The Best Modeling Amplifiers Under $200
Fender Champion 20
The Fender Champion 20 is a combo guitar amp that offers the flexibility and convenience of modern amp modeling technology, in a very intuitive and affordable package. It houses a 20W amp, an 8" speaker, and features modern amp modeling that's easily controlled via a single voice knob. With you can quickly dial in the sound of 12 amplifiers, including classic Fender tones, British crunch and even high gain metal. If that's not enough, it also comes with built-in effects that include reverb, delay, chorus, tremolo, Vibratone, auto-wah and more. The effects section is controlled by an FX selector knob, a level knob, and a Tap Tempo button for manually setting the timings of some of its effects. Wrapping it all up is Fender's distinct "Blackface" styling, which gives this modern amp a classic appeal.
- Power Rating: 20 Watts
- Speaker: 1 x 8" Fender Special Design
- Amp Models: 12
- Effects: 12
- Controls: Gain, Volume, Voice, Treble, Bass, FX Level, FX Select, Tap Switch (Time Control)
- Input: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8" Aux
- Output: 1 x 1/8" Headphones
- Weight: 12 lbs.
It gets a lot of commendation for its versatility, but most of the comments point to its authentic Fender sounding clean tones, which is quite special given the price and size of this amp. While many consider it as the best beginner guitar amp, it doesn't stop experts from enjoying the amp themselves, as seen on many reviews.
There were a few who feel that the effects could have some more additions, while others are looking for a bit more control over the amp models. Still, even those who complained are impressed with its overall performance considering its price.
The Fender Champion 20 is a true champion in the entry-level market, beating the competition with its value for money, flexibility and simplicity.
Roland Micro Cube GX
The Roland Micro Cube GX3 is a portable 6-pound combo amplifier with the sound of 8 different amplifiers, 8 digital effects, and powers all these with 6 x AA batteries. This means that you can conjure different amp and effect tones virtually anywhere, as long as you have enough batteries. This includes familiar clean, crunch and rectifier tones, and it also includes a dedicated acoustic amplifier model for those who prefer to use their acoustic-electric guitar. Since it is designed to be portable, it doesn't have much power with its 3W rating and 5" speaker, but it is loud enough for bedroom or outdoor jamming. Other practice friendly features include Roland's i-Cube Link port for connecting with iOS devices, and headphones out for quiet practice.
- Power Rating: 3 Watts
- Speaker: 1 x 5"
- Amp Models: 8
- Effects: 8
- Controls: Amp Type, EFX, Delay Reverb, Gain, Volume, Tone, Master, Memory and Tuner Buttons
- Input: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8" Aux
- Output: 1 x 1/8" Headphones
- Extra Features: Runs on 6 x AA batteries or AC adapter
- Weight: 6 lbs.
I have to agree with many who describe the Roland Micro Cube GX as the best portable modeling amplifier, thanks to its battery power option and lightweight design. Ease of use and amp modeling sound quality are often mentioned in a positive light, even impressing experienced players. Paul White from Sound On Sound said, "For busking, garden jams or open mic nights, the MicroCube GX delivers the goods in style".
On the flipside, the effects section received a few thumbs down, with some saying that the quality is not up to par given that Roland is the mother company of the renowned guitar effects company Boss. There are a few users who expected a bit more power from the amp, but given its portability, it is a necessary compromise.
The Roland Micro Cube GX is a portable modeling amplifier especially designed for guitarists who are always on the go.
The Best Modeling Amplifiers Under $300
Fender Super-Champ X2 HD
The Fender Super Champ X2 is a hybrid amp head that combines a 15W tube amp section with built-in modeling. This means that you get the feel and vibe of tube circuitry, complete with a pair of 6V6 tubes and a 12AX7 preamp tube, while enjoying the versatility that modeling provides. Speaking of modeling, this compact amp head lets you choose between 16 different voicings that are based on popular amps, the core being the iconic Fender clean, but can go to brit crunch, and can even cover high-gain territory. If that's not enough, this amp also hosts 15 effects with nifty tap tempo control for delay time/modulation rate adjustments. This amp can also function as an audio interface with its speaker emulated USB output for recording direct to your computer.
