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4 Best Guitar Amp Attenuators – Great Tones at Low Volume

It’s a known fact that tube (or ‘valve’) amps don’t sound their best at low volumes. They produce their best tone when they’re ‘driven’, or when their volume is turned up to the ‘sweet spot.’

The problem is that this ‘sweet spot’ is often past ‘3’ on the dial, which – depending on the wattage of your guitar amp – is very loud. So, the sacrifice many guitarists make is to play at lower volumes.

Here’s where an attenuator works its magic: it ‘bleeds off’ some of the volume being sent to your amp, so you get that great cranked sound without having to crank your amp to its maximum volume and upset your neighbors (or ear drums).

They’re for people who appreciate the nuanced sound of tube amplifiers and want to drive them hard without the ear-splitting volume.

As there’s a lot of variation in these products, we’ve looked at some of the best around and what separates them.

Guitar Amp Attenuators: Product Guide

Universal Audio Electric Guitar Single Effect (OX)

Universal Audio Ox Amp Top Box
  • Premium, no-compromise analog reactive load box and guitar recording system for tube guitar amps
  • Instant album-quality mic and speaker cabinet tones via front-panel RIG control
  • Get record-ready sounds quickly with expertly-placed virtual mics and cabs – no amp miking required

If you want to go high-end, look no further than the OX from Universal Audio. This reactive attenuator can work with 4, 8, and 16-ohm amps and has its own effects simulations built in (speaker, cabinet, microphone, and classic effects).

The audio quality is to die for, and the overall build is sheer class (it’s built like a tank). It’s very intuitive to use, too. It will leave a sizeable hole in your bank account, but if money is no object, you can’t go wrong with it.  

What we like:

  • Unbelievable audio quality.
  • Works with 4, 8 and 16 ohm amps.
  • Awesome vintage aesthetic.

Bugera Power Soak PS1

Bugera POWER SOAK PS1 Passive 100 Watt Power Attenuator for Guitar and Bass Amplifiers with Emulated Mic Output
  • Passive 100-Watt Power Attenuator allows you to get the ultimate overdriven tone at any volume
  • Multi-impedance input connectors (4, 8 and 16 Ohms) to match virtually any amplifier
  • Line output with dedicated Level control

This unit from amp maker Bugera is passive (doesn’t need a power source) and can handle amps up to and including 100 watts. It has inputs for 4, 8, and 16-ohm amps (which makes it pretty versatile).

It has a line output with a dedicated level control and emulates a microphone in front of a speaker cab.

That’s pretty much it. There are no fancy bells and whistles, which one assumes is how they’ve managed to keep the price so low.

The one downside is it can muddy the tone a little, but this is easily remedied by adjusting the EQ on the amp (dial down the gain), which usually sorts it out.

If you’re on a budget, even if you’re not, this is definitely worth checking out.

What we like:

  • Value for money (significantly cheaper than most other products)
  • Passive (doesn’t require any power source)
  • Multi-impedance inputs (4, 8 and 16 ohms) to match most amps

Two Notes Torpedo Captor

Save $30.00

The Torpedo Captor is not merely an attenuator; it is also a direct box and load box.

The Captor’s speaker simulation is tailored for 8-ohm setups, an optimal impedance for many guitar amps, providing a faithful replication of a mic’d cabinet. As a DI box, it facilitates a high-quality, balanced output to a mixing console or recording device.
The load box feature of the Captor is particularly beneficial for those wishing to use their tube amp at its optimal tone settings without projecting loud volumes.

What we like:

  • Attenuator, DI, and load box all rolled into one
  • Tailored for 8-ohm setups

PB-1 100

KLD/PAN AMPS NEW PB-1 100 WATT ATTENUATOR SAVE YOUR CRANKED TUBE TONE NEW!! BLUE CASE COLOR
  • Studio Quality Attenuator.Red Burst Case color ( this offering)
  • Positions 4-1 adds 1.8 dB of attenuation per click.Studio Level: A rheostat that will adjust the amp’s output from -7.2 dB down to -30 dB
  • For all tube amps up to 100 watt max.

The KLD is simple in both looks and features. It has just two controls: attenuation and level, so that you can set the amount of volume reduction on the amp and also have control over the output.

The attenuation dial twists down to true bypass, so you can leave this plugged in without it affecting anything when you don’t need to use it. There are just two jack sockets: input and output, making this one of the most easy-to-use products on the list.

It also comes in solid, alloy casing which helps to prevent the device from overheating.

This is great for people who like to keep things simple and only want to use it now and again. It’s less suitable for those who want something smart for the studio, or for guitarists who are using amps beyond this attenuator’s limit of 100W.

What we like:

  • Simple, sturdy and easy to use.
  • Compatible with amps up to 100W.
  • The alloy case prevents it from overheating.

What is a Guitar Amp Attenuator?

A guitar amp attenuator is a device that’s connected between the power and the speaker sections of your amp, or between the head and the cab. They convert some of the energy between the power and speaker sections of your amp from sound into heat. This energy conversion allows your amp to let out the signal you’ve dialed in, the tubes naturally breaking into overdrive, without the speaker volume that typically goes with it.

Are there any downsides to using one? As the volume is reduced, some guitarists complain about a loss of tone. This is sometimes true, of course, but on many occasions, it’s more of an audio illusion. The way we perceive quieter sounds is different from how we hear sounds at a higher volume. Look for one with decent EQ controls to compensate for any perceived loss of tone.

Some of these products are compatible with footswitches so that you can stamp them on and off on stage. These are useful for performers who are using the devices to control their on-stage sound and sometimes might want to use them in reverse for a boost.

Benefits

Get the Best Tone From Your Amp

If you have family or neighbors living close by, you’ll rarely have the option of cranking up your amp without receiving a hellfire of complaints. It’s too loud, turn it down. Ughh.

You can have one of the best tube amps that money can buy, but if you’re rarely allowed access to its best tone, what’s the point.

Well, attenuators let you find your amps sweet spot without annoying anyone – it’s also helpful if you want to play at low levels for practicing all those scales you’d rather not blast out.

Stadium-Level Sound at Small Gigs

Similarly, many gig venues won’t appreciate your 100 watt behemoth cranked up too much either.

Sound engineers at smaller gigs are very likely to request that you turn your amp down when it’s at ‘sweet spot’.

Ultimately your band will sound better at a low, balanced volume than with one guitar drowning everything else out, even if its tone is superior.

Big Sounds in the Studio

Many recording engineers or producers prefer to use low studio volumes, yet also want to achieve the ‘realness’ of a cranked valve amp. 

These devices allow the best of both worlds, helping you get top recording results.

Buying Guide – What to Consider When Buying One

Types

Most of these units are passive, meaning that they don’t need any additional power to function. Active attenuators need the power to work and can be more versatile than passive attenuators. They have a mini amplifier inside them, which – as well as reducing volumes – can boost too.

Matching Amp Impedance

Not all attenuators are compatible with all amps – it’s essential to get one that matches your amplifiers’ impedance. Many amps have an impedance switch on them so that you can match it up to your attenuators. If you have a few amps already, find an attenuator with an impedance selector too.

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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