Tube Combos v.s Heads
Which is better?
Over the years tube amps have been made in both head and combo formats. Some manufacturers seem to prefer one over the other and some players have distinct preferences about which they use. There are some major concerns, pros and cons to the two formats. Let's take a quick look at them.
1. Compactness :
Combos are definitely more compact in most cases. So for a player wanting the smallest possible package this is a plus. Combo's tend pack everything into the smallest possible space. As you'll read this can be plus and minus.
Combos are perhaps more portable than head if they are 1X8, 1X10, or 1X12 however the weight of the larger 1X15, 2x10, 3X10, 4X10, 2X12 is a problem and a head and speaker cab becomes very attractive in terms of transporting it. Carrying them separately really can save the back. Small heads and cabs really are not much trouble either. Many players just like the aesthetics of a combo or are traditionalists wanting to reproduce the look of older amps.
3. Speaker cab design:
Combos are almost always open backed by for heat dissipation but players may prefer a close-backed or a ported cab design. Heads have the benefit of easily being shuttled from cab to cab so you can select a different cab depending on the situation. While you can use different speaker cabs with a combo you are stuck lugging around the speaker(s) inside.
4. Tube life:
Heads are far better for tube life provided they have adequate ventilation. Mechanical vibration from the inside of combo is very hard on tubes and dramatically shortens their life span. In heads they go undisturbed so they tend to last much longer. This is a major concern and an expensive one.
5. Benefits for Manufactures:
One of the major advantages of a combo is that the amp can be designed for specific speaker or speakers. Players will often purchase a head without a matching cabinet (how many cabs can you have?) but unless the player has speaker cab with the similar speakers they may not get the full benefit of the the amp. By pairing the speaker and amp together a manufacture can control some of the sonic perception of their product. Another benefit is that a combo is cheaper to produce and ship than a head and speaker cab.
Frankly speaking a head is smarter choice. It allows for more cab options, is reasonably portable and has better tube life. So why do I sell combos? I have some many requests for combos from an economic perspective it really makes sense to sell them. There is historical and aesthetic sensibility about a combo amp that has great appeal too. Looking and feeling cool is important! I often try to convince players to try out a head but I give the people what they want! My original amps are sold as heads only since the concerns about historical accuracy are no longer in play.