AF’s Weblog

July 2, 2012

Fender Super Champ X2 Review

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Fender Super Champ X2

In the world of guitar amps, war is raging. The transistor forces from the digital world are fighting the tubes army. Turning itself into a peace dove, Fender tries to put an end to this war by introducing a hybrid concept: the Super Champ X2. This new amp made in Mexico combines digital technology with tubes has finally seen the light of day. It’s on neutral ground so I can start examining the beast. Hopefully this leads to a peaceful co-existence.

What a Cute Combo

Fender Super Champ X2

I thought I would break my back carrying this new amp. But surprise, surprise, the newcomer is light (considering it’s an amp!), so I was able to climb up the stairs carrying it single-handedly. Aesthetically, it is very Fender looking: black vinyl covering and silver grill cloth with Fender logo. The front panel in Blackface style is not what I’d call original, but it still looks very nice. Manufactured from 1964 to 1967, the Blackface is part of Fender’s legend. Insiders will understand that I refer to the Princeton Reverb, Deluxe Reverb and Vibro champ. The dimensions are somewhat small (9.2″ x 17.5″ x 15″) and the weight reasonable (24 lbs). It will match a vintage environment perfectly. Under the hood, you’ll find all you need to have a blast! You get a pair of 6V6 power tubes for a total output power of 12 watts, one 12AX7 tube in the preamp stage and several transformers matching the tubes. The speaker is a 10” Fender Special Design allowing the combo to stay compact.

Too Much for Beginners?

Doctor J.’s minute!

Vibratone? This effect was conceived in 1941 by Donald Leslie. The Leslie cabinet (better known as Leslie Rotary Speaker) includes its own tube amplifier. A Leslie amplifies the signal and sends it to the speakers. The sound of the low-frequency speaker is sent to a closed baffle through a rotating drum while the sound of the high-frequency driver is sent to a rotary horn. This speaker cabinet creates interesting sound modulations. The source seems to move forwards and also from left to right alternatively while the loudness varies.

One of my worries with digital technology is that you have to turn and push a lot of different controls and you can’t understand anything without the user’s manual. But don’t fear this Super Champ X2: it provides only a few, easy-to-understand controls. The amp provides two separate channels based either on tube or digital technology. Both channels share the EQ section with Treble and Bass controls, the FX selector, the Tap Tempo switch, and the FX Adjust control. Each channel has its own volume control. Plus, there’s a channel selector and a 16-way Voice selector. The rear panel is even more simple: a mains power socket with On/Off switch and fuse. You also get a speaker out, a line out, a footswitch connector (unfortunately, a matching footswitch is not provided), and a USB port. When it comes to effects, we’ve been spoiled: Reverb (Large Room, Concert Hall, spring reverb, delayed reverb), Delay (130 or 300ms), Chorus (fast sweeping, deep sweeping, chorus+delay, chorus+reverb), Tremolo (slow, normal or fast speed), Vibratone (slow or fast speed).

Now let’s take a closer look…

….

Nobel Peace Prize?

The Super Champ X2 is a nice surprise. The amp models sound very good, the tube power amp adds natural warmth and compression to your tone, and you get a dedicated, easy-to-use software. Considering the wide range of amps provided, you’ll easily find your own tone, regardless of your playing style (blues, rock, ska, metal, etc.). Unfortunately, the output power (15 watts) won’t allow you to use the amp in all situations. It’s perfect for playing at home or in a recording studio, but it’s not powerful enough for rehearsals if you have to compete with a drummer. Fender won its bet with this small combo sold for $300 — and this small jewel is also available as an amp head for $250. Unfortunately, the matching footswitch is not included…

Advantages: 
  • Compact size
  • Weight
  • Voicings
  • Effects
  • Tube power stage
Drawbacks:
  • A mid setting on the front panel would be nice!
  • We wish there was a version with more output power
  • Footswitch not included…

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Fender Super Champ X2

June 11, 2012

Fender Machete Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Machete Review

The Fender Machete represents a new direction for the manufacturer. It’s not like they want to start to making cutlery but rather they want to enter the heavy distortion world. This strategical decision caused many reactions in the guitar world. So, with mixed feelings I leave the sandy roads and whiskey smell of Mississippi to enter the country of tattooed, long-haired musicians.

A Weapon for the Strong!

