Top 10 Best Boost Pedals: Which Is Right for You?

Compared to their higher-visibility overdrive and distortion brethren, booster pedals occupy a strange place in the guitar landscape.

For one thing, the line between overdrive and boost is mighty thin. As I discussed in our best overdrive pedals post, the effect we call overdrive is basically just turning an amp up until it starts to distort. In this way, then, all boosts are overdrives and the opposite is true, too. Turned up sufficiently, there are many applications where there is no difference, especially into a compressing tube amp.

There is a difference, of course. Overdrive pedal circuits are designed to clip, albeit softly. They also tend to have their own inherent EQ that highlights certain parts of the signal, which gives them each their unique voice. It’s the reason we seek these pedals out in the first place. That circuit does something special to your sound.

That said, you’ll find very many applications for pedals typically referred to as overdrive pedals standing in as boosters. The Klon Centaur is one key example, and probably the best known of the “transparent” overdrives used to provide a boost. You won’t find it on this list, nor the JRAD Archer, nor the Wampler Tumnus, nor the EHX Soul Food, which we included on our cheap effects list. We’ve discussed them all before and more than that, clean boosting is but one of their functions. They are all extremely good both as overdrives and boosts, but for this list, we focused on things that were more purely focused on the job of boosting in particular. As always, let your ears be the judge — we like them all.

For another thing, despite their seeming simplicity, booster pedals are the secret weapons of many a pedalboard. Again, compared to the flashier modulation pedals or the obvious improvement a good delay can make, the magic of a booster can be quite subtle. They aren’t quite compressors, though they can effect some compression and provide focus. Boosts are effectively preamps that add a gain stage to your signal flow, and as gain increases, so does compression.

Descriptors that come to mind when discussing boost include sparkle, grit, girth, thickness, tightness, and so on. In short, for many setups where the amp does the heavy lifting of providing the tone, a boost is just the seasoning on top. Jobs that a boost pedal might do include simple volume increase, saturation, light drive, EQ, and separation from the band mix for solos. As we discussed in our pedalboard setup post, there are options for where you put your booster depending on which of these you want it to perform. To drive your gain pedals, put it in the front. To increase your overall volume, put it right before the amp. If you want quite a loud volume boost, you could try it in the effects loop, too.

To this end, there are different types of boosters. The most popular is the clean boost, which is designed not to color your tone whatsoever. You’ve already spent the money to develop a sound and all you want is that sound louder. Next is the treble boost, whose primary function is to push your guitar out in front of a live mix for solos. Next, there are dirty boosts, which are the closest to being overdrive pedals in their relationship to the amp, but are still full-frequency devices. Finally, there are midrange and bass boosts. We’ve indicated which type for each of our choices, as well as that of any related offerings from each maker.

Whether you’re preparing for a spotlight-stealing solo or just sweetening your tone, consider these top ten best boost pedals as options for your new secret weapon.


1. MXR M133 Micro Amp

MXR

Without a doubt, the Micro Amp is one of the most ubiquitous boost pedals in the world. It’s dead simple and it works wonders. It’s not quite a mini pedal, but the smaller MXR box won’t take up much room on your board. The single knob controls the boost from zero to +26 dB. The pickiest players will notice just a touch more top-end when turned on, but for the most part, this is extremely transparent. As just about every write-up of these mentions, one of the primary uses is as a pickup level matching device when switching between single coil and humbucking guitars. Definitely a bona fide gem.

MXR make two more extremely good options, both of which are more expensive. First is the Micro Amp + ($119.99), which adds a bass and treble control if you do want tone shaping. The other is the MXR CAE Boost/Line Driver ($99.99), which excels at low noise operation and offers +20db of boost. The safe (and least expensive) bet is the Micro Amp, though.

  • Boost type: Clean
  • Gain range: +26dB
  • True bypass?: No (hardwire bypass)
  • Why you would choose this one: A long history of appearances on pedalboards the world over makes this utility player a great option.

Price: $79.99

Buy the MXR M133 Micro Amp here.




2. Keeley Katana

Keeley Electronics

Like the aforementioned Klon, this offering from Keeley features an internal power conversion from 9 volts to 18 volts. This has the effect of increasing headroom, which is what makes space for the clean boosting. More headroom, more volume before breakup. However, if you did want it to drive the amp harder, simply pull out the speed knob to turn it into a cutting grit machine, more akin to a dirty boost. Coming from a fine tradition of truly excellent Keeley pedals, this is a very low noise unit made of high quality components. On the other hand, it’s rather pricey, so you have to weigh that.

Keeley also offers the Mini Katana, which is both cheaper at $99 and offers an ever-so-slightly expanded feature set. Internal dip switches control the function that the pull-out knob does on the larger pedal, with switch one providing an optional treble cut and switch two controlling the full gain increase.

  • Boost type: Clean (and Dirty)
  • Gain range: +35dB
  • True bypass?: Yes
  • Why you would choose this one: Klon-like clarity meets modern function in a smaller enclosure.

