Whether you want to get out busking, need some public-transport-friendly backline to take to an open-mic night or just want an amp that can be ready to go at a moment’s notice, these are the best portable amplifiers on the market today.
1Blackstar Super Fly
The latest addition to Blackstar’s hugely impressive Fly range ups the size and the power to create an extremely affordable, all-in-one performance solution. With two three-inch stereo speakers and 12 watts of power, the Super Fly has the punch to be heard on busy street corners and with independent channels for both guitar and microphone, you can play and sing to your heart’s content.
As you’d expect, the guitar side is very robust, with modes for acoustic and electric guitar (the latter offering clean and drive modes), plus a three-band EQ and built-in reverb on both vocal and guitar channels. There’s also the option to expand it with an extra cab, a battery pack to save your AAs and Bluetooth input for playing along to backing tracks.
Retails for £199/$229. Read our full review here.
Boss’s Katana range has earned rave reviews for its great sounds, 21st-century functionality and keen prices, but the Air might be the most high-tech Katana yet – and it’s an ideal choice for players who don’t want to be rooted to the spot.
Billed as the world’s first truly wireless guitar amp, the Katana comes with a wireless guitar adaptor that plugs into any jack plug and promises latency-free guitar playing for up to 12 hours. With the 20 watts of power coming out of the Katana Air’s two three-inch speakers and access to Boss’s impressive digital amp and effects software (with six user presets and the ability to edit them wirelessly via the Tone Studio app), it offers huge versatility for on-the-go electric guitarists or home practice without trailing cables.
Retails for £330/$399. More info here.
3Pignose Hog 20
Pignose has been making great-sounding battery-powered amps since the 1970s, where it earned a reputation as the go-to warm-up/jam amp for rock stars big and small.
The Hog is the bigger brother of the aptly named Legendary battery-powered practice amp, offering 20 watts of solid-state power from a robust 6.5-inch speaker. The Hog is light on frills but big on fun, with just gain (squeal), volume and tone, plus a pair of inputs and a headphone out. Most usefully for busking guitarists, however, the Hog also comes with a built-in rechargeable battery that offers six to 10 hours of playtime and automatically charges when it’s plugged in.
Retails for £155/$177.
Yamaha’s unconventionally proportioned THR range was a revelation when it launched back in 2011, effectively inventing the concept of the desktop ‘lifestyle’ amplifier. With 10 watts of solid-state output power and a pair of full-range three-inch speakers onboard, however, it doesn’t have to just sit at home – pop in eight AA batteries and you can take the THR wherever you want.
And with the range of sounds it offers, you should want to. Yamaha’s Virtual Circuit Modeling tech delivers pleasingly authentic sounds and feel from the five different electric-guitar options on offer. With additional modes for bass and acoustic, plus multiple effects and USB recording should you need it, it’s a feature-packed, portable amplifier.
Retails for £229/$299.
5Roland CUBE Street
As close as you’ll get to an industry-standard busking amp, Roland CUBE amps have been a constant presence on street corners all over the globe for many years now, offering a keen balance of tone, portability and price.
Since 2008, the five-watt, battery-powered CUBE Street has been catering even more smartly to buskers with a projection-friendly wedge-shaped design, a pair of 6.5-inch neodymium speakers and independent inputs for mic/line and guitar. There are plenty of good tones to be had, too, thanks to Roland’s COSM modelling, with six onboard amp sounds (including acoustic) and six onboard effects, including delay, reverb and chorus.
Retails for £228/$299.
6Fishman Loudbox Mini Charge
For over three decades now, Larry Fishman has been one of the foremost architects of amplified acoustic sound. The Loudbox Mini brings all of that knowledge and experience and condenses it into a lightweight and portable amp for singer-songwriters.
The Loudbox Mini pumps out 60 watts of clean acoustic sound – more than enough to fill a room or project on the street – with separate channels for both guitar and vocals, each sporting a two-band EQ and independent reverb to dial in to taste.
