A Tube Primer for Guitarists, Part Three: Hybrid Amps

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Orange Amp - Hybrid Micro Terror

In this installment, we’re talking about hybrid amps, or, amps that are composed of both tubes and solid state (digital) circuits. We’re also going to challenge you to hear the difference between amps.

If you’re not caught up on this series, check out these first:

Hybrid Guitar Amps

Orange Amp - Hybrid Micro TerrorHybrid amps are made by several manufacturers with the intent on giving you the best of both worlds. the basic idea is a great tube sound, while providing the signal processing and reliability of a digital amp. Orange, Vox, Line 6 and Krank make hybrid amp models… those are all I could find on the internet. How successful are they in actually pulling off what they advertise?

I’ve played all the hybrids except the Krank and liked the amps, but I couldn’t find the tube under all the signal processing, diluting the advantages of the hybrid. Orange and Vox use the same basic formula: a tube in the preamp. Vox adds Digital Signal Processing into the mix and masks the tube with more preamp stages. The end result is, you can’t tell the tube sound from the processing so the advantages of the hybrid are lost. In fairness, they use the tube to make many of the amp models, which are pretty good but finding the amp’s actual tone, no amp models, can be frustrating. Line 6 uses an all solid state preamp and a Bogner designed tube power amp. Other than a nice clear tube clean sound, you really don’t have much in the way of a tube sound with this amp at all.

Orange Amps

Orange seems to be the only company that gives you a pure hybrid amp… simple, easy to use, effective and a truly great sound, not clouded with amp models and effects that are difficult to eliminate. The Micro Terror is a single tube preamp, with gain, volume and tone controls, and a solid state power amp pushing 20 watts – period. The controls control the sound through the tube and the power amp pushes that to the speakers – no fooling around. $149.00, plus a speaker cab.

That said, all the other amps are nice amps that are trying to be too much to too many people. More bang-for-the-buck marketing, I suppose. You won’t go wrong with any of them, but finding the tube sound may be a challenge.

Can you tell the difference?

So, now you know how tube amps work, the differences between tube and digital sound and what a hybrid is. In a blindfold test, could you tell the difference? The general answer is going to be… no. Educate your ears and earn how a small tube amp sounds. Pick one around 20 watts or less (the Orange Micro Terror is a perfect example), and play the thing for awhile. Figure out how the controls affect the sound and find the sweet spot where it will react to your playing… feel it! Bend a note and hold it… listen to the decay. Get your finger into the pick to generate a harmonic and listen to the sound. Then try a digital around the same power and same size speaker and try to get the SAME sound from it. No playing 1000 notes per second, now. Can you really hear a difference?

Bottom line, there are loads of digital amps to choose from but most of them are too complicated. I don’t need to pay for all the stuff I won’t use. A simple, good quality amp, either tube or digital, with the wattage and speakers to do the job, and footswitch controllable, is my ticket.

If your budget can’t swing a tube amp, throw a “tube screamer” pedal on the board and wail on your “tube” amp that’s affordable, reliable, durable, and half the weight of a comparable tube amp. Happy shredding, boys and girls!

Video of the Micro Terror

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Doug Knight

Our “Man on the Street” reporter, with his “What’s New in Music Stores?” series, resides in Coos Bay, OR. You can find him on Friday nights at The Small Events Center at OrCoast Music in Coos Bay.

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