Price: $199

Buy the Keeley Katana here.




3. Xotic EP Booster

Xotic

Part of the trifecta of mini pedals from Xotic that includes the equally-excellent SP Compressor and SL Drive, the EP Booster has become a staple. Given that the humble booster isn’t the most glamorous effect, it’s nice that you can get a premium version in a small package so you don’t eat up space for other pedals. Though it’s considered a clean boost, it isn’t completely transparent, derived as it is from the preamp in the Echoplex EP-3, which was known for its sweetening effect. Your tone will be just a little smoother with the EP on, but many use it as an always-on pedal, so you might pair this as your pre-drive boost with another pick from this list post-drive. Though it doesn’t boost the power internally like the Katana, you can use an 18 volt adapter for higher headroom. Internal dip switches allow for tone shaping with bass and treble boost options.

Xotic also make the heralded RC Booster, which puts the EQ knobs on the top and adds a Gain knob that helps it get dangerously close to overdrive territory. In fact, the RC Booster V2 adds an entirely separate second gain channel, and like the EP, can be run at 18 volts.

  • Boost type: Clean
  • Gain range: +20dB
  • True bypass?: Yes
  • Why you would choose this one: Quickly becoming a legend in the genre, this could provide the final touch to your tone quest.

Price: $116

Buy the Xotic EP Booster here.




4. Suhr Koko Boost

Suhr

This beastly booster combines a very unique feature set that helps it stand out from the pack. Right away, it’s obvious that this is actually two boosters in one. On the left, it’s a classic clean boost with +20dB of gain. On the right, it’s a midrange boost. The midrange side is controlled by a top-mounted frequency switch that allows you to choose which band of the EQ is boosted: Mids, High Mids, and Low Mids. This vastly increases the flexibility and gives you many options that could come in handy for pickup matching or for driving certain pedals or amps. They can’t be run together, which might be a drawback, though the automatic switching between them saves you some tap dancing.

An internal switch allows you to choose between buffered or true bypass operation to suit your needs. You can run it at 18 volts, but if you opt to use a 9 volt battery, an internal monitor will automatically switch it to true bypass mode when the battery gets weak. Finally, there’s the FX Link connector which will allow this to easily interface with remote switches.

For $50 less, you could also opt for the Suhr Koko Reloaded, which is essentially version two. It adds +6 more dB, revoiced frequency selector, Mid Q which shapes the boosted midrange, and the mf(x) function that allows for smart selecting between the two boosters. It’s also in the smaller MXR-style enclosure. I like the unmistakable ease of use afforded by the two switches, but the Reloaded is definitely a step forward.

  • Boost type: Clean and Midrange
  • Gain range: +20dB
  • True bypass?: Yes, with optional buffer
  • Why you would choose this one: You have a need for both a clean boost and a mid boost at different times.

Price: $250

Buy the Suhr Koko Boost here.




5. EarthQuaker Devices Tone Job EQ and Booster

EarthQuaker Devices

If you’ve ever watched the EQ episode of That Pedal Show, you know how incredibly powerful an EQ pedal can be. They even recommend using a Boss GE-7 as the boost pedal. Not a bad suggestion; the Boss is a fine pedal. But if you want next-level EQ mixed in with your clean boost pedal, consider this offering from EarthQuaker. The Treble, Mid, and Bass knobs are all active and allow for a boost or cut of +20dB. They’re interactive, too, so the range of the Treble and Bass move in concert with the positioning of the Mid. This makes it both incredibly flexible and more likely to render usable tones quickly.

As for the boosting capability, this circuit is based on high end stereo preamps, so you can increase the level up to five times the original input. Add in soft touch switching and top mounted jacks and you’ve got a fully modern, absurdly high-quality boost. You can run this at 18 volts, too.

EQD offer two other boost pedals to consider. The first is the Bows germanium preamp ($145), which combines a full range dirty boost with a treble booster meant for crunch. The one I use on my board is the Arrows ($95), which is a midrange preamp booster, designed to add a gain stage to dirt pedals. It tightens up the low end a bit too, which can prevent the lower frequencies from driving too early, thereby retaining punch.

  • Boost type: Clean (with EQ shaping)
  • Gain range: 5x original signal
  • True bypass?: Yes
  • Why you would choose this one: A high-quality preamp with lots of gain meets active EQ for the ultimate tone shaping device.

Price: $155

Buy the EarthQuaker Devices Tone Job EQ and Booster here.




6. Wampler Pedals dB+

Wampler Pedals

While the usual preference for higher-end pedals is for true bypass, that overlooks the utility of a quality buffer. Once you’ve lined up several of your boutique true bypass pedals and run twenty feet of cord on either side of the board, you’ll probably notice some high-end roll off. If that’s the case, consider this useful boost from Wampler. It’s equal parts boost and buffer, the latter of which is optionally switchable when the pedal is off using the side switch. When the pedal is engaged, it will be just the buffer when the gain knob is fully counter-clockwise. Turn it up to set your boost. Pretty simple, but an elegant solution to tone suck.

