Depressing realization - I only need 1/2 Watt in a tube amp.

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by Jahn, May 19, 2008.

  1. Jahn

    Jahn Listens to Johnny Marr, plays like John Denver Supporting Member

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    So I was trying out a spankin' new Carr Mini Mercury 10incher last week, and checking out all the wattage settings from 1/10 of a watt to 8 watts, I came to a realization - my perfect bedroom amp wattage is only a half a watt for a tube amp. 8 watts was waaaay too loud, 1/10 sounded like a muted buzzy hornet, but 1/2 was just right - really sounded like all the dynamics and clarity and crunchy OD was properly represented at speaking voice levels.

    My current amps are 5W, 15W and 18W. The 5W doesn't have a speaker out jack and seriously blows windows out here. The 15W is hobbled by an attenuator, and the 18W lives by its master volume. Could the answer really be a 1/2 Watt tube amp that you can play amongst its entire range? Depressing to consider to my personal ego, but encouraging that folks are even making such amps to cater to such deflated egos.
     
  2. bosstone

    bosstone Member

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    Yah, that is about the right range for bedroom playing. I bought 2, 60s Supros and a 50s White, all 5 watt amps and then an Emery Superbaby. I was depressed too when I discovered that they were too loud for bedroom playing. I also went through three different attenuators and didn't like any of them when past the first two or three levels of attenuation, though I had no problem with the MASS or Hot Plate in the first two three ranges.

    Now I am using a 50 watt amp (Ampeg VL 502) with built in attenuation that is not a resistive load like the other attenuators (its more like an early form of Power Scaling) and it has solved all my volume problems. It can be as loud as my Marshall JCM 800 50 watter and it has a fantastic, overdriven sound with lots of control at true living room and bedroom levels with out the snuffed out sound the attenuators produced when attenuated to that level. Who'd have ever thunk it?
     
  3. Tone_Terrific

    Tone_Terrific Member

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    Do these tiny amps, usually with teeny speakers, or highly attenuated larger amps, actually sound better at low volumes than a bigger amp and a well chosen OD pedal possibly with eq added?
     
  4. bosstone

    bosstone Member

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    That question really can cover a lot of ground and I don't think you will find a clear winner. Personally, I have found that tiny amps with large cabinets can have a fantastic sound. I have never heard a large amp that is attenuated down to low levels, through typical resistive load attenuation that sounded good. Large amps with good pedals can have a very good sound and large amps with attenuation, not based on a resistive load can sound very good as well. My preference for low level use is to have the whole amp working. In my experience, a large amp cranked with a good, non resistive load type of attenuation method sounds best, a low watt amp cranked is second best and a big amp with a good pedal is third best. I haven't heard every combination so I can only tell you what works for me. As manufacturers focus more on truly good sounding, full features small amps and perfecting better methods of attenuation, things are changing rapidly.
     
  5. K.E.P.

    K.E.P. Supporting Member

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    try a zvex 1/2 watt nano head into a 2x12 or a 4x12 and you will most likely be astounded at the results. This was my first exposure into small watt/big results type amps.

    Other than clean headroom issues, these are great alternatives in my opinion.

    KEP
     
  6. mmorse

    mmorse Member

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    I've been messing with this issue for a while now because I'm just playing at home now and to keep the neighbors happy, I must play at really low volumes. Right now, I'm using a Vox DA5 SS practice amp. If I use the amp's OD, 1.5 watts is plenty. However, the amp's OD is pretty ratty so I use a Blackstar tube driven OD and the amp's little speaker is not very good so I go through an Avatar 112 with a Scumback H55. I set the amp to clean and use the 5 watt setting and the tone is every bit as good as any tube amp I've used with attenuators or MVs etc.

    With volumes so low, tubes lose much of their magic IMO. Don't get me wrong, just plugging into the little Vox and using its own speaker and OD is pretty much what you would expect. Not very good even though It's one of the better sounding SS practice amps. But keep it clean, use a better tube driven OD pedal and a speaker cab capable of much fuller tones and the overall low volume tone is pretty good. Certainly good enough for low volume home practice. And on a par with my Marshall 2204 when set up the same way.

    I haven't felt the need to get anything else although the Ampeg VL 502 has me pretty intrigued.
     
  7. voojo

    voojo Gold Supporting Member

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    I'm gonna wait to post a full review, but I have been using my Stephenson Stage Hog as a practice amp and it kills! 0-1 watt with power scaling and it uses a preamp tube as a power amp. You can get a wide range of tones out of it and it can get suprisingly loud. I have played it through a few different cabinets with 12" speakers, mostly british voiced. It will do the hot rod Marshall Plexi & old Fender tweed sounds, but at a reasonable volume.

    Don't even get me started on how cool it is as an overdrive pedal. But that's another topic. I haven't even tried swapping tubes yet for different tones & distortion levels.
     
