Bedroom tube amp primer

In case it can help here is a little wrap up of a discussion in a dedicated forum, about bedroom use of tube amps.

I’m a pure bedroom player, no gig, no concert, just me myself and I.
I live in an apartment with neighbour so the sound level aspect is very important for me

I use a Laney CUB10. It’s a fantastic bedroom amp.
What follows applies to little, low power, cheap, beginner or light recording targeted tube amps. Some high end professionnal amps can perfectly be used at bedroom volume (for example some very high end Mesa Boogie) but they are clearly out of the scope for price and complexity reasons.

From my little experience a good bedroom amp must take the following in account :

Tubes , if you don’t want tubes, you will be happier with a software like Amplitube or Guitar rig and an audio interface like the M-Audio Fasttrack MKII perfect for guitar, happier than with a solid state amp. A software is more versatile and for the same price you got a ton of different amps, stompboxes, effects…
I would not say that there are no good solid state amp, I own a 1987 British Sessionnette 75 that is a gem, but usually solid state amps are so-so.
But all this lack.. life.. guts.. so .. tubes

A Master volume (separate gain and volume settings). If you amp has only one button, it has only one sound at a given level. The sound changes when the amp is pushed harder… but the sound becomes loud. With a master volume you can push one part of the amp without getting too loud

Two styles of sound : Amps with 6V6 tubes have a more Fender sound, with EL84 (more common) have a more british Vox-like sound. This is a rather raw (stupid ?) description but you may have a look to the tubes used in the amps you’re looking for.
It seems that Fender marketing team didn’t realize that the guys with long hair who played guitar in the 70s, stopped playing to become boring business men and now in their fifties, with grown up children, a wife gone away long ago and some time to kill, will become a real business opportunity. These guys play at home for their own pleasure in memory of their “fun young years” (no pun intended I’m one of those)
Vox did realise that. In the low wattage sector they have the Lill Night Train various AC4 versions including the gorgeous AC4C1.
Fender only have the former Champion 600 replaced by the more powerful (and expansive) Excelsior.. with one button, so one sound (at a given level).

A lot of manufacturers are in the market , most of them being of a “vox inspiration”. The list is very long
If you’re looking for a Fender-style sound the list of options is far shorter : Laney with the CUB10 (not 8, not 12), VHT with the fantastic special 6 and Bugera with the V5 ( and the V22 too powerful for bedroom use but somehow manageable).

Don’t be fooled by watts. To cut by half the perceived power you have to divide by ten the watts. That means that with the same set up (speaker ..) a 50w will be perceived as twice the loudness of a 5 watts. Consequence, whatever the number of watts a tube amp is loud. And if it has no master volume it is not usable a bedroom level (good example : Marshall Classs 5.. only 5 watts..impossible to use it at home) . An exception : the Fender Champion 600, but mainly because it has a very small speaker (see below), and even, cranking a Champion 600 full steam requires very friendly neighbour.

Speaker size matters. A 5 watts with a 12 inches speaker will sound louder than the same 5 watts with a 8 or 10 inches speaker, and likely louder than a 10 watts with a 10 inches speaker

Manageable doesn’t always mean nice sounding. A high power tube amp (15, 30watts) with a very progressive master volume and global volume knobs can be manageable at bedroom level (it’s the case for example with the very powerful Vox AC15 or Fender Blues Junior).
At bedroom level, these amps will sound very thin, and very far from their natural sound (the one you’ll get at a volume more suited for a gig than for an appartment) . There are some exceptions like the Laney VC15 that is usually considered as pretty nive even at very low volume.

Forget about headphones Tube amps don’t have headphone out. There are few exceptions, the Blackstar have a headphone output, the Bugera V5 has one and the Vox Lil Night Train has one. I just tried the Lil Night Train one it was awfull. If you need to be able to play at night with headphones, the good solution is a modelisation software and your computer (or a solid state amp with headphone output)

Don’t be fooled by youtube demos. The guys never precise the sound level (when cranked to the maximum every tube amp can sound honestly…. at bedroom level it’s a whole different story) and most of the time they never tell if they use pedals or other things that tweek the sound.
To illustrate : would you think that these two demos are with the same amp ,

Another example with the amp I own, at the given settings the guy (nice player by the way) is way above what I’d call « appartement settings »

Youtube is a usefull tool to get an idea of a musical instrument but it must not be the only tool to base your choice on.

Attenuators are not magic. One of the usual answer to the « my amp is too loud » syndrom is « just use an attenuator« . An attenuator is an electronic device placed between the amp out and the speaker. It transforms part of the output in heat so the remaining sound level is lower. Problem, a good attenuator is not much cheaper than a used low wattage little amp. The exception is for DYers, building it’s own attenuator is not overly expansive and can be a solution in some case, but of the shelves ones are expansive. On the top of that an attenuator is good at lower to sound volume (for example to use in studio recording a too powerfull amp) but don’t imagine be able to use a 100Watts amp in your bedroom thanks to an attenuator.
Lowering the speaker input with and attenuator implies that the speaker doesn’t work in an ideal way. It’s common to say that attenuator eat a good slice of the sound quality, in fact even the best one implies that the speaker will not work in a ideal way and therefore produce a sound that is not of an ideal quality. In some cases an attenuator can be a handyb solution, but there are not magic by far

– Last but not least, small tube amps are cheap, very often cheaper than a pedal so why own only one ?. For example with a used Fender Champion 600/WHT Special 6/Laney CUB10 and a Vox AC4 you’ll be able to cover a lot of sound territories for a very low price tag.

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