Gear talk for the GAS-afflicted.

Clash of the Mini-Titans! Carvin V3M vs Mesa Mini Rectifier

Clash of the Mini-Titans! Carvin V3M vs Mesa Mini Rectifier

May 15, 2012

Rise of the Lunchboxes

Okay, so we all know that there’s nothing more manly than tight leather pants, chunky gold jewellery and a raging 100W full stack behind you on stage, right? (and some doughnuts just off the stage)

But, um, we’re all really secure aren’t we?

The trend towards portable “lunchbox” amps has been brewing for awhile now. I mean, who doesn’t want to show up to band practice or a gig with a guitar case in one hand, a cab in the other, and your amp slung over your shoulder? And of course, your pedalboard the size of a house – but that’s your choice, haha.

The first lunchbox amp that caught the public eye was the Orange Tiny Terror (was that actually the first one to be released?) – it was tiny, it was affordable, and it packed a punch for its size. This eventually spawned the Dual Terror, the Dark Terror (etc etc) and a bunch of stuff like the Vox Night Train, Blackstar HT5 and ZT Lunchbox also showed up. Personally, the Tiny Terror isn’t really my thing – I’m not a huge fan of the Orange sound, and a lot of the cheaper lunchboxes seem to do one thing quite well, or a few things averagely, but up that point, nothing truly amazing that covered a wide tonal spectrum had been released.

As always, the big boys take awhile to respond, but when they do – boy, do they. Saddle up, motherfuckers.

The Weigh-in

 Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier

  • 25 Watts
  • 2 channels, each individually switchable down to 10W
  • Independent 3-band EQ and Presence controls on each channel.
  • Channel 1 – Clean and Pushed modes
  • Channel 2 – Vintage and Modern modes
  • Tube-buffered FX-loop, with hard bypass
  • 12AX7 preamp tubes, EL84 power tubes
  • Weighing in at 12 pounds – that’s 4.6 kg for the world outside of USA
  • Glows red like Darth Vader on the inside – LED lights, not tubes about to blow up
Carvin V3M
  • 50 watts (what the what?? Yes, it really shouldn’t be called a mini-amp, but it’s Carvin’s call)
  • 3 channels, global output switchable down to 22W and 7W.
  • Independent 3-band EQ and Presence controls on each channel.
  • Channel 3 – Soak, Classic and Bright modes
  • Channel 2 and 1 are identical – Thick, Classic and Intense modes
  • Master solo boost
  • Effects loop
  • 120/240V AC switchable
  • Footswitchable digital reverb
  • Cabinet-voiced direct-out
  • 12AX7 preamp tubes, EL84 power tubes
  • Weighing in at 19 pounds (8.6kg)
  • Glows red or blue on the inside – choose whether you want to be Vader or Luke Skywalker. Or you can switch it off, but that’s just stupid and un-awesome.

So at face value the V3M has a much larger feature set than the Mini Rec – but is it better? It’s definitely a bit heavier, but we’ll forgive it there because it’s really a 50W monster in portable format clothing.

Before I forget – I would like to say a BIG thank you to Jansen Professional Audio and Lighting in Auckland for being kind enough to send me the V3M to review! While pro audio is largely their focus, the managing director is a guitarist himself, and they stock Carvin guitars and amps, Egnater amps, Baden acoustics and a range of other brands.

However,  keep in mind that I don’t receive payment for doing these reviews – so I’ll still be keeping it fair and objective.

Wait, hold on

Before I launch into the review and clips, let me first say this – I’m not necessarily going to talk about every single mode, or do a tone clip for all of them. I’m basically going to talk about the modes and settings that I personally thought sounded good, and go from there.

Clips are recorded with a Fender HRR60 Strat (two singles with a Dimarzio PAF Pro in the bridge), into either amp, into a Mesa Thiele combo, using an Audix i5 microphone.

As a bit of background – about 4 years ago I bought the 100W full-sized V3. I owned it for a couple of years, and gigged it in bands ranging from heavy metal to pop covers, in which it performed admirably.

In its purest form, the V3 is basically Carvin’s take on the Mesa Dual Rec – and like the Dual Rec of that era, at the time I thought that it suffered from the same drawback, namely a lacklustre clean channel. In recent years, Mesa has upped the ante on its clean channels (since the advent of the Lonestar Special), and the newer Duals have beautiful, sparkly clean channels – I was curious to find out whether Carvin had been able to do the same.

Clean, cleanish, and in-betweenish

Let’s start off with the clean channels. I’m pretty familiar with what the Mini Rec can do – the Clean mode is crisp and clear with vibrant depth to it. Definitely a big step up from the Dual Recs of old.

Put it into Pushed mode, and you start getting a very delicious, organic transition into light overdrive. It literally feels like it picks up where Clean mode left off – hit the strings a little harder and it’ll cry and sing, but pull back and you can still get it to play nice with clean tones.

Pushed mode in itself probably covers as much sonic territory as many lesser amps. It’s my favourite of the two clean modes – I actually use it exclusively for the most part. Switch to humbuckers and you can even rock the fuck out with some AC/DC – but that’s for the gainier part of the review. A small downside is that it can get a little hairier at gig volumes, so ride your guitar volume or stay on Clean mode if you need crystal.

Me? I’d rather be dirty than clean anyway.

Curiously, on the V3 series Carvin elected to call the clean channel Channel 3. Is it a sign that they’re focusing on the gain channels? Maybe, let’s find out.

So, when I first plug into any amp, I’m a chronic 777-er. What the hell is that, you ask? Easy – I set pretty much all the control knobs to around 7 out of 10 and go from there. It sounds a bit stupid but it totally works. On clean channels, that usually yields a nice, present tone with decent girth and low end.

