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Help Me Understand Solid vs. desktop Amp

Discussion in 'Amp Central Station' started by ddk1, Sep 1, 2020.

  1. ddk1

    ddk1 TDPRI Member

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    I'm a bit of a newb in the gear dept so please bear with me. I was pretty much set on purchasing either the Fender Champ 50XL or Boss Katana 50 as a practice amp for my apartment. But I've also been looking at some of the desktop amps like the Yamaha THR, Vox Adio, and Mini Katana. A desktop amp would be something to consider for the smaller size, and since I'll likely keep on relatively low volume while practicing.

    The question I have is why are pretty much all the desktop amps $100-200 more as they are smaller and less wattage (and some case battery only) amps. Are the tones stronger and cleaner than a bigger solid like Champ50XL or Katana 50?

    What would you consider buying?
     
  2. Octorfunk

    Octorfunk Tele-Holic

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    It really depends on what you want/need from an amp. If you're going to play mostly quiet or with headphones, I honestly think just about any modeling amp will work just fine.

    If you ever want the option of playing louder and with other instruments in a band though, you probably want to go with the Champion or the larger Katana, just for sheer volume. Being modeling amps though, even the bigger models are going to do well at very low volumes.

    For me personally , I would also check into the Fender Champion series. Its basically the same amp sims as the Champ 50XL, but in a more streamlined, user-friendly package. Not as capable, there aren't any menus to mess with, but if you are fairly new to gear I think its perfect. I've been playing for about 20yrs now and would take a Champion 40 over a Champ 50XL, just because I hate fiddling with menus/optiins.
     
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  3. Wallaby

    Wallaby Tele-Afflicted

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    Just guessing - but the more fully miniaturized form factor of a desktop amp is contributing to its higher cost compared to more traditional combo amp form factors.

    That said - I have a Yamaha THR II and it's good. I appreciate having it available, and it's mobile-friendly.

    If you are buying your *only* amp, though, I'd go towards something with a 10" or 12" driver, regardless of whether it's tube, SS, modeling or whatever. IMO it's more versatile as an "only" amp.
     
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  4. mfguitar

    mfguitar Tele-Afflicted Silver Supporter

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    I have a Yamaha TH as well and its kind of a cool toy and good to have around but it would not be my choice if it was my only amp. I would prefer the Katana, it will still sound good at low volume and it will move some air if you need it to.
     
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  5. Jim622

    Jim622 Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    I had the Blackstar Fly 3 for work. I liked it a lot. I dropped it, never got it working again. I gave into the hype and got the Katana Mini to replace it. It’s a decent amp, but I wish I had gotten anther Fly instead. I just like it’s sound better, and it was cheaper than the Katana.
     
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  6. i384

    i384 TDPRI Member

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    I think they cater to slightly different market segments/buyers. The desktop amp scene is relatively new, and it's a much smaller market, so buyers that really want a small desk based amp are probably willing to pay more for a more "niche" product. Also I'd imagine there are some extra R&D costs involved in developing small speakers with the right voicing, developing the modelling software, and packaging it all in a small enclosure, driving up price. The solid state combo amp scene is well established and has been going strong since solid state amps took off in the 70s.

    As for the amps you're asking about: I currently own the Vox Adio Air GT, and the Yamaha THR5 (same amp, speakers, circuitry (and in my opinion sound) as the larger THR10). Caveat - I'm talking about the 1st gen THR, not the newest updated version. My main tube amp is a 65 princeton reverb reissue, and I've also owned a Katana 50 combo, so I'll give you some views.

    If you're stuck on space and are practicing in a tiny apartment or sharing a house with others where noise is an issue, get a desktop amp. The Vox sounds far better and bigger than the THR (in my opinion), but you can't really go wrong with either. The Vox edges out on having bluetooth as well so you can use it as a bluetooth speaker or to stream backing tracks. Both have AUX inputs if bluetooth isn't a big deal for you. The THR has a slightly better tuner. The built in effects aren't great on either amp but come in handy if you want a bit of reverb or delay, and neither amp takes pedals particularly well, so I just plug straight in and try to get a sound I like. The newer THR II ads bluetooth, but my understanding is that they don't sound hugely different to the 1st Generation THRs, so the Adio would still be the desktop amp for me. The only disadvantage of the Adio are the looks, though that's subjective. Headphone outputs on both don't sound particularly great, so my suggestion would be to just use any of the above mentioned amps with no external effect pedals, using the amp's speakers. Sounds great that way, even at very low volumes.

    If you don't have space issues, consider the Katana 50. If I was on a budget and didn't have my Princeton or either of the desktop practice amps, and could only have one amp, it would be the Katana 50 combo. Sounds great at low volume, and gets a much deeper and bigger sound than the desktop amps (due to having a full sized speaker). Solid state amps have moved on a huge amount and arguably can sound as good as tube amps, without having to crank the amp to get a good sound. The Katana takes pedals reasonably well and has some OK effects built in. Built (reasonably) well considering its price, holds its value in terms of resale, and can be turned up a bit if you're planning on rehearsing with a band. Can be had pretty cheap second hand too (I'd suggest going second hand for whichever amp you get. Not much can go wrong with these).

    The only word of advice if going with the Adio or any of the THR amps is, if buying second hand (and if you're in a position to test the amp), check that you can SWITCH OFF the effects by turning the effects knobs all the way to the left. These amps interpret potentiometer values to know what effect the user wants, and the effect level level. Sometimes the pots either drift or get clogged with dust and don't always give a proper 0 value, meaning that the relevant effects on that knob can't be turned fully off. Rare, but it happens.

