, the footswitch will take you between them. Thankfully, it is included. The two channels are similar to all in the DSL range.
Classic Gain and Ultra Gain, each channel has two operating modes. On Channel 1 are clean and crunch, and on Channel 2 is Overdrive one and two. Both channels have Volume and Gain controls. There is resonance control as well as Reverb and the effects loop.
Marshall has redesigned their EQ operations to make the tonal responses even more versatile. You can go from crystal clear cleans to driving crunch and on to a blistering high gain with ease. And with the power level adjuster, you can maintain the sound at a quieter level. The neighbors will be pleased.
A classic amp with all the sound you would expect. It is listed at 40 watts, but we can hardly believe that is the output. Double it; that might be closer. It is set at a price point that makes this an attractive option.
- Marshall DSL sound and features two channels, each with two modes.
- Plenty of tonal options and very loud.
- It is heavy for a compact amp.
Best Tube Amps Buying Guide
You might have a lot of experience with solid-state amps. But this is a different animal altogether. They have their quirks and little mysteries. But you do have some basic decisions to make.
Head or Combo?
Do you want to buy just a head, or do you want to get a combo? Buying a head means you will need a cabinet. With some amps, you will need a specialized cabinet. Head amps tend to be louder, so the cabinet will have to be a good one.
How will you use it?
Are you buying it for the studio or just to use at home? It is probably at its best when it is used in live gigs. So, if that is your aim, it needs to be loud enough.
Also, if you are just buying a head, let’s remind you that you will need a cabinet. You will also need to consider the size of the speaker if it is a combo.
They can be quite expensive. You are not going to get a great tube amp on the cheap.
Looking for Something Else?
We have a growing selection of music and audio equipment. So, check out our in-depth Marshall Code 50W Review, our Fender Rumble 40 v3 Bass Combo Amplifier review, or our Roland VT-4 Review, as well as our comprehensive reviews of the Best Bass Amps and the Best Keyboard Amps you can buy in 2021.
And don’t miss our Marshall Stockwell 2 Review, our Monolith M1060 Headphone Review, our Sennheiser HD1 Free Bluetooth Wireless Review, our Blue Yeticaster Review, and our UE MEGABOOM 3 Review for even more amazing audio products currently on the market.
What are the Best Tube Amps?
This is a near-impossible decision for us. We are great fans of British manufacturers. Marshall has led the world in tube amps. Behind them is Orange. Those Orange tube amps of the 70s were monsters.
Then there is Vox. That is probably the most special amp of all of them, not necessarily for its overdriven sounds. But because it is just that Vox sound. We would have to pass on that as we wouldn’t get any work done. We’d be looking at it all the time.
We are going to go for a great amp for the studio. That is where we spend most of our time these days. Maybe the odd live gig, but essentially the studio. Therefore, we would pick the…
Classic sound, classic looks, easy to use, plenty of clean headroom to run any amount of pedals; for our purposes, this is the Best Tube Amp you can buy at the moment.
Until next time, may the music make you merry.