Fender Machete

I receive the weapon under seal. It hardly fits the trunk of my car with the rear seats folded (for insiders, the JeyMobile looks a lot like the GarthMobile). I come to my place of destination and ask for help to take the cardboard box out of my car because it’s twice as large as me… Right after unpacking you’ll discover that the amp is much smaller than the box (big foam protections inside!) but still not lighter. The physical specs: 24.5″ x 11.5″ x 22″ and 71 lbs. The manufacturer had mercy on us and decided to add clipable casters so we won’t break our backs when transporting the amp. The two-color combo is protected by a black vinyl covering with white edging and a center stripe in the style of a roadster steering wheel. The front plate is made out of black steel and offers nice-looking, brushed-aluminum Telecaster knobs. The overall roadster look is faithful but it might not be everyone’s favorite.

Swiss-Army Knife or a Classic?

Fender Machete

Let’s have a brief tech talk. Under the hood you’ll find five 7025 tubes (also called 12AX7), a pair of 6L6GC and a 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 speaker that matches the roadster look perfectly. The front and rear panel are fully packed. The engine offers two separate channels with Gain, Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble, and Notch controls each. The front panel also includes three selectors: a 6dB pad (for active pickups), a channel switch and a speaker damping selector (damping is the interaction between power tubes and speaker). Finally, the amp offers one reverb for both channels. A small disappointment is that the reverb is not a tube but a digital one…

Fender Machete

On the rear you have Power and Standby switches, an effect loop with send and return level controls, a line output on XLR connector, MIDI in, footswitch connector, and a pair of speaker outs with impedance selector, as well as a pair of PA Mute (mutes the power amp) and Cab Emul (adds the speaker emulation to the line out) mini-switches. The included footswitch provides four options for channel selection, gain boost (ch.1), FX loop, and reverb. It is equipped with two connectors: one for the amp and a second one to chain an additional Machete footswitch (can be useful on large stages). Something tells me it’s time to plug my axe now.

Let’s take a closer look and a listen…

Happy?

Fender’s goal was to offer an aggressive sounding combo to the tattooed, hairy metal community and they have succeeded! The amp is sturdy, so it can be taken on stage and to the studio or stay at home. Moreover, it offers a wide range of clean sounds plus everything from crunch to heavy distortion, while the Notch control allows you to fine-tune your tone. Unfortunately, the amp’s street price of around $1,900 is quite high. Quality has a price, and if you like it, you’ll pay for it…

Advantages: 
  • The sound!
  • Both channels
  • Notch control
  • Reverb
  • FX loop
  • Damping control
  • Footswitch provided
Drawbacks:
  • Price
  • Weight

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Machete Review

April 2, 2012

Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

Do you feel like a cowboy? Do you like the smell of ponies and old leather? Do you like riding on a weird mount and sweltering under an old stinking hat?

Me neither! Personally, I’m more of a take-the-law-into-my-own-hands kind of bass player, a guy who isn’t put off by anything except effort, and who has enough respect for stallions and bulls to avoid them. Even on an early Sunday morning after having spent a full night playing a drunk upright piano in a saloon. My Bronco is a Fender. It eats no oat but it surely spits 40 watts of power when you give it a bass guitar to chew on. Let’s go — or as they used to say in the old west: Yeehaw!

Small Pony

Fender Bronco

It’s so gray and small… And after all, it isn’t so tiny: it’s the size of a 20-liter bourbon barrel (11.25″x18″x15.25″) and weights 30 lbs. It looks pretty sleek: dark gray vinyl covering, black metal grill, only eight controls and three flashing buttons. You could almost walk past the amp without noticing it, like if it were a marmot crossing a valley. In short, it’s one more combo in a product range that already includes a dozen. Fender’s range even includes a 75 watt amp at almost the same price: the Rumble 75.

So, why should I buy an amp with less output power and a 10″ instead of a 12″ speaker? Do they think we bass players from the west are all dumb deadbeats?

“Now, hold ya horses,” says the sheriff, “yuh’re wrong, kid! The Bronco ain’t one of ‘em combos like all others. Ptooie!” (that was the sheriff spitting…)

- Really? What’s in for me then? If I wanted to give my money away, I’d rather play poker in the saloon…

- Why, son, with this Bronco, yuh can ride through th’ F-key Prairies while whistling “Down th’ Mountain” in 80 different variations. An’ that ain’t nothin’! If yuh plug it into yuhr computer via th’ USB port, yuh can use it as an audio interface, edit as many presets as yuh want an’ share ‘em on the web using th’ Fuse software. Yuh get ’bout 10 effects, eight amp models, an integrated tuner, an’ a free Ableton Lite version.

