HARMONICA AMPLIFIERS - WHICH ONE TO CHOOSE?

Are you thinking about buying a harmonica amplifier but you don't know which one to choose? Uncertain about the kind of sound you want to get or you feel that you need to know more? Which amplifier is the best for the harmonica sound? If your brain is brimming with such questions then this article is just what the doctor ordered.

A small tube amp for harmonica

If you haven't yet read any article on harmonica amplification, check out the this link:

Harmonica amplification.

Once you have read the article you must have got clear ideas about how to move on; nonetheless, I'll introduce you to some amplifier models today and will discuss their salient features or pros and cons with you one by one. Follow the instructions in next paragraphs carefully and I am sure that from now onwards, you can buy your generic amplification system or your specific device with utter confidence that you have made the best choice according to your needs.

Let's start by analyzing various categories of amplifiers that we find in market and which can be used for the blues harp:

Guitar amplifiers or battery-operated generic amps.

Solid state guitar amplifiers and modeling devices.

Tube amplifiers for guitars.

Amplified speakers (also called active ones) for more pure sound.

On the basis of our needs we can choose among alternative categories and select the best for our harmonica. Let's see these categories in detail:

Guitar amplifiers or battery-powered generic amps: These amplifiers are small and have power ranging from 0.1 to 5 watts. They are capable of operating with a power supply or with common batteries; their capacity can reach up to 10 hours of work if powered by batteries. Sometimes they are equipped with sound effects and rhythm reproduction. These amplifiers often have computer connections and sometimes allow an additional microphone connection (e.g for voice).These devices are much appreciated by ones looking for something portable especially those who want to play on the street (busking) or for people who want to keep somewhat small yet powerful enough system in house to make wave in neighbourhood.

If you opt for a modeling amplifier, it will be possible to reproduce both pure harmonica sound and 'Chicago' which means we have everything we need to play independently. Given the choice of these types of equipments, one interesting fact shouldn't be underestimated that they usually provide the option to connect to a mixer or other amplifiers, which gives us a chance to expand the sound power without compromising the type of the sound we like. Now you might think ,"Then I'll take a little thing like this one, and one day I'll connect it to a bigger to get more volume?" Yes, you got it right! 

Now let's look at two models of portable solid state modeling of an excellent quality: Vox Mini 5 and Roland Micro Cube. They are amplifiers with price ranging from $120 to $150 whereas the characteristics they exhibit are quite similar.

The Vox provides an extra input for a vocal microphone, and is therefore more suitable if you would like someone to sing along while you play the harmonica (or guitar). This low impedance input allows you to have a clean instrument sound.

Both models have an input for external sound sources such as mp3 players or smart phones and the headphone output. This one can also be used to connect an additional amplification system or a computer.The two amplifiers provide effect such as delay and reverb whereas the modeling circuit allows us to choose emulation of different types of amplifiers. By changing the emulation configuration and adjusting the gain, the tone and volume controls, we can achieve the desired sound, including the 'Chicago style' one. The size of speaker included for VOX is 6.5" and for Micro Cube it's 5".The power of these devices is 5 watts max for the VOX and 2 watts for the Roland.

Have a look at the VOX mini 5 at te following link:

VOX MINI 5 AMPLIFIER.

Harmonica amplifier VOX mini 5
Small harmonica amp Roland Micro Cube

Here you find the ROLAND MICRO CUBE.

Solid-state guitar amplifiers and modeling: Larger devices with powers ranging from 10 watts up to few hundred watts need to be connected to the electric supply. As they are a composite of integrated circuits hence the title 'solid state type'. In this article I'll not dig into the merits of diatribe 'valve against transistor' because internet is already full of that and you can find all kinds of opinions online. From my point of view, you can get a good sound from tube amplifiers as well as from integrated circuit amplifiers, but you must keep in mind that valve amplifiers often do not provide digital modules with effects, auxiliary connections etc.

Let's go back to the category of amplifiers we were talking about: along with portable amplifiers, comes a circuitry that amplifies the sound of the bullet microphone so, for models that emulate different devices you can choose the type of emulated amplifier and still manage to get effects. Even these amplifiers often allow us to connect inputs and auxiliary outputs, and some also provide the option to attach output to an extra speaker. Most advanced models in this category can also be connected to the computer via USB cable and managed in various configurations through custom software. Now, we look at two solid state amplifier models among the most popular ones in the market: The Fender Champion 100 and the Orange Crush 35 RT, both cost around $250.

