Best Bass Amp: 9 top picks under the spotlight
Last Updated on May 10, 2023 by Dave Tudor
Back in the day, bass players used to get a raw deal!
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Bass guitar rigs were often the size of houses to accommodate all that lovely low end – which is fine for stadium bands with road crews and massive trucks – but what about the humble pro or semi-pro working bassist making his or her living schlepping around pubs and clubs?
For those guys it was a trade off between power, what you could physically lift and what would actually fit in the car or van.
Fortunately, bass guitar amps nowadays have moved on. There’s much more choice and through the advent of technology like Class D amplifiers, some of the best bass amps around are now available in small packages.
With 9 solid-state amps under the spotlight, there’s something for everyone in this best bass amp article. To make navigation simpler, we’ve broken things down into three sections – Bass Amp Combos; Bass Amp Heads; and practice Bass Combos (less than 30W). In each category we’ll reveal a winner and recommendations.
Buying a new bass amp and need answers now? Here are our category winners in this Best Bass Amp review:
Best Bass Combo: Ampeg Rocket Bass RB-210
Best Bass Amp Head: Aguilar Tone Hammer 500
Best Bass Practice Amp: Fender Rumble 25 Bass Combo
- CATEGORY 1: BASS GUITAR COMBOS
- Bass Combo Amps: The Bottom Line
- CATEGORY 2: Bass Heads
- Bass Amp Heads: The Bottom Line
- CATEGORY 3: BASS PRACTICE AMPS
- Bass Practice Amps: The Bottom Line
In terms of bass amplification, we’ve tried to include everything that will help bassists make informed bass amp purchasing choices. There are no tube amps in this list, just solid-state amps with many using Class D power amp technology which makes bass amps light, powerful and efficient.
Generally, we’ve looked at: specification, power, portability; price; sound and features.
CATEGORY 1: BASS GUITAR COMBOS
1. BEST IN CATEGORY: Ampeg Rocket Bass RB-210 500W Bass Combo
Ampeg is a name synonymous with the dawn of stadium rock when bands simply needed more volume on stage but the gear around at the time had trouble keeping up.
At the 1969 NAMM show, Ampeg launched its now legendary Super Vacuum Tube – or SVT – bass amp. Unheard of at the time, This was a backbreaking 300W 14 tube, twin cab, 19 speaker behemoth.
Today, Ampeg is owned by the Yamaha Corporation and we now have more portable options – the Rocket Bass series of combos for example. There are 5 in the series (RB-108, RB-110, RB-112, RB-115 and the RB-210).
We’re focusing on the RB-210 500W bass amp combo in this review, the biggest in the range.
The RB-210 is positively featherlite compared to the gargantuan SVT bass amps of the past. It features a Class D power amp and weighs just 38lbs (17.7kg) so Ampeg have factored in portability when designing this amp. It’s made for the gigging musician.
Two custom 10” speakers provide sound projection and there’s also a switchable horn.
The 3-band EQ section on the RB-210, coupled with Ultra Hi/Ultra Lo switches are pretty killer and a definite plus point. It’s a ‘musical’ EQ that offers a wide range of sounds.
If you dig that Ampeg crunch tone, you’ll love the footswitchable SGT (Super Grit Technology) overdrive circuit on this combo amp which starts at light crunch, extends to full on overdrive with various levels of growl in between
- With its impact resistant metal corners and black diamond vinyl grille, we like the RB-210’s retro look
- We prefer the SGT overdrive circuit to the equivalent on the Fender Rumble
- Portability. The RB-210 bass guitar amp is ideal for practice and performance
- We really like the 3-band EQ, Ultra switches and switchable horn. You can squeeze a lot of bass tone versatility out of this amp
- Simple but effective controls
- Despite having only 10” speakers, you get a surprising amount of low end that can comfortably handle the low B on a 5 string
- Standalone, the RB-210 will only throw out 250 watts of power (at 8 ohms). Plenty loud enough but if you want the full 500W you need to connect it to an external cab (8 ohm). Something like this
- The tweeter horn, when engaged, is a little hissy
Both excellent amps, the choice between the Ampeg RB-210 and the (next up) Fender Rumble 500 bass amp is an insanely difficult one. The decision will be based on your desired sound and the type of music you like to play.