  • Boost type: Clean
  • Gain range: Unknown (probably about +20dB)
  • True bypass?: Yes (buffered when on)
  • Why you would choose this one: You’re using a lot of pedals and long cable runs and need a high-quality buffer to restore high-end.

Price: $129.97

Buy the Wampler Pedals dB+ here.




7. TC Electronic Spark Booster

TC Electronic

Touching on the functionality of the Suhr and the EarthQuaker offerings, the Spark is an EQ-shaping clean boost. In addition to a healthy +26dB of gain, the Bass and Treble knobs are active and allow for boosting and cutting those frequencies. The pedal’s character on the whole is dictated by the Fat/Clean/Mid switch that gives you access to all three types of boost, which in combination with the Gain knob, can easily mimic an overdrive pedal when pushing your tube amp. For the price, there’s an awful lot of functionality under the hood. It’s neither the most pristine clean nor the option with the most mojo, but it’s definitely a contender and is at home on many boards. It’s a very good offering worth your consideration.

Previously discussed in our cheap effects post, TC also offers the Spark Mini, which is a +20dB clean boost with an option for momentary mode. It’ll only set you back $50.

  • Boost type: Clean, Midrange, and Dirty
  • Gain range: +26dB
  • True bypass?: Yes
  • Why you would choose this one: A reasonably priced offering that includes EQ shaping abilities and three different boost modes.

Price: $102.96

Buy the TC Electronic Spark Booster here.




8. Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 Linear Power Booster

Electro-Harmonix

Based on one of the first driver type pedals introduced in 1968, the LPB-1 forms one leg of a trio of boosting pedals from EHX. As the name implies, this is a linear or clean boost, meant to simply raise the volume of your guitar and in turn increase saturation at the amp. Like the MXR above, this may add a touch of perceptible presence, but on the whole it’s very transparent. The nano enclosure keeps your board tidy, too.

The other two boosting offerings from the company are the Screaming Bird treble booster and The Mole bass booster. Despite its low rating on Amazon, my anecdotal experience is that the Screaming Bird is the most popular of the three, though you’re probably not going to love it through a high-headroom Fenderish type amp most of the time. Start with the LPB-1, but they’re cheap enough ($40.80 each) that you could get one of each and still be in the neighborhood of any of the others on this list cost-wise.

  • Boost type: Clean
  • Gain range: +20dB
  • True bypass?: Yes
  • Why you would choose this one: Simple, dirt cheap boost pedal from one of the industry standard setters.

Price: $40.80

Buy the Electro-Harmonix LPB-1 Linear Power Booster here.




9. Carl Martin Hydra Boost

Carl Martin

Carl Martin makes a wide range of (ahem, graphic design challenged) pedals that each address a particular need extremely well. They aren’t flashy, but they are feature-packed and among the best sounding devices on the market. Their HeadRoom spring reverb is a marvel, as is their Andy Timmons Compressor. The Hydra is their approach to clean boost. It’s incredibly transparent and low-noise, providing +15dB of boost. This is lower than the other options on this list, so if you find that those are driving too much or that the range of the knobs aren’t as usable as you’d like, this would make an excellent option. It’s a simple thing, really, but for clean or lightly driven lead work, it’s fantastic.

  • Boost type: Clean
  • Gain range: +15dB
  • True bypass?: No, buffered
  • Why you would choose this one: Studio-like fidelity and a lower gain range for more subtle applications.

Price: $127.40

Buy the Carl Martin Hydra Boost here.



10. Fulltone 2B Boost

Fulltone

Originally appearing inside the Full-Drive 3, this boost circuit combines features of clean boost and compression to create a device that sweetens your tone as much as make it louder. At its core, it’s a transparent clean boost that doesn’t color the tone at all. The compression element comes in as you increase the gain with a high-end roll off. Boost pedals can make your tone a bit too harsh and bright, so Fulltone went ahead and addressed that. The other main differentiator is the Dynamics knob. This is a germanium-based limiter that accentuates the effect of the high-end roll off and allows you to dial in the feel you want. It tames transient peaks, just as a limiter in the studio would. It isn’t true bypass, so a high-quality buffer is always working when this is in your signal chain. It can be run at 9 or 18 volts depending on your headroom needs.

  • Boost type: Clean
  • Gain range: +20dB
  • True bypass?: No, buffered
  • Why you would choose this one: Additional features help keep your tone in line as it boosts.

Price: $109.65

Buy the Fulltone 2B Boost here.



If you noticed that all of these were on the expensive side, fear not. The Outlaw Effects Boilermaker is a solid option at less than $50. If you just want to test drive boost on the cheap, try the Donner Booster.

Boost pedals are ideal in live settings. If you’re reconsidering the rest of your live rig, check out our best gigging amps under $1,000.


Heavy, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon. Our product recommendations are guided solely by our editors. We have no relationship with manufacturers.
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Dan

This is a great site. The quality of the English surpasses that almost every other gear review site I’ve come across. The reviews are complete and the details are plentiful.

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