- Power Rating: 15 Watts
- Tubes: 2 x 6V6, 1 x 12AX7
- Amp Models: 16
- Effects: 15
- Controls: Volume 1, Gain, Volume 2, Voice, Treble, Bass, F/X Adjust, F/X Select, Channel Select, Tap Tempo
- Input: 1 x 1/4"
- Output: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (Line out)
- Extra Features: USB Output for Direct Recording
- Weight: 18.5 lbs.
Pristine, authentic and convincing are just a few of the many positive words used to describe how this amp sounds. Most users point to its clean tone, but there are plenty of users who love the extra voicings that it offers, so much some have named their favorite presets. It also gets a lot of thumbs up for its sonic versatility and convenience. Finally, most owners of this amp feel that they get more than what they paid for.
There are a few who are not as impressed with the extra voicings, while others wish for extras like the addition of a foot pedal, even if they have to pay a bit more for it.
If you're looking for an affordable tube amp head with the flexibility of amp modeling, then this is for you.
The Best Modeling Amplifiers Under $500
The Vox VT100X is a hybrid amp that incorporates a 12AX7 preamp tube into its digital amp modeling. They designed each of the 11 models to work with the multi-stage preamp circuit to better replicate the nuances of popular amps. When paired with the included Tone Room software editor, you get even more control over the amp models, and you also get more amp models to work with. In addition, it has 13 onboard effects that include essential modulation, reverb and delay models. Rated at 100W and fitted with a 12" speaker, this combo amp's versatility is matched by its power, which should be more than enough to meet the needs of most venues and situations.
- Power Rating: 100W
- Tubes: 1 x 12AX7
- Speaker: 1 x 12"
- Amp Models: 11(Up to 20 via Software)
- Effects: 13
- Controls: Amp Models, Gain, Treble, Middle, Bass, Volume, Power Level, Multiple Buttons for tweaking presets, amp model, effects and other parameters
- Input: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8" (Aux)
- Output: 1 x 1/8" (Headphones)
- Extra Features: Expanded Amp models, Presets and Effects when paired with included software
- USB: 1 x USB Mini-B
- Weight: 41.67 lbs.
Overall market response towards the Vox VT100X is positive, with many reviewers pointing to its value for money being its strength. Owners are happy that for less than $400, they can get a 100W combo amp with genuine preamp tubes plus the flexibility of amp modeling and effects. There are also plenty of good remarks on its dirty/overdriven tone, especially when driven hard on big venues.
A few users feel that the amp does not respond well to their analog pedals, mostly because of the lack of effects loop. While others feel that the effects are a bit limited in quantity and control, they wish at least a tap tempo button.
For the money, the Vox VT100X gives you more than amp modeling, it has real tube preamp circuitry, 100W of power and a 12" speaker. It is a great buy for those looking for a loud and versatile combo amp.
Line 6 Spider V 240HC
Rated at 240W, this is a loud amp head, but its in no way limited to just big venues and stages, because the Line 6 Spider V 240W HC is fitted with compact full-range stereo speakers (2 x 4") that lets it double as a mini combo amp. This means that you can utilize this amp both on stage and inside your room, saving you more in the long run. Being part of the Spider series, the 24HC is as versatile as it gets, with over 200 amp, cab and effect models that you can experiment with to get the tone that you want. Student friendly features include having a built-in metronome, a tuner, a 60-second looper for layering guitar tracks and selectable pre-recorded drum loops.
- Power Rating: 240W
- Speaker: 2 x 4"
- Amp Models and effects: 200+ Amp Models
- Controls: Dive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Volume
- Input: 1 x 1/4", 1 x 1/8" (Aux in), G10T wireless receiver (transmitter not included)
- Output: 2 x 1/4" (4/8 ohms), 2 x XLR (DI out)
- Extra Features: Built-in
- Weight: lbs.