We like the Ampeg sound and particularly the SGT circuit so that’s why it’s top of this list. It’s rich, with plenty of bottom end, defined mids and, if you want it, high end clarity via the switchable tweeter.
Who should buy the Ampeg B-210 bass combo?
Gigging musicians basically who carry their own bass amps and need a solid sounding bit of kit with plenty of tonal variety. If you like the classic Ampeg bass tone sound, it’s a no brainer.
Take a look at the Ampeg B-210 Bass Combo on Amazon
2. RECOMMENDED: Fender Rumble 500W V3
Rumble is certainly an appropriate term to describe this solid-state bass amplifier because it delivers plenty of low end goodness in a really compact, well-designed, lightweight package.
There’s a trend towards lighter bass rigs these days and that’s due largely to the popularity of Class D power amps used in products like the Fender Rumble. Class D amps are powerful, efficient, light and generate minimal heat.
Considering its impressive output, the Rumble is an incredibly light bass amp, weighing in at 36.5lbs (16.56kg).
Two 10” Eminence designed ceramic magnet speakers lurk inside the cabinet section. The horn tweeter can be switched on or off according to taste.
Control-wise you get a relatively simple but totally functional set of knobs to play with: gain, volume and a nice 4-band EQ – but also but also included is a nifty overdrive circuit and three button voicing options: Bright, Contour, and Vintage.
The Rumble 500 sounds just fine with no additional voicing controls selected but they do offer extra tonality versatility. Bright adds additional top end presence; Contour is like a mid-frequency scoop which lends itself quite nicely to slapping styles; Vintage is old school – dark, rich and slightly compressed.
On the rear panel there’s an output for connecting an 8 ohm minimum impedance external speaker cabinet and a jack for an optional footswitch which allows remote switching of the overdrive section.
- The sound. Rich, full, punchy and room shakingly loud. It’ll keep up with drummers, even the heavy hitting variety. They may even get you to turn it down!
- Simple but highly effective tonal versatility. The EQ, overdrive circuit and triple voicing options are all very usable on this bass amp, allowing you to sculpt the exact sound you want. An optional overdrive footswitch is recommended
- At 36.5lbs it’s really very light
- Its vintage vibe. Aesthetically, we think it looks the business
- For what you get, it’s great value for money
- The Rumble’s lightness is a definite plus, but dimensionally it’s awkward to carry via the single top located handle. Perhaps a pair of side handles would have been a better option?
- You won’t get the full 500W of power unless connected to an external cab (see below). Standalone it’s 350W
- The line out output is directly affected by the amp’s controls so if you make manual changes mid-gig to your settings, it will directly affect the sound received at the mixing board as well. Your sound engineer won’t be a happy bunny!
This is just a great sounding bass amplifier in a form factor that is easy to schlep around. The extensive sound shaping options mean it’ll appeal to a variety of bassists and styles. It deserves it’s place in this best bass amp review.
We read of one guy who got great results with an upright bass – but it’ll also appeal equally to jazzers, funksters, rockers and metalheads. Such is its versatility. It deserves to be on any bass amps shortlist.
Who should buy the Fender Rumble 500 bass combo?
Well, it ticks a lot of boxes. It’ll be more than adequate for most medium to large venues and if you need a little extra grunt, you can always hook it up to an external cab to feel the full 500W force wobbling your flares.
Something like the Fender Rumble 210 cabinet is ideal.
Take a look at current pricing for the Fender Rumble 500 Bass Combo on Amazon
3. Hartke HD500 Bass Combo
Hartke is part of a trio of brands (the other two being Samson Audio and Samson Wireless) owned by Samson Technology – a company renowned for its high quality products in both the consumer and professional markets.
This is a compact (35lbs) 500W solid-state bass combo that uses Class D amplifier technology. You also get the full 500W straight out of the combo rather than having to use an extension cab.
In fact, the main limitation with this amp is precisely that – you can’t expand on the basic unit because there’s no additional connectivity options.
