When we see a new mini/micro/whatever you want to call it amp head turn up for us to sniff around, it's generally a real back-to-basics affair.
You know, loaf-sized things with the merest smattering of knobs offering vintage-style simplicity and tone, the 15-watt single-channel Vox Night Train NT15H and much-loved Orange Tiny Terror being prime examples.
You only have to glance at the knob festival that is the control panel in the photo above to see that US manufacturer Carvin has taken a different approach with its new Micro Amp. The 50-watt V3M squeezes a hell of a lot of good news into a modest footprint.
It's actually only slightly bigger than the aforementioned Night Train. Even those of us that struggle to prise lids off jam jars can comfortably carry this amp.
The V3M's vital statistics contain three comprehensively optioned channels (selectable via an optional footswitch, £62) tied to four 12AX7 preamp and four EL84 power-output valves. Each channel has presence, volume, drive, bass, mid and treble knobs and a couple of little toggle switches: 'bright/classic/soak' on channel three; 'intense/classic/thick' on channel one and two; and an EQX switch on all three.
There's an onboard reverb circuit and the option to run the V3M through a 2x12 or a 4x12 cabinet. You have to supply the cabinet, natch; Carvin offers the likes of the 2x12 212V cab (£369).
Carvin blipped on the radar for the first time in the UK when it began producing Steve Vai's Legacy signature amps. You don't get into Steve's backline unless you know your onions, so we're not surprised the V3M impresses from the off.
The clean channel offers tones from Fender-like sparkle to chunky Brit-voiced Hiwatt and Marshall. Classic and modern overdriven tones are easily accessible with judicious knob twiddling on channels one and two.
The 'intense' setting on those channels' mini toggles will satisfy bottom-string riff junkies; the 'bright' option on clean channel three gave our Telecaster-fuelled licks the funkiest edge we've ever heard. It's a great setting for clean blues licks, too: higher-fretted notes really pop. We also love how the EQX switch pimps the top-end sizzle and throbbing bottom end on all channels.
Tonal versatility is only worth paying for if you actually need it in your set-up. If you're a one-sound, all-night-long type of cat, there are likely to be too many options and too much knob-fiddling potential for you on the V3M.
However, if you do relish the prospect of a tonal Swiss Army knife, the Carvin delivers on its promise to cover all bases. This amp ain't cheap, especially when you figure in the price of a cabinet, the footswitch (£62) and the optional padded gigbag (£62).
In this case, though, you do get what you pay for.