Got the VOX AC30 Custom Classic. Thoughts & a review.

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs' started by Scott Auld, Feb 4, 2008.


  1. Scott Auld

    Scott Auld Staff Member

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    Anyone who's read a couple of my previous posts knows I have been considering an VOX AC30 lately. After reading a LOT of glowing reviews, and a few disappointed ones, I figured I had to try one for myself to find out what I really thought. I posted a thread once asking what music people think of, and the varied responses led me to believe that the amp can really do a lot of things.

    I pulled the trigger on Saturday and picked one up. (Literally - - they are so freaking heavy. Yikes. I need to start working out.)

    I was in Guitar Center Saturday morning, playing a few guitars through the AC30CC2 (Custom Classic). I was not really bonding with it. I was kind of dejected, because I really wanted to like this amp. I was talking to one of the GC guys, Cory, and he said to me "well, this is not a very good room for listening to amps. Everyone is playing around you, and the room is carpeted and dead. You might be surprised at how it sounds in a better room. And you can always bring it back if you don't like it." Good salesmanship, but also a statement that makes sense to me.

    I went home for a few hours and decided to go back, buy the amp, and give it a try. After another hour driving, I had the massive box at my house and started unpacking it. Did I say it's a heavy amp? Yeesh.

    Playing the amp in my living room was a different experience. I played a couple of guitars through it and found a LOT of sounds I liked. That was when I