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NAD + Review: Vox AV15 combo.

Discussion in 'Modeling Amps, Plugins and Apps' started by Crawldaddy, Apr 17, 2017.

  1. Crawldaddy

    Crawldaddy Tele-Meister

    185
    Dec 12, 2006
    Singapore
    Just got myself a brand new Vox AV15. LONG READ ALERT!

    Background:

    I own 4 tube amps: Mesa Boogie Recto-verb 25 (head) going into a 2X10 cab, 1993 '65 Deluxe Reverb 1X12 combo, 1996 Hot Rod Deluxe 1X12 combo, Vox AC4TV (head) that has been put inside an Ibanez TSA 112 cab for a really light combo. I usually run about 6 pedals into any of these amps, usually modulation goes into the efx loop.

    I tend to work late on weekdays but want to practise at home with just a looper to work on rhythm and lead chops. Obviously the amps I currently own are way too loud for evening practise past 10pm: I live with my elderly folks, they need their night time quiet.

    The music I play is mainly blues, soul/jazz, pop. Guitars I auditioned with this amp are Gibson SG Classic (P90s), Levinson Blade Delta Classic (tele-style solidbody), Edwards Les Paul with Suhr Thornbuckers.


    How did I get to the Vox AV15:

    As I was looking for night-time playing along with MP3s, I looked into things like the Mesa Cab clone (based on multiple forum reports and reviews, apparently the sound was not convincing enough for the price), Torpedo C.A.B. (way too expensive) as well as digital plug-ins like Guitar Rig (I am very sensitive to latency issues). Previously also tried out a Line 6 Pod mini, which I had bought as a present for a relative, but I always felt the sound was too processed.

    Two friends of mine own the Yamaha THR10, but that amp's price is kind of excessive for what will basically be a headphone amp

    I have played through several Vox VT and Valvestate amps and was quite impressed with them in a home/rehearsal and small gig situation, where sound is concerned. Very convinced with the amplified sound, but always hated the multitude of buttons which made my Mesa look simple by comparison.

    Recently got to try several vox amps side-by-side: Vox AC10, Nighttrain 15 combo, VT40+, VX1 and the AV15. So I was mainly comparing the amplified sound initially and would narrow down accordingly while having an amplified sound as reference when plugging with headphones into the amps which had headphone features.

    In terms of tonality and sound quality I immediately liked the AC10 and AV15 more than the other amps. Why? I felt these two amps projected better, had decent-to-good headroom for their size when compared to amps I already owned as well as the ones I was demo-ing on the spot. Also, tone-wise these had way better clean and dirty tones for rhythm/lead. I also judged the amps by their breakup sounds, as well as how well they reacted to my guitar's volume knob.

    However, since the AC10 had no headphone-out, I did a shoot-out of the VT40+, AV15 and VX1 through headphones. Automatically, I could tell the VT40+ and VX1 were from the same family of processors and sounded pretty much the same. However, the cab simulation in either amp was not quite as organic and lacking depth when compared to the AV15, which had the bright, fat, bias and reactor switches in addition to the superior cab simulation to further tweak the sound. But more on that later.



    So let's look into the control panel, and some basic functionality:

    INPUT: a basic metal jack with plastic washer. I'm SO glad vox has moved on from the ****ty plastic jack with hex nut that always comes out. I always looked askance at any amp that had those nuts, including my Fender HRDx.

    ON/OFF switch - this is a departure from the world of amps as we normally know it: you press the button and hold it down until the mod/delay/reverb buttons and "valve" light come on. Hold it down again to turn the amp off.

    EFFECTS: There are 3 effects you can apply to your sound: chorus (modulation), delay and reverb. Each of these effects is controlled by one knob. Some people will hate this, but as I primarily only use reverb, I am unconcerned with this functionality. You access the effects by pressing any of the buttons to activate it.

    You press the respective button again (the button will blink) to use the knob to dial in the amount of effect you want. Chorus goes from subtle to pretty wet, but never too warbly or "dissonant". Delay is passable, and you can adjust the number of repeats or the amplitude of the delay repeats by pressing the button down a second time. The reverb is a sort-of room reverb sound, you can dial in anything from barely-there to washed-out if that's your kind of thing.

    Preamp Circuits: There are 8 preamp sections to choose from. You get a Fender blackface, Fender Tweed, Vox AC15, Vox AC30TB, Mid-gain Marshall, High-gain Marshall, SLO and Mesa Boogie style amps. Each of them sound good in their own right, but the amps' respective sounds do require some tweaking in the tone stack and valve stage section in order to sound their best.

    Tone Stack: You get your basic preamp gain, Treble, Mids, Bass, Master Volume and Power Stage, which emulates the amount of power being sent to output tubes.