- Why, Sheriff you sure know a lot of things!

- Wal, kid, I jest read AudioFanzine when I ain’t have nobody t’ track down…

So, this small combo makes all these things for only $250. I’ll have to track it down to see if it’s true. Just give me a mule and my rifle, no French Cancan for me tonight…

Let’s take a closer look …

And for a few bucks less…

Like the Mustang, its counterpart for guitar players, the Bronco 40 is an appealing alternative to many products currently available on the market for about $250. The amp doesn’t have enough output power for rehearsals with a drummer, but it can be the perfect practice amp. We can also imagine ourselves in a home studio recording some bass grooves with it and taking the best out of its wide sound range. Add to that the unique, easy-to-use and intuitive software tool Fuse, the possibility to use the amp as an audio interface, the good manufacturing quality, and the value for money, and you end up with a very attractive combo for people looking for a higher-class practice bass amp.

Advantages: 
  • Good manufacturing quality
  • Ease-of-use
  • Simple control panel
  • Fuse software
  • Can be used as a (backup) audio interface
  • Value for money
Drawbacks:
  • Output power: almost too much power to play at home, but not enough for rehearsals with a drummer
  • Modulation algorithms from the same modulation stage can’t be used simultaneously
  • Some effects seem useless to me
  • Fender offers four different Mustang combos but only one Bronco

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Bronco Bass Combo Review

March 1, 2012

Yamaha THR10 Travel Amp Review

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:22 am

Yamaha’s new amplifier range now includes a brand new product: the THR10. It looks like a standard compact amp head. But in fact, this product holds some surprises…

Yamaha THR10

It weights 6.2 lb and has the following dimensions: 14.2″ x 7.2″ x 5.5″. Its cream finish and metal housing with vintage-style knobs give the THR10 an old-school touch although the amp design is definitely modern. The effects hosted in this small amp are based on Yamaha’s VCM modeling technology (Virtual Circuitry Modeling) you’ll find in many other products of the brand. The goal of this technology is to reproduce the behavior of old analog circuits to produce a classic warm sound.

The sleek design of this amp is ideal for musicians who are looking for a simple but effective tool.

Baby let’s play house!

Yamaha THR10

The amp is provided with an external 100/240V (50/60Hz) power supply and some accessories including a comprehensive product manual with lots of images, a USB2 cable to connect to a Mac/PC, and a stereo minijack in/out to connect the amp to a recorder (MD, MP3, etc.). If you want to record your guitar with your Mac/PC, Steinberg’s sequencer Cubase Al is provided for free on the DVD-ROM.

The rear panel of the THR10 includes a DC IN connector for the external PSU and a USB port to communicate with your computer. Later on we’ll tell you about the settings provided by the THR interface. The front panel is a perforated metal grill with stripes that protects two 5-watt speakers. So the “head” can be used alone without the need of an additional speaker. Sweet! The four screws on the front panel contribute to the sleek and classy look of the amp. All settings and tuner LEDs are placed in front of the handle, making access to all features of this small sound machine easier.

Yamaha THR10

Setting up the THR10 is almost “plug and play.” After powering on the device, a soft orange light (recalling the lights of tubes in standard amps) shines through the stripes of the perforated grill. The amp is equipped with Yamaha’s new “Extended Stereo Technology,” which offers a wider stereo image by simulating a greater separation between both speakers. This feature can be disabled with the TAP/TUNER key.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

This small amp surprised us with its compact size and good sound quality. The THR10 meets the needs of both beginners and experienced guitar players looking for a small practice amp. Thanks to its design and sturdiness, you can use this amp at home or even outdoors with batteries. We couldn’t test the battery runtime but the manufacturer states an estimate of 6-7 hours of operation. The price is a bit high, but the product is really appealing.

