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Best metal amps 2022: time to unleash hell with these heavyweight heads and combos

PRS MT 15 on a blue wooden floor
(Image credit: PRS / Paul Reed Smith)

The best metal amps should come with life-threatening levels of gain, plenty of high-end attack and defy the laws of gravity in heaviness. It’s not much to ask for, right? The amplifier you choose will go a long way to helping you create those hulking tones you are after. That’s where this guide to the best metal amps comes in.

Of course, different pedals can be used to add some volume boost and drive, and the right pickups can certainly help harness the full sonic potential of your instrument, but many of the most incredible metal tones ever recorded simply boil down to the chosen guitar amp and how it was dialled in. 

If you want to know what we think are the best metal amps on the planet right now, keep scrolling, or hit the buying advice button above to find out the science behind the current cream of the metal amp crop.

Best metal amp: MusicRadar's choice

Metallica and Tool have been responsible for some of the most jaw-dropping high gain tones in heavy metal history – both bands making good use of their Diezel VH4 (opens in new tab)s over the years and to great effect. Truth be told, it seems like this four-channel 100-Watter, also used by the likes of Matt Bellamy, Myles Kennedy and Billy Corgan, will never ever go out of fashion.

For anyone on a tighter budget, you really can’t go wrong with Mark Tremonti’s PRS MT 15 (opens in new tab) lunchbox head. A meticulously assembled 15-watter, the MT 15 delivers boutique-vibed distortion tones for a modest outlay, all while boasting a snappy clean channel and switchable LEDs.

Best metal amps: Product guide

Best metal amps: Peavey Invective 120 Head

(Image credit: Future)
This is one of the best metal amps, hands down

Specifications

Price: $1,799/£1,799/€1,730
Type: All-tube head
Output: 120W, switchable down to 60W
Number of channels: 3
Tubes: 6x 12AX7, 4x 6L6
Weight: 22kg

Reasons to buy

+
The perfect modern metal amp
+
Mansoor-approved
+
Loaded with features

Reasons to avoid

-
Cheaper amps are available

Peavey’s 6505 (originally dubbed the 5150 before Eddie Van Halen parted ways with the company) has long been heralded as the contemporary metal head to beat - until now. Periphery mastermind and influential djent maverick Misha Mansoor partnered with Peavey to refresh the format for today’s players, and (forgive us) knocked it out of the park.

Offering a more refined, multi-layered distortion than its forebear, the Invective 120 packs a trio of channels - including a surprisingly accomplished clean - each with pre- and post-level controls and individual boosts.

Just about everything you could hope for has been covered, including a built-in noise gate, half-power switching and two assignable series effects loops. This really is the modern metal head perfected.

Read our full Peavey Invective 120 Head review

Best metal amps: PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti

(Image credit: Future)
A compact metal head pumping out pro tones

Specifications

Price: $749/£529/€589
Type: Lunchbox tube head
Output: 15W, switchable down to 7W
Number of channels: 2, with clean pull-boost
Tubes: 2x 6L6, 6x EC83S
Weight: 8.1kg

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent value for money
+
Premium tones
+
Tasty clean channel

Reasons to avoid

-
You might need more power

The Alter Bridge guitarist spec’d out this compact head to deliver professional-quality tones at an affordable price point, and he absolutely nailed it - you’d struggle to find better distorted tones for the money.

Two channels are onboard, but naturally, it’s the MT 15’s distorted side that’s the main selling point here, with the kind of saturated tones you’d expect to hear from boutique brands like Bogner or Diezel, but with a more manageable 15W output, which can be dropped down to 7W.

There’s also a Twin-voiced clean channel with switchable boost, plus a series effects loop – and even LEDs that change from blue to red when you kick in the distortion channel.

Read our full PRS MT 15 Mark Tremonti review

Best metal amps: Diezel VH4

(Image credit: Diezel )
A modern metal classic

Specifications

Price: $4,399/£2,700/€3,490
Type: Tube head
Output: 100W
Tubes: 4x KT77, 4x ‘individually voiced all-tube preamps’
Number of channels: 4
Weight: 21kg

Reasons to buy

+
Hetfield-approved
+
A modern classic
+
Distortions are hard to beat

Reasons to avoid

-
Cleans aren’t much cop

The VH4 counts the likes of James Hetfield, Billy Corgan and Matt Bellamy among its artist roster, and with good reason: this German-engineered monster is truly a modern classic.

A 100W output is teamed with four preamp channels, each with their own distinctive tone, spanning clean, classic-rock crunch, high-gain rhythm and lead. Make no mistake: the cleans are nothing to write home about, but the defined, harmonically rich distortion sounds are truly among the best in the world.

What’s more, each channel has its own individual insert, while the effects loop can be configured as serial or parallel.