The Line 6 Spider V 240HC endears users with its multi-functionality, and sonic versatility. Many users feel that the addition of small speakers while seemingly simple, makes a big difference in their overall experience with the amp - enabling them to practice with the same amp head they use on stage. Coming from Line 6, it's a given that this amp is praised for sonic versatility, and in addition to that, there are plenty of users who feel that the controls are intuitive. While this amp head is designed to blend well with Line 6 cabinets, there are reports of it working well with cabinets from Marshall and other brands.
With so many amp models and effects onboard, it's expected that some of the presets will be more loved than the others. This is reflected in a few reviews where users point to specific amp models that they like, and don't like.
The Line 6 Spider V 240HC is the amp head to beat in this price range - when it comes to sonic versatility of multi-functionality.
The Best Modeling Amplifiers Under $1000
The THR100H is a 100W amp head that comes with the same amp modeling technology s their popular THR series of amps. There's not really much to choose from in terms of amp models, but by tweaking parameters, the five voicings that it offers can cover most tones, from classic cleans to modern high gain. There's also the ability to select between five power tube models, which include 6V6, EL84, KT88, 6L6GC and EL34 - this opens up your tonal palette tremendously, especially when you have experience with tube amps. Another killer feature of the THR100H is its variable power output, which lets you set the power rating to 25W, 50W and 100W.
- Power Rating: Switchable 25W/50W/100W
- Amp Models: 5 Amp Models, 5 Output Tube Models
- Effects: Reverb, Boost, Noise Gate and IR Speaker Emulation
- Controls: Amp Model, Booster, Gain, Master, Bass, Middle, Treble, Presence, Reverb, Volume
- Input: 1 x 1/4"
- Output: 1 x 1/4" TS, 1 x 1/8" (headphone), 1 x XLR (Line out)
- Extra Features: Built-in Power Attenuator
- USB: Type B
- Weight: 8 lbs.
The top two reasons why users love the Yamaha THR100H include sound quality and portability. Many are blown away by how they can tweak the tone of the amp to whatever they want it to be, especially when used in conjunction with the editor software. Most of the comments point to its clean and slightly overdriven tones, but there are also plenty of comments who prefer the other side o the amp. Build quality is also noteworthy, with many describing it as top notch and roadworthy. Speaking of roadworthiness, there are plenty of users who are now gigging with this amp with great results.
While its sonic complexity enamors many users, there are still a few who wish for a more intuitive control setup, like having special buttons for each slot.
Those who are looking for a versatile, compact and roadworthy amp will find the THR100H appealing.
Line 6 DT25 HD
The Line 6 DT25 Head is a bit of a departure from their usual feature packed amps. With just four basic amp voicings, it may seem a bit streamlined, but its complexity lies in its reconfigurable tube circuit, co-designed by Reinhold Bogner, which employs 12AX7 preamp tube and two EL84 power amp tubes. The analog components of this amp are designed to switch between Class A to Class A/B, as well as from triode to pentode, widening its sonic horizons. It shines best when paired with Line 6 guitar processors that connect via their L6 LINK connection. The amp automatically configures its tube and analog components to match the amp modeling settings on the processor.
- Power Rating: 25W
- Tubes: 1 x 12AX7, 2 x EL84
- Amp Models: 4
- Effects: Reverb
- Controls: Master, Per-Channel: Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence, Reverb, Volume
- Input: 1 x TS
- Output: 5 x TS (Speaker)
- Extra Features: Reconfigurable Analog Circuit
- USB: None
- Weight: 30 lbs.
The Line 6 DT25 Head gets a lot of complements from users of Line 6 guitar processors, rightly so because they get the most out of the amp and processor. It is mostly praised for its versatility, but it also wows owners with its tone, many of which comment that the amp improved their sound by a big margin. Many users also like the overall craftsmanship and classic appeal of the amp. Paul White of Sound on Sound concludes his review by saying: "Ultimately, I think the DT25 manages to pull off the trick of looking, sounding and feeling authentic, while combining the flexibility of modeling and switchable power-amp topographies."
