Best Mini Guitar Amp: boys’ toys or serious bits of kit?

best mini guitar amp

Last Updated on February 21, 2021 by Dave Tudor

The whole driving force behind mini guitar amplifiers is to be able to plug and play. Essentially these are scaled down, small guitar amp versions of their full-sized counterparts that enable guitarists to simply play when and where the mood takes them. But should we take them seriously?

Read on to find out – but be aware there’s a rub here. None of the micro guitar amps in this review are going to sound like a red-hot Marshall tube stack or anything like it. How can they? They’re a fraction of the size. But on the positive side, they’re a fraction of the price too!

And let’s put this to bed straightaway – none of our choices are toys – but there’s lots of junk out there that is. Stick with our recommendations and you’ll be fine. We’ve left no stone unturned to bring you the best small guitar amps in the marketplace.    

Mini guitar amplifiers exist to produce decent sounds at low volumes for practising, allowing you to bash away to your heart’s content even if the kids are in bed, the dog’s a light sleeper or you’ve got ‘sensitive’ neighbors!  

Fancy a strum on the beach, in the park, in the garden or on the next camping trip? Well you can, because all the models in this list are battery and/or mains powered. You can literally take them anywhere.

Guitarists of a certain age will know that years ago, mini amps simply didn’t exist so let’s not underestimate just how hugely convenient having something the size of a lunchbox that sounds decent actually is.

But they’re not all created equally. In this review we separate the men from the boys by taking a look at half a dozen of the best mini amplifiers out there. Let’s get to work.

Criteria

Just a couple of points about our best mini amplifiers review:   

  • All are rated at 10 watts or under (actually most are way under)
  • All can be powered via mains or batteries so if you’re looking for the best battery powered guitar amp, you’re in the right place  

Aside from that, all were assessed on the things that matter: sound, build quality, portability, price and features.

If impatience is getting the better of you, we can reveal that our overall best mini amp winner is the Roland Micro Cube GX – but be sure to read the entire article to find out what’s best for you.


1. Best Overall: Roland Micro Cube GX

There’s one reason why the Roland Micro Cube GX wins top spot in our shortlist – quite simply it sounds the best. Period. Take a look at our detailed product review.

OK so it is one of the larger mini amps in this review and it does offer pretty extensive modeling characteristics so sonically it has advantages over the competition. But this is a battery/mains powered amp; it pushes out 3W of power and it has a 5” speaker so it deserves to be here very much on merit.

The original Roland Cube has been a top seller for years. The GX came along in 2013 with a number of enhancements including a new memory function for saving and recalling sounds, new amps and effect types, a chromatic tuner and i-Cube Link, an interface to hook up iOS devices to Roland’s free Cube Jam app. A cable is included. 

The Cube Jam app for iOS not only plays jam tracks but also lets you record the Micro Cube’s COSM amp tones along with music playback. You can use the i-Cube Link input with Android devices but the app is strictly iOS only. 

But where the Micro Cube GX really excels is in the sound and effects departments. It features eight high-quality COSM amp tones and eight DSP effects. COSM is an acronym for Composite Object Sound Modeling and is an amalgamation of many different modeling technologies developed by Boss and Roland. 

And the eight amp models are excellent spanning everything from acoustic simulators, classic Roland clean sounds, crunch and Brit Combo presets, through to out and out grunge and metal face melting tones. There’s even a dedicated ‘mic’ setting for plugging a vocal microphone into the Micro Cube. 

According to the stats, you can get up to 25 hours’ playing time using 6 x NiMH AA size batteries, so using its included carrying strap, you can take this anywhere.