However I was slightly surprised to find that when I did that on the V3M, it sounded really dark. This was an instant reminder to EQ with my ears, not my eyes. The V3M has quite a wide EQ sweep, and so I had to bump the treble up to about 3 o’clock before I heard the sparkle I wanted.

Out of the 3 clean modes, I really liked Bright mode. It was, as the name suggests, bright – a nice, sparkly Blackface-esque clean. If you want a bit more compression when you dig in, hit up Soak mode, and you’ll get just that. I was quite impressed – the clean channel so far was much improved compared to my original V3. My theory is that the EL84 output stage helps make the cleans better – but more on that later!

Classic mode was not quite to my taste – in comparison it seemed very flat and not very dynamic. But 2 outta 3 ain’t so bad! And to be fair, you could probably use the flatter/darker sounding EQ in Classic mode to your advantage for smoky jazz playing.

Edit – let me talk a bit about the EQX switch on the V3M. Each channel has an EQX switch, which basically increases the range and effect of your 3-band EQ. To my ears, it’s makes things sound “bigger” – effective for getting a meatier tone at low volume levels.

Listen to Bright and Soak modes here, The first bit has EQX off, then you can hear me turn it on for comparison – but in general I preferred the EQX off for playing at higher volumes.

Compared to the clean channel on the Mini Rec, the V3M has a crapload of clean headroom. This can be a plus or a minus, depending on what you want from the amp. If you want to retain pristine clean tones at stage volume, then this is a definite benefit. Even on 7W power mode with the volume WAY up (think gigging volumes), I found it difficult to get this channel to overdrive significantly, compared to the Pushed mode on the Mini Rec which slips easily into light overdrive territories. So, if you want lightly driven blues lick tones, unfortunately you won’t get them here.

Not to worry though – I found a pretty great bluesy tone on the drive channel, on Classic mode with the drive just shy of halfway. Smooth, singing light gain. Revisiting Hey Joe, the first bit is done with the Ch. 3 (clean) on Bright, while the low-gain solo is done using the drive channel on Classic mode with the gain set to about 4.

More than adequate, but it’s here that you get the sense that slightly overdriven tones were not the focus of the design brief, compared to the Mini Rec, which moves organically in gain levels between Clean and Pushed.

On the plus side, there is a crapload of clean headroom on the V3M. Even in 7W mode with the volume way up (hoping to overdrive the power tubes a little) I struggled to get it to break up. So if you need pristine cleans at stage volumes then the V3M is the winner here.


Okay – that’s all we’ve got this time around.

Don’t worry – you gainiacs will get your turn!! I just figured it would be better to pace it, since the first post was a lot of words and shit – no one wants to read that much waffle from me in a day. And let’s face it – I just want to make you guys come back for more (insert evil laugh here).

In the next part of the review we’ll explore some overdrive tones, how the amps react to cleaning up, and most importantly – this is a high-gain amp shootout after all – some metal.

Tune in next time, Samurai out!

And now with Part II of the review!


  1. Hamish says:

    Nice work again man. Putting the Carvin cat amongst my Mesa GAS pigeons…

    1. thesamurai says:

      Cheers dude – just you wait till you hear the high gain part! I avoided direct comparisons for this section as IMO the sounds are quite different, but Part 2 of the review will see the gain sounds of the V3M and Mini Rec going head to head!!

  2. Teko says:

    Finally the amp shootout is here! Yes yes no high gain section yet but so what…it’s all about the control mou.
    Awesome review and the riff you played in the Mesa Boogie Clean ..sounds really familiar ;)

    The carvin’s clean channel sounds better than the Mesa to me…for some reason. It sounds a lot more pleasant.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Haha that’s why I wanted to do tone clips for this site! Everyone hears things differently, and while I may prefer the Mini, others may prefer the Carvin – this way you can decide for yourself! Thanks for reading! :) Share it with all the Jamtank/Lowyat-ers! The final part of the review should be released exactly one week from now :D

  3. ariffdude says:

    I tried the Mesa mini rec once, I thought it was a big letdown. Very fizzy, no headroom, but then again it was at low volume because I was playing it in a shop and takut pasang kuat2. Also it was on a 112. But I would think that a 6k amp would sound better than that at any setting.

    1. thesamurai says:

      Hey Ariff! What cab did you try it through? I initially tried it at the shop through the matching Mini Rec cab and found it to be very boxy and nasal sounding. But through my Mesa Thiele cab (still 1×12, but designed to sound “big”) or bigger cabs with V30s it kills! I agree that it can be a bit fizzy at super low volumes on Modern gain mode – but it definitely does sound good once you can open it up. Wait till you hear the high gain tone clips for the next part! Good to see some Malaysian readers anyway – please subscribe via email or Facebook to receive the latest updates on posts :)

      1. ariffdude says:

        It was on the matching cab. But maybe it’s the nature of tube amps la, you can’t get it to sound that nice when at low volumes.

        Well if it wasn’t for that post in jamtank and lowyat I wouldn’t know about this place. You old timer ah? Sorry la tak kenal, aku kira budak baru je.

        1. thesamurai says:

          Haha old-timer from WAY back. Haven’t been on those forums in 6-7 years tapi I kenal gapnap, vulcan.x, diorang semua kaki I kat sekolah, haha. Yeah Jamtank seems to be a gigantic Classifieds section these days, not much being talked about eh? I’m a bit out of touch with Msian scene since I only come back once every year or two, so would appreciate it if you can spread the word to your friends :)

  4. Andrew says:

    The Clean on the V3M had a god awful static noise when no notes were being played. I was strongly consider buying it but fuck that now.

  5. […] lighter, smaller, more portable – case in point, my favourite little lunchbox amp, the Mesa Mini Rectifier, and new stuff like the HK Tubemeister, and just about everything really. The lunchbox revolution […]

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