Pedalboard amplifiers are the ultimate portable amplifier situation. When many of us are getting the core of our sounds from our ’boards, why not go the extra mile and move the amplification solution to the floor too? Luckily, there’s lots of fantastic space- and back-saving options out there if you’re so inclined.
- READ MORE: The best pedal platform guitar amps
What are cab sims and IR technology?
Before we dive in, a quick note: not all pedalboard amps fill the same need. The main difference is in the form of power amplification: some pedalboard amps are a very literal interpretation of those two words, effectively a full-blown amp head scaled down to fit alongside your pedals. These are capable of running via a speaker cable into a traditional cabinet.
On the other hand, some pedalboard amplifiers offer cabinet simulation via impulse response tech. This signal can then be fed straight into an audio interface or mixing board. There’s a lot of crossover between the two camps, but these are the two core approaches you’ll find in this corner of the gear world and it’s important to understand them, before you run a 100-watt speaker signal into a mixing desk and something explodes.
The best pedalboard amplifiers to buy in 2021 at a glance:
- Neural DSP Quad Cortex
- Orange Terror Stamp
- Line 6 HX Stomp
- Walrus ACS1
- DSM & Humboldt Simplifier
- Strymon Iridium
- BluGuitar Amp 1 Mercury Edition
- Taurus Stomp-Head
- Hotone Mojo Attack
- Seymour Duncan PowerStage 170
- Milkman Sound The Amp
- Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200 Floor
Walrus Audio ACS1
+ Lively and realistic amp models
+ Individually configurable stereo channels
– No XLR out
The third entry in the Mako series from Walrus Audio, the ACS1’s name helpfully stands for Amp and Cab Simulator. It packs a lot of the core features of a pedalboard amp into a tiny enclosure, no bigger than your average Tube Screamer. There’s a selection of amps inspired by three stalwarts of the guitar world: Fullerton offers Fender-y cleans, Dartford some AC30 bite and London some Marshall roar. And for even more flexibility, you can load your own cabinet IRs on top of the six options offered stock.
Excitingly, amplifier models can be chosen independently for the left and right channels, boiling down a dual-amp stereo rig into something that fits in the front of your gig bag. While it might not power a speaker cabinet by itself, it’s a great option to run straight into the front-of-house. And, in these times when home recording is more prevalent than ever, it’s a wonderful pairing with a dual-input audio interface for a full-sounding and perfectly silent home-recording rig.
Price: £365/$399 Description: Two-channel digital amp and cab simulator pedal, made in USA Built-in power amplifier: No Mono or stereo: Stereo
Neural DSP Quad Cortex
+ Tons of processing power
+ Can profile a pedal accurately
– Not for the menu-averse
The latest from digital modelling giants Neural DSP, the Quad Cortex spares no expense when it comes to processing power. A sleek, black enclosure houses enough CPU muscle to run a plethora of effects and amp models in series or parallel, or play the 1993 video game Doom. The only real limitation to the sound you want to coax out of it will be option paralysis: on top of 50 amps, 70 effects and 1,000 impulse responses, the Quad Cortex can profile your favourite stompboxes. Perfect if you don’t want to subject that Klon to the rigours of the road.
The ability to profile your own rig is especially handy considering the Quad Cortex’s size. While it’s by no means gargantuan, it is big enough to make fitting it into a bigger rig a little tricky. The Quad Cortex is designed to effectively be a pedalboard, on top of being an amplifier and audio interface.
Price: £1,449/$1,599 Description: High-powered digital modelling effects unit Built-in power amplifier: No Mono or stereo: Stereo
Orange Terror Stamp
+ Perfect for the menu-averse
+ Raucous sounds to match straightforward design
– Not for the multi-effects inclined
If the Neural DSP Quad Cortex is a high-powered laser sword from space year 2900, then the Orange Terror stamp is a hammer. A lot simpler, but you still wouldn’t want to get hit by one. Metaphorically. Or literally, for that matter, as the Terror Stamp is effectively a pedal-sized version of the Orange Tiny Terror, complete with the same sturdy metal design.