Advantages: 
  • Great vintage design
  • Light weight and compact size
  • Very good overall sound
  • Internal tuner and effects
  • Manufacturing quality
  • Battery operation
  • Integrated USB audio interface
  • AUX input for play-along applications
Drawbacks:
  • A bit expensive
  • ACO mode is a bit disappointing
  • EQ sometimes ineffective

To read the full detailed review see:  Yamaha THR10 Travel Amp Review

February 23, 2012

Ampeg GVT52 112 & GVT15H Review

Filed under: Amps, Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:41 am

The name Ampeg makes bass players’ ears stand up and tails wag. There is a good reason for that: launched during the 1969 NAMM, their SVT amp still has a leading position in the hearts and minds of most bass players. However, today we won’t review a bass amp, but an amp conceived for six-string players. Focus on the GVT52-112 & GVT15H.

Even though Ampeg has released guitar amps in the past, they are still pretty unknown and even underestimated. What’s more, bass products clearly take the lion’s share in the manufacturer’s catalog: bass heads, bass combos, Heritage Series, SVT Pro, Portaflex… So we were surprised to discover a brand new guitar amp range at the Musikmesse 2011! Called GVT, this series looks a lot like the old SVT monsters (300 watts in those days…) and will seduce Ampeg and vintage gear fans.

With their chrome control panel, buttons evoking a time most people under 40 didn’t know, and old-school logo, these new GVT amps have an appealing look and ride the wave of vintage gear for guitar players. One can easily imagine the sound coming out of the speakers just by looking at them and immediately feel nostalgic.

Let’s start with simple things: the small 15-watt head and its speaker cabinet.

Small But Tough

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

I don’t know about you, but personally I can’t resist tiny stacks! They look lovely, don’t they? With its compact size (9.8″x18″x10″) and light weight (27.4 lbs), this amp head is perfect for home use while being easily transportable. The speaker cabinet is equipped with a Celestion Vintage 30 12″ woofer, weights 30.8 lbs and has similar dimensions 16.5″x18x11″. Both devices together weight less than 60 lbs, plus they are easier to transport than the combo: just hold the amp head with your left hand and the speaker cabinet with your right hand, stand upright and you are ready to go.

The two devices look pretty sturdy: 15-mm plywood, thick leather handle and metal front panel. The knobs feel very firm and inspire a lot of confidence, the switches feel pretty tight as well.

And what’s inside?

A Well-Furnished Mind in a Small Head

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

The GVT15H features only one all-tube channel (class-A push-pull technology). The preamp stage has a pair of 12AX7 tubes while the power amp uses two 6V6GT tubes. You can halve the output power and get 7.5 watts instead of 15 (15 W = tetrode; 7.5 W = triode).

The Baxandall three-band EQ provides standard Bass, Middle and Treble settings. On the front panel you’ll also find the gain, volume and reverb controls. The Treble setting allows to cut/boost up to 12dB @ 5kHz, the Bass control is set to work on 80Hz, while the Middle knob allows you to cut up to 6dB @ 800Hz or boost up to 10dB @ 2kHz. The spring reverb and the rear FX loop can be disabled with a footswitch. You can connect 4, 8 or 16 ohm speakers to the amp using the appropriate rear output.

And that’s it for the overview of this extremely straightforward amp head. But how does it sound?

C-c-c-c-combo Breaker

Same look, same manufacturing quality, so let’s move on to the interesting parts right away.

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

This time, you get two channels, 50 watts of output power and an all-tube class-AB amplifier stage. The amp uses three 12AX7 tubes at the preamp stage and two 6L6GC tubes for the power amp. The triode operating mode is still available and allows you to halve the output power (25 watts). Weight (52.2 lbs) and dimensions (19.5″x24″x11″) are still reasonable. The internal speaker is a 12″ Celestion Custom Design. A good-quality footswitch is provided and it allows you to select a channel and activate the booster. Notice that it is possible to add a second footswitch to enable/disable the internal spring reverb and the FX loop.

The first channel produces only clean sounds and bears a lot of resemblance to the 15-watt head: same three-band Baxandall EQ, gain and volume controls. To switch to channel 2, you can use the small switch on the front panel or the footswitch.

Ampeg GVT52 112 et GVT15H

The EQ in channel 2 is slightly different: the mid boost is set at 1kHz, instead of 2kHz like in channel 1. All other controls are identical. The reverb setting and (of course) the master volume are common to both channels. Even if the combo offers a bit more than the head, it’s still pretty straightforward. There’s an LED that lights up red in standby mode and green when the amp is ready to be played — nice little detail.

