A tube amplifier is a type of electronic amplifier, used to increase the amplitude power of a signal by using vacuum tubes. Amplifiers nowadays are mostly used to amplify the sound of various instruments. Most people love the idea of cranking a tube amp and letting the sounds loose. However, to do this, one must have the perfect tube amplifier and finding a budget tube amp is not so easy. Whether it’s for practice or gigs on the road, in a classical tone or a modern pop, one should try to buy a tube amp that fits their requirements.
There are several aspects you will need to consider before making a buying decision. Just so you are not stuck in the pre-buying mode of never-ending research, we have compiled a buyers guide which will help you buy the best budget tube amp. We have covered some factors you need to look for and the top 10 tube amps in the market. You can find a tube for any range in the list. We hope this buyers guide helps you in making the right choice.
Factors to Look for in Tube Amp
Before spending money on tube amps, you must understand what you are buying and its specifications. It is important to remember that solid state amps and tube amps are totally different devices.
While buying electronic items, a general rule of thumb is to first identify usage – whether the product is a long-term or short-term purchase. Once that is decided upon, setting a budget becomes easy, since you know how much you will invest in it. The next thing one should decide is what wattage would best suit your needs. A 100-watt tube amp at its maximum might sound cool, but the noise will be too much for small spaces. A 5-watt tube amp is perfect for use in smaller areas. At its maximum, it will sound amazing, fitting your needs perfectly. Understanding the product specification is also important.
Before selecting a tube amp, you must look into its requirements that’ll help the tube amp produce quality sound. What items you already have, should match the requirements of the tube amp, or you should be able to purchase them separately if need be. One thing to note is that a 100-watt tube amp is not supposed to be twice as loud as a 50-watt tube amp. The only difference between them is 3 decibels and more headroom. The more the watt, the more room it occupies and increases in weight. So, unless you are able to carry the heavy tue amp or have people who’ll do it for you,you’re in for some heavy weight lifting.
The type of tube used in a tube amplifier affects the performance. This should be considered when buying a tube amp. Performance is affected as different types of power tubes have a particular sound based on their characteristics.
EL34: is more gnarly and a nasty sounding tube. It is not distorted but just a little aggressive. It is good for metal rock and is really powerful.
6L6: is completely different than the EL34. It has a cleaner sound and its mids are less powerful and honky. The overall tone is fluid.
6550: is similar to the 6L6. It has some grittiness in its mid-range. It is not very clean but has just the perfect sizzle for hard, dirty tones.
KT88: is based on the 6550. It is more refined and boosted and has less distortion than either the EL34 and the 6L6. It has a super clean sound and clears up the tone very well.
KT66: is the predecessor of the 6L6. KT66 is smoother in higher tones and even in the mids. It is more open sounding and has a better dynamic response.
KT77: sounds somewhere between the 6L6 and the EL34. The sound is a little more compressed than the 6L6 but not as much as the EL34.
6V6: is a smaller tube as compared to others. It gives the tone a sparkle at the top end and a chewiness to the bottom. The 6v6 roars spectacularly if you crank it up.
EL84: is a smaller tube, but gives a grittier, grainier feel to the tone. It lends a slightly dirtier tone to cleaner guitar tones than other amps.
The basics of the power amp are based around the wattage and the tube-type. The power amp is important as it affects the overall output, but the preamp is just as important as it’s the factor that shapes the tone. What should be considered in a preamp is the circuit type and the features it possesses, such as effects loop, reverb or multiple channels. Someone who uses one amp and plays a lot of different tones should consider buying a tube amp with multiple channels. This way, the distortions provided will be under control.
On a guitar amp, there may be anywhere between one to four channels. Tube amps with multiple channels provide users more flexibility to rely less on pedals for overdrive. The user can utilize the independent gain controls for each channel of the tube amps. Most high gain amps have two channels – the clean and gain channels. The user can turn up the preamp gain and leave the master volume set at a lower level, offering greater distortions at lower volume levels.
The preamp tube breaks up sound differently than the power tube.
While multiple channels offer more flexibility, to get more purity in tone, a single channel preamp is better. The tone of your music will be colored through springs in a reverb pan and multiple channels and other components and their settings. So, the more components in the single chain, the more the purity of the tone will alter.
It all comes down to the money There are many budget tube amps in the market that are a run for your money. The main aim is to get a better sound and that is relative. You can get a $4000 tube amp or get a $400 tube amp and they would probably have the same effect. It also depends on the quality of the instrument in use. As with most purchases, the budget decides on what we can buy.
One should see what are their basic use is and how much they can afford to invest. A budget is probably the biggest purchase constraint one can have, another way to ensure that you purchase a tube amp that fits right in your budget is to look at verified online websites that sell them. Many of these sites, like Amazon, have sales that are either based on brands or occasions.