This video gives a good overview of what the Roland Micro Cube GX can do:

The Pros

  • Fantastic range of great sounding COSM amps for practically any musical genre
  • Excellent effects: chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo and heavy octave (like an octaver). There’s also a couple of delays and reverbs to play around with. They can be used simultaneously – but not those on the same control knob (like delay and reverb)
  • The power supply is provided
  • Plenty of volume headroom on clean sounds. On some amps clean tones with no gain are virtually inaudible. For this reason, the Micro Cube GX works pretty well on acoustic guitar
  • Useful memory function for storing and recalling sounds/effects
  • Good battery life

The Cons

  • The cord on the power supply is a bit short
  • The Cube Jam app only works with iOS devices and for those not equipped with a 3.5mm headphone jack, you’ll need a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter 
  • Expensive compared to some on this list 

The Verdict

At 9.3/4” (W) x 6.13/16” (D) x 8.15/16” (H) and weighing 5lbs 16oz, the Roland Cube GX is quite a bit bigger than some micro amps like the Boss Katana for example. But no matter, if a smorgasbord of really nice amp sounds and effects is what you’re after, this is the amp to get.

Who should consider this amp?

If quality of sounds matters to you, then the Roland Micro Cube GX should be on your shortlist.

Take a look at the Roland Micro Cube GX on Amazon


2. Runner-Up: Boss Katana Mini

When talking about guitar effects pedals, saying Boss is a household name still feels like an understatement. They’ve been the undisputed leader in this department for what seems like forever. Everyone and his dog uses Boss guitar pedals. 

But in 2016, the Japanese giant broke with tradition and unveiled its range of Katana guitar amps. The effect on the industry was – and is – nothing short of meteoric. Katana amplifiers are solid-state modeling amps built using Boss’ Tube Logic Design philosophy which claims to be able to faithfully reproduce all the organic interactions between every component built into classic tube amplifiers.

In short you get tube wonderfulness from a digital, solid-state amp – certainly from the large, fully-featured models in the range. Fortunately, for us and this review, the 7 watt, 4” speaker Boss Katana Mini distils some of that goodness into the tiniest of packages. This is serious rock DNA forged into an ultra-compact, battery powered amp.  

With the Katana Mini, you won’t get the full-fat modelling loveliness of its larger, more expensive siblings, but you do get three versatile amp types: Brown (high-gain), Crunch (bluesy crunch), and Clean (great for picking and sparkling chord rhythm playing). In addition, individual bass, middle and treble EQ controls are provided along with a gain knob.

In terms of effects, a tape delay is thrown in for good measure. Personally we’d have preferred reverb, but by using a short delay time you can get a similar effect. On the rear, there’s an aux in to take a device of your choice for playing along to your favorite tracks a headphone/record out socket.

We like this video: it shows off the flexibility of the Boss Katana Mini pretty well:

The Boss Katana Mini runs on 6 x AA size batteries (supplied) or alternatively a Roland PSB-1U power supply (LINK) which unfortunately you’ll have to buy separately. Dimensionally, it’ll take up just 9.1/16” (W) x 4.5/8” (D) x 7.1/8” (H) of real estate and it weighs just 3lbs so you can literally just plonk it on a desk, shelf or coffee table.

The Pros

  • Excellent battery life: a reported 7 hours on alkaline; 9 hours on 2500mAh Ni-MH rechargeable (continuous use)
  • The sounds are superb for an amp of this size. Anything from classic Roland clean tones on the clean channel; sweet bluesy rock rhythm and lead vibes on the Crunch setting, through to saturated metal mayhem on the Brown channel
  • Individual EQ controls are a nice touch
  • The gain control, used in combination with the three channels provides even more versatility

The Cons

Subjective, but we’d have preferred a reverb rather than a tape delay. That’s just us. It’s a nice effect though

Throw in a power supply please Boss!

The Verdict

Undoubtedly one of the best practice amps on the market. When all’s said and done you’ve got the Boss pedigree underpinning everything that’s good about this amp. The Katana Mini offers a great range of tones at a great price. A load of fun to use and highly recommended. 

Who should consider this amp?

Anyone who needs a highly portable, mega versatile mini guitar amp, with a wide palette of sounds that they can take anywhere.

Check out the Boss Katana Mini on Amazon


3. Best value for money: Blackstar Fly 3

This is the cheapest mini amp in this review – but don’t hold that against it.

