Street Price: $139.99-$149.99
I don’t know how these manufacturers do it, but these teeny tiny little amps are getting better and louder with more and more features built in. I’d been on the hunt for a small Vox-style amp after being underwhelmed with the features on the Vox MV50AC. That Vox sound is a very specific sound, and it’s very hard to replicate. So how did the AtomiC hold up?
- Preamp circuit: JFET+ 1 x 12AX7 – Given the solid state power amp, this is the core of the tone with this amp. Any “tube amp-y-ness” comes from the preamp.
- Power amp: CLASS D – Tonally, a class D power amp is not exciting, other than it allows maximum power to size/weight ratio. It doesn’t add to the tonality.
- Channel mode: CLEAN / OD
- Amp power: 20W(RMS) – Believe it or not, 20 Watts in Class D is enough to keep up with a band IF you have efficient speakers.
- Aux in function: Bluetooth
- 1/8″ Headphone Out – All the amps that have 1/4″ headphone outs always bothered me. Who has 1/4″ headphones outside of a studio these days? Most people using a headphone out are going to have their cheapo iPhone earbuds and have to find an adapter that will always get lost.
With amps in this category (Tiny Head, one 12AX7 tube, solid state power amp), it’s important to manage expectations. These amps only cost $149 new. You’re not going to sound exactly like Brian May or The Edge with this amp. But, it’s going to get you in the ballpark. Meaning, it’s going to have the general EQ and preamp gain characteristics, but it’s not quite going to have the EL84 breakup and sag of the real-deal AC-style amp.
With my expectations set accordingly, this amp sounds great for the money. What’s important is it sounds great at low volume. With an efficient speaker (I played it through an Eminence Tonkerlite), it’s perfectly capable of bar-gigging volumes. I used to own a Vox AC-15, and it sounded great when rattling windows. But, it would just sound thin and weak with the volume anywhere near a reasonable level. To get the tone I wanted out of it, I even had to use an attenuator on stage to avoid deafening the bartenders. Those EL84’s had to be glowing red-hot to get that magic tone. Because of this, it was impractical, and it wound up being traded out as I tend to do.
Judging it on it’s own merit, the AtomiC is a good sounding amp for the money. The gain and EQ curve was pleasing to the ears. It felt like playing through a solid state amp though, which is perfectly acceptable for what it is. The lone 12AX7 in a preamp affects the tone more than feel, if that makes sense. If you watch my demo in the embedded youtube video above, it surprisingly took being boosted with an overdrive pedal really well. An all solid state amp (without the 12AX7) usually won’t sound good with the preamp being slammed, but this amp handles it great.
Although this is a two-channel amp with the clean and OD channels, this is not a high-gain amp. It gets about as much gain as a dimed AC-30 does. The clean channel goes from chimey-clean to mild crunch, the OD channel takes it from the mild crunch to a moderate crunch. The channels are not footswitchable though, you have to choose one and stick with it, or lean back and flip the switch if you want to change channels. The clean channel is a good pedal platform. Combine the clean channel with the effects loop, and this amp is an overall good pedal platform.
I’ll say that I tested the bluetooth function, and it works as advertised. I was able to connect my iPhone to it easy-peasy. I personally just don’t ever play with a backing track from my phone, so I would rather have a footswitch option to go between the channels with that space in the amp. I can also see the little antenna breaking off if you spend a lot of time transporting this amp. However, I get that jamming along to songs on a phone is how a lot of people learn to play these days, so I’m sure it’s a convenient feature to a lot of people, just not useful for me.
I honestly didn’t test the headphone out (surprise surprise, as of the time of me writing the review, I’ve already sold this amp). So I can’t speak to this feature.
If you’re looking at this amp, chances are you’re on the fence between this amp and the Vox MV50 series. Having owned both this and the MV50 AC, I’d say this amp is more bang for the buck. The clean tone and effects loop alone is worth the price of admission. The OD channel will get you in the ballpark of that classic Vox chime and grime. I’d also recommend this amp if you’re main amp is a Vox AC-15 and you want that tone for home practice, or you can bring this little head as a backup to the gig. If you’re AC-15 acts up at the gig, just unplug the AC-15 from the wall, take the speaker lead from the amp and plug it into the AtomiC, and keep rocking.