Read our full Diezel VH4 review

Best metal amps: Boss Katana-100

(Image credit: Boss)

4. Boss Katana-100 MKII

A top metal amp from the effects masters

Specifications

Price: $359/£329/€399
Type: Digital modelling combo
Output: 100W, switchable down to 50W, 10W and 0.5W
Number of channels: 5, plus 58 effects
Speaker: Custom 12" speaker
Weight: 14.8kg

Reasons to buy

+
Ace features and tones for the cash
+
Versatile technology inside
+
Not just for metal

Reasons to avoid

-
Not much

Boss’s ingenious Tube Logic solid-state/DSP technology is the secret behind this versatile combo, which punches well above its price point in both features and tone.

Five voices are onboard: Acoustic, Clean, Crunch, Lead and Brown, with the latter providing the tight, high-gain solo tones of your dreams, while each sound can be stored in one of eight tone-setting memories.

There’s a stunning array of effects included, too, spanning all the modulations, delays and reverbs you could ask for, as well as direct USB recording, power scaling, a choice of cabinet resonance and a built-in tilt-stand.

Best metal amps: Orange Micro Dark

(Image credit: Future)
The best metal amp if you’re on a budget

Specifications

Price: $249/£129/€224
Type: Tube micro head
Output: 20W
Number of channels: 1
Tubes: 1x 12AX7 tube
Weight: 0.78kg

Reasons to buy

+
Authentic tones
+
A fantastic budget option
+
Works as a headphone amp

Reasons to avoid

-
Only one channel

Its proportions are ridiculously small, with a price to match, but underestimate the Micro Dark at your peril. This diminutive head is very much a real amp, boasting a 20W solid-state power stage teamed with a 12AX7 tube preamp.

The Micro Dark’s tones are utterly authentic, too, with sounds that capably ape the company’s $2,000+ Dual Dark heads and plenty of gain on tap.

Sure, it’s hardly versatile - there’s only one channel - but you’d be surprised how much mileage you can get out of the mid-tweaking Shape control, while a built-in CabSim emulation makes this a handy headphone amp, too.

Read our full Orange Micro Dark review

Best metal amps: Mesa Engineering JP-2C Head

(Image credit: Mesa Engineering)
Play prog metal? This is the best guitar amp for you

Specifications

Price: $2,749/£3,769/€4,199
Type: Tube head
Output: 100W, switchable down to 60W
Tubes: 5x 12AX7, 4x 6L6
Number of channels: 3
Weight: 18kg

Reasons to buy

+
Variety of voicing switches
+
Loaded with tech
+
Range of tones

Reasons to avoid

-
TBH, we’re struggling

If your playing is of the prog-metal persuasion, you’d be hard-pressed to better this awe-inspiring head from the Dream Theater speed demon.

Essentially a heavily updated take on Mesa’s legendary Mark IIC+, this Boogie somehow manages to cram three independent channels and two separate five-band graphic EQs into its diminutive chassis.

There’s also an abundance of voicing switches - including a Shred mode - built-in CabClone speaker-emulated DI output and 100/60W power switching, while serious tech-heads can control the whole lot via MIDI. The tones more than deliver, too, with the kind of fat, smooth high-gain sounds that have seen original Mark IIC+ prices soar in recent years.

Read our full Mesa Engineering JP-2C Head review

Best metal amps: EVH 5150III 50W EL34

(Image credit: EVH)
The best metal amp for old school tones

Specifications

Price: $1,099/£999/€1,095
Type: Tube head
Output: 50W
Tubes: 2x EL34, 7x ECC83S
Number of channels: 3
Weight: 15.8kg

Reasons to buy

+
Channel EVH
+
Tour-ready
+
Old school tones

Reasons to avoid

-
Not for the faint-hearted

This impressively put-together head distils Eddie Van Halen’s arena-demolishing tone into a 50W format, equipped with an EL34 power section, just like Eddie used back in the day.

Three channels do your clean, crunch and lead business, with a shared EQ across 1 and 2, and a dedicated EQ for the third. All three shoot for hot-rodded Plexi tones, and deliver on all fronts, with the kind of crystalline cleans, hard-rock crunch and hugely dynamic solo tones you’d hope for from an amp with this kind of lineage, making it one of the best amps for old-school metal tones.

Add in MIDI control, presence and resonance, and a series effects loop, and this is a pro-quality touring head worthy of the world’s biggest stages.

Read our full EVH 5150III 50W EL34 review

Best metal amps: Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200

(Image credit: Future)
A great solid state option for heavier players

Specifications

Price: $939/£879/€771
Type: Analog solid-state/digital hybrid head with built-in effects
Output: 200W, switchable down to 20W and 2W
Number of channels: 4, with built-in effects
Weight: 3.6kg

Reasons to buy

+
Great for 7- and 8-string guitar players
+
Super impressive tones
+
Lightweight and affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
Better effects elsewhere

Solid-state amps sometimes get a bad rap, but the huge strides taken recently have produced some of the most reliable, tonesome amps you can buy today, and Hughes & Kettner’s Black Spirit 200 is one of the best metal amps around.

This ridiculously compact 200W head plays host to four channels - clean, crunch, lead and ultra - with fully programmable gain, volume and EQ knobs, plus a boost, raft of digital effects, programmable effects loop and Red Box DI cabinet emulation.

