The sound of a tube amplifier pushed into saturation is unique. And although sometimes I play clean, my favorite amp-sound is never totally clean. I adjusted the amp in a way that it shows soft colorations and starts to compress when I dig in harder. This is the reason why so many prefer the supposed clean-sound of a tube amp instead of the sound of a transistor amplifier.
A transistor amp mostly creates a really clean signal and soon will sound some kind of lifeless. The tube amplifier has a point where the tubes are coloring the sound pretty softly and create harmonic overtones without overdriving. I guess this is the sound many guitarists long for when they search for a transparent overdrive-pedal.
But often this is also the point where the amp is quiet to loud. By the way, that is the reason why on the internet so many guitarists negate the question “May I use my 100 watts amplifier as a bedroom amp”.
Of course you can set the volume to one and hear your amplified guitar-signal but then it will not sound really sweet.
The bedroom amp solution
There are different possibilities to get the beautiful sound of a tube amp while you play at home or write your songs.
The easiest way is to use an overdrive-pedal with a low gain-setting for your clean-sound. Although you (almost) turn off the gain of a low-gainer the sound will be compressed and colored in a gentle way.
These days we are lucky that there are numerous 1-5 watts amplifiers of various manufacturers. Marshall, for example has got 1-watt-versions of their legendary amplifiers. Likewise you can find 5- watts tweed-style amps or 1-watt VOX amplifiers new or used without busting the bank. And you can easily get even 5-watts vintage-amps like the Fender Vibro Champ. These little amps mostly sound similar to their “big brothers”. I frequently use the Vox lil’ night train for recording. The advantage of these small amplifiers is that you can even drive them to their so-called “sweet spot” (the setting where the tubes start to overdrive and create the desired sound-result) at a low volume.
Another possibility is to use a power soak. It is set between amplifier and speaker and reduces the volume behind the power amp. In contrast to a master-volume you can, in this case, also benefit from the overdrive of the power amp. Furthermore it is practicable to integrate a power soak as a so-called “London Power Scaling” into an amplifier. On this way you can set the volume infinitely variable down to 0,1 watts with a single pot.
Also pretty suitable for home recording are isolation-cabs. Instead of the speaker of the amplifier you use a separate speaker that is enclosed by a special cabinet which contains a microphone. The signal of this microphone can be easily send to a preamp or the soundcard of your computer.
The sound of modeling devices have reached a high level (especially since Kemper). Now you are able to load varying amp-sounds up to one device. And of course there are also plugins for the computer which emulates the sound of an amplifier. But for this you should always use a computer with a powerful audio interface to keep the latencies low.