The HD500 features 2 x 10” HyDrive speakers which are both light and powerful. They’re unusual – an aluminum/paper hybrid construction, with the former taking care of highs and mids and the latter handling the low end.
A standout feature with this bass amp is the tone shaping options. Aside from a 3 band EQ, you also get a selectable Shape Control – a rotary dial that allows you to sweep across and apply a 20dB cut (filter) to the selected frequency. Finding the tone you want is a breeze.
- The power to weight ratio. It’s very loud, full, punchy and light. And with a depth of just 12” it’s easy to transport around
- The 3-band EQ when layered with the Shape control provides pinpoint accurate tone dialing capabilities. Mid scoop sounds are particularly nice. If you don’t need it, turn it off
- It’s got a male XLR direct output connector for hooking up to a front of house mixer. Because it’s pre-EQ, the FOH engineer can set up an independent mix
- Hardly any – apart from the fact there’s no capability for hooking up an external cab
This is one of the best sounding bass amps around. Sonically it’s on par with the Fender Rumble 500 in second place but we believe the inclusion of the overdrive/distortion circuit plus the voicing options just give the Fender the edge in terms of tone and versatility. But there’s very little in it.
Useful tip: Onstage, get the amp off the floor. It just seems to sound better.
Who should buy the Hartke HD500?
Bassists needing power and portability should put this near the top of their bass amplifier shortlist.
Take a closer look at the Hartke HD500 Bass Combo on Amazon
Bass Combo Amps: The Bottom Line
There are some really good bass amps in this category and choosing a winner wasn’t easy. All the products will do the job and do it well. They’re all top quality, solid performers.
The Ampeg Rocket Bass RB-210 had the edge for us, simply because we like the classic Ampeg tone and the SGT overdrive circuit. The Fender Rumble really wasn’t far behind though.
CATEGORY 2: Bass Heads
1. BEST IN CATEGORY: Aguilar Tone Hammer 500W Bass Amplifier Head
From modern tones to vintage, think Aguilar and quite possibly the first thing that will come into your head are the tube-like distortion/overdrive pedals that the company is renowned for.
Well the good news is that Aguilar has managed to harness these highly desirable sounds into a compact (Class D solid state power amp) bass head. The name gives it away – the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500W incorporates the same preamp – and Aguilar’s proprietary AGS (adaptive gain shaping) circuit – as its hugely popular Tone Hammer preamp/DI pedal.
The whole thing weighs just 4lb (1.81kg) so, like other products in this review, portability is a major selling point. Hooking this up to an external cab is via a SpeakON connection. There’s even a tuner output.
In fact, with the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 head, there are two SpeakON outputs provided and the output will depend on the impedance rating of the cabs you use. With a single 8 ohm cab, you’ll get 250W; with one 4 ohm or two 8 ohm cabs you’ll get the full cream 500W. Any combination can be used as long as the load doesn’t go below 4 ohms.
On the front panel, for tone shaping, the Drive, Gain and EQ controls work together. The lower the gain setting, the flatter the EQ applied and as you wind the gain control up, the sound becomes more saturated – but the EQ also changes with less bass and smoother treble to prevent harshness in the upper registers.
The drive circuitry works in tandem with the gain and mid-controls to add additional color and varying degrees of grittiness, enabling you to get fat, warm, almost tube-like vintage sounding tones.
But let’s cut to the chase and get to the important stuff – the sound! Basically, it’s fat, warm and quite vintage sounding. Although this is a solid-state amp it has definite tube-like tendencies.
The overdrive circuit itself is an Aguilar characteristic that is revered by many players, but in practice it’s actually very versatile – from light crunch to buzzy distortion and when used with the excellent EQ controls, the tone palette is wide.
- It’s incredibly light. The power to weight ratio of this bass amp is impressive
- You get a three-year warranty
- Ideal for medium sized venues. Plenty of punch and power and it really cuts through. Very convincing tube amp-esque tones
- Delivers a balanced, fat, rounded sound. Its EQ/overdrive capabilities are incredibly extensive while being easy to operate
- If it matters to you – it’s made in America
- Very few negatives here, but it is difficult if not impossible to remove all traces of grit from this amp. If you like totally clean, traditional bass sounds this may not be the best choice
- It’s quite expensive
- No headphone jack
- The Balanced Out jack is a bit noisy. It’s noticeable when recording. The Ground Lift switch really helps though
The Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 is a fantastic amp head that’s supremely versatile and portable.