On the rear panel you’ll find an effect loop (TS jacks), two footswitch connectors (only one is provided), and the outputs for 4, 8 or 16 ohm speakers. If you’re not sure about this last point, the user’s manual clearly explains the impedance to be used depending on the number of speakers and their impedance. Before listening to the sound samples, notice that the booster is accessible only from the footswitch and is common to both channels.

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  GVT52 112 & GVT 15H Reviews

January 5, 2012

Hiwatt T20 Review

Hiwatt has launched its tube series, a full range of compact amps presented as offering the typical British sound of their legendary brothers in spite of their small dimensions and their more affordable price. You can currently choose between three different output powers: 40, 20 or 10 watts. Every amp is available as a combo or head. Let’s check out if their bet is successful by reviewing the T20 combo.

Hiwatt to Know More

Hiwatt T20

From a technical standpoint, the T20 is based on a pair of EL84 power tubes plus two 12AX7 and one 12AU7 preamp tubes. The amp provides you with two channels (clean and overdrive) switchable via the dual footswitch provided (OD/clean and Reverb on/off). You can also select the active channel from the front panel, which also offers a gain control for each channel plus a master control (meaning there is no dedicated output level setting for each channel). The 3-band EQ is shared by both channels. Notice that the mid-band control is a push-pull potentiometer allowing you to shift the mid boost towards higher frequencies. This can be quite useful, for instance to have a slightly brighter sound when recording lead parts. The front panel also features a reverb level control and a couple of Standby and Power switches… and that’s it with the front panel! On the rear panel you have a connector for the dual footswitch (channel selection & reverb on/off), a line out (to feed a mixer or a power amp with the T20 preamp signal), and an 8-Ohm speaker out. This way, you have the possibility to use the T20 as an amp head feeding an external speaker cabinet. The 12″ speaker in the T20 is a Fane Medusa 150. Hiwatt has been using Fane speakers for almost 40 years…

As a summary, the T20 has all features of an amp conceived for recording applications, for playing at home, and for gigs in small clubs. I tried out the T20 with three different guitars: a Les Paul Custom, a Tom Anderson Strat and a Gretsch Billy Bo.

Now let’s take a closer look and a listen…

Conclusion

The T20 is a very good tool! You get the typical Hiwatt sound in a compact and easily transportable amp (only 35 lbs). Ideal for playing at home, small club gigs (unfortunately not in larger venues) and especially for recording applications… As a summary, this amp offers you an amazing and versatile clean channel and a (too) typical lead channel that you should consider as an extra. For about $625 (street price), it is the ideal choice for a first high-quality amp or for a professional musician who wants to add another sound to his tone palette. For about $100 less you can get the T20 amp head, and for about $200 more, the T40, which will allow you to play on larger stages while having the possibility of reducing the power to 20 watts via a simple switch on the front panel. Yeah!

Technical notes:

The sound samples were recorded with a Shure SM57 in front of the speaker and a Brauner Phantom V as room mic (about 6 ft from the amp). Both mics were connected to a MOTU 896 audio interface. No audio processing was used on the recordings, except for a 120Hz low-cut filter on some distortion sounds.

The other AF samples were recorded with a Shure SM57 and a Sennheiser e906 in front of the speaker.

Advantages: 
  • Clean sound
  • Legendary sound in a transportable format
  • Right output level for recording applications
Drawbacks:
  • Very peculiar distortion
  • No FX loop (…is this actually a con?)

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Hiwatt T20 Review

 

 

September 20, 2010

Fender Super-Sonic 22 Combo Review

In 2006, we saw the new Fender amps, dubbed Super-Sonic, with 60 watts under the hood and available in head or combo version. In 2010 we see a combo version of 22 Watts, sharing characteristics of its older brother. It sounds very clean and Fendery, with also saturated and high gain tones as well. Focus on the Super-Sonic Combo 22 today…

Fender Super-Sonic 22 Combo

Fender amps are known and recognized for their clean sounds, sometimes bright with models like the Vibrolux, sometimes warm and full with other references, like the famous Bassman.  But for heavily distorted sounds, the story is different, and guitarists are often forced to resort to overdrive or distortion pedals in order to saturate an amplifier lacking a real overdrive channel.  So we could have just stopped there and continued to adore the clean Fender amp sounds and happily connect our pedals to make some noise. But Fender wished otherwise, launching the Super-Sonic series, whose main goal is to offer both clean sounds worthy of their greatest signature amps, and overdriven sounds, very overdriven tones to please biggest fans of sturdier sounds.

