el84

Is this the ultimate metal head for 21st-century tube-amp addicts on a budget?

Great range of heavy tones. Useful effects, IRs, and noise gate. Killer value.

Limited clean-channel headroom. Only three included IRs. Somewhat lackluster reverb.

$1,499

Engl Ironball E606SE Special Edition
engl-amps.com

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Once upon a time, lunchbox amps intrigued us because of their simplicity, smaller footprint, lighter weight, and the fact that they were more affordable than the big-ass heads that dominated rock for decades. But over the 15 years since Orange's Tiny Terror sent amp makers down this path, mini amps have become progressively more nuanced, diverse, and powerful. Some of the biggest changes have come in just the last year, with intriguing new designs packing both stunning tones and flexible routing and recording capabilities into über-transportable housings. Engl's new Ironball E606SE illustrates this trend wonderfully. Where some lunchbox amps have minimal controls, the high-gain Ironball has 29 knobs, switches, and buttons in a package that's only slightly bigger than Orange's Tiny Terror. At $1,499 street, this EL84-driven 20-watter isn't cheap, but even amidst an increasingly crowded field, it stands out for its sheer number of features and bang-for-buck ratio.

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