From clean to crunch to fuzzy, it does it all. It gets as close to the classic Ampeg SVT sound without actually being one, but it can also deliver really funky middly clean tones and a trouser wobbling low end.
This is all due to Aguilar’s adaptive gain shaping circuit and a great EQ section with sweepable mids. It’s a heavyweight sound in a lightweight package.
Who should buy the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500?
Irrespective of playing style, this amp will suit a broad spectrum of bass players. If ultra clean sounds are what you hanker after, there probably are better choices, but all in all, a really great amp.
Get the latest pricing for the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 on Amazon
2. RECOMMENDED: Trace Elliot ELF Bass Amplifier 200W
Since its formation in 1979, Essex, UK-based Trace Elliot has designed and manufactured some of the best bass amps in the world.
Their distinctive green fascia paint lettering against a black background coupled with an instantly recognisable graphic equalizer were legendary in bass circles in the 80s and 90s – but these amps,cabs and combos also sounded fantastic, were built like tanks and were adored by professional and amateur musicians everywhere.
Now, the brand is owned by Peavey – but rather than being absorbed into Peavey’s own product line, Trace Elliot still proudly maintains its brand identity and much of its signature sound – bright, punchy and middly.
The Trace Elliot Elf weighs a gravity-busting 1.6lbs (0.73kg) yet pushes out 200W of continuous power into 4 ohms or 130W into 8 ohms. At 6.75” (W) x 4.1” (D) x 1.25” (H) it really will slip effortlessly into a pocket. This is portability on steroids!
Not surprisingly, in such a compact form factor, you only get the basics in terms of controls – but frankly, all you need is provided.
- The size of the thing is incredible. 200W at 1.6lbs
- The amp may be small, but the knobs are normal sized and they’re knurled around their circumference so are really positive and easy to grip
- Pretty loud
- Fantastic price
- Gets pretty near that legendary Trace Elliot signature sound. Good EQ
- Neat little carry bag included
- No aux in for connecting to a device for music playback
- The fan can get pretty noisy
- The overdrive via the gain knob is only good for light crunch. For really nasty stuff you’ll need an external effects pedal
- When running the overdrive flat out, there’s quite a bit of compression/limiting. When really, really pushed to the limits, it can actually make notes drop out
This little amp punches well above its weight and for the price it’s hard to beat. Of course the output will be heavily influenced by your choice of bass speakers.
It’s fine with a single cab, but very, very good with two. Choice of cab is subjective but running a pair of Trace Elliot 2 x 8” cabs seems to be a popular choice.
Who should buy the Trace Elliot Elf bass head?
Despite its modest dimensions, this is a good bass amp. The Elf is rugged and well-built. It’ll do just fine for pub gigs and small venues but also rehearsals and practice at home. Its power to weight ratio is its superpower.
Head on over to Amazon for the latest pricing on the Trace Elliot Elf
3. Darkglass MicroTubes 500 v2 Bass Head
In our ‘Essential Bass Pedals’ article, Finnish company Darkglass made the shortlist with its fantastic Alpha Omega overdrive/distortion pedal.
It’s best known for being a leading player in the rock/metal genre mainly because of its excellent distortion/overdrive effects pedals so it won’t be a surprise to learn that the MicroTubes 500 v2 certainly excels in this department.
Because in this powerhouse of an amp, you’re effectively getting two Darkglass overdrive/distortion pedals thrown in. The crunchy warmth of the Vintage Microtubes pedal and the modern high gain tones of the B3K Bass Overdrive. Both sound fantastic – and you’ve got both to choose from.
Designed, built and engineered in Helsinki, Finland, this is a 500W highly efficient Class D amp with an all-analog preamp. You’ll get the full fat 500W only if your cab configuration is 4 ohms. At 8 ohms, this reduces to 250W. It can apparently run on cabs as low as 2 ohms. It says so on the rear of the panel.
