A screeching electric guitar and an overly loud amplifier go hand in hand just like peanut butter and jelly, gin and tonic or, of course, Han and Chewie - but as iconic and wonderful sounding as this duo is, there are very few places where it's appropriate for you to play your beloved Les Paul through that ludicrously cranked Marshall stack. That said, if you're used to the exciting sound of a valve amp running hot, or you simply appreciate good tone, then some of the lacklustre practice amps on the market can leave you feeling a little underwhelmed. Luckily, we've pulled together this guide to the best desktop amps we could find, proving that petite amps can sound huge if you know what you're looking for.
We have clever options from the practice amp innovators Positive Grid, as well as wireless units from both music gear veterans Yamaha and relative newcomers NUX, not to mention many options that won't break the bank. So, whether you are jamming at home, getting a cheeky little practice in at the office, or you're looking for a portable amp to carry along to your guitar lessons, you'll find what you are looking for in this guide to the best desktop amps.
Best desktop amps: MusicRadar's choice
Okay, when it comes to recommending the ultimate desktop amp, it's hard not to go straight for the Positive Grid Spark Mini (opens in new tab). This pint-sized amp really can do it all. When paired with the accompanying app, the Spark Mini will not only give you access to thousands of killer tones, but it will also tell you the chords to any song and even generate a backing track to that new riff idea you just had - and all at a very reasonable price.
For its sheer affordability, tiny footprint, and dynamite tone, the Blackstar Fly 3 (opens in new tab) would have to be our next choice. With two channels - overdrive and clean - as well as a surprisingly good delay built-in, there is a reason why this miniature Blackstar is everywhere, it offers superb value for money as well as an outstanding sound.
Purchase the Positive Grid Spark Mini (opens in new tab)
The Spark Mini, as well as a wireless footswitch, carry bag and headphones is available directly from Positive Grid. Click the link above to go straight there and see the latest offers.
Best desktop amps: Product guide
It can feel like everywhere you turn, you see a Positive Grid amp, but there is a legitimate reason why these smart amps keep popping up on "best" lists around the internet, they rock!
The Spark Mini follows along the same lines as its big brother but instead opts for a more streamlined enclosure and battery power. Once paired with the Spark app, you'll gain access to thousands of tones and effects, as well as intelligent practice aids that will transform the way you rehearse.
The handy auto-chord feature will display the chord changes to any song you feed it and the very clever Smart Jam function allows you to automatically generate a bespoke backing track based on any musical idea - how cool is that?
Yamaha's THR30II is designed to be more than just a desktop amp, it's also a powerful Bluetooth speaker that can be enjoyed by the non-guitarists in the house as much as the players. Making use of Yamaha's new Extended Stereo Technology, the THR boasts an incredibly spacious audio image that amps four times the size would be jealous of.
Okay, so the THR is a pretty great Bluetooth speaker, but how does it hold up as an electric guitar amp? Well, in sort, it's fantastic. With three banks of five amp models, this small desktop amp covers a lot of ground - from pristine cleans to bluesy breakup, hard-hitting rock to screaming metal tones.
Another ace up the sleeve of the THR30II is the built-in wireless receiver, which means you can play the guitar anywhere in the house without being tied to the one spot - not to mention this feature means you don't have unsightly guitar cables lying around in your living room. It is worth noting that the THR30II works with either the Line 6 Relay G10T or G10TII transmitter, but these don't come with the amp, as they are sold separately.
Before we get into the sound of Laney's Lionheart Mini, we should take a moment to appreciate how good this little amp looks. Obviously modelled after its much larger counterpart, this amp nails the retro vibe of the original with its navy exterior and beige grill - we think this little guy would brighten up any desk, and we're sure you'll agree.
Okay, let's dive into the tone of this minuscule desktop companion. The Lionheart Mini features a dual-channel setup, with both a clean and overdrive sound available at the push of a button, while all the tone-shaping capabilities are accessed via a solitary dial. This works much like the tone control on a distortion pedal and you even get a rather authentic tape-style digital delay, that will add a little depth to your sound.
What makes the Laney stand out from the likes of the Blackstar Fly or Fender's Mini Twin is the addition of the Laney Smartphone Insert. This smart feature allows you to connect your amp to the likes of Ultimate Guitar's Tonebridge app to access a stockpile of effects and amp models. The lionheart actually comes with a 3-month subscription to Tonebridge, so you can give it a test drive for free.
NUX has quickly established themselves as a formidable force in the budget gear arena, and the Mighty Air proves why - with so much on offer for a little over $/£100, this amp is the definition of value for money. Combining a wireless stereo desktop amp with a Bluetooth speaker, the Mighty Air is exactly the unit you've been looking for if you're trying to keep costs down without compromising on tone or features.
