Which one do we like the best?
The Mesa Boogie Badlander and Mark V
Mesa Boogie makes a few amps that come with a built-in attenuator, including the Badlander and Mark V series. Both are excellent tube amps that have a full load bearing attenuator built into the head. This allows you to send a balanced output, or even play through headphones.
This is a simple roundup and curation of tube amps that have built in attenuators, that can bear a speaker load and/or allow you to play at really low volume while maintaining the tone profile of the amp.
Attenuators can allow you to do one or more of the following with tube amps:
- Play without a cabinet connected
- Play at very low volume while keeping tone quality intact
- Emulate different speaker cabinet sounds
- Play with headphones
- Send a balanced output straight to a recording interface
Depending on the details of the amp and attenuator, you might see some of the following terminology used:
- Load box
- Speaker emulator
- Cabinet emulator
- Guitar amp attenuator
You can read more about attenuators below our list.
There aren't a ton of amps that have this feature, and it's a somewhat expensive add-on. But the ones we could find are listed here for easy browsing.
If you want to add something to the list, jump in via the comments section below and let us know about it.
Warning, please read: Attenuators and tube amps are a somewhat advanced topic, and not all of them perform all of the functionality we listed above. Note that you can do damage to your tube amp when disconnecting your speaker cab, so please make sure you read the instruction manual and understand the functionality of your attenuator before doing so.
Tube Amps with Built in Attenuators
Compare More Tube Amps
If you want to compare some of these or other tube amps, you can search for them in our product database and add them to the comparison bar at the bottom of this page.
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Defining an Attenuator
The simple definition of an attenuator:
A guitar amp attenuator reduces the volume of a tube amp, either completely or partially, while retaining the tone and character of the sound. This device sits between the power amp and speaker cab. If it's designed to bear the full speaker load, you can disconnect the speaker cab entirely.
To do this, the attenuator absorbs some, or all, of the output from the power amplifier.
A guitar amp attenuator reduces the volume of a tube amp, either completely or partially, while retaining the tone and character of the sound.
This lets you create the sound of a cranked tube amp without the high level of volume.
Again, it's important to note that attenuators should be used with an abundance of caution. Make sure you know whether the attenuator is designed to handle all of the speaker load, or just part of it.
It needs to handle all of the load before you can go without a speaker cabinet.
Difference Between Attenuator and Emulator
When you see the term emulator, this is usually referring to a speaker cab emulator that allows you to select different cab models, which can then be sent directly to a recording interface or PA system.
This is different than the attenuator, which bears the speaker load, thereby making the cabinet emulations and outputs possible.
Difference in Cost
Guitar amps with attenuators are typically going to be a lot more expensive than those without. Part of this is because they're tube amps, which are usually more expensive to begin with, but it's also because attenuators are just expensive devices on their own.
Many of them run in the range of $800 to $1200.
The reason is that you're basically buying another amplifier.
If you know of a guitar amp with a built in attenuator that we missed, perhaps some boutique brands, drop them in the comments section below. We'll review, and if they fit the bill, we'll add them to this list. Thanks to all for hanging out with us and trusting our content.
Written by Bobby Kittleberger on Amps & Roundups
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