Size wise this certainly isn’t as bijou as the Trace Elliot Elf but then it’s got much more under the hood. However at 5.29lbs (2.4kg) it’s not going to aggravate any hernias or bad backs so it definitely sits in the ‘highly portable’ category.
- This is a beast of an amp and it’s very loud
- The Microtubes Engine. When engaged it gives you two different distortion circuits (think modern high gain and tube like vintage) and a compressor. Both are excellent. The Blend control allows you to blend between clean and distorted for a wealth of tone options
- The 6-band EQ. The 4-band mid-frequency section in particular is perfect for bass. We like the graphic equalizer styling too
- Three different cab impulses are available as well as the clean DI sound. Tons of free factory cab impulses can also be downloaded via the Darkglass Suite software. Or use your own
- As you would expect, the overdriven/distorted sounds are second to none, but the cleaner sounds are pretty killer too
- Not cheap but the best bass amps never are. For what you get, good value for money
- Bluetooth would have been a nice inclusion on the amp. The only way of using the Darkglass Suite with this product is via USB cable connected to a Windows or Mac computer
The Darkglass Microtubes 500 v2 is hard to beat for overdriven/distorted sounds. The VMT/B3K options will provide enough grungy goodness for just about anyone. Personally we prefer the warmer tube-like tones of the VMT but metalheads will no doubt disagree.
But it’s too easy to stereotype Darkglass as a grungy one track pony. True, it is a go to brand for rock and metal but the Microtubes 500 v2 is surprisingly versatile, scrubbing up pretty well on cleaner sounds as well.
Who should buy the Darkglass Microtubes 500 v2?
If you know and love Darkglass products already, you’ll also love this amp. But it’s more versatile than you might think.
Check out the Darkglass Microtubes 500 v2 on Amazon
Bass Amp Heads: The Bottom Line
Again, a close scrap in this category. For us the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500W takes pole position because it simply sounds so good, particularly with overdriven sounds. But it’s no one trick pony – while it never gets 100% clean it gets pretty close making it pretty versatile.
The Trace Elliot Elf makes the top two because of its heritage, crazy portability, great tones and absolutely fantastic bang for buck ratio.
CATEGORY 3: BASS PRACTICE AMPS
Maybe you’re a beginner? Maybe you’re not interested in joining a band but just enjoy playing and/or jamming with others. Maybe you just want a compact amp to practice with that won’t upset the neighbors?
If you fall into any of these categories, this part of the article is for you! We’ve got to draw a line somewhere so everything here is 30W or less.
1. CATEGORY WINNER: Fender Rumble 25 V3 Bass Amplifier
The Fender Rumble family of bass amps really does have something for everyone.
At 25W (8 ohms) and featuring a single 8 inch speaker, the Fender Rumble 25 is plenty loud enough for both practicing at home, volume restrained rehearsals or even a coffee shop gig. You won’t get above a drummer at full tilt with this amp but it is surprisingly loud for its size.
Control wise on the top panel you’ve got everything you need – master volume and a 3-band EQ but there’s also two small switches: one is to enable the overdrive circuit; the other is to access the mid-frequency scoop contour switch.
The overdrive is OK – if a little fizzy – which gets increasingly fizzier as you crank up the volume. The latter is also useful for scooping away those sometimes unwanted mids, particularly for slapping and picking styles. We also found that engaging this switch provides a fatter sound at lower volumes.
- It’s quite loud, smooth and fat sounding for a 25W 8 inch speaker combo. At 21lbs you’ll know you’re carrying it but it’s definitely portable
- Impressive sounds and Fender-esque lows. It can even handle the low B of a 5-string pretty well
- We like its retro look vinyl black cabinet with silver grille
- The 3-band EQ and Contour scoop offer a wide palette of sound options
- We’re pleased to see the inclusion of an Aux in jack for playing along with songs via a device
- The price
- Only one really – the underwhelming fizzy, non-controllable overdrive – but on the positive side it does provide a volume boost. If grunge is important to you, just use an external pedal. Sorted
There’s always a danger, with small bass amps in particular, that corners are cut to keep the price low. Not so with the Fender Rumble 25. This is a great practice amp.