On board you’ll find a real glowing tube in the preamp stage, ideal if you want a more compact rig but don’t fancy abandoning analogue technology just yet. A solid-state power stage kicks out 20 watts into a speaker cabinet if you’re so inclined, but there’s also a cabinet-simulated headphone output for either silent playing or running direct.
A handy feature is the ability to switch between two master volumes with the footswitch for a truly clean solo boost, as well as an in-built effects loop to make full use of the amp’s on-board gain. Which, true to Orange’s stylings, there’s no shortage of.
Price: £149/$199 Description: all-analogue guitar amplifier head with pedal form factor and hybrid valve/solid-state preamp/power amp respectively. Built-in power amplifier: Yes Mono or stereo: Mono
Line 6 HX Stomp
+ Powerful processing for such a small unit
+ Versatile connections
– Number of effects you can use simultaneously is limited
As powerful as it is compact, the HX Stomp uses the same Helix DSP engine found in Line 6’s other effects units. This means you can use six simultaneous amp, cab, and effect blocks, with support for parallel signal splitting and stereo effects.
Those looking for a flexible piece of kit will be pleased to hear that the HX Stomp, as much as it can work as a complete rig in and of itself, can happily sit in front of an amp or other ‘regular’ pedals. The “four cable method” also allows you to use the HX Stomp simultaneously in front of an amp and in its effects loop. This means you can have an effects box to play with at home for direct recording or silent practice, and when needed you can still bring the volume with a powered cabinet or a regular amp.
Price: $599.99 Description: Digital modelling stompbox with preset support Built-in power amplifier: No, but the HX Stomp has power amp modelling Mono or stereo: Stereo
DSM & Humboldt Simplifier
+ Very versatile I/O
+ In-depth cab sim and power amp sim controls
– Not for every rig
For something called the Simplifier, this sure has a lot of connections. Luckily, they’re all in service of one thing: giving even the most rats-nest-esque stereo rigs an elegant, understandable signal flow.
With discrete preamp and stereo cab simulation, you can either run the Simplifier into your power amp of choice or directly into a mixing board or interface. A stereo effects loop also means you can make full use of stereo delays and reverbs, two XLR outs and a pair of 1/4-inch outs to open up a world of possibilities for running direct, into other amps or both.
The level of cab simulation gets very in-depth, especially for such a small unit, thanks to separately assignable cab models and microphone positions for the left and right channels. The power amp simulation also goes above and beyond, with presence and resonance knobs, and the choice of 6L6, EL34 or KT88 simulation.
Price: £279/$279.99 Description: Preamp, power amp and cab sim with versatile controls and I/O. Built-in power amplifier: No, but control over the behaviour of a simulated power amplifier is offered Mono or stereo: Stereo
+ Streamlined and efficient in its selection of tones
+ Realistic room ambience reverbs
– Might be too limited for some
Arguably one of the most important pedalboard amps to arrive in recent memory, as it upped the game when it comes to how much power is hidden under a relatively simple interface. That’s right, no menus here.
The Strymon Iridium puts three iconic amplifiers and nine different impulse response speaker cabinets at your disposal, all from the convenience of your pedalboard. The Room knob also allows you to control the level of natural room ambience and toggle between three room sizes (small, medium and large).
Price: $399/£399 Description: Amp modeller and impulse-response cabinet-simulator pedal Built-in power amplifier: No Mono or stereo: Stereo
BluGuitar Amp 1 Mercury Edition
+ Perfect floor rig for fans of loud and straightforward amp heads
+ Nanotube gives responsive, analogue feel
– Not much in the way of cab sim control for the direct connection
It’s hard to imagine a pedalboard-size amp packing 100 watts of power, but BluGuitar’s Amp 1 does just that. Its features include four independent and full modifiable channels, speaker simulation output for recording, and three integrated footswitches. The Amp 1 also employs Nanotube technology for even greater tonal precision.