James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, former Bon Jovi six stringer Richie Sambora and Reeves Gabrels of The Cure all have one thing in common – they’re all users of equipment by British amp manufacturer Blackstar.

Like Roland, Blackstar’s product range is vast, but in the mini amp department, we have the Fly 3 – a 3-watt/3-inch speaker practice amp that features two channels (clean and overdrive), a tape delay plus Blackstar’s patented Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) to produce the sounds. And this is a very nice sounding amp from a tiny package.

It also comes with an MP3/LINE IN jack built in so you can play along with music played directly from a device. The emulated output jack can also be used with headphones. Power wise, the Fly 3 can operate via batteries (6 x AA, rechargeable or alkaline) – and yes they are supplied – or the Blackstar approved PSU-1.

At (W) 6.7”x (H) 5” x (D) 4” and weighing in at just under 2lbs, the Blackstar Fly 3 is unbelievably small – but don’t let its miniscule dimensions detract from the fact that this is a very capable sounding amp.

The ISF control offers a decent smattering of tonal variety: turn it counter-clockwise and the sound is quite ‘American’ with tight bottom end and aggressive middle. Turn the control the other way and the sound becomes more crunchy and less aggressive – more characteristic of vintage British amplifiers.    

The sound characteristics of the FLY 3 can be enhanced by a Blackstar’s own FLY103 extension cabinet which effectively creates a rather nice 6W stereo set-up. Not essential but it definitely pushes the Fly 3 to another level sonically. Unfortunately it pushes the price up as well.  

You much watch this awesome Blackstar Fly 3 video from Dave Simpson:

The Pros

  • Excellent pallet of sounds from a really sweet clean tone that can be overdriven to the point of just breaking up, through to classic crunch and high gain. The clean channel with overdrive full on is superb: very AC/DC. In fact the clean channel in general is excellent
  • Amazingly portable and light
  • Great price
  • Long battery life

The Cons

  • Not really a con, but like the Boss Katana Mini, the Blackstar FLY 3 favors a delay over a reverb in the effects department. We’d still prefer a reverb – but it’s a great sounding delay
  • It doesn’t quite have the full gain grunt of the Katana so if that’s your thing the Boss may be a better choice. Or use an external pedal. Remember it’s half the power of the Boss
  • The clean channel definitely sounds better than the overdrive – which is a little tinny and fizzy to our ears
  • We found the tone controls a bit limited
  • Distinct lack of volume at low gain settings

The Verdict

A fantastically priced, sweet sounding practice amp from Blackstar. You shouldn’t forget it’s only half the power of the Boss Katana Mini – but adding the additional extension cabinet levels up the playing field a bit. There’s also a Bluetooth version if you prefer wireless connectivity.

Whether you prefer the sound of the Blackstar or the Boss will depend on your playing style. For grungier tones, we’d definitely go for the Katana. If you’re on a tight budget, the Blackstar is hard to beat on price alone.

Who should consider this amp?

To coin an 80s song title, if money’s too tight to mention the Blackstar FLY 3 should be at the top of your list. It’ll serve you well as a highly portable, capable practice amp. Battery life is particularly good. 

Get the latest pricing for the Blackstar Fly 3 on Amazon


4. Worthy of mention: NUX Mighty Lite BT

Nope we hadn’t heard of NUX (pronounced NU-X) either. They’re one of three brands owned by Chinese company Cherub Technology and they’ve been around since 2006. The NUX Mighty Lite BT rightfully earns its place on this list because it has some unique features that no other mini amp has.

OK, this is a 3W portable, Bluetooth desktop amplifier with a 3” speaker so you can take it just about anywhere. It can be powered by a 9V power adapter (supplied), 6 x AA batteries or USB to a power bank. No other amp in this article has this functionality.

And, wait for it – it’s got built-in drums and a metronome with tap tempo capability. That’s pretty unique in this shortlist as well. There are 9 pre-programmed drum beats included in a variety of styles from pop to metal, country to blues.

