Review: Supro Blues King 8
A single watt of output power may seem better suited to headphones than headlining, but the Blues King 8 is a lot more practical than you might expect.
Last year’s Supro Blues King 12 was a reasonably-priced tone monster and a potential Blues Junior killer, but 15-watts can still be too much amplifier for some scenarios. Enter its smaller sibling, the similarly mid-century styled Blues King 8.
There are myriad reasons for using lower power amps – from enforced volume limits at venues to front-of-house sound engineers who insist on ‘having control’, even if that means your tone suffers. Although powerful amps may still serve a purpose at outdoor festivals and arenas, few of us play gigs like that, and with modern PA systems, nobody needs 100-watts to be heard beyond the moshpit. In fact, the trend towards low-powered amps for gigging has followed developments in recording practices.
That’s where Supro’s Blues King 8 comes in. Rated at one-watt and packing an eight-inch speaker, this clearly isn’t designed for gigging. Instead, the Blues King 8 is intended for practising and recording. Supro even promises that it will produce “an enormous studio sound when placed in front of a microphone”.
This ‘small amp/big sound’ paradox has been well understood for decades, and we’ll certainly find out if that’s the case with this Supro. But this model also has a couple of neat features that would never have been considered by Supro designers of the 1950s – namely a master volume and a buffered line level output.
A master volume on a one-watt amp may seem as incongruous as an aerofoil on a snail, but we’ll soon discover it makes perfect sense. The line output can be used to feed a mixing desk or a DAW for direct recording, and Supro also suggests plugging it into higher-powered amplifiers to use the Blues King 8 as a valve overdrive.
Speaking of which, this amp has two valves – a 12AX7 in the preamp and a 12AU7 ‘power tube’. The 12AU7 is a dual triode that’s more commonly used in preamps – the Blues King 8 operates in single-ended mode, with both sides of the 12AU7 running in parallel rather than push-pull. As such, this amp can be considered to be running in class A.
Other features include a boost function that can also be footswitched, a custom 8-inch speaker that’s designed to emulate an old-school field coil driver and a poplar wood cabinet based on Supro’s mid-50s Spectator model. And if you think the great looks and finish are an attempt to emulate the boutique brigade, it’s actually the other way around.
We’ll address the volume aspect first because it applies to everything this amp is and does. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a loud amplifier, but we find it exactly right for its stated uses. A Fender Champ’s four-watt output makes it too loud to crank up and play along with an unplugged acoustic or most unamplified singers – in contrast, the Blues King 8 can be driven and fine tuned to perform better in the same circumstances.
The looks, speaker and product description all evoke the 1950s, and the sonic character is equally in keeping. It’s rude, gritty and has a convincingly vintage midrange honk. Although our experience with vintage field coil speakers is limited, the onboard driver compresses and breaks up in a similar way to 1950s Jensens.
Rather than being a limiting factor, the lack of sheer volume here is the selling point. If there is one potential limitation, it’s a slight darkness. Throughout our tests we keep the tone control at or close to maximum, and even with Strats and Teles, shimmering Silverface-style treble isn’t part of the deal. If a guitar has darker sounding pickups this will be noticeable, but there’s no lack of clarity, and this upper treble roll-off is very much in line with the mid-50s vibe.
Predictably enough, there’s not a massive amount of clean headroom, but again that’s a good thing. The Blues King 8 is particularly effective at that ‘edge of breakup’ point where you can control the overdrive with the dynamics of your playing. It’s sweetly articulate and there’s ample clarity for the sonic subtleties of all our test guitars to come through.
The master volume does allow you to crank up the preamp gain, but the Blues King 8 sounds its best when the power stage is being driven, too. It’s a full, harmonically loaded and undeniably exciting brand of overdrive that equates to sheer fun. The experience is very much like cranking up a medium powered tweed or Vox-style amp, but hearing those tones at a fraction of the volume you’d expect.
There’s no mini-amp boxiness either, so although it’s tonally small, it’s perfectly formed. Stick a microphone on the Supro and the illusion is complete because it’s doubtful that anybody could tell it’s a tiny one-watt amp. Through monitor speakers, the Blues King 8 sounds like a full-fat valve guitar amp, and because the power is so low and the speaker surface so small, it’s very easy to record. There’s also no concern about damaging ribbon microphones or neighbour relations.
Plugging the line output into another guitar amp mutes the Blues King 8’s output and provides a massive level boost to the second amp’s input. With the boost engaged on the Supro, it’s actually too much – we get better results in non-boost mode. However, the creamy and sustaining Supro overdrive that we were hoping for at higher volume doesn’t materialise. We also learn that the treble roll-off cannot be attributed to the preamp circuitry because the tone gets so much brighter.
Next we connect the Supro speaker output to a Fane A60 12-inch and discover that the onboard speaker isn’t darkening the tone either. In fact, we prefer the way the Blues King 8 sounds with the stock cabinet and speaker, but the idea of using it as an overdrive is moot without some way to tame the output level. As a DI source, an amp and cab simulator would be needed to make the tone more palatable.
Ultimately, what we have here is a very stylish and fine-sounding low power valve amp that offers thermionic thrills at very reasonable volume levels. So long as you understand its limitations, the keenly priced Blues King 8 has the tone and features to be a great go-to practice and home recording amp.
- PRICE £349
- DESCRIPTION Single-channel class A valve combo with switchable boost, poplar ply cabinet, assembled in USA
- POWER RATING 1W
- CONTROLS Volume, tone, master, boost switch
- REAR PANEL Line output, footswitch socket
- VALVES 1x 12AX7, 1x 12AU7
- SPEAKER BK8 custom 8”
- DIMENSIONS 330 x 170 x 330 mm
- WEIGHT 7kg/15lb
- CONTACT jhs.co.uk, suprousa.com
Like this? Try these
- Blackstar HT-1R MkII £279
- Marshall DSL1CR £219
- Vox AC4C1-12 £420