The votes are in. They've been tallied, double-checked and now we can announce the results of MusicRadar's end of year poll to determine the best guitar amplifier in the world right now.
What the democratic process tells us about this year in guitar amplification is that there is no one size fits all, and there is no stopping the onwards march of technology as it augments our backline for the studio, stage and the home.
The poll also tells us that the vacuum tube will no doubt forever play an integral role in amplifying guitar tone, with the all-valve lunchbox dominating the polls.
The tension between valve and its transistorised and digital modelling descendants is here to stay. But that doesn't mean that innovation stops just because the power section is housing, say, a quartet of EL34s.
As this year's best amp shows us, technologies old and new can coexist to create something that change our expectations of what an amplifier should be able to do in 2020.
1. Revv G20
In many respects, the Revv G20 is the archetypal 21st-century guitar amplifier. It is a high-gain lunchbox head with two channels, a trio of 12AX7 valves in the preamp and two 6V6s in the power section, an effects loop, MIDI connectivity and a 3-band EQ.
There are clever little quick fixes you can reach for, such as Wide and Aggression voicings, which allow you to sculpt your tone or flavour of gain at the touch of a button.
It is a loud 20-watts but switchable to 4-watts – ideal for recording, very decent for the home, and a headphones input for silent practice. The G20 occupies a compact aluminium housing and weighs just 4kg.
All of the above would make for an excellent head. Revv's legendary high-gain performance speaks for itself, right? Sure, but the G20 has more.
With its embedded Two Notes Reactive Load and Virtual Cabinets technology you can use the G20 without a cabinet and put your signal through headphones, or go direct when recording or playing live.
Use MIDI to select and upload your own Virtual Cabinets. The power amp simulation feature allows you to change the response of the amplifier, say, choosing an EL34 response for a more ostensibly British feel. There is a rotary dial on the front panel that allows you to upload six virtual cabinet presets.
So yes, it's another high-gain valve amp in a lunchbox format. But it's not just another high-gain lunchbox – it's got so much more to its game.
2. Positive Grid Spark 40
The Positive Grid Spark 40 was just 31 votes short of sharing top spot as best amp. One of the most transformative amplifier designs of this or any other year, the Spark is quite possibly the ultimate desktop amplifier for home practice and recording.
At the heart of it all is Positive Grid's BIAS digital modelling tech, which endows this 40-watt Class D amplifier with some 30 onboard amp models and 40 effects, plus literally thousands more tones – presets of amp models and FX from pros, fellow players, etc – available to download to the amplifier via the Spark app.
There's Bluetooth streaming of external audio. USB for recording. Aux in, headphones out... There are a lot of connectivity options.
Then there are the smart features. Using the Spark with the accompanying app unlocks this high-functioning combo's potential – features such as Smart Jam, which creates backing tracks from scratch so you have an accompaniment to play along with.
The Auto Chord feature, meanwhile, transcribes songs on the fly, allowing you to play along with your favourite tracks. You can slow the song down or loop a troublesome section until you have it down.
And if all these features seem intimidating, the app is easy to use, and the control panel of the amplifier is reassuringly familiar, with a seven-way rotary dial selecting amp type and all the usual controls for dialling in your tone and effects, saving presets, and a button that doubles as tap-tempo and a tuner.
All this is housed a black vinyl, very amp-liked, with a pair of custom-designed 4" speakers offering a depth and spread to the sound that belies the amplifier's size.
3. Fender Mustang LT25
The Fender Mustang LT25 is affordable, well-designed, sounds great, and should be one of the first you try when looking for a beginner and student-friendly practice amplifier.
It has 20 amp models, 25 effects, and it comes loaded with 30 factory presets. Those are a good as place to start as anywhere, and you will unsurprisingly find a number of classic Fender tones at the touch of a button.
The quality of these amp and effects models is superb for the money. You'll love those clean Fender tones – and there is a generous amount of gain on tap if you want to kill a few hours with the Master Of Puppets tab book.
Creating your own presets is easy, and there is a nice and bright LED panel to let you know what's going on with that. Besides that, the Mustang is all-black and understated in its styling – its 8" speaker, making for a very compact and lightweight amplifer.