Specification-wise the NUX Mighty Lite features three channels (clean, overdrive and distortion) with built-in digital delay AND reverb – although you can’t use both at the same time. The obligatory auxiliary line-in is included but you can also connect to the unit via Bluetooth. 

But we’re not just talking about a mini amp here because the Mighty Lite BT is designed to work in conjunction with a downloadable app which is available from the iOS or Android stores.

This takes the NUX to another dimension, allowing you to access a treasure trove of other stuff like amp models, effects – noise gate (useful on distorted sounds), phaser, chorus, tremolo and vibrato, plus a variety of reverbs and delay. There’s even backing tracks to play along to.

The Pros

  • The sounds on the NUX Mighty Lite BT are pretty good standalone but the app is a great enhancement. The ability to control the amp from a distance is fantastic and you can save your settings. Some effects are only available via the app
  • The drums are a welcome addition. As are reverb AND delay effects
  • All three channels are usable. The cleans are nice and the overdrive delivers quite a wodge of grit. The distortion channel adds extra sustain but it probably won’t cut the mustard for metalheads
  • USB power (from a power brick) is useful

The Cons

  • The wild volume fluctuations are quite a pain when switching between clean and overdriven channels as it’s very noticeable. Ideally each channel needs separate controls to make things more consistent
  • Prone to distortion at higher volumes
  • NUX absolutely wants you to use the amp with their app and for some this could be a dealbreaker. Basically when you power the amp off and switch back on again, it remembers the settings from the app only.
  • If you don’t want to use the app, you have to manually set volume, gain and effect levels again from scratch on the amp. Some won’t like the over reliance on the app

The Verdict

We don’t often provide a ‘worthy of mention’ award in our reviews but the NUX Mighty Lite BT deserves the accolade. It doesn’t sound quite as good as the Roland Mini Cube, the Boss Katana Mini or the Blackstar, but the unique other features it offers: USB power; drums; the free app; reverb and delay, more than make up for any shortfall.

NUX even offers the B2 wireless system which can be used with the Mighty Lite.

Who should consider this amp?

The NUX Mighty Lite BT is designed to be used with the associated app. If you’re OK with this (and it is nice to be able to control the amp from a distance) then this is certainly worth looking at. If you’re looking for something different from the norm, then this could be it. 

Take a closer look at the NUX Mighty Lite BT on Amazon


5. Vox Mini 3 G2

Like the Roland Micro Cube, the Vox Mini 3 G2 is a modeling amp which means it has quite a selection of tones to choose from.

Vox is another company steeped in heritage. Founded in 1957 in the UK, its most famous offering is the absolutely legendary AC30 valve combo. Let’s face it, if it’s good enough for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and Queen, who are us mere mortals to argue?

But this isn’t the AC30 – it’s the significantly cheaper Mini 3 G2 – a 3W mini amp with a 5” speaker. On the power front, as with all amps in this review, it can be mains or battery (6 x AA alkaline) powered but it’s good to see Vox including the power supply in the package.

So what do you get for your beer vouchers? Well for a start there’s four effects (compression, chorus, flanger and tremolo), a selection of tap tempo selectable delays, a couple of reverbs, and standard issue gain, volume and tone controls. There are eight effects in total.

In terms of inputs, there’s an Aux In for connecting an external device; and a Mic In for connecting a microphone. You can also adjust the send level from the MIC IN jack to the Delay/Reverb effects by using the dedicated SEND knob to add effects to your vocals

The sounds built into the Mini 3 G2 are impressive. There are 11 authentic amp models – one of which, the AC30TB models the Vox AC30 with a top boost circuit. Other models provide a wealth of clean, overdriven and just downright distorted hi-gain tones to suit practically any musical style. The control panel is intuitive and nicely laid out.

