Big amps are great. There is nothing quite like stacking a 100-watt head onto a 200-watt cabinet and just ripping some massive riffs.
But a big stack isn’t always necessary and some situations call for a smaller rig. If you just want to practice some technique without waking up the neighbors, your Marshall stack is going to be overkill.
So, compact, low watt tube amps are a cheaper and much better solution for such use cases. Now, let's take a look at some of the best 5 watt tube amps that are currently available.
Best 5 Watt Tube Amps - Small Low Watt Amps!
The Bugera V5 Infinium is a wonderful throwback to vintage amps packed into a compact, lightweight little amp.
The Infinium looks like it came straight from the ‘50s or ‘60s. It has those vintage-looking cream-colored knobs and even an old-school power switch.
That vintage aesthetic carries over to the tone as well. I get a very ‘60s British rock vibe from the sound coming from the Infinium.
Even though it is just a 5 watt amp, the Infinium sounds fantastic. The amp has a fairly warm tone and fuller mid-range that I feel other amps of this size often lack.
Even when set to only 0.1-watt output, the Infinium doesn’t lose any definition in its sound. I was concerned about tone loss at such a low power output. This means you won’t be disturbing your neighbors while also not missing out on tone.
The drive on the Infinium sounds great. I never felt the need to add a distortion pedal. With the gain all the way up, the Infinium creates a nice sounding dirty crunch.
The cleans aren’t the most impressive. They aren’t overly bright or warm, but rather subdued. But I think they are good enough for a small practice amp.
The speaker on the Infinium isn’t the best thing ever, but I think is good enough for just an 8-inch. It is also easy to connect the Infinium to an external cabinet if you want some more volume.
The amp does have onboard reverb, but it is digital. It isn’t the worst digital reverb I have heard, but I would suggest going with an analog reverb pedal instead.
There is also no FX loop which means no fancy sounds. This isn’t a big issue for me since the Infinium is really only intended as a practice amp.
Perhaps the feature that I appreciate the most on the Infinium is the Tube Life LED indicator. This is just a simple way that the amp shows you when you need to replace its tubes. It just makes keeping your amp healthy a bit easier by taking away some of the guesswork for when your tubes need replacing.
The Infinium is one of the cheapest tube amps around. This alone makes it a very appealing practice amp in my opinion. If you just want something small that is just meant for practice, you shouldn’t expect to pay the same as a bigger, full-featured amp.
Versatility usually isn’t the first word that comes to my mind when I think of small tube amps. That changed when I plugged my guitar into the Marshall DSL5CR.
For a 5 watt amp, the DSL5CR is pretty loud. I can usually just turn down the volume on a smaller amp, but with the DLS5CR I did end up using the 0.5 watt power mode quite a few times.
There is, luckily, no tone loss in 0.5 watt power mode. So, even at a lower power output, you will still be getting the most out of the amp.
Speaking of tone, the DSL5CR sounds fantastic. The amp features two channels, a clean and a gain, although they are somewhat confusingly called ‘Classic Gain’ and ‘Ultra Gain’.
The gain is about what you would expect from a Marshall amp. It is very thick and crunchy and I never felt like I needed to add any pedals. The amp also features a Tone Shift button.
This tightens up the sound a bit and gives it a bit of a scooped mid sound. I think of it as flipping between a British and an American sound. If you want to further shape your tone, the DSL5CR also features a full 3-band EQ.
The clean channel is a bit less impressive than the gain. I don’t find it to be very exciting, but it is still more than good enough for what is really just a practice amp.
The built-in reverb does help to add a bit of color to the clean channel. The amp also has an FX Loop, allowing for easy control of the reverb and channel selection with a footswitch.
After spending some time with this amp, I came to the conclusion that it is really the perfect amp for anyone who already plays a Marshall. The DSL5CR takes everything that is great about a ‘full-sized’ Marshall amp and just puts it in a smaller form factor.
The Fender Custom Champ is a modern recreation of Fender’s iconic Tweed amp. The Tweed was one of the best amps ever made, which means the Custom Champ has some big shoes to fill.
And fill those shoes it does. This is one of the best sounding 5 watt tube amps ever. The clean tone, especially, can easily compete with more powerful amps.
The clean tone is very smooth and crystal clear. It is also the most vibrant clean tone out of all the amps on this list. I would actually forget that I was testing the amp and would just start jamming because the clean sounds so good.
Apart from great-sounding cleans, the Champ is also a great pedal platform. Adding delays, reverbs, and even overdrive pedals is smooth and easy. The Champ plays really well with effects pedals.
I tested quite an assortment of both digital and analog pedals and never once felt like the amp was struggling or I was losing any tone.
For how great the amp sounds, I do feel it has some significant drawbacks. My biggest issue with it is that it has zero tone control, channel select, or anything.
The Champ quite literally only has a volume control. I actually don’t know how Fender thought it was acceptable to make an amp in the modern day without so much as a simple 2-band EQ.
The second issue is the price. For an honestly very basic small tube amp, the Champ is overpriced. I don’t think the sound quality of the amp alone is enough justification for its hefty price tag.
If you need an amp that only does one thing, but does that thing really well, and you don’t mind spending the money, the Champ is a fantastic choice.
I will say that the Champ is also pretty great for recordings. I would also even consider using it at Cafes or restaurants, anywhere you are only playing background music. So, the Champ isn’t entirely confined to just bedroom use.