The minority who utilize the DT25 HD as a stand-alone amp also have good things to say, but they do miss out on what the amp does best, and that is to add the nuances of an actual tube amp to Line 6 amp models found on their guitar processors. There are also a few users who report that the amp does not take analog pedals well, although they are balanced out by others who have better experience with using their pedals on the amp.
If you're a Line 6 fan, or if you own any of their guitar processors, then the Line 6 DT25 Head is a no-brainer. For those in the other camp, the amp still has a lot to offer with its Bogner designed tube circuit that can be reconfigured conveniently.
Things to Consider When Buying a Modeling Amp
Solidstate vs Tube
Most modeling amplifiers have solid state components, they are generally regarded to be more affordable, reliable and since they have fewer moving parts, they also requires less maintenance. Some modeling amps feature tube components, and while they can be fragile, they are preferred for their improved tone, feel and sonic detail. Some manufacturers have found a way to vary amp voicing without the use of digital processing, allowing the proliferation of tube amps with analog-based modeling capabilities, however they will not have the same convenience and variety as their digital counterparts.
Most modeling amps offer straightforward digital operation, where switching between models are done via buttons or switches. These days, some manufacturers have gone the analog route, opting for a more fluid way of changing the voicing via analog knobs and controls. While it can be tempting to get one with the most number of amp models, more is not always better in this case, especially since you won't normally be using more then 5 amp models in one performance.
Power Rating and Speaker Size
While not all manufacturers follow a specific power rating standard, the power rating of an amplifier gives you a good idea of how loud it can go. The speaker size also helps in the loudness department, but more than that, it dictates bass definition and clarity. Wider speakers are usually preferred for their extra bass response, but there are many circumstances where smaller speakers and lower power ratings are preferred, specifically for room practice and when portability is your priority.
Those who want to get the most out of their money will prefer amps with built-in effects. They allow you to practice and jam without the need to setup effect pedals separately. Don't expect much in terms of quality and control over these built-in effects though, but they can get the job done. Essential effects to look out for include reverb and delay.
Generally speaking, the more complex and versatile an amplifier is, the steeper the learning curve. This is especially true of analog modeling amps where you have to tweak knobs to get the different amp voicings. If you are patient and want a more personalized tone, you'll appreciate deep controls better, but if you just want a plug-and-play amp with some versatility then you're better off with regular digital amp modeling.
Having the ability to connect to a PA system via DI out is a nice plus, especially if you're looking to use your amp on stage. USB connectivity is another important feature, as it allows for easy recording and removes the need for amp miking or for an audio-interface. Those who want to practice quietly with their favorite tracks should look for headphones out and aux in ports. Interestingly, there are now Bluetooth compatible amps on the market, which allows for convenient wireless playback of your favorite tracks.
There's no point in buying a full featured modeling amplifier that ends up gathering dust in your room because you're tired of hauling it around. So you'll have to balance features over portability, get one that is reasonably light considering your needs, while having enough volume and the features that you really need. For this reason, we've included the weight of all the amplifiers in the list.
Best Modeling Amp Selection Methodology
First published on Aug. 18, 2017 with the latest major update occurring on Jun. 12, 2019.
For this 2019 update, we decided to expand the scope of this guide to include amp heads along with combo amps, resulting in a longer short-list of 43 modeling amps that we examined. As usual, we only feature options readily available from major US retailers. We ended up analyzing over 11,000 reviews, ratings and discussions from both users and experts - including the most recent ones up to June of 2019. The resulting data were then processed via the Gearank algorithm, which gave us the scores that closely represents market sentiment about each amp.
Also new to this update is the addition of a Sub $300 section, which joins the other sections that feature the best modeling amps in the sub $200, sub $500 and sub $1000 price ranges. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.