The Fender Champion 100 has enough power to be used on small and medium-sized venues, and is equipped with an emulation module and different effects. It has two 12-inch speakers, different connections for external effects, an auxiliary input for sound sources like mp3 or smart phones, and the headphones output that can also be connected to another audio system such as a mixer or a computer. This is really a perfect amplifier that offers many possibilities.

Look at the FENDER CHAMPION 100.

Fender champion 100 - Harmonica amp

The Orange Crush 35 RT is one most important amplifier that doesn't emulate other models, but still offers the reverb effect, an auxiliary input for external sound sources and a headphones output which can also be used as a line output to get attached to a computer, a mixer and so on. The 35 RT has a chromatic tuner and connections for external effects. It offers 35 watts power which is sufficient even if you play in a medium sized room. The supplied speaker size is 10 inches.

You can also find a 20 watt model of this brightly colored amplifier here.

Here is a selection of ORANGE CRUSH AMPLIFIERS.

Orange crush - Harmonica amplifier

Valve Guitar Amplifiers: These are the favourite ones for vintage lovers, renowned for good old tubes and known as supporters of warm sound. In fact the valves are fragile and warm up easily but without a shadow of doubt, all the musicians, at some point fall for the charm of such kind of electrical circuit.

The first thing I want to explain is that, there are no portable tube amplifiers because they require a whole lot of electric supply. The power delivered by such amplifiers ranges from 5 watts to several hundred watts and their prices start from $150. One point that should be taken into consideration is that the power output from these devices cannot be compared to that of solid state amplifiers; usually a few watts on a tube amp would produce same volume as greater number of watts on a solid state device would do. For this reason you will find in the market many tube amplifiers with a power ranging less than 20 watts on average. Often these devices have no auxiliary inputs or outputs, and are designed to operate in a stand alone configuration. Only in more expensive models you can find connections for external effects, and output line connections to other audio systems.

Below I am going to introduce you to two models called VHT 6 Special Ultra and Fender Blues Junior IV. The first is no longer available in the market but you can still find a used instrument for $200, the second costs about $600.

VHT 6 Special Ultra is a low-power unit that delivers 6 watts but has earned a lot of appreciation from both guitarists and harmonica players. Equipped with 3 tubes, this amplifier, in addition to the standard controls has some additional controls to change the sound at will. VHT has a headphone output line that can be used to connect it to external audio systems as well as additional speaker outputs. The supplied speaker size is 12 inches.

Harmonica tube amplifier VHT special

The Fender Blues Junior IV is a tube amplifier equipped with 3 valves and is capable of delivering  15 watt power. It has a 12-inch speaker and reverberation effect. It has no connections for audio inputs or auxiliary outputs.

Have a look at the FENDER BLUES JUNIOR IV.

Valve amp for harmonica - Fender Blues Junior 4

All the devices I've shown you are suitable to produce Chicago suond, and are used with high impedance microphones such as bullet type, like the famous shure 520DX. The VOX mini instead, has a low-impedance microphone input for voice or more clean harmonica sound.

The last category of amplifiers I am going to present to you are the generic amplified loudspeakers, also called active speakers (or amplified): this is the kind of amplification I use when I play around in not-so-big situations. You can just use a voice microphone and connect it to an amplified active speaker which acts well as an amplifier without changing the harmonica sound. These speakers are available with power ratings ranging from a few watts up to several hundred watts, in the market we also find models that work on battery.

The speaker that I use has a power of 40 watts and an autonomy that reaches 10 hours with rechargeable battery provided with it. There are active speaker models that have effects, equalizations, inputs for multiple microphones, usb connections and more, only the most advanced models have bluetooth and wireless connections to also take advantage of wireless microphones. Lastly I want to introuduce you to the Beheringer MPA40BT-PRO, a 40-watt unit equipped with an 8" woofer and a 1" tweeter. The sound reproduction is good and the volume more than sufficient for small locations. This speaker has two inputs to which you can connect microphones or instruments, auxiliary inputs for other external sources, bluetooth and usb socket to connect wireless microphones (up to 2). This amplifier will cost you $150.

Here is the BEHRINGER MPA40BTPRO.

Amplified speakr behringer

If you are curious to know, let me tell you that the wireless microphone set for the active speaker Behringer MPA40BT-PRO consists of a USB stick to be connected on the back side and two battery-powered microphones that have about l0 hours of autonomy.

You can find the BEHRINGER WIFI MICROPHONE SET HERE.

Behringer wireless microphones kit

This concludes our review of harmonica amps. As you can see, there are different types out there, designed to meet not only the usage requirements but budget also .See you in the next article.