The going fashion is to have low power (relative) tube amps.  Fender is spoiling us with a version a bit quieter than the previous 60 Watts. The Super-Sonic has 22 watts under the hood, and is available in two finishes, black or blonde (cream).  We received the black version for this review, but we would have preferred the iconic 1961 blond treatment, which matches better with the cream plastic knobs.  But it’s not too bad, the black version is still very nice…

We Unpack

Fender Super-Sonic 22 Combo

The combo is made of birch/maple plywood 1.9 cm thick and has the following measurements: 21.6 x 61 x 44.1 cm and measures 18.2 kg on the scale, which is quite reasonable without making a traveler’s amp out of it!  The look of the amp is very classic, with the old school script metal logo, the ivory ‘radio’ knobs and the large red LED on switch.  The grille cloth covering is black vinyl on the blond version, and gray on the black versions. The “Dog Bone” handle on the top of the amp is plastic, but looks very solid, and metal reinforcements are placed at the bottom four corners of the amp cabinet.   Everything looks good to handle things down the road and finish is impeccable.  In the box we are provided in addition to instructions, diagrams showing the guts of the amp. The latter, for sure will be the conversation topic at your next dinner party….guaranteed!   The icing on the cake: a nylon cover is provided to protect your precious from dust- classy!

Under the hood, we find no fewer than five lamps for preamp section:  three 12AX7 and two 12AT7, and two 6V6 power tubes for the amplification (modeled on the Deluxe Reverb). The lamps are protected by a gate at the back of the amp, just above the 12 inches (31 cm) speaker, a “Lightning Bolt” model by Eminence.

Let’s see what the Super-Sonic offers us now in terms of settings and connections …

Conclusion

For about $1400, Fender offers us a 22 Watts all tube amp of flawless quality.  The look is very successful and it has ample power to play quietly in groups.   The clean sounds are typically Fender for our delight, the crunch sounds are not standing still, and we have a real distorted channel, to top it all off.   Add to that an effects loop, Fender long-spring Reverb by Accutronics®, robust and complete pedals and a protective cover, and you get a receiver complete and flawless.  We only lament the price and weight, both a bit high for a 22 Watts. But when you get this sound, we are ready to make such concessions!

Fender Super-Sonic 22 Combo
Advantages:
  • Quality Manufacturing
  • Successful Look
  • Available in two finishes
  • Signature Fender clean sounds
  • Some very interesting crunch tones
  • A true saturated channel, ready to rock
  • Accutronics spring reverb
  • Adequate power for group play
  • Boost on the clean channel
  • Pedal 4 switches very robustly
  • Eminence Speakers

Drawbacks:

  • A 22 Watts at $1400
  • Moderately heavy and bulky for a 22 Watt
  • Not suitable for extreme metal
  • Heavily saturated tube distortion and sustain

To read the full detailed articles with sound samples see:  Fender Super-Sonic 22 Review

June 23, 2010

Vox AC15VR Valve Reactor Combo Amp Review

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 2:31 pm

A few years ago, Vox launched their legendary AC30 as an amp head or as a combo, all made in China at an affordable price. This year, VOX is spoiling us with a hybrid series, using a special amplification technology mixing transistors and tube. This 15 Watts model is what’s on the menu for today.

Hybrid Technology

Vox AC15VREveryone has heard of Marshall’s hybrid series (Valvestate) or Fender’s. It was often a mix between a transistor amplifier and a 12AX7 tube as a preamplifier.  This technique allowed them to smooth out a little transistor stiffness and also to allow these amps to properly take on the pedals’ full power. (reminds me of my Marshall 8080 First series).

VOX uses here a different technology in the VR series: The preamp section is provided by transistors and the op-amp, while the amplifying part is based on a single 12AX7! What ?!  This can’t be right!   I admit, I myself second guessed this specification, but it is correct and verified.  It is the same technology that was used in the Valvetronix series. This “amplification” tube has even been renamed “Valve Reactor” for the occasion.

