The British heavyweights continue to innocate with their new series of mini-monsters. By Peter Hodgson
VOX has always been an innovator. The venerable AC30 was both visually and sonically distinct from the Fender amps that were coveted at the time, and they were a heck of a lot easier for British players to get their hands on, which is a similar story to how Marshall came to be.
Their Teardrop guitars were a refreshing approach to guitar design at a time when the instrument was struggling with how to approach non-traditional shapes; the VOX Wah pedal was, and is still, iconic; the ValveTronix range was an early adopter for the blend of tube and digital technologies in a multi-effects unit; and the Night Train brought the boutique lunchbox amp head to the mainstream. Now, they’re doing it all over again with the MV50 line of amps.
The MV50 series is designed to give you a unique voicing in an undeniably cute, yet incredibly roadworthy 50-watt miniature enclosure. The range consists of three amplifiers, each of them single-channel units dedicated with a particular purpose.
The MV50 AC is based on the AC30, in what is probably the most logical marketing choice in history. The MV50 Clean is inspired by classic American amplifiers, which is shorthand for “Fender-like clean tones”. Then there’s the MV50 Rock, which is based on more aggressive tones reminiscent of high-gain British amplifiers – think of a cranked JCM800 and you’re somewhere in the same zone.
The series is kept quite uniform, with more or less the same basic features in each: there are three control knobs, a retro-looking VU meter and an input jack on the front, while around the back you’ll find a line/phone jack and a speaker out. At the heart of all three models is the revolutionary Nutube vacuum tube. Conceptually, it’s similar to a conventional vacuum tube with an anode grid filament structure, and it operates exactly as a triode vacuum tube would as far as the circuit is concerned.
But by applying their vacuum fluorescent display technology, the designers have devised a structure which achieves substantial power saving, miniaturisation and other general quality improvements when compared to a conventional vacuum tube. It actually looks more like a microchip than a typical vacuum tube, and it requires less than two percent of the power that conventional tubes need to run.
Controls include Gain, Tone and Volume, and the Nutube is augmented with analog components designed to emulate the dynamics and harmonics of a regular tube amp. This amp has the exact chimey, bell-like ‘dirty/clean’ feel of an AC30, with all the ring and jangle you could want from single coil chording with the beef and distinctive midrange clang of a great humbucker-and-AC30 rig. The circuit is very dynamic: dig in harder with your pick, and you’ll most definitely notice more gain and volume, and if you hit it with a treble booster, Brian May style, it’ll respond exactly as you would hope.
Since the MV50 Clean has no need for a gain control, its three knobs control Treble, Bass and Volume. This is a great choice for this amp because it allows VOX to voice each control at their frequency sweet-spots rather than operating at something of a compromise.
The treble knob in particular is very carefully voiced to give you clarity and detail without getting too harsh. At its upper settings, it made my Strat with Seymour Duncan Jimi Hendrix pickups sound almost like an acoustic guitar, especially on the ‘neck and middle’ setting. But when I plugged in my Les Paul, I found a great jazz tone, and there were plenty of usable country tones to be found, especially when adding a compressor and a tremolo pedal. It’s also a great amp for multi-effect units because it’ll clearly reproduce whatever you plug into it.
The MV50 Rock can sound very fat, yet fuzzy, in the spirit of classic Tony Iommi rhythm tones – but it’s also capable of some perfectly smooth blues rock sounds, hard rock tones and thick walls of chunky gain. Oh, and it does a sound that mimics Adam Jones or Tool like you wouldn’t believe, with careful placement of the Gain control and just the right pickups.
This amp is the most high-gain of the series, but it also cleans up very nicely from your guitar’s volume control, making it the best all-rounder of the three. If you’re a Van Halen-style player who likes to run everything from the guitar, you’ll find all of your tone here. But more than the other two, this amp would really benefit from an effects loop or at least a rudimentary reverb control. All of that gain and harmonic juice would be even better if you were able to place it in a spatial context without having to add effects at the mixing desk.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Each of these amps are great at their own purpose, and they’re affordable enough that you could easily justify buying all three and a switching pedal for a flexible and cool looking multi-amp rig. The MV50 Rock is clearly the most flexible of the three, but whichever one you go for, these three amps are all very portable, adaptable, affordable and loud.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Three control knobs on each model
• Adorably tiny size
• Retro-looking VU meter
• Nutube vacuum tube
• Input and line/phone jacks
• Very affordable. Buy all three!
• Innovative tube technology that still sounds authentic
• Idiot-proof controls
• No reverb or FX loop
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