It seems most amplifiers have a dedicated app these days, and the Mighty Air is no different. Once connected, you'll gain access to a wealth of digital amp models, impulse responses and stompbox-style effects, all via a very user-friendly interface.
The Mighty Air ships with the NUX wireless transmitter, allowing you to cut the cord and practice uninhibited - simply plug in the transmitter, pair the two and you're ready to rock!
This mighty little 3-watt monster is on the desks of guitarists of all abilities up and down the country thanks to its crisp sound, fun delay and very attractive price tag. Okay, it may not have the Bluetooth capabilities of others on this list, but it more than makes up for it with its superb overdrive tone and expandability.
The Fly 3 can be turned into a true stereo rig, with the addition of the Fly 103 extension speaker, which is perfect for streaming music or even has a set of portable PC monitors. Like all Blackstar amps, the Fly includes the patented Infinite Shape Feature which enables you to quickly - and easily - change the timbre of the amp by just adjusting this dial.
The Blackstar Fly 3 comes in a myriad of different colour and style options from bright neon units to Day of the Dead-themed motifs and even a Def Leppard option!
When you think Vox, your first thought is most likely the diamond-clad combos that populated stages in the swinging '60s, and while that's a fairly apt image of this retro brand, the Adio Air GT showcases just how far the company has come.
Much like the Yamaha THR, the Adio opts for a sleek design that's as far away from a valve amp as you can get - meaning it will look great sitting on a bookshelf or sideboard. That said, the 50 watts of power, certainly reminds you there's a powerful amplifier lurking under its fashionable exterior.
On board, you'll find an array of amp models and effects, from Fender-style cleans, Marshall-esque distortion and, of course, the famed Vox AC30. We think this amp excels at clean and crunch tones, but for us, the higher gain tones aren't the best, but to be fair, Vox isn't who you turn to for ground-breaking death metal tones.
It's fair to say the Orange Crush Mini is by far the most basic desktop amp on this list. While other amps in this guide are trying to prove how many features they can cram into a small unit, the Orange instead focuses on nailing the basics.
The trio of controls found on the top are as simple as they come. The Gain control will deliver everything from blues breakup to intense high gain, while the Shape control is used to dial in the mids or a modern or retro vibe - turn the control anticlockwise for more mids or clockwise for the scooped sound of metal.
Now, the Crush isn't completely devoid of features, it does come with a handy built-in tuner, aux input and even an 8 ohms speaker out!
Best desktop amps: Buying advice
Why do I need a desktop amp?
Let's face facts, we would all be better guitar players if we were to practice as much as we should, but sometimes we either don't have the time or when we do have a spare 5 minutes, the thought of hooking up our amp, pedals and electric guitar hardly feels worth it. Well, that's where one of the best desktop amps comes in.
Like we said up top, a desktop amp offers a low-cost and lightweight solution to the cumbersome nature of a regular guitar amp, allowing you to quickly and easily practice whenever inspiration strikes - and with most amps coming with built-in practice aids, you may even get a more productive practice, than if you were to use a traditional amplifier.
How much should I spend on a desktop amp?
Like many pieces of guitar gear, the prices of desktop amps can vary wildly - but even the top end of the desktop amp spectrum won't break the bank. Now, when it comes to deciding how much to spend, you must first decide on what the main purpose of your new amp will be.
For example, if you are looking for a basic, portable amp to take to the office or on a weekend away, then you don't need to spend a great deal. The Blackstar Fly or Orange Crush Mini come in well under $/£100 and both are perfect additions to anyone's collection of guitar-related stuff.
If your new desktop companion is to become your main practice solution, then you may want to spend a little more. Once we get into the $/£200 mark, we'll start seeing feature-laden amps that become standalone practice rigs in their own right.
What features do I need?
For us, there are a few features that are an absolute necessity when it comes to desktop amps. For starters, they need to be small - obviously - and include a headphone output for silent practice. We are also big fans of the convenience of Bluetooth for streaming music and jamming along to songs, if the amp doesn't have Bluetooth capabilities, then we'd say it should at least have a designated aux input.
In terms of sounds and effects, for us, two channels are the absolute minimum we would accept, and ideally, we like to see amps with multiple models and presets to choose from.
Which companies make the best desktop amps?
The desktop or mini amp market is a rather crowded one, so it can get a little confusing when trying to figure out which is the right amp for you. Our advice would be to stick to the well-known guitar brands, as you are guaranteed a certain level of quality.
Brands such as Positive Grid, Blackstar, Orange, Yamaha and Fender all make brilliant desktop amps that are well worth their modest price tags.
The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that Fender is absent from this list, but that's because we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Fender Mustang LT40S, which is set to hit shelves in August. We will be sure to thoroughly put the amp through its paces and if it cuts the mustard, it will land a spot in this guide.
Read more about how we test music gear at MusicRadar.