Explanation: A 12AX7 tube is a dual triode, which is present in the circuitry only to give color to the sound. It is then connected to a solid state power amplifier where the transistor amplifier is more powerful and neutral than the tube amplifier. The tube therefore serves to color the signal, the bulk of the amplification being provided by the transistors.

Autopsy

Vox AC15VR

The amp features separate channels: a clear controlled by the “normal volume” and a channel focused more crunch / distortion with two gain levels (OD1 and OD2). The “master” section includes the overall volume of the amp. It is best to adjust the volume of the channel used to get the desired sound (gain level) and then raise the master meter to increase the general level, being careful not to push too hard, otherwise saturation is inevitable (but if you want to, go ahead!). In this same section, there is also a digital reverb that quickly becomes rough when you push a little volume. But it is enough to give a little life to clean sound if you do not exceed 9 o’clock on the dial. You can manually engage it the by raising the potentiometer or by using the optional foot switch. The latter also allows you to switch between channels.

The VOX AC 15VR is equipped with a two band equalizer bass / treble, like almost all VOX amps if I remember correctly. Pushing the bass potentiometer, it overwrites the signal to unravel the inherent charm of VOX amps. Try the setting Palm Mute pushed, and you’ll understand. As for the treble, the sound tends to become a little aggressive after 12 o’clock both on its clean and distortion channels.

Vox AC15VRWe notice a control panel that runs essentially unadorned or without any funky colors.  But don’t laugh at VOX, in this model there is no amp simulation, no useless effects, no loops effects, no direct output. You just plug and play!

On the rear panel, it is possible to connect an external speaker to the amplifier and to bypass the internal speaker.  Be careful to respect the 8 Ohms impedance and perform the operation when the amplifier is off!

Conclusion

Vox AC15VRTo conclude, this little amp found for less than $400 in the USA, is sufficient for guitarists who want to play at home with the master volume that can push the gain without making enemies in the neighborhood.  It has no Speaker output, but output to an external cabinet is possible. We appreciate the ease of use, the little time it takes to find good quality sound.  In short, unless you hate the sound philosophy and VOX itself you can buy it with your eyes closed.

Advantages:

  • Good value for the money
  • Construction Quality
  • Nice crunch
  • Output to connect another Speaker

Drawbacks:

  • A little heavy for a 15 Watt
  • The overdrive type 2 too dirty
  • Channel switching not very smooth

To read the full detailed review see:  Vox AC15VR Combo Amp

April 28, 2010

Blackstar Amplification HT Club 40 Review

British amp and stompbox manufacturer Blackstar is known among guitar players for its Artisan Series of hand-wired amps that crunch, and its One Series, a line of hi-gain models for metal freaks. The brand is back this year with a new range of tube amps called HT Venue which ought to be less expensive but still versatile. We focus on the 40 watt combo.

Blackstar HT Club 40Blackstar was founded in 2007 when former Marshall employees decided to create their own tube amp brand. They started out by launching tube overdrive stompboxes followed soon afterwards by amps conceived in England and hand-assembled in Korea (the Artisan Series). The One Series came out one year later with a more modern sound and a much higher headroom. The only thing missing to round off its product range was a more affordable product line. This is what they have achieved with the HT Venue Series, which inherits some of the features of the more expensive series and benefits from the know-how of the Blackstar team.

This Series includes not less than six amps ranging from 20 to 100 watts including combos, amp heads and speaker cabinets. The model we review today is the HT Club 40, an all-tube, 40-watt combo sold for about $700.

Let’s start by unpacking the amp…

Dark Valvor

Blackstar HT Club 40The HT Club 40 is a juicy 53.8 lbs, 24.4″x22.3″x11.7″ baby. Under the hood you’ll find a preamp stage with two ECC83 tubes, a 40-watt RMS power amp with a pair of EL34 and a 12″ Celestion speaker. The finish is quite good with plastic knobs and on/off and standby chrome switches. The handle on top and the dark gray cabinet covering are made out of leather. The amp looks very classy but without overdoing it, which will certainly appeal to most guitar players. The amp sits in a three quarter-closed back cabinet, whose open part is protected by a grill. The HT Club 40 seems quite sturdy and it ought to withstand transportation without a problem.

