The Roland Micro Cube GX is an update on the well-received Micro Cube which adds a number of new features. Not every guitarist requires a monster rig, something which amp manufacturers have increasingly appreciated in recent years. So there’s a number of competitors in the portable amp field at a range of price points. At $149 the three-watt Micro Cube GX is great value, and offers a number of very useful features. For another great practice amp, be sure to check out the Marshall Code 25 review.
Upgrade on the Micro Cube
First things first, how does it compare to the older Micro Cube? The Micro Cube GX adds a chromatic tuner, increased output, i-Cube Link and a memory function for saving settings. The i-Cube Link is a built-in audio interface for use with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. There are now eight COSM amps, with the addition of the high-gain channel extreme. There are eight effects, with the addition of heavy octave for thick, low tones. The quality of the tones have been noticeably improved from the previous Micro Cube.
Roland Micro Cube GX control layout
The Roland Micro Cube GX control panel has a digital amp type selector, effects knob, delay/reverb knob, memory button, tuner, gain, volume, tone and master volume. The tuner is frustrating to use. It tunes to the nearest note and indicates whether it’s sharp or flat. There’s no read-out for what note you are tuning to and the indicators are vague and unreliable. It’s alright for a quick tune but if you are intending to gig with the amp I would definitely pack a dedicated tuner.
The memory function turns the Cube into a dual-channel amp of sorts. You can dial up the tone and effects you want for the second channel, then hold the memory button for a few seconds to save the settings. After that they can instantly be recalled which can be useful for changing tones quickly in between songs. However, there’s no footswitch so it would be difficult to access this function mid-song unless you had a break in your playing.
The single tone control is well-designed. I was generally able to get the amp to a nice sweet spot using the single control. Naturally it would have been nice to have a three-band EQ on the amp. The different modelling amps do have distinct EQ characteristics, so you can use the amp model settings in combination with the tone control to gain more precise control over the overall EQ. The amp can be run on six AA batteries if mains power is not available. The batteries can last for months if the amp is played intermittently at low-medium volumes. Roland state the battery life for alkaline batteries is 20 hours and 25 hours with rechargeable Ni-MH batteries with a capacity of 2,400 mAh. If you play the amp at full volume for an extended session the battery life can be significantly less than that.
Solid construction for the Cube
The Micro Cube GX has a sturdy construction. It’s made of hard plastic with a metal grill covering the 5″ speaker. It can take a few knocks without issue. At 2.7kg it’s very light. With the included strap the amp can be carried with one hand comfortably. The controls are made out of hard plastic and are only partially recessed. That makes them the most vulnerable part of the design, and if they got a hard knock they could crack. They are placed at the rear of the top panel of the amp, and have a buffer area on the left and right. This means they are not likely to be in harm’s way. The amp is available in three colours. Large black protectors cover the corners and edges of the red and white versions of the amp. This detracts from their overall aesthetic, so I think the original black amp colour still looks the best.
The amp volume is more than enough for home use. It could be used to jam with a three-piece band or softer bands. That’s as long as don’t have to compete with a John Bonham wannabe behind the drums. It would also be acceptable for busking, open mics or similar applications. If you want to jam with noisy rock bands or play in larger rooms/venues, then you will be better off upgrading to a larger amp. When you crank it up it does sound somewhat hollow compared to the meatier response you get from other amps. For the price and size of the GX, expecting more from it would be unrealistic. Sending a guitar and microphone through the Micro Cube GX simultaneously is not possible. If you require this functionality you may wish to upgrade to the Roland Cube Street.
COSM amps vary in usability
The eight COSM amps vary in quality but overall they are fairly good. They are: acoustic, JC clean, black panel, Brit combo, classic stack, R-fier stack, extreme and mic. The first three amps only really get into boost territory even with the gain dimed. The following four move from crunch into heavy gain. ‘Mic’ runs an algorithm designed for use with a connected mic. I wasn’t expecting much from the acoustic amp but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a fair imitation of an acoustic guitar. The ‘JC clean’ effect models the Roland JC-120, and has a bright, well-rounded sound. The ‘black panel’ effect is based on the Fender Twin Reverb and has a thinner, more subtle sound than the JC-120. The ‘Brit Combo’ and ‘Classic Stack’ sit in a similar territory to one another, with a heavy mid presence. The former models the Vox AC-30TB and the latter the Marshall JMP1987. Neither really hit the mark for me. The mid presence didn’t capture the beautiful tones of the aforementioned amps and sounded like a clunky imitation. The Brit Combo did provide some nice shimmer on chords though. Rock and rollers will want to use these two amps and as such may be disappointed with the Micro Cube. The ‘R-fier stack’ effect is based on the MESA/Boogie Rectifier series. You’re not going to fool anyone into thinking you’re packing a MESA, but the setting does a fair job at presenting a good sound for hard rock and heavy metal. ‘Extreme’ was another amp that did better than I was expecting. It’s similar to R-fier stack but it adds tighter bass and greater compression. It immediately made me want to play some death metal riffs and was quite satisfying. Overall, people who want to play predominantly clean or boosted guitar parts will enjoy the GX, as will metalheads. Those hoping for pleasant overdrive and distorted sounds may want to look elsewhere. The overdrive sounds aren’t atrocious but they certainly aren’t the amp’s strong point.
