Review: Orange Amps Micro Terror 20 Watt Guitar Amplifier Head
Normally, I’m not easily impressed. But the boys over at Orange Amps in the UK certainly have turned up the dials on my lust factor. Enter the Micro Terror, a shockingly small and inexpensive ($150) amp head that keeps true to the legendary Orange name and that lovely British crunch sound. This is the creative team that gave us the classic AD and OR Series guitar amps with their distinctive orange cabinets and those funky hieroglyphics on the amp faceplate.
The Micro Terror is the latest entry in Orange’s line of Tiny Terror amps. These amps have proven to be extremely successful with both gigging and recording guitarists due to their great sounds and ultra light weight. Launched at NAMM 2012 back in January, the minuscule and very inexpensive Micro Terror is already proving to be yet another success for Le Grande Orange.
GOES BOTH WAYS – NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT
The Micro Terror is a hybrid tube/solid-state amp. Ok, what does that mean? Most analog guitar amplifiers usually use all vacuum tubes for their pre-amp and power-amp sections, or, they use all solid-state for both phases of amplification. Technically we’re talking (gas-state) triode vs (solid-state) transistor, but that’s too much geek speak even for me. Each type of amp has its sonic fan base.
Most boutique guitar amplifiers that use tubes get their sound from a combination of overdriving both the pre-amp tubes and the “big bottles” in their power amp section. The resulting distortion becomes rich in harmonic content and ironically despite the term, this distortion is pleasing to our ears. Due to its extra components and typical circuitry, the output stage of a tube amp is fairly large and represents most of the weight of an amp head. The Micro Terror takes a different approach and leverages both tubes and solid-state. This tiny amp uses a 12AX7 (known as ECC83 in Europe) tube for its preamp (and early gain) and a 20 watt solid-state power amp section. Using transistors for the power amp allows the head to be significantly smaller. Orange has some magical circuitry that adds some smile-inducing distortion to the normally ultra-clean solid-state output stage.
And they have put all that circuitry in a rugged steel case, which is important for something so small. The result is a tiny amp head that weighs slightly less than 2 pounds (.85kg), i.e., about the same weight as an Apple iPad, and sounds like a monster.
With its distinctive orange, black and white colors and rock box symbols (with normal labels for non-Egyptians like me… the only Nile I am familiar with is Nile Rodgers), the controls are uber-simple. On the front there’s an on/off switch, headphone jack, a 3.5mm aux input so you
can play along with your favorite MP3 player, volume, tone, gain controls and of course a 1/4 inch input socket where all those magnetically-induced electrons stream from your guitar into the Micro Terror (thank you Michael Faraday). On the back of the head, there’s the power cord connector and a socket for connecting to an external 4/8/16 ohm cabinet.
I WANNA ROCK
Ok, enough of the preamble. I know what you’re asking. Does the thing rock? I plugged into the 8 ohm side of a Marshall 2×12 cabinet with Celestion G12T-75 speakers and gave it a test drive with my PRS McCarty (57/08 humbucker pickups) and John Suhr Classic (Michael Landau single-coil pickups). The clean on this little amp is surprisingly good. Let’s face it, its not crystal-clear clean as you would get from a much higher-powered amp. You certainly would not mistake it for an old Fender blackface amp or a Vox AC30 in a sound test. But it wasn’t too shabby.
volume: max tone: 12-clock gain: 12-clock
Moving into some more crunchier tones, I lowered the volume on the Micro Terror but raised the gain and tone a bit for some classic British crunchiness.
volume: 12-clock tone: 1-clock gain: 2-clock
Ok, sounds lovely old chap. How about a spot of extra gain in my tea?
volume: 10-clock tone: 1-clock gain: 3-clock
Ah, some surprisingly tasty tones from the pedal-sized amplifier made me smile. Now its time to set the gain to maximum drive and see if there any survivors.
volume: 11-clock tone: 1-clock gain: max
Here’s a garden-variety pentatonic lick played in the same clean, crunch, heavycrunch and distortion settings as the samples above.
For classic rock, the solid-state power amp was surprisingly warm. For my tastes, there was some loss of clarity at the higher gain settings (especially with some chord voicings) and a bit of aural fizziness. But for a $150 amplifier head, it sounds amazingly good.
But does it handle pedals well? Yes Virginia, it handles pedals very well. My favorite sounds were using a reasonably clean setting on the Micro Terror and enhancing the sound with a high-quality overdrive pedal, such as a Fulltone Full-Drive or an Xotic BB Preamp to provide the smoother, singing sustain.
Here’s a single-coil, rhythm-pickup sound using the clean-esque mode on the MT with a 10th Anniversary Fulltone Full-Drive.
And here’s another single-coil (pickup setting 4 on a 5-way blade switch) sound using the FullDrive with the same clean setting on the MT:
By the way Virginia, what are you doing after the gig?
ORANGE – YOU GLAD?
Given its sound and inexpensive price the Micro Terror is supremely impressive. Its for guitar slingers who are looking for more of a classic rock vibe rather than a metal amp. For less than $250, you could buy the Micro Terror amp head and its cosmetic companion, the Orange PPC108 Micro Terror 1×8 cabinet for an awesome stack ready for practice or a recording session. Its also a great backup head in case Murphy’s Law makes your main rig goes south during a set. Through a decent PA, it’ll save the day so you don’t have to cancel the gig. Its a surprisingly good amp head for the price and truly hard to beat. I was indeed impressed.