4. Fender ‘64 Custom Princeton Reverb
The Fender Princeton Reverb is one of the best all-valve combos for recording and an exceptional option for small gigs. This hand-wired '64 reissue is a tantalising prospect that could save you a few grand looking for a vintage model.
Its charms don't need any reselling here. The Princeton's cleans are a work of art, and it has a raunchy overdrive to reward the player who turns it up loud.
A solid pine cabinet houses a 10” Jensen P10R Alnico, and it comes with a footswitch to turn the vibrato (tremolo) and reverb on and off.
5. Orange Terror Stamp
Packing a whole lot of juice into a compact pedalboard unit, the Orange Terror Stamp has a valve-driven preamp feeding a 20-watt solid-state power amp for a tone that is big, bold and full of muscle in that midrange.
In short, it's a Terror in pedal form and it's cheaper than many overdrive units. Simply throw it in your backpack and you have got a take-anywhere rig. Plus, with its buffered effects loop, it makes a fine pedal platform. Very impressive stuff indeed.
6. Harley Benton Mighty 15
How about an all-valve, lunchbox head that's switchable between 7-watts and 15, has a simple, single-channel set up with an onboard boost and 3-band EQ, all for £211?
That's what the Harley Benton Mighty 15th is offering, and it is pretty special. It looks the business, too, with a well ventilated metal chassis and industrial front grille. Under the hood you will find a pair of EL84s in the power amp, and a pair of 12AX7s in the preamp.
The front panel has controls for Volume, Gain, Bass, Middle and Treble – plus that boost switch for a little more heat when needed. Simple, perfect, and as good a deal as you'll find this year.
7. Victory V4 The Duchess Head
The Victory V4 The Duchess Head is about the size of a box of chocolates and yet it has a formidable level of glassy headroom. It has a tube-driven preamp supplying a Class D power amp, with an inordinately warm and creamy tone all accessible by your feet, or indeed wherever you choose to place it.
The onboard reverb and tremolo offer some lush movement and depth to The Duchess' tone, and it makes for a sublime pedal platform, with a series effects loop for patching in your 'board, and a standard 9V 500mA outlet for powering pedals. From the military grade valves to the powder-coated steel chassis with kick bar, the build quality is exceptional.
8. Cornell Explorer 10 Head
Another lunchbox head, this time giving the format a simple single-ended Class A operation for a monstrous demonstration of pure valve tone.
The Explorer 10 Head is a lot of money for 10-watts but not for the tone. Its super-quiet operation makes it an excellent recording amplifier, while its range of warm, musical cleans and a Transatlantic overdriven voice that plays Vox off against Fender Tweed vibes gives it a versatility that you would not expect having looked at the minimalist front panel.
The power is switchable down to 2-watts, 1/4-watt and even 1/8-watt, so when you are done with it in the studio you'll want to fire it up when you get up, too.
Exceptionally built, well-executed and super charming.
9. Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200 Floor
The Black Spirit 200 Floor is a future-forward floor-based beast with 200 watts of solid-state power and four channels to play with, with onboard effects, programmable presets and a sag control to possess it with a valve amplifier's soul.
Despite the looks, it is not just for metal players. They will naturally love the atomic high-gain Ultra channel, where chug is on the menu seven days a week, but the Clean and Crunch channels offer some truly impeccable tones for blues, with Lead a very respectable platform for hard rock.The aforementioned sag control gives the amp a great feel.
This tone, allied to a respectable complement of onboard effects and some super-practical features such as the ability to save presets, onboard Red Box cabinet emulation, the trio of programmable effects loops and MIDI switching, makes this one of the most impressive modern amplifiers we have seen.
10. Victory VC35 The Copper
Here's another all-valve lunchbox head that assumes a familiar format and yet has a tone that is all its own. Well, that's not to say that The Copper doesn't betray some of its influences in its voice – that unmistakably British EL84 chime has us envisioning diamond-fronted grille cloth, mop tops, curly guitar leads, and all that jazz.
But there's a lot more to The Copper. The cleans will make you think twice about shelling north of three grand on an American boutique rival, the gain is musical and responsive – mother's milk to blues and rock players – and as a pedal platform, there are few better on the market.