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Amplifier Blogging

September 10, 2008

Sorry about the blog drought recently.  I’ve been really busy with other things.  Ahhhh, the life of a pastor-husband-father who just turned forty.

So I’ll blog about something fun.

I’m so enthusiastic about this product that I’m going to review it.  While my review may be so favorable as to resemble an advertisement, I wouldn’t share it with you if I didn’t mean it.

At Christmas my family bought me my new favorite toy, a Vox DA-5 Amplifier.

The first thing I’ll say is that this picture is not far off from actual size!  Okay, that’s an exaggeration but it really is miniscule compared to your average guitar amplifier, even the old Fender Champ.  It boasts a power attenuator (0.5 watts, 1 watt, or a smokin’ 5 watts!), a 6.5″ speaker, and eleven (!) digital amplifier models.  Yep, it’s designed to sound like a boutique Dumble (actually two – one clean and one overdrive model), a blackface Fender (twin), a tweed Fender Bassman, a Vox AC-15, Vox AC-30 Top Boost, a Marshall Plexi, a Mesa/Boogie,  good grief, is there anything this amp WON’T sound like?

Okay, there’s no way in the world that a tiny 1w amp with a 6.5″ speaker is going to sound exactly like a Fender Twin, but it really does have a lot of the character of those amps – almost like a good recording of that amp played through a good boom box or something.  Fact is, the Blackface setting (Clean 2) sounds an awful lot like my Fender Vibro-Champ (mine is a silverface from the early 70s, but you get the drift).

As you have probably discerned, I’m mostly a clean Fender and Vox guy, so the model knob stays firmly on the left side of the dial on my amp.  There are times when I crank up the Marshall models for a little AC/DC riff or go even further for a creamy, distorted Santana tone.  But I mostly dig the clean Dumble model (it’s a  clean tone to die for!), or the Fender and Vox models.  I love the digital effects too.  The blackface with lots of reverb (and I crank the treble on the reverb) gives a very convincing surf tone including something similar to the “drip” associated with those old Fender standalone reverb tanks.  It’s not exact but it’s good enough for me.  The Vox tones absolutely nail those Beatles sounds I grew up with, and you can dial up anything from the Byrds to Tom Petty to Queen on that AC-30 model, and you can add anything from reverb to chorus to Leslie (or uni-vibe) to the mix.  Blackface + compression = Bakersfield twang!  AC-30 + rotary speaker = Let It Be!  Marshall + rotary = Robin Trower!  Bassman + delay (tweaked to slapback) = Brian Setzer.

Dang, if they packed any more fun into that box it would ‘splode!

And it even runs on batteries.  (an AC adaptor is included).

Like all digital modeling amps, it will never exactly reproduce the experience and “feel” of playing a real vintage tube amp.  You can’t get much bass response from a 6.5″ speaker.  But then again, I’m one of those non-gigging musicians who is never in a situation where I get to turn the amp up loud enough for the tubes to really work their magic.  Even my Vibro-Champ would be overpowering in church.  And it does sound more than “close enough” to a cranked up amp at reasonable volumes around the home and office.  And it is the perfect size and volume for the playing I do at church.

Another amp in the same size-price category that others will highly recommend is the Roland Micro-Cube.  My understanding is that the Vox’s clean models are better than the Roland, but the Roland’s overdriven / distorted models are better than the Vox.  Being primarily a blues/rockabilly/country/classic rock player I opted for the better clean models on the Vox.  Folks into modern rock, hard rock, or metal might be better off with the Roland.  Truth is that most of us would be happy with either one, and I can’t really say that one is empirically superior to the other.  I just prefer the Vox.

True story – the day my son got the Vox AD-15VT (a bigger cousin of the DA-5) he had it and my Vibro Champ in the living room.  I was in the kitchen.  He was playing a bit on my amp, a bit on his new amp, back and forth.  At one point I was ABSOLUTELY sure he was plugged into the Fender.  When I walked into the room, he was plugged into the Vox.  It was set on blackface with the effects bypassed.  The 8″ speaker was cranking out a nearly identical tone to my real Fender (modded with a 10″ speaker – very common on old Champs).  I couldn’t tell the difference.  The Voxes are that good.

Eight months later and I’m still in love with that little amp.  I have a feeling we’ll be friends for a while.

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