The guitar side also offers chorus to add further depth to your sound, and Bluetooth to add backing tracks from your phone. In this ‘Charge’ variant, you also get the added benefit of a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 12 hours.
Retails for £429/$499.
7AER Compact Mobile 2
If you’re an acoustic player looking for a high-end acoustic amplification experience that’s also portable and rugged, German brand AER has been the first port of call for many.
The Compact Mobile 2 gives players everything they’d expect from an AER amp in terms of build, tone and sleek styling, but with the added ability to take it anywhere you like thanks to the built-in rechargeable battery. Based on the hugely popular Compact 60 combo, the Mobile 2 offers 60 watts of output from the eight-inch, twin-cone speaker, with independent channels for vocals and guitar, independent EQ and sensitively chosen built-in effects, all with up to four hours of mains-free playing.
Retails for £1,350/$1,799.
8Fender Passport Mini
Fender’s Passport is technically a mini-PA system, but as you’d expect from the world’s most famous guitar company, this bijou version packs in a wealth of modelling options to help your portable playing sound better. Rather than having to fiddle around matching amp models and effects, however, Fender has instead condensed everything into 24 selectable presets that built from eight classic Fender amp sounds – including the ’65 Twin Reverb and Champ – plus effects ranging from delay and reverb to chorus and flange. At just seven watts, it’s not going to blow anyone’s head off, but the useful carry handle also doubles as a kickstand to help your sound project.
Retails for £125/$199.
For some buskers, simplicity is the most important thing when it comes to amp choice, but for others having maximum versatility at your disposal is an essential tool. Vox’s Mini5 is squarely aimed at the latter, packing a huge amount of sound options into a tiny little box. Utilising Vox’s high-quality Valvetronix modelling you get a whopping 11 amp models and eight effects at your disposal, all of which have impressive bass response from the five-inch speaker thanks to Vox’s Bassilator technology. And if you need a bit of lo-fi accompaniment, you can even call on one of the 99 built-in rhythm patterns to jam along to.
Retails for £116/$189.
10ZT Amplifiers Lunchbox Jr
It might only be six inches tall, but ZT’s Lunchbox Jr amp packs in an impressive blend of no-nonsense tone and busker-friendly ingenuity into its unassuming silver chassis. First of all, this thing is no shrinking violet in the volume department, with powerful, warm, valve-like sounds that will easily fill a small room or make you heard on the high street, while its simple three-knob tonestack doesn’t over-complicate matters.
The really clever thing about the Lunchbox Jr, however, is what it does with power – with a standard 18-volt input you can plug it into a battery back ($9.99) or even a car power outlet to keep you playing, while a nine-volt output means you can even use it to power your pedalboard on the go as well.
Retails for £160/$199.
If Roland’s CUBE format appeals but you’re a purely acoustic performer, the AC-33 is an interesting alternative that takes much of what makes the CUBE great and adds some extra features suited to the al fresco singer-songwriter.
Like the CUBE, it offers separate channels for vocals and guitar, but instead of the various built-in esoteric effects, here the options are pared back to a switchable chorus mode on both channels and reverb/ambience control for the voice. What you get instead is a handy feedback-buster switch and a 40-second looper, so you can channel your inner Ed Sheeran. Dare we say it, the AC-33 also looks a lot more upmarket and coffee-shop-friendly than its CUBE sibling, too.
Retails for £370/$399.
With its deep brown tolex and rounded cabinet, the A-Fresco certainly looks like it belongs nestled in the corner of a coffee-shop gig, but this 60-watt acoustic combo can go anywhere you like thanks to a remarkable 24 hours of rechargeable battery power.
The UK-designed amp also offers everything you’d expect from a portable busking amp, with XLR/combi channels for vocals and guitar, each with a three-band EQ, reverb and switchable chorus sound, while the guitar also offers anti-feedback and phase switches. You also get a DI out for hooking it up to a larger PA, FX send and return for pedals and an ‘eco’ switch to prolong the battery life while reducing the power.
Retails for £329/$499.
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