Effects split into two control knobs
The eight effects included in the Roland Micro Cube GX are split onto two controls. Chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo and heavy octave are on one knob, while delay, reverb and spring reverb are on another. Therefore the first five cannot be engaged simultaneously, although one of them can be used in combination with one of the effects on the second list. Some of the effects sound quite nice, although several of them are almost unusable. Even the best effects will not come close to the quality you can get from a standalone pedal, so don’t expect the amp to work wonders in this area. There is only one parameter which can be changed for each effect – the higher the level, the greater the overall intensity of the effect. The chorus and the tremolo are both quite pleasant. The tremolo sounds restrained though even when set at maximum.
The flanger and phaser both sound horrible. If you are new to guitar and want to play around with these effects, then they may be useful, but I can’t think of any other application for them. The heavy octave sounds nice when playing thick single note rhythms, although if you play higher on the neck it starts to sound very gimmicky. The delay and reverb are both very usable. The delay is fairly subtle so don’t expect to pull any Steve Vai moves using it. The delay or reverb used in combination with the tremolo is one of the best combinations possible on the amp. The spring reverb has a slightly warmer, retro sound that works well when paired with the clean or boosted amp tones. The spring reverb and heavy octave can only be engaged at a single level of intensity, unlike the other six effects.
The amp has an i-Cube link/aux in jack (3.5mm) and a recording out/headphones jack (3.5mm). The former can be used to run music from a phone or other device through the amp, allowing you to jam over songs. The i-Cube link connects to iOS devices with an included cable. The onboard tones and effects of the Micro Cube GX can be utilised when recording via an app of your choice. Roland offer the free iOS Cube Jam App, which can be used to record using the Cube. After recording, the app enables independent adjustment of the guitar and backing music. It can also make independent speed and pitch adjustment of audio playback. Personally I would have found a 1/4″ line out more useful so it could be connected directly to a standard audio interface. Presumably Roland are marketing the amp heavily at those who want portable amplifier, and therefore assume they will be using portable recording set-ups.
The Roland Micro Cube GX offers a range of features in a convenient and affordable package. The quality of the tones and effects vary but there are a number of nice options included. Newcomers to the guitar will find the amp useful as it allows them to try out a wide variety of tones and start finding their own sound. Buying a small tube amp will likely provide a higher quality of tone but the number of sonic options will be very limited compared to the Cube. The construction of the amp is solid and well-suited to the intended portable use. Features such as battery power, i-Cube link and recording out make it ideal for both portable recording and live performances.
There are some excellent battery-powered mini amps available (from Line 6 and Vox in particular) but I think the Roland Micro Cube is the best of the bunch.
With a well designed cabinet, a 5 inch speaker can really rock because this little Roland Micro Cube GX is truly amazing
Friends are amazed at its capabilities and sound, while it is light. completely portable, and easy to use It was a great buy and a great price.
The tones are varied and useable, and I find myself using more models and effects than I thought I would, as it is quite capable of producing good approximations of the sounds of my favourite songs/guitarists.
Ultra-compact guitar amp with custom-designed speaker
Eight COSM amp tones, including the ultra-heavy EXTREME amp
Eight DSP effects, including HEAVY OCTAVE and dedicated DELAY/REVERB with spring emulation
MEMORY function for saving favorite amp and effects settings
i-CUBE LINK jack provides simple audio interfacing with Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (interface cable included)
Free CUBE JAM app for iOS plays songs and minus-one jam tracks, and lets you record the MICRO CUBE GX’s COSM amp tones along with music playback
Chromatic tuner built in
Runs on battery power or supplied AC adapter; carrying strap included
The Roland Micro Cube GX offers a range of features in a convenient and affordable package. The quality of the tones and effects vary but there are a number of nice options included. The construction of the amp is solid and well-suited to the intended portable use.