The connections include a guitar input and three speaker outputs on the rear panel: one 16-ohm output for the internal or an external speaker, plus two additional speaker outputs for a pair of 16-ohm speakers (internal+external or a pair of external speakers) or a single 8-ohm speaker cabinet. Besides these connectors, you’ll also find an input for the included footswitch (nice detail!) for channel selection and reverb activation. It also features an output with speaker simulation for direct connection to a mixer or a sound card. The sound of the speaker simulation is not the best but it adds versatility and it will certainly come in handy at times. The integrated digital reverb has a selector to choose between a bright and a warm/dark effect sound. The effect won’t replace your stompbox or dedicated rack processor but it is more than enough for rehearsals.

Last but not least, a mono FX loop with a +4dBu/-10dBV switch will allow you to connect external effect units to the amp.

Let’s take a look at the preamp settings…

Conclusion

Blackstar HT Club 40With the HT Series, Blackstar offers quality amps with versatile sound possibilities at an affordable price. The manufacturing quality is good and the special features offer the user some major advantages. The different voicings provide four basic sounds, while the ISF control affects the EQ settings of the lead channel radically, allowing the guitar player to easily and quickly shape his sound. Add enough output power to play with a band plus the footswitch that comes along and you end up with a versatile and affordable all-tube amp.

Advantages:

  • Good value for money
  • Two voicings per channel
  • Effective and creative ISF control
  • Footswitch included
  • Versatility
  • Enough power to play with a band

Drawback:

  • Clean sound could have more personality

To read the full detailed article see:  Blackstar HT Club 40 Review

January 7, 2010

Line 6 Bends Over Backwards For V4

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:47 am

Line 6 Spider IV 15 Review

The POD inventor comes back – for the fourth time – with its Spider modeling amp range. This time around we deal with the small, 15-watt combo which offers six effects, four amp models and some nice additional functions for less than $100. So what about the sound quality?Line6 Spider IV 15

The concept of the Line6 Spider range is very simple: to offer the brand’s famous amp modelings in an affordable, compact, solid-state amp family and in all imaginable sizes and power ratings, from the extremely compact, battery operated, 6-watt Micro Spider (already tested at AudioFanzine) to the 150-watt amp head and the 15, 30, 75 and 120 watt models. There’s an amp for every budget and ear! However, the amp family is divided into two: on the one hand the Micro, 15 and 30 models that provide four amp models and six effects, and on the other hand the 75-watt and bigger models offering numerous signature presets by famous guitar players and bands.

Like the POD family, every new Spider generation provides better sounding amp models, so the Spider IV tries to overshadow the successful Spider III Series of 2008. How good is this new Line6 generation? That’s exactly what we’ll try to unveil by testing the Spider IV 15 whose very aggressive price surely makes all competitors tremble.

A 4×4 Amp?

Line6 Spider IV 15The Spider IV 15 looks just like any other Line6 amp, it seems like there are no aesthetic changes. Black outfit, chrome knobs and good manufacturing quality: this amp will withstand boot kicks and beer tossings. The only evident change are the preset knobs. They are not as loose as on the previous generation which is a very good point. In all other aspects, the manufacturer remained faithful to its usual standards and even if the Spiders have no killer looks, at least they don’t look too flashy and can pass unnoticed.

This is a compact amp, perfect for bedroom use thanks to its dimensions and output power. It weights only 17 lb. and it’s not exactly big (16.1″ x 15″ x 8.7″). It sports a top handle for easy transportation and reinforced corners to protect it from all the violence out there. The speaker covering and connectors seem to be sturdy. Just the way it should be!

Now let’s take a closer look under the hood…

Conclusion

If we look at how the market has evolved over the last couple of years we’ll notice that the price of low-range guitar amps has tumbled down while the quality has continuously improved. This new Line6 amp confirms this trend and sets a very high standard in the $100 guitar amp market. With its amp modelings, six effects, integrated tuner, phones/record output, and MP3 input it’s a very comprehensive product available at an extremely aggressive price. Some of its features are only average but you can hardly blame it. The Spider IV 15 is perhaps the first ideal amp for beginners.

Advantages:

  • Clean and crunch sound
  • Four amp models
  • Six effects
  • Integrated tuner
  • MP3 input
  • Phones/record output
  • Price

Drawbacks:

  • Metal and Insane channels
  • Tremolo cannot be synced with the Tap Tempo function
  • Optional footboard

To read the full detailed article see:  Line 6 Spider IV 15 Review

Older Posts »

The Shocking Blue Green Theme Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.