So if you’re looking to buy a tube amp, you can save a ton of money if you purchase it on specific days – like on Black Friday or Prime Day. Many brands offer discounts online as well since they eliminate the store maintenance costs, you’ll get yourself a good deal at a better price. One way to go about it would be to create your own list stating all your requirements and then finding a budget tube amp that suits those needs. Here are our picks of the Top Ten Budget Tube Amps available in the market right now.
Top 10 Best Budget Tube Amps
1. SMSL T2 Tube Amp
This is one of the top rated tube amps available in the market. If you are looking for an affordable tube amp under $100, then SMSL T2 fits the bill. It uses a vacuum tube and has low ground noise. The amp build is of aluminum and gives it a sophisticated and sturdy look. It has a small compact size, weighing around 1.26 pounds.
The SMSL T2 utilizes two 6J9 tubes made of j-grade. The circuit has two NJM5532D as its core part. The 6J9 tubes increase the input signal by amplifying the voltage. The mini headphone amplifier is driven by the current formed by the NJM5532D circuit. These two features provide quality sound and a very powerful drive current.
The SMSL T2 has a 3.5 mm audio jack. The output power for different levels ranges from 13 mW to 70 mW with a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz. The residual noise is 0.02 mW. It consumes 5.6 W of power. The T2 tube amp adopts a single chip microcomputer and relay. This allows it to control muted sounds when the device is off and when it is first switched on. It also allows the device to warm up before it plays any sound while protecting the unit and the speakers.
2. Nobsound NS-08E Tube Amp
Nobsound is Douk Audio’s in-house brand. It is one of the best-selling tube amps in the market and provides great performance. The set only weighs 14.1 ounces. The product is specifically designed for audiophiles, providing rich sounds while delivering high fidelity. The preamp in this tube amp is B07719G56B, a relatively newer circuit.
The unit can power high-performance headphones including HD 580, HD 600, HD 650, K 701, K 702, Q 701, and many more. A 24 ~ 600 Ω headphones are best suited for this tube amp. The headphone power impedance is 18 ~ 600 Ω. The output power of the tube amp, for greater than 32 Ω, is 1100mW. The total harmonic distortion is less than 0.005%. The signal-to-noise ratio is greater than 110 dB and it has a frequency response of 20 kHz – 30 kHz.
The amplifier has to be kept steady while in use to prevent valve microphone effect. The tube amp should be kept away from mobile phones, router and anything that could interfere with audio signals. It also comes with replacement tubes of E180F, 6ж9П, EF861, and 6688 types.
3. FX Audio Tube-01 Tube Amp
This tube amp uses the classical 6J1 tube and is feature rich considering that it comes under $50. This tube amp has a replaceable tube has an all aluminum alloy shell. The circuit is heavy gold PCB with a gold plated interface. It weighs around 1.05 pounds.
The tube amp uses a low power supply of DC 12V and 1 A of current. The frequency response of the amp is 20 Hz to 20 kHz and has an SNR of 100 dB and a total harmonic distortion of 1000 MV, i.e. 0.1%. The input sensitivity is 300 MV ~ 2000 MV with an output of 3000 mV.
The tube amp has a power conservation module that makes it Eco-friendly. This is the first tube amp to use 12V DC power supply. The output audio has a soft sound and it can match digital power amplifier and speakers.
4. Monoprice 611705 Tube Amp
Monoprice 611705 uses the 6V6 type tubes. This is an 8-inch speaker with leather handles and chrome guards. It is versatile and durable, weighing around 18.23 pounds. This is a guitar amplifier that has a 5 W power. Considering the features, this can be touted as one of the best tube amp under $150.
The preamp used is ECC83/12AX7 and has a Celestion Super 8 GBA-15 speaker. The Celestion Super 8 speaker is very detailed and crisp, suitable for various sounds. The amplifier has a frequency response between 80 Hz and 10 kHz. The noise is 75 dB below the rated power and the total harmonic distortion is 0.5%. It has a low input that attenuates the signal by about 50% and makes it easier to overdrive.
A high input gives more volume and headroom. The tone is always debatable, and this tube amp is made for all electric guitars. The increased dynamic range and the even-order harmonic distortion of tubes help produce better sound.
5. Little Bear B4 Tube Amp
Little Bear B4 is a portable tube amp. It is a vacuum and valve tube amp which provides a decent user experience. It weighs around14.4 ounces and is manufactured by Douk Audio. It has a gold plated input and output sockets. The tube amp adopts USA 5899 tubes and a replaceable NE5532 chip in its preamp circuit. The sound is warm and has a classic tube sound. It has a frequency response range of 0 Hz to 100kHz. – 0.1 dB.
The battery is a Li-ion battery of 12 V and capacity of 1000 mA. The output power is 450mW with an SNR of 99 dB. The suggested load impedance is 16 – 400 Ω. It hosts an original nichicon electrolytic capacitor. The tube amp has a battery backup of 4 to 4.5 hours and a charging time of 2 to 2.5 hours, however, the device cannot be used while charging due to safety reasons. There may be interference in its audio, due to mobile networks and routers.