Price: $800/£599 Description: Solid-state analogue floor-based amplifier Built-in power amplifier: Yes Mono or stereo: Mono
ISP Technologies Stealth Pro Power Amp
+ Compact and extremely loud
+ Transparent, lets your pedals speak for themselves
– Not for those looking for a ‘rig in a pedal’
ISP Technologies’ Stealth Pro Power Amp is as powerful as it is versatile. It can be used to power either a 1×8-ohm cabinet at 180 watts or set up for a stereo operation with 2×4-ohm cabinets at 80 watts each. Rack ears are also included for ease of mounting if you prefer to keep it off your pedalboard.
Price: $353/£283 Description: Compact 180-watt power amplifier designed to be integrated into your pedalboard Built-in power amplifier: Yes Mono or stereo: Stereo at 2×80 watts, mono at 1x180watts
Taurus Stomp-Head series
+ Wide range of tones available for every need
+ Master Tube Design offers great response while keeping designs compact
– Your need for built-in effects might not be met
Taurus’ Stomp-Head series of pedal amplifiers run a long gamut, ranging from vintage-focused models to hi-gain monsters. The core of the Stomp-Head series is the presence of Master Tube Design technology, which incorporates tubes into the amplification process in a rather unique way, placing them between the preamp and power amp sections. This means the Stomp-Head amps remain compact, but still have a tube response.
Price: $544 Description: Master Tube Design-powered range of floor-based amplifier heads Built-in power amplifier: Yes Mono or stereo: Mono
Hotone Mojo Attack
+ Loud and compact
+Balanced output is a plus for a pedalboard amp of this style
– Limited on-board effects
The Hotone Mojo Attack carries two of the most beloved tones of guitar-dom: American Tweed cleans and SoCal distortion. You might think that only having two amp voices to choose from may be limiting, but you can expect to cover a good amount of tonal territory between the two.
Price: $320/£199.99 Description: 75-watt dual floor amp Built-in power amplifier: Yes Mono or stereo: Mono
Seymour Duncan PowerStage 170
+ Transparent, powerful amplification
+ Compact, minimalist design
– No on-board effects or headphone/direct option
If the core of your tone is built around what’s on your pedalboard, then Seymour Duncan’s PowerStage 170 might be hard to resist. Aside from being small enough to be mounted directly on a pedalboard, the unit offers 170 watts of power, driven by a clean preamp section for easy replication of the rest of your rig. A three-band EQ tweaks the preamp to provide the desired platform for digital modellers or other pedals. While it might not be able to replace your entire rig, it’s a great option for turning your board into an ampless setup.
Price: $399/£329 Description: Compact preamp and power amp with straightforward controls Built-in power amplifier: Yes Mono or stereo: Mono
Milkman Sound The Amp
+ Beautiful design
+ On-board effects include great old-school reverb and tremolo
– Might be too large for your needs/rig.
Despite its unassuming exterior, The Amp boasts 50 watts of power running through a discrete Class-A circuit. Designed to replicate the harmonics and high fidelity tones associated with tube amps, Milkman Sound’s pedalboard amp also has on-board reverb and tremolo effects. The Amp also features a ‘pedal level’ output that allows it to be used as a front end of a pedalboard or as an amp-like effect on the back end.
Price: $699/£649 Description: 50-watt guitar amp with tube-powered preamp and Class D power amp Built-in power amplifier: Yes Mono or stereo: Mono
Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200 Floor
+ Cab simulations are a great bonus when paired with 200 watts of power
+ Covers a lot of tonal ground
– Could be too big to easily integrate into larger pedalboard
The Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200 Floor is designed to provide the same sonic experience as its larger Black Spirit 200 Head and Combo. Combined with the proprietary Spirit technology, the Black Spirit 200 Floor’s analogue circuitry creates tube-like tones at 200 watts. The integrated Red Box AE+ speaker emulation also makes the Black Spirit 200 Floor an easy fit with any kind and size of cabinet.
Price: $1,199/£789 Description: Stompbox-format programmable solid-state amp with four channels and on-board effects Built-in power amplifier: Yes Mono or stereo: Mono
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