  8. teleman1

    teleman1 Supporting Member

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    Jahn,

    I discovered that about my Merc. 1/10 can be replectated by an SS amp. And 1/2 watt was just right.Actually 1/4 watt would have been perfect. THen I realised, what do I need this amp for?
     
  9. eleanor296

    eleanor296 Member

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    great alternative for $200 - build/get someone to build you a Firefly.
    Check out ax84.com. Yummy said out of this one... and all tube of course.
    Uses a 12AY7 in self-split push-pull arrangement for around 1/2 watts.
     
  10. Unabender

    Unabender Member

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    Firefly puts out about 2-2.5 watts on full blast and uses 12AU7. They are surprisingly powerful little buggers that can drive a fair amount of current. I guess you could use a 12AY7, but I don't know how that would work.

    I have built myself a Firefly, but recently put together a 1/2 watt solid state amp - Ruby from runoffgroove's DIY site. It's my current solution to really low volume tones, as it just seems like a waste of tubes to play on bedroom volumes with a tube amp... Pretty good clean sounds with a 1x12" cab.
     
  11. Jahn

    Jahn Listens to Johnny Marr, plays like John Denver Supporting Member

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    Yep Teleman, that's about where I came down on it. Pretty sobering but it's good to know where my "sweet spot" is and buy accordingly.

    You know, the more I think about it, the more I think a NYC "Mini-ToneFest" might be in order. With perhaps the only rule being that your amp can't go past 1.1, forget 11. And with the size of such amps barely pushing past the size of one suitcase, it should be able to function in even just one room, kind of like a minimeet, in someone's studio or even bedroom, heh! Kinda makes sense for a city where space is at a premium and bedroom/studio amp solutions are becoming increasingly important and respected. The best part? No bothering the neighbors/family or even your fellow gearheads with such an outing!

    Of course, a picture of that would be extremely sad. Everyone huddled around an amp with headphones on, or requests to speak in whispers because an amp's dynamics are lost whenever someone speaks!
     
  12. Zelja

    Zelja Member

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  13. Swain

    Swain Member

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    Those Line6 Spyder 15 amps are pretty good sounding. Hard for a tube amp to compete, at those volume levels!
     
  14. PFCG

    PFCG Member

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    why not get a headphone amp?

    Or run into a palmer speaker simulator with the load box built in?
     
  15. Flux

    Flux Member

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    Just be glad you didn't have to go to a 100 watt full stack to find your 'happy place'. Half a watt is a whole lot easier on the hearing.
     
  16. JimH

    JimH Member

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    I've pretty much given up on really good bedroom level sound. I can get pretty good with attenuated or power scaled amps but they're honestly not THAT much better than SS - low level SS is pretty good too. When I play with a band it's a whole other story.
     
  17. EADGBE

    EADGBE Member

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    Might that hurt the speakers?
     
  18. Jim Jones

    Jim Jones Member

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    How could that possibly hurt the speakers? Now a Marshall Major - that could hurt those speakers. :)

    Jim
     
  19. bosstone

    bosstone Member

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    And usually the pocketbook, back, family and neighbors.
     
  20. teleman1

    teleman1 Supporting Member

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    For a low volume amp/bedroom amp, I want something that does breakup and gets decent headroom at a low volume. I hear these guys talking all the time about their bedroom amp. THen they say 10 watts,15 watts or more. I foun that with the Merc. I would use its full 5 or 8 watts for a good hearoom clean,(IN A HOME), not a stage. ANd that 8 watts would get the clean I was looking for on 1 or 2 on the volume dial.

    Discalimer. THese are volumes where you would have to walk by the apt door to hear someone was actually playing. We are not talking loud like some people seem to think they need in their bedroom.

    We aretalking an amp that perhaps at its loudst, would out compete the home TV, if necessary.

    A Champ can probably do this for the cleans. But then we get into the different breakups we all may want. That means getting louder for a Champ.At that point the Champ is louder than I want it at home. Thats where the Merc was close, getting a slight or fat breakup at low volumes; but it was still too loud, which is why I suggested the 1/4 watt..

    THe Merc is gone, too much money to fit too little of my needs.

    Now I have a friend building me a head. 1 el84,(cause I have a number of good NOS's) a rectalfier tube 5y3, and a good ol 12 ax7. But I have asked him to have a master & volume. I am hoping this will give me the headroom I seek and give me a cool fat breakup, all at low volumes. I figure the 7 or so watts this amp will be would be great for the headroom and use the gain for the overdrive.

    The amp I use at the moment is my PR for the clean headroom at low volumes. The fact that the PR sounded as good or better than the Merc for cleans was the main reason I opted to sell the Merc. Besides the PR has tremolo also.
     

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