The Pros

  • The sounds. Whatever your guitar style, the 11 amp models will have you covered. And there’s enough grunt to fill a room. Sounds good at low volumes too
  • You could use this for busking at a push
  • Nice palette of effects  
  • Useful carry handle
  • You get a dedicated mic input jack (separate channel) for vocals and there’s an effects send to add delay or reverb

The Cons

  • The tuner’s a bit of a joke. It can only tune the low E strings as a reference point and then you’re on your own to tune the rest of the strings by ear. Definitely use your own tuner
  • Expensive compared the other models in the list
  • Quite a noisy amp
  • Not necessarily a con, but depending on your application it could be. This is quite a large mini amp dimensionally (10.32 x 6.85 x 8.78 inches). Weight is 6.61lbs
  • Hi-gain sounds are a little too fizzy for our liking

The Verdict

Similar to the Roland Micro Cube GX in terms of size and features but for us the Roland wins on sound quality. But make no mistake, the Vox Mini 3 G2 is a brilliant little amp and if you’re into British amps of the 50s and 60s, this looks and sounds the part.

Who should consider this amp?

If you like the Vox sound and its retro looks, and you can live with the size, the Mini 3 G2 has a simple layout and a great range of sounds.

Get the latest pricing for the Vox Mini 3 G2 on Amazon


6. Orange Crush Mini

Founded in 1968, Orange is a company synonymous with the golden age of British guitar amp design and manufacture. 

Orange amps, as well as being distinctive in appearance, also have a specific sound, although with so many models in the range, this difficult to pin down.

Putting this into words is even harder but you’ll see Orange amp sounds described as having a jaggedness when the sound starts to break up with an emphasis in the lower mids – sitting somewhere between a Marshall and a Vox. All very subjective of course.

The 3W/4” speaker Orange Crush Mini is the smallest amp in the Orange portfolio – yet it still manages to provide that classic Orange tone in a highly portable form factor. It’s modest dimensions means it’s ideal for bedroom strumming, taking to the beach, camping trips and hotel rooms.

Powered by a 9V battery (supplied) or an external 9V DC adapter (not supplied), There are only three controls – volume, gain and shape control – so there’s not much to get bogged down in here.

The shape control incidentally focuses on the mid frequencies: anti-clockwise for more mids; clockwise for a more scooped sound. You get a chromatic tuner built-in, a headphone socket for silent practice and an aux in for playing along to songs. Pretty standard fayre.

The Pros

  • Very portable and light
  • The Crush Mini features a speaker output (8 ohms minimum) that you can hook up to an external speaker cab to enhance the sonic capabilities. A useful addition FIND ONE
  • Despite being absolutely tiny (5.9” x 5.7” x 3.26” WDH and just under 2lbs in weight, the characteristic Orange crunch sound is there. Back off the gain for sweet, funky, clean vibes
  • Distinctive looks and a wooden cabinet. A well-made little amp

The Cons

  • Perhaps it’s just us but there’s no on/off switch. The amp is activated by plugging a cable into the input jack
  • Not at all keen on the output quality from the headphone socket
  • Not very loud on clean sounds (low gain) 
  • No built-in effects
  • Light on the low end

The Verdict

The Orange sound is loved by many but not everybody. Through such a small speaker, we did notice some distortion. We think there’s better mini amps out there for your money.

Who should consider this amp?

If you’re a fan of the Orange tone and need a mini amp that looks the part and is highly portable then check this out.

Check out the Orange Crush Mini at zZounds


The Bottom Line

You’ll have no doubt spotted by now that not all mini guitar amplifiers are created equally. Although all six products in this review are battery and mains powered and 10W or less in power, there is quite a difference in their respective sizes.

If portability is important to you, this will a primary consideration. The Blackstar Fly 3 for example is just 6.7” (W) x 4” (D) x 5” (H) and 2lbs whereas the Vox Mini 3 G2 is much bigger at 10.32” x 6.85” x 8.78” and weighs 6.61lbs without batteries.

The larger amps are definitely the best sounding. For this reason, the Roland Micro Cube GX is the best amp on this list. If portability is a factor, you won’t go far wrong with the Boss Katana Mini.  

 

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