Blackstar consistently puts out excellent amps and the HT5R is no exception. This little 5 watt amp is a versatile machine that packs quite the punch.
Like the Marshall DSL5CR, the HT5R also features two channels, a clean and a gain. Thankfully, the channels are clearly labeled ‘Clean’ and ‘Overdrive’.
Both channels also have a voicing switch. This lets you switch between a British and an American style sound, also like the Marshall amp.
That is about where the similarities stop, however. The cleans on the Blackstar are much better. The clean tone is dynamic and exciting, but they are a bit too similar to my ears. The British voicing is slightly more rounded and has a bit more bottom-end, but it is a very subtle difference.
The overdrive channel is a different story. Voice 1 is a crunchy, bluesy style of overdrive. Turning down the gain brings through even more of that bluesy sound.
Voice 2 on the other hand is much thicker and heavier. Voice 2 is what you will be using to get that truly heavy metal sound.
I did notice that I had to turn up the volume quite a bit, almost maxing it out, to get a good tone. This does mean that you lose out on tone at lower volumes, especially on the 0.5-watt power mode.
This does mean that the HT5R isn’t the best small tube amp for low volume practice. Luckily, it does have a headphone out for practicing without disturbing anyone around you.
The HT5R isn’t just a bedroom amp, though. It is quite loud at full volume. Combined with its excellent tone, I would actually consider using it for gigs at smaller venues.
You can also connect the amp to your PC via USB and use it as an audio interface. If you don’t want to spend extra on recording equipment, this amp is the perfect tool for simple bedroom recordings.
Tips for Choosing a Low Watt Tube Amp
Compared to more powerful amps, choosing a low watt tube amp is a bit more straightforward. Because you will likely be using it mostly on your own and no one else really has to hear it, you don’t have to be as picky to get a good amp.
In the process, you'll also save a considerable amount of money by picking a cheap tube amp instead of a higher-wattage powerhouse.
Here are the things that I consider when looking at smaller tube amps.
Combo or Amp Head?
Generally speaking, amps come in two varieties: amp heads and combo amps. An amp head is just the inner workings, the guts, of an amp, while a combo amp combines both the guts and a speaker into one unit.
Amp heads almost always produce a much higher quality of sound. They are also generally much more versatile. The downside, of course, is that you need an external speaker for the amp head to actually produce any sound.
Combo amps on the other hand don’t have this setback, but they are less versatile and don’t sound as good. They are, however, much affordable since you are only buying one unit.
In terms of a small amp that will likely only be used for practice, a cheaper tube amp makes much more sense. This brings me to my next point.
This is the biggest aspect for me of small amps. If I am not going to use it outside of my room and I don’t need it to sound perfect, then I don’t want something that costs as much as a 50 or 100-watt amp. Any of the best cheap tube amps should suffice.
The Fender ’57 Custom Champ is a great example of this. It is a fantastic amp, but I don’t think its price tag is entirely justified.
I think the Bugera falls in that perfect price range when it comes to what I think a 5 watt amp should cost. It's not the cheapest tube amp around, but it's definitely budget-friendly and offers a lot for the money.
There are other cheaper alternatives that are still decent. If your budget is tight, I can't recommend the Monoprice 5 watt tube amp enough. It might just be the cheapest tube amp out there that still sounds quite good.
To be honest, it sounds amazing for the price and most people would mistake its sound for something coming out of a much more premium amp.
This isn’t as important of a consideration, but I do feel is something to look at. Smaller, cheaper tube amps will of course have smaller speakers, usually around 8 or 10 inches.
A smaller speaker means a smaller amp overall. But what I have also found is that smaller speakers also have a somewhat less defined sound.
If the overall size of the amp isn’t too much of a concern, I would suggest going for a 10 or even 12-inch speaker. While it isn’t the biggest difference, it will help to make your experience with the amp a bit more pleasant and you will likely keep the amp around for much longer.
Your Primary Jamming Location
This is an often overlooked factor. If you'll mostly play the amp in your bedroom, a 5W tube amp can still be too loud, if the room has poor soundproofing. This is especially a big issue with older buildings and thin walls.
So, if you're considering the new amp mainly as a practice amp, this is something you need to keep in mind, as not all 5 watt tube amps exhibit the same level of loudness.
If you don't have any loudness constraint, however, this should be a non-issue. On the other hand, if you'd like to take your tiny beast to small gigs and occasional performances in front of friends, you'll be better off choosing an amp that's relatively loud, like the Marshall DSL5CR that I've talked about above.
You might be thinking, but why is this even an issue since you can simply turn the volume knob down?
Well, it's not so simple, mainly because tube amps don't sound as well in low volume levels. In fact, you can't even identify the signature tone of each amp if you don't allow them enough headroom in terms of volume.
Some of these amps (like the Bugera V5) have built-in attenuation. What is it? You can basically run the amp at lower wattages. For example, the Bugera V5 allows you to run it at 1W and even 0.1W.
Without delving into the technical aspect, attenuation allows you to run your tube amp in overdrive at relatively lower volume levels. Without attenuation, your amp would be too loud if you want to achieve a similar tone.
So, you can think of it as a way to get the same quality and richness of sound without the amp getting so loud that your neighbors will come to disrupt your jamming session.
If you don’t want to wake up the neighborhood or you just want something small and portable to practice with, the best 5 watt tube amps are great choices for anyone looking for great performance in a small package.