    Tone-wise at very low volumes, the Adio competes with the Katana 50 for getting a nice, full sound. The Katana wins as volume is turned up and sounds much larger (and louder). The reason I have a THR5 is that it sounds reasonably good, but is a much smaller package, so I can keep this on my desk while working from home, and I can pick up the guitar for 5 mins every now and again and play throughout the work day if I get a chance - barely takes up any space.
     
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2020
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  7. ddk1

    ddk1 TDPRI Member

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    Thank you, that is incredibly informative and helpful. I wasn't really sure if extra cost meant higher sound quality (even though smaller and less wattage). Can I just ask if you had experience with the Roland Micro Box. That one seems to be highly recommended as well in the smaller home practice size amp.
     
  8. i384

    i384 TDPRI Member

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    Glad I was of help. Afraidn not with regard to the Roland, if I'm honest I haven't heard of it! Hate to be biased, but if it was me choosing, it would be between the Adio and Katana 50 for me. They both do clean, big (relatively speaking) sounds well, and OK overdrive on some amp models.

    The katana has just had a refresh too and a MKII was brought out with a bit more versatility with regard to the effects.

    Best of luck, let us know what you go with!

    Edit: just a final note, if space isn't an issue, just get the katana 50 (mk 1 or 2) and be happy. It will be the best sounding, and likely the cheapest if buying second hand.
     
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  9. Ronzo

    Ronzo Tele-Holic

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    I bought into the hype about the Blackstar Fly 3. I’ve played it both with and without the extension speaker. I don’t get along with it at all. I keep it for going to the beach with friends or family and play it on batteries. Just... uninspiring.

    Of course, this is just my opinion. YMMV.

    @ddk1, have you considered a Fender Champion 20? If not, I suggest you audition one. I think it’s a great value, with a number of nice sounds, easily found. Footprint is relatively small.
     
  10. aging_rocker

    aging_rocker Tele-Afflicted

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    I tried the THR's, the Adio, the Fly, and a few others, (I liked the Adio a lot, even if it does look like a Gucci handbag...) but eventually came home with Katana 50.

    As already mentioned, if you have room for it and you only want one amp, it's just better. And it has a 12" speaker, which makes a lot of difference, IMHO.
     
  11. Jim622

    Jim622 Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    I can see that. I use it at work. I feel the same about the Katana Mini, I bought into it, but I just prefer the BlackStar for where it’s used.
     
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  12. Lockback

    Lockback Tele-Meister

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    I have the Blackstar Fly 3 and love it.
    Also had a Fender Champion 20 and really liked it.
    I'm currently using a Marshall Code 25. I like the infinite amount of adjustability to each of the 100 models ... although I literally never tinker with them.
    The Fly 3 is in a teen, tiny class by itself. For what it is, a 3 watt, 3" speaker, battery-powered amp, it's outstanding. But the adjustability of sounds from a modeling amp like the Champion gives you a lot more options and it's still very affordable and has a relatively small footprint.
     
  13. aging_rocker

    aging_rocker Tele-Afflicted

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    I tried the Code 25 too, and I soooo wanted to like it, because I'm an old Marshall user and, well, Marshall...but it just didn't do it for me.
    I was sure I'd get one, but it was the Katana that followed me home.
     
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  14. Lockback

    Lockback Tele-Meister

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    You know, I haven't played the Katana but reading the reviews on it since I bought the Code 25, I suspect if I had to do it over again, I very well might have chosen the Katana.
     
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  15. tfarny

    tfarny Friend of Leo's

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    I agree with the big long post above! Except I've never tried the Vox adio.
    The desktop amps have a couple advantages that may or may not matter for you - they can sit on a desk or an end table easily, or you can move them around, they have a battery power option so you can use them outdoors and so on, and they make a boombox substitute. I've taken mine on a lot of car trips, it's nice to have an amp and a stereo at a hotel.
    Something like a Katana or a Fender Mustang is loud enough to play in rehearsals or live, though, so if you just want one amp (or you occasionally want to really crank it) you need a "real" amp for that.

    I think you should try and head to a music store and try as many of these as you can, make a decision after hearing them yourself, instead of just buying based on internet recommends.
     
  16. burntfrijoles

    burntfrijoles Poster Extraordinaire

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    Good advice!
    I have the base model THR-10ii and sits on my desk. It’s great for jamming along to your music or backing tracks. I use it when I learning a new song or doing a video tutorial. The tones are very good for such a small package and, when dialed in, are dead on. However, the small speakers can make it sound a little cardboard boxy at some levels.
    I wouldn’t buy it as my only amp. I don’t own a Katana but they have several power output levels, all the way to 0.5 watts. That’s perhaps a better option.
     
  17. hdvades

    hdvades Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

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    My suggestion as usual for someone like the OP (especially in an apartment setting)...Vox Mini 5 Rhythm. A lot of features in a small package. Fender Champion 40 for a full size amp. Roland Micro Cubes are a good choice also.
     
  18. zippofan

    zippofan Tele-Afflicted

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    I will add the ZT Lunchbox Jr, for a small amp it sounds pretty big and can get fairly loud too. Won't compete with a drummer clean, but it has a nice clean tone and good overdrive too. I use it for testing DIY pedal builds when completed and I love it. I turn it on more than my tube amps.
     
  19. hemingway

    hemingway Poster Extraordinaire

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    The THR is not an option as your only amp.

    But one thing to consider: it's an amazing recording amp. The small speaker size isn't an issue when you close mic it. The results are fantastic.

    In answer to the original question: miniaturisation costs money. Especially getting small amps to sound good.
     
  20. Chandlerman

    Chandlerman Tele-Meister

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    Two THRs in stereo. :D
     
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