6. Nobsound Bluetooth Vacuum Tube Power Amplifier
Nobsound GFJ538_B_US is a vacuum tube power amplifier with Bluetooth features. It is reasonably priced and weighs around 2.36 pounds. It’s sleek and compact design makes it suitable for desktop use. The terminals for input and output are gold plated. The tube uses 6J1 type of tubes. It has two tubes and one is provided as a spare.
The power amplifier uses TPA3116 as its core chip. It has a 1.2 MHz modulation frequency with the rated output power of 2*30W /8Ω, 2*50W /4Ω. The audio input has a 3.5 mm stereo input, Bluetooth input, and one RCA input. The audio output has a set of Banana Speaker Jacks. The SNR is greater than 99 dB. It has a frequency of 50 Hz to 60 Hz.
The tube uses a DC 19V 4.7A power supply. The sound is warm and broad, with treble and bass adjustment options. Switching between sound inputs is easy with specific switches and Bluetooth can be used from any devices that support the feature.
7. GemTune GS-01 Tube Amp
GemTune GS-01 is a high-performance tube amp made from stainless steel and solid wood giving, it a strong build and a retro feel. If you are looking for a high-quality tube amp under $400, GemTune GS-01 is the best choice. It weighs around 22.5 pounds. GemTune GS-01 uses two EL34 tubes manufactured by PSVANE, that provide outstanding treble and alto. Two 6N9P tubes offer deep and powerful bass and a 5U4C tube acts as a rectifier.
The Class-A tube amp eliminates any annoying distortion and provides high-quality sound. The power output is 8W with the speaker impedance at 4/6/8 ohms. It has a frequency response between 20 Hz to 20 kHz. The SNR is 88dB with an output impedance of 8 ohms or 4 ohms with an input impedance of 100 KΩ. The tube amp has a distortion of less than 1%. It has two VU meters which will tilt slightly, depending on the frequency of the music.
With classic tubes in the tube amp, the sound produced has firm and full mids, smooth highs and deep lows. This tube amp is perfect for vocals, strings, pipes, and jazz. One should use a lineup jack instead of regular headphone jacks to connect headphones to prevent any current overflow.
8. Nobsound Little Bear T11 Tube Amp
Nobsound is a pure tube phono amplifier which is priced on the higher end. It works with MM cartridge turntables only. You must have a turntable equipped with a PHONO signal output instead of a LINE output. It is made from metal with a sleek design and weighs around 5.88 pounds. It uses one 6Z4 tube and two 6N2 tubes to provide optimum sounds. They come with 3 metal and 4 acrylic tube covers.
The output voltage is 2V and the gain on the preamp is 48 dB. It adopts the conventional active RIAA phono stage circuit with the RIAA being 5 mV. The frequency response is in the standard range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz has an SNR greater than 65 dB. It uses a power supply of 110V AC. Little Bear T11 has lower background noise at normal volume and the sound performance is better in increased liveliness. The 6N2/12AX7 offers many replaceable tubes like 6H2n (For 6N2 type) and 12AX7B, 6N4 (9PIN), ECC83, 5751.
9. GemTune BL-02 Tube Amp
GemTune BL-02 integrated amplifier is a unique offering from the Brand. It has a strong build and weighs around 20.4 pounds. This is a Class-A amplifier a with 5 tubes. The two EL34 tubes liven the treble and alto while the two 6N9P tubes provide a deep and powerful base. The fifth tube is the 5Z3P tube which acts as a rectifier. It requires a voltage of 110 V and the output power is 10 W. The speaker can be set at 4/6/8 ohm with a frequency response of 20 Hz to 25 kHz.
The signal/noise ratio is 88 dB, while output impedance is 8 Ω or 4 Ω and the input impedance is 100 Ω. It has very little distortion, less than 1% and the input sensitivity is 500 mV to 2000 mV. It has analog inputs and a design that has a retro feeling to it. This tube amp will work very well with vocals and the chords and has replaceable tubes to make the custom changes as desired.
10. Nobsound 6J4+6P6P Vacuum Tube
This product is a DIY Kit set and needs to be soldered on your own. The package comes with an instructive diagram, instead of a step-by-step manual. You could either get it done by a professional or do it yourself if you have the experience. It weighs around 13.23 pounds which makes it easily portable.
It has 5 tubes, two 6J4 tubes, two 6P6P tubes and one 653P tube. It uses a power supply of AC 220 V – 240 V and has 4 ways RCA jacks for input and 1 way RCA jack for output. It has a frequency response of 20 Hz to 100 kHz (± 0 d) and 20 Hz to 200 kHz (± 0.2 dB). The output wattage is 1 W with a voltage of 12 V.
We hope that this guide gave you all the information about the best budget tube amps. You do not have to browse through hundreds of websites or retail stores. Just pick one from the list above as these are some of the best in the current market.