It’s the tones that really impress, however, with the kind of touch sensitivity you’d get from H&K’s all-tube offerings, while the Ultra channel is worth the price of admission alone, with plenty of definition for seven- and eight-string players.

Read our full Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200 review

Best metal amps: Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III

(Image credit: Future)
A fantastic all-round solution for modern metal guitarists

Specifications

Price: $1,999/£2,449/€2,599
Type: Digital modelling head with profiling and digital effects
Number of channels: 250+ plus built-in effects
Weight: 6.8kg

Reasons to buy

+
Improved UI
+
Premium metal tones
+
Huge array of effects

Reasons to avoid

-
That price!

The amp modeller that defined the sound of djent is back and better than ever in its third incarnation, now boasting a redesigned user interface, colour screen and improved front panel.

Like its previous incarnations, the Axe-Fx III truly excels at metal tones, with the Ultra and FAS Modern models based on Peavey’s 5150 but taken to ‘perfect metal amp’ extremes, while there are some stunning Rectifier, VH4 and Marshall models, too. We haven’t even touched on the staggering array of effects.

While it’s not one for tube-amp purists or plug-and-play types, the Axe-Fx III represents perhaps the best all-around rig solution for modern metal players, particularly those of the djent persuasion.

Read our full Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III review

Best metal amps: Marshall 2525C Studio Silver Jubilee

(Image credit: Marshall)

10. Marshall 2525C Studio Silver Jubilee

A scaled-down version of something very legendary

Specifications

Price: $1,599/£699/€699
Type: Lunchbox tube head
Output: 20W, switchable down to 5W
Number of channels: 2
Tubes: 2x EL34, 2 x ECC83, 1 x ECC83 (phase splitter)
Weight: 10kg

Reasons to buy

+
Two channels of classic tones
+
Sleek silver Jubilee series looks
+
Options for lower power mode and extra distortion

Reasons to avoid

-
Some players may want more power

Blues rock virtuoso Joe Bonamassa has used numerous amps over the years, but the Marshall Jubilee has always remained a firm favourite for some of his higher gain sounds. It’s capable of a lot more than blues rock too – with some truly mouth-watering metal tones that will cover everything from Black Sabbath to Megadeth, Slayer and beyond.

This well-priced 20-Watt version of the classic Marshall amp launched in 1987 is worthy of its rich legacy, offering two channels (which is one more than the other models in the Studio series), as well as power reduction down to a practice-friendly 5-Watts and a pull rhythm clip for extra distortion. And finally, of course, there’s that silver aesthetic – which certainly feels more boutique than the standard Marshall finishes in black and gold. 

Read the full Marshall 2525C Studio Silver Jubilee review

Best amps for metal: Buying advice

Best metal amps: Diezel VH4

(Image credit: Future)

When assessing what makes the cut for the best metal amp, a killer distortion channel is flat-out essential, but there are a few other considerations you'll need to factor in too.

Best metal amps: Tone

It's worth taking the time to really think about the tonal quality you are hoping to get out of your new amp - and, more importantly, the level of gain you need on tap. Suppose you're looking to go down the valve route. In that case, you'll need to carefully consider the type of valves hidden under the hood - this is what gives the amp its sonic characteristics. For a creamy British tone, then look no further than the EL84 or EL34. The humble 6L6 has long been tied to the crystal clean tone of Fender, but in the metal world, it is more associated with the bone-crushing tone of Mesa Boogie. There is no right or wrong answer, experiment and see what suits your playing style best. 

Best metal amps: How much volume do I need?

Many metal-orientated heads – for example, the Diezel VH4, Mesa/Boogie JP-2C, and EVH 5150III 50W EL34 – are designed to be played loud. That's no problem if you're already established on a local gigging scene, but if you're just starting out or playing in your bedroom, you probably want something a little more manageable.

That's where solid-state and digital offerings strike a fine balance between live and home use. This includes affordable combos such as the Boss Katana-100, through to Hughes & Kettner's solid-state Black Spirit 200, and pro-quality processors like the Kemper Profiler Head and Fractal Audio's Axe-Fx III. Each of these metal amps can deliver formidable high-gain sounds at any volume, making them suitable for the (home) studio and the stage.

Best metal amps: Do I need a clean channel?

You may also want to weigh up the importance of a clean channel. Increasingly, you can find utterly usable clean channels for those arpeggiated middle 8s, but some all-tube amp heads require you to compromise somewhat on your non-dirty sounds.

Best metal amps: Effects

There's also the question of effects when it comes to the best metal amps: solid-state and digital offerings come loaded with modulations and delays to bolster your sound, but traditional tube heads will give you a reverb at most.

External effects are likely to be more versatile in this regard, so don't discount any amp that isn't packed with bells and whistles: if it's made the cut here, you can rest assured it has an effects loop (to keep your pedals sounding their best, post-distortion), not to mention tone to die for.

Find out more about how we test music gear and services at MusicRadar.

Mike is Editor-in-Chief of GuitarWorld.com (opens in new tab), in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He has a master's degree in journalism, and has spent the past decade writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as a decade-and-a-half performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe (opens in new tab).

With contributions from