    Valve Stage: Bright(on/off), Fat(on/off), Bias (shift), Reactor (more). On an anecdotal level, I find each of these switches working bets depending on which preamp circuit you go with, and what kind of sound you are after: modern or vintage? As mentioned earlier, each parameter does have a significant impact on the resultant sound hitting your ears, so it's pretty much tweak-to-taste, which can be enjoyable if you're a tweaker, or troublesome depending on whether you're just plug-n-play.

    AUX & HEADPHONES: this is the main thing I got the amps for: you get two 1/8" (3.5mm) jack to plug your phone/mp3 player into, and a headphone output.


    Sound quality:

    The AV15 is certainly a step-up from the valvetronix era, the analogue circuitry in the preamp section is flexible and works well with the digital effects section. The 8" speaker works well and is articulate, the notes are not mushy unless you really push it into uber high gain. I'm no metal player but the high-gain sounds are certainly not as noisy as some modelling amps (IME Line 6 is a real culprit here). It's not a gigging amp as the amp will not fill a bar, but for cafe gigs and sitting around with your pals having a jam at home, it will push a some air, just don't expect a wall of sound.

    In comparing with a "proper" tube amp, the AV15 responds similarly to the amps I already own. It cleans up well when I roll off the volume pot on any of my Gibson or Fender-style instruments, and the amp is dynamic enough to have the extra grit when you dig in deep. The gain structure is reminiscent of the amps which the preamp section tries to emulate, but as expected, the sag and sponginess is hard to recreate due to the variables in things like tubes, speakers etc.

    When using the headphone output and Aux input, I found the mp3 audio to be reasonably transparent; obviously, the end-result sound depends on the type of headphones you use. I tried an over-ear AKG K550s and in-ear Audio-technica IM70s, and I preferred the IM70s as they had a more balanced tonality, which brought out the bass and depth of the guitar sound a lot more.


    Build quality:

    I must say that when I first lifted this amp up, I was pleasantly surprised that it was pretty lightweight. The AC4TV 10" combo I used to own was much heavier by comparison, even though it was more compact. At 17lbs (7.7kg) it is lighter than a pedaltrain pro loaded with a dozen pedals. It's definitely WAY lighter than my deluxe reverb.

    The chassis is a vinyl-clad chipboard sealed box with ported front baffle. It feels reassuringly solid even though there is a lack of corner protectors. The knobs feel decent when turning, but I am concerned about the Aux and headphones jacks which feel like they're just soldered onto a PCB. The same goes for the tiny ON/OFF button which feels more calculator than hi-fi product.

    Power cabling is a laptop-style plug>transformer>barrel-type plug. No other jacks on the rear.


    Conclusion:

    I like this amp. This is a great tool for beginners who want a palette of sounds but don't want too much complications in the control panel. Likewise, this works for those of us who have larger and fancier amps but feel weird plugging their guitars into smaller units. Maybe it's a perception thing, but this sounds and feels more amp-like than any of the other emulators on the market.

    I cannot compare to the Boss Katana units, but I know this sounds better than the old Roland cube series. I also previously played the immensely popular Vox Pathfinder 15R, and this beats it hands down where sound quality is concerned.

    I did not pay full price for it (bought second hand off a guy who kept it in his wardrobe for 3 months and only took it out for night time practising) but I would have happily paid the $229 for it brand new.

    The biggest selling points are fundamentally, the light weight, great analogue preamp circuitry, extra tweakability in the valve stage section and the super usable headphone tones for night-time playing.

    Cons are the lack of efx loop, digital reverb (just my thing, feel free to disagree); also the cheesy blue light that is OBVIOUSLY not coming from the tube, but Vox is not the only culprit here.

    Hope this review has been useful! Do share your thoughts and comparisons if you have done your own.
     
    xland, GrantR, Jim Dep and 1 other person like this.

  2. unixfish

    unixfish Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free + Supporter

    Apr 20, 2013
    Northeast Ohio, USA
    Nice review.

    I was hot for an AV30 last year. I wanted to play one before I pulled the trigger. However, my local Mom & Pop ran a 20% off sale and I pulled the trigger on a Mustang III. I still have not seen an AV in the flesh.
     
    Crawldaddy likes this.

  3. adamsappel

    adamsappel Tele-Meister

    Age:
    51
    284
    Jun 8, 2008
    Maryland
    I have an AV30. I wanted to get a bigger VOX amp as I'd come to really like my DA-5. I like the sound of VOX modeling, and while I don't know how close they get to the real thing, I figure at least they'll nail the VOX chime and crunch.
     
    Crawldaddy likes this.

  4. Richie-string

    Richie-string Tele-Meister

    Excellent review dude, really enjoyed it and found it massively helpful on all levels. The modeller i have now is the Roland Cube but i want to get another modeller to replace this (to be honest i didn't really want the Cube, i wanted the Vox Valvetronix but the salesman talked me into the Cube instead and i have always kinda regretted not get the Vox).

