An iconic design reimagined for a new generation, with a new take on the audio tube. Words by Peter Hodgson.
The sight of diamond-grille Vox amplifiers is as much a part of The Beatles’ iconography as moppy haircuts and Heinz Edelmann’s Yellow Submarine designs. You simply can’t sound like The Beatles – especially the early days – without a Vox. The Vox MSB25 Mini Superbeetle is not a Beatles signature amp, but rather a tribute to the iconic ‘60s amps. Still, it’s hard to separate the two, especially with its diamond-grille cloth and the cool ‘roll-cage’ speaker cabinet.
LOVE ME DO
Now, this isn’t a hand-wired miniature recreation of an old Vox design. It’s a blend of new and old technologies, the heart of which is Nutube – a new vacuum tube designed by KORG and Noritake Itron. It’s an ingenious little device which uses vacuum fluorescent display technology to obtain the same sound and response as a traditional valve, but with more reliability and a much smaller form-factor.
There’s an onboard digital reverb, which is voiced like a true spring reverb, plus a Nutube‑driven tremolo effect which changes not only the amplitude of the signal volume itself, but also the depth of the Nutube’s distortion for a funky and organic effect.
There’s an included open-backed cabinet with a ten-inch Celestion speaker, but you can pair it with other cabinets rather easily. There’s a headphone/line output for pratice or recording, and the control layout consists of all the standard Vox fare: Volume, Reverb, Tremolo, Bass, Treble and Gain knobs.
There’s no Midrange control, which is in line with the traditional Vox style – Voxes tend to have perfect mids anyway. There’s also an EQ Flat/Deep control, and switchable impedance between four, eight and 16 ohms.
The Mini Superbeetle looks so good that it would be quite comfortable as a piece of home decor. It’s also tiny, and surprisingly affordable – one could certainly make a case for picking up a pair of these amps to use as a sweet stereo rig.
One thing that is noticeably missing is the traditional Vox heft; if you’ve ever tried to pick up an AC30 by yourself, you’ll know the toll it can place on your back. But not the Mini Superbeetle; when loading the review unit into our car, we had no problem holding the box under one arm while opening the car boot with the other. The whole system (consisting of a head and cabinet) weighs less than nine kilograms!
WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY SHREDS
Naturally, you’re going to want to play clean‑toned through this amplifier – likely with a Rickenbacker or a Gretsch – and that’s certainly a very addictive and authentic experience. I plugged in my Taylor Solidbody electric with mini-humbuckers voiced somewhat like Gretsch Filter’Trons, and leaned into a few of my favourite George Harrison riffs.
And there it was: that classic Beatles sound. It was perhaps more of a cleaner and more controllable version, because you can hear the feedback and growl on those old Beatles tracks, but definitely recognisable.
The super clean sounds are sparkly and airy with a bit of acoustic‑like zing, but not necessarily the most identifiable character, especially when you play through the amp at low volume levels. You need to turn it up a little bit to get some real personality into the tone.
But it’s not just a clean amp. The mid-gain settings have a great responsive warmth with a bit of hair on the high end, but don’t worry: as you crank up to higher levels of distortion, you can indulge your Brian May fantasies as well, with more rounded treble and honking mids.
Don’t get us wrong – it’s not a high-gain, ultra distorted sound at its highest levels, but it’s still a very useful and solo‑friendly tone. It has a rather AC15-ish vibe, and is nicely responsive to variances in pickup type.
The reverb isn’t quite as springy or reactive as a real spring reverb, but it’s still pretty dang great sounding, and the tremolo is quite magical as it wavers in both volume and gain. I can only imagine how great it would sound to run into a pair of these with the tremolos in sync.
The MSB25 can get pretty loud, but it seems that 50 watts of Nutube power doesn’t equate to 50 watts of EL84 power, because it sounds a little rough at the highest volume levels. But hit it at about 75 percent and you’ll get great feedback, sustain and gain.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is a surprisingly tough sounding amp for such an itty bitty baby unit. It’s not exactly gonna fill an arena by itself, but it’s a great around‑the‑house or small‑gig amp. There’s no reason you can’t mic it up for bigger venues, but there’s something super charming about hearing the sound coming right out of the cabinet and bouncing around your room.
It should also be pointed out that Nutube is an actual tube, and therefore it sounds better when cranked, with more harmonic content and response. At this price, you can probably talk yourself into buying a couple of these if you really dig the style and sound.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Classic VOX styling
• Nutube real tube technology
• Digital reverb
• Analog tube-driven tremolo
• 10-inch Celestion speaker
• Authentic VOX sounds
• Great tremolo effect
• Gets a bit rattly at high volume
Ph: (03) 9693 5111