For its size, the sound is commendable across all frequencies. You’re not going to shift tons of air with an 8 inch speaker but Fender has done a good job of ensuring that the sound spectrum is universally covered, even the low end. The EQ really helps get the best out of this pint sized amp.
Who should buy the Fender Rumble 25 v3?
It’s ideal in many ways. Not too big, not too small – the ultimate practice amp really. Not powerful enough for gigs per se but it does have enough grunt for home use, restrained band rehearsals and possibly the odd coffee shop shindig.
The Fender Rumble 25 is available on Amazon. Check out the latest pricing
2. Hartke HD25 Bass Combo Amplifier
With its HD25 bass guitar combo, Hartke has managed to cram a non-Class D 25W power amp and 8 inch speaker into a 15.2 (387mm) x 14 (355mm) x 10 (254mm) (HWD) inch package weighing just 24.7lb (11.2kg) so this’ll be pretty portable and easy to transport around.
If you remember from the much larger HD500 earlier in this review, Hartke incorporates its HyDrive (half paper, half aluminum) speaker cone technology into its HD bass amp combos.
We really don’t know if HyDrive is marketing hype or not – but what we do know is that the amp/speaker combination does produce some nice warm bass tones as well as plenty of attack and bite via the EQ if you need it. Note there’s no overdrive circuit on this amp.
- Less is more. We liked the HD25’s no frills approach
- Excellent build quality
- Very usable sounds, even at low volume. Clean, rich and punchy tone – even on 5 string instruments. And quite loud!
- A sound budget bass amp. Good value for money
- The controls are basic – some may desire more sound shaping capabilities like a more comprehensive EQ section – but you could always buy an EQ pedal
- Quite heavy
It appears the HyDrive paper/aluminum speaker design isn’t a gimmick after all. Despite its limited controls, the Hartke HD25 pushes out some serious (for its size) low end.
Who should buy the Hartke HD25 Bass Amp?
No surprises here: playing at home, small scale rehearsals (depending on your band setup) and maybe even a coffee shop gig.
Check out the Hartke HD25 Bass Amp on Amazon
3. Orange Crush Bass 25W Bass Guitar Combo Amp
Visually, there’s absolutely no mistaking an Orange amp is there, and although this is the smallest in the Crush bass range, it’s every bit as recognisable as its more powerful (and larger) stablemates. More importantly, it deserves to be on this shortlist on its own merits.
The modest wattage inevitably means a more compact unit and at 18.3lbs (8.3kg) it’s a bit lighter than the Fender Rumble 25. Dimensionally, at 12.8” x 14.37” x 9.25” (WDH), it’s a little smaller too.
You also get a 3.5mm Aux In jack, a pad switch to reduce the volume by 6dB if you feel the need, and a ¼” headphone jack with Orange’s proprietary ‘Cabsim’ circuitry designed to emulate Orange’s OBC bass cabinets built-in for more realistic tones. Note no overdrive circuitry here.
- A surprisingly full and punchy sound considering this is a 25W amp with an 8 inch speaker
- The EQ is decent. A wide range of tones are easily achievable – and it’s no slouch in the low end
- The onboard tuner is a welcome addition
- Perfect for practicing – and you get Cabsim circuitry for headphone use which enhances the output significantly
- There’s no dedicated overdrive circuit
- Winding up the bass introduces crunch into the equation. Whether you like it or not
- Quite expensive
A nice little amp with that classic orange look. Play with the EQ and you’ll coax some nice tones out of the Crush 25. It’s great for home use and maybe rehearsals depending on the music genre. It is a tad expensive though.
Who should buy the Orange Crush Bass 25
It’s compact dimensionally and flexible sonically so it’ll suit any bassist looking for a no frills, decent sounding amp.
See the Orange Crush Bass 25 and get the latest pricing on Amazon
Bass Practice Amps: The Bottom Line
A two horse race for us in this category. To be honest, it was hard to differentiate between the Fender Rumble 25 and the Hartke HD25 – they’re both excellent amps – but the Fender had a warmer more vintage sounding tone than the Hartke so it bagged our vote.