Yes, this is a real valve amp. Yes, that price is correct. Yes, it is as good as you could possibly hope, which is to say it holds its own against much more pricey amps. If you were to be a price or brand snob, you'd be overlooking something very special here.
This, and it's larger sibling, are rebadged versions of an amplifier already available and well liked in the US market (the Stage Right), but with a 220v/50Hz transformer for European use, and the Harley Benton badge on the front. Supposedly those, and by extension these, are closely related to the Laney Cub amplifiers, but are slightly lower priced than the equivalent Laney, and from someone who's owned both, I think slightly better built and laid out, too.
Very much in the "Champ" style with one 12AX7 preamp tube and one 6V6 power amp tube (the classic "Californian Tweed" valve of choice, as opposed to the more "British" sounding EL84 and EL34 more usually seen on modern valve amps), these small amplifiers might not be stadium loud, but they have their uses. For one thing, they make fantastic no-compromise practice amplifiers, meaning real valve amp tone, not just a valve pre-amp or valve emulation, in the bedroom, garage, hobby room, or even a small club or pub gig. Even more importantly, they're fantastic recording amplifiers. Countless classic rock staples used low wattage, small speakered amplifiers like this with a microphone shoved close up in front to get those lead tones, and five minutes with this amp will show you why!
It might be diminutive but I can get some great tones out of it. At low volumes, nothing spectacular seems to happen. It's warm, bright enough, and recognisably "valve", but plain. However, push the volume up past 8 and this thing sings. Add in an overdrive pedal and man, oh man. All those saturated rock tones, but without bothering people in the next street/town/country. Still not quiet, but not the deafening behemoth of a full-stack. The built-in attenuation switch lets you access this at an even more manageable volume.
I was pleasantly surprised by the build quality and attention to detail too - despite being a lunchbox sized budget option, this amp feels solid in the hand, and the cabinet is satisfyingly thick. The controls are smooth turning with quality chickenhead knobs, the power switch is firm and positive with a precise and pleasing clunk on actuation, and the input jack feels like it's going to last. Even the wattage button has a reliable, mechanical click when pressed, locking in and springing out cleanly and easily.
In terms of overall design, this is a good looking amplifier. It looks nicer in person than in the pictures, and the cream covering is a welcome departure from the ubiquitous and dreary black of most amps. The covering and speaker cloth are more than adequate in quality, much better than most amps at this price, and the handle is soft, pliable and comfortable. I couldn't promise that it's real leather but it's supple enough to be. Honestly, even though it's not a heavy amp a good handle makes carrying this a joy. It's actually amazing, given how much value for money this offers on components alone, that time and effort were put into designing an aesthetically pleasing amp, but there you have it.
In terms of electronic parts, the fact that the speaker is name brand is also remarkable at this price. It's a Celestion, and whilst it might be entry-level Celestion, it still holds its own and is much better than a no-name speaker. Could you replace it? Yes. Do you need to? No.
The tubes are unbranded, they look like standard China-made ones, but they sound fine and at this price, who is complaining?! I don't plan on replacing them now, they're plenty good enough. Will I change them in the future? Undoubtedly, because I'll still want to play this amp when they wear out!
The only downsides for me are the solid state rectifier and the finish on the front panel. Valve rectification is definitely possible at around this price point, but it's no deal breaker. I know of a similar amplifier with a slightly higher price that has a valve rectifier, but it's only available with a 110v transformer. Still, this performs well enough given that one missed opportunity. The front panel finish is a more personal gripe - it's very, very high shine and so shows up fingerprints very quickly, as well as bouncing a lot of light. For some people, the shiny panel will be a cool feature that adds to the charming looks of this amplifier, but I can't help feeling that something matte would have not looked out of place either.
In summary, quite frankly this is the bargain of the century. Once they're back in stock I think I'd have a strong temptation to buy the larger version of this too.
ONE WORD OF WARNING (for UK customers only): The amplifier has a non-removable power cable with a Schuko plug on it. This is the German plug that has a large cylindrical body with earth connections on the outside, it's not a standard Europlug. The complimentary UK power cable supplied by Thomann has nowhere to plug in!
Unless Thomann change what they ship, you will need to obtain the correct Schuko adaptor - a standard Europlug adaptor will NOT earth the amplifer and should not be used. Alternatively, you can change the plug on the existing cord to a UK one if you know how to do this safely.