    The two modellers i have been seriously looking at are the Vox Valvetronix 20 and the the Vox AV15. I like the look of both these because they both have a valve/tube in them and whilst they are obviously not full spec valve amps i still like the idea of having some valve warmth in there somewhere.

    I like the look of the Valvetronix because it does seem to have a great selection of features but having said that i'm not sure that in a real world situation the AV15 may offer just as much versatility but be much simpler to use.

    Do you find that you get a valve like feel from the amp? Or at least as much as you could expect from a modeller with a valve/tube in the circuit.

    Thanks again, really good review.
     

  5. Crawldaddy

    Crawldaddy Tele-Meister

    185
    Dec 12, 2006
    Singapore
    Hello Richie,

    thanks for reading through the body of text, and yeah I know what you mean about how the Vox looks more appealing compared to the cube. I really dislike the Cube for its bland sound, even though the clean tone is probably its biggest selling point as a pedal platform.

    With regards to the Vox Valvetronix 20, are you referring to the AD30VT, or VT20+?

    The AD30VT was released (in my mind) about a decade ago, and the VT20+ probably within the last 4-5 years with some upgrades in sound quality but to my eye, the overall functionality has not changed a whole lot.

    As mentioned in my review, I did a side-by-side comparison between the AV15 and a whole other bunch of amps including the VT40+ (the VT20's bigger brother) and I still felt that the AV15 had more presence, body and finesse in the sound, even though the VT40+ had a bigger 10" speaker. I attribute this to the nature of the respective amp's circuitry, and how the circuits are designed to make you perceive the valve-ish sound.

    At the moment, I've gotten more into strats, and I'm chasing a clean-ish edge-of-breakup sound that not many modellers do well. The AV15 handles it perfectly and then some. It even takes my modified Boss SD-1 very well. So to answer your question, yes the feel of the amp is definitely valve-like, but I do have one gripe having played it for a number of months now.

    So the thing about this amp is that it covers a lot of ground where sounds are concerned, and it does so convincingly. However, there is an inherent 'crispness' to the sound which resides in the upper treble register that makes every note that comes out of my single-coil guitars almost sibilant. Kind of like recording a spoken word track without having a mesh screen to protect the mic, and as such, the transients are really present.

    They do not blow out the speaker, and in fact I believe these transients are courtesy of the 8" speaker doing its best to deliver the goods. It just means that with strats and teles, there is an inherent "Vox-ish chime" that comes through no matter which sound you select.

    That said, this "side-effect" benefits guitars with humbuckers or are darker-sounding by nature as it allows for better note clarity.
     
    Richie-string likes this.

  6. Adam-T

    Adam-T TDPRI Member

    60
    Jul 8, 2016
    UK
    I`ve looked at these AV amps too and liked the sound of the two tube 30W model but I`ve got tube amps also and wanted a low level amp with full FX etc onboard - settled for a used VT40+ . First thing I did was change the speaker, it`s the reason for the sound being shrill with little presence (hence why you found it lacks refinement) . I swapped in an old Rola Celestion G10-50 and it sounds a pile better, the boxiness has almost gone too.. the rest is down to fine tuning sounds (pick the closest model and set it up to taste) . for most even doing the latter will put people off let alone swapping the crummy speaker out so for the majority an AV series (pref the 30W version with the larger speaker and twin tubes IMO) makes sense........
     

  7. Richie-string

    Richie-string Tele-Meister

    Thank you very much again Crawldaddy,

    In answer to your question yes it was the Vox Valetronix VT20+ i was thinking about getting as well as looking at the AV15.

    I hear what you are saying about the inherent Vox-(ness) of the sound from the AV15 but in all honesty i'm not sure if that would not actually be a plus point for me as i have a real taste for the Vox vibe generally. I also have an AC4C1 (unfortunately it has developed a fault so is out of action) so i do love the whole vibe and feel of Vox products generally. I can see how someone less partisan though might want for something a little more neutral sounding when choosing a small modeling type amp, or any amp that is intended to provide a variety of different sounds.

    I'm more of a Fender man in the guitar dept as well, i've got a Tele (not surprisingly i suppose given the forum we're talking on) but i'd love to get a Strat as well if i can afford one in the not too distant future. I do think Fenders do blend beautifully with the Vox type of sound. I could play for ages on my Tele with the AC4C1 just noodling around with a clean sound, or slightly on the edge clean sound.

    Both the Valvetronix VT20+ and the AV15 looking like compelling little amps to own for home use.
     

  8. Crawldaddy

    Crawldaddy Tele-Meister

    185
    Dec 12, 2006
    Singapore
    Hi Richie,

    apologies for going AWOL. I'd say stick with the AV15, the tech is newer and stacks up well against a lot that is out there, including "full-fat" tube amps. This is still my main practice amp at home when I just want to plug in and play. I am a super happy user!
     

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