I should start this review with two caveats. Firstly, I haven’t taken this amp gigging yet, so I’ve no idea how it behaves itself in front of a sweaty pub-full of punters, huddled down by the only available powerpoint in the dark and left to its own devices. [Now see updates, below]
Secondly, I’m an acoustic amp virgin. Back in my student band days I had a 30-watt beast the size of a small fridge that eventually, mercifully, expired; the past few years I’ve operated with a 10-watt practice amp with few pretensions to any level of complication beyond bass, middle and treble knobs with an optional ‘tubeblaster’ switch that has now stopped working.
Two things made me think it was time to upgrade. Firstly, I’m now doing more gigs than I ever have before, and in some of them the guitar playing has to be even half way competent, given it’s the only actual instrument playing. Secondly, I bought myself a LÂG T100ACE which, although beautiful in tone played acoustically, really suffered when its preamp hit almost any system set up for electric guitars (actually, my little 10 watt Rogue gave it a better sound than a lot of higher-spec systems).
And so to my favourite purveyors of noise-making devices, iiMusic (who I’d also bought the LÂG from). They matched the internet price, which was pretty keen. Buying the Vox AGA 30 from them almost immediately brought dividends as, on unpacking the box, I discovered Vox had put a European plug in. The guys replaced that right away – a whole lot easier than having to deal with wefloguguitars.com at a thousand mile distance.
Having got the right plug, and having tested the Vox out on all three guitars, I can now say I’m thoroughly pleased with it. It has two inputs – a standard/XLR which could take mikes as well as instruments, and a standard guitar input. On both channels there’s a gain switch, bass and treble (no middle), volume control, and a reverb/chorus knob (of which more later). There’s also a master volume and a feedback control, all nice bright white (and white lettered) against a dark background, well designed for the murky pub environment.
Overall appearance-wise, the Vox is a lovely wee thing, all dark tan vinyl covering and diamond cloth effect grille, its edges rounded off to give it an organic, vintage kind of feel. More importantly for any musician, it’s light (6.5kg).
I tried the LÂG out on it first. In the ‘normal’ channel it sounded fine: nice warm tone, quieter than I might have expected, but with a bit of reverb, really more than acceptable. The reverb/chorus knob is useful, obviously, for giving different textures: for the fingerpicking I use the LÂG for, I couldn’t imagine much use for the chorus, but the reverb is subtle with just a bit of bite to remind you you’re amplified.
Then I plugged into the standard/XLR slot, and couldn’t go back. This channel has a valve pre-amp stage, and though the standard slot had added warmth, the valve sound washed a Jacuzzi-full of tone over me. With the reverb up to its mixing point with chorus, it was like swimming in a bath of asses’ milk, hand-warmed by underground coal braziers, tended your personal slaves. I’d imagine.
Of course, this gives the guitar player a problem. Do you let your singer plug into the XLR slot or tell (in my case) her to sort out her own amplification, if she doesn’t mind? I can’t stress enough that the first channel sounded fine; but once you use the valve sound, you don’t want to let go of it. I sense a discussion ahead, Kelly.
The other guitars were also well served by the Vox’s capabilities. The Ovation copy (De Ville, does anyone else have one of these? They seem to have disappeared) obviously has less tone to start with, and is the guitar I use where more attack is required, or just plain frantic strumming. Again, there was a nice sound came out of it, crisp but with plenty of bark if you chose to turn it up a bit. The chorus was subtle enough to be useable for some of Venus Carmichael’s material.
Last test was with the Freshman 12 string, a truly gorgeous creature that, even when strummed without amplification, has a shimmering, reverby quality of its own. I use a pretty cheap removeable pickup on it at present, but even with that weak link, the sound that came out of it through the Vox was like listening to the sound of melting chocolate.
To sum up, then:
Cons: as other reviews have suggested, it’s not the loudest 30-amper you might get. I won’t know how much of a handicap that will be until I take it out with me, but in the kind of venues I play in, I suspect it won’t be a problem.
Pros: Value for money, portable, good-looking, and, for me, a really pro sound. It actually makes the guitars sound like they do when you hear major recording artists live. It doesn’t make me play guitar as well as them, but you can’t have everything.
Price paid: £177.00
Update: After this review, my live acoustic guitar playing went into cold storage for a bit, mainly because my singer had more important things to do (believe it or not) like having a lovely wee baby girl. However, as of last Thursday, I can report the Vox has been tested under battle conditions. My gig at the Bongo Club involved myself, a drumbeat/piano-based tracks coming from a looper pedal through the PA, voice, and two electric guitars, both coming through their own amps. The excellent sound guy took a clean line out of the mic/guitar input to the PA; I plugged the Ovation copy in through the other one. The result was a beautiful, silvery sound that complemented the lead guitar in particular. Most importantly, it stood up fine volume-wise, and created a really good mix.
Update 2: this wee amp just keeps on gigging! Most recently at a gig in the back room of a pub in May, 2016, I put the singer’s vocals through the PA, and kept the XLR input for the De Ville Ovation copy (which I decided to use for all the songs this particular gig.) The Soundcloud track below, gives you an idea of how the amp sounds on a mixed reverb/chorus setting with a simple finger picked accompaniment.
Incidentally, if you want to hear more of the kind of music we do, you can download a track for free if you sign up to our Facebook Page or email us at venus[dot]carmichael[at]gmail[dot]com…