The Dark Terror sounds like a working title for Star Wars Episode VII. You wouldn’t be too surprised to find Darth Vader plugging his light-sabre into one of these, for with twice as much preamp gain as a standard Tiny Terror, it’s designed to be more than a little bit scary. Let’s unzip that padded case and get ready to embrace the dark side.
The original white-boxed TT has been a huge success story for Orange, sparking the whole ‘lunchbox amp’ explosion and leading to combo, 30W and assorted bass versions. This time they’re going straight for the rock and metal crowd, which means a deathly black finish on the outside and a whole lot of new stuff happening on the inside.
Most significantly, as well as the familiar pair of EL84 output tubes, a peek through the top grille reveals there are now four preamp valves instead of two: an extra 12AX7 providing two more gain stages, and a 12AT7 driving an FX loop.
It’s been accepted for nigh on half a century that black is a good colour for amps, so it says something about the impact of the original Tiny Terror’s design that this ‘negative’ version takes so much getting used to.
It’s mean and menacing without being blatantly gothed-up – if you’d rather have a picture of a bleeding crucifix than the traditional Orange crest, better get your crayons out. The Dark Terror still weighs next to nothing despite the extra glassware, and the only new feature on the front panel is a Shape control replacing the standard Tone knob.
This is borrowed from the Thunder series, and promises some very interesting mid-range manipulation.
On the back, we find a pair of 8 ohm speaker outs and one 16 ohm, plus send and return jacks for the FX loop.
This is a peculiar addition – adding a valve-driven loop to a little three-knob amp like this might seem like fitting an electric sunroof to a golf cart, but someone at Orange clearly thinks plugging pedals into the front end of an amplifier, or indeed allowing a whiff of transistor into the internal signal path, just won’t do for the discerning hard rocker. We’ll put this to the test soon enough.
First, a quick look under the bonnet. One minor drawback with the Terror design is that lifting off the cover involves taking out no less than 10 screws – not ideal if one of the valves should blow mid-gig. Once inside, everything looks pretty clean.
The EL84s are JJs, held in place by sprung brackets, and the shielded preamp tubes are unbranded. Removing the base (a mere four screws this time) gives us a grandstand view of a jam-packed PCB that fills the underside of the chassis.
No complaints about the Chinese build quality, and it’s understandable that space should be at a premium in an amp like this, but pity the sausage-fingered tech who has to poke his way around here in search of a dodgy resistor. Still, even if the valve bases are mounted directly to the green stuff, it’s a snug and solid job.
The feel of the amp inspires confidence – you’d happily sling it along to a gig without worrying about bits falling off, and that’s a crucial selling point.
With everything at noon, a frisky Telecaster at one end and a single Greenback at the other, the Dark Terror powers up quietly and politely for a hearty helping of classic British crunch. If you’re familiar with the original TT, you’ll know what to expect – and you’ll like it.
What’s more, pulling Gain down to between 9 and 10 o’clock while cranking the output valves to keep things nice and loud, it soon becomes clear that this isn’t a ‘rock only’ amp. We may not be in ultra-clean territory, but for sparkly chords with just a hint of grit it’s up to the task.
Now let’s bring back a touch more of the crunchy stuff and sample that Shape control. Hey hey, now you’re talking. All the way round to the right, we’re treated to a mid-range scoop that totally changes the voicing and yet still sounds convincing.
All the way left, the woody mids leap right back out and clonk you around the head like a well-polished cricket bat. It’s a tone so boxy you could keep jewellery in it. It’s reminiscent of Blackstar’s ISF control, with the UK (ie: Marshall) at one end of the dial and the USA (ie: Fender) at the other, but if anything it’s even more dramatic, refreshing and downright cool.
Those extra gain stages are quick to make themselves heard as soon as you stray past 12 o’clock. There’s as much overdrive here as you could ever need, and it’s so tight and contained that you don’t feel the lack of a conventional tone control, even when switching from angular Tele to chubby Les Paul.
The Shape works even better up in the filth zone, covering modern metal brilliantly at the scooped end and vintage Brit lead tones at the other. It’s not just about the extremes – there isn’t a spot on that dial that doesn’t have something tasty to offer.
It’s a pity the added preamp stages aren’t footswitchable for a killer solo boost... instead we get that all-tube FX loop. Of course pushing something through the sonic mangle of an overdriving preamp is going to change the way it sounds, but patching your effects in afterwards to keep them pure and uncompressed doesn’t always work out in practice.
We tried a handful of modulation, delay and distortion pedals both in the loop and plugging straight into the front of the amp; the differences were noticeable with Gain set high, but to these ears, almost everything sounded more natural and musical going through the guitar input. Harumph.
The 15W/7W switch, common to the Terror range, is a less contentious feature. Low-power mode works by reducing the plate voltage and, while it certainly doesn’t feel anything like as quiet as half volume, it’s a simple way of getting more dirt per decibel without sucking the life out of the output valves.
This can’t fail to be another hit for Orange. It sounds great with single coils, humbuckers, P90s… it’d probably sound great with chicken wire wrapped around a fridge magnet.
Plenty will welcome the extra gain, perhaps not quite so many will welcome the FX loop, but the biggest improvement on the standard Tiny Terror is hiding behind that little geometric graphic on the front panel.
The Shape control is a deal-breaking stroke of brilliance and we demand that it be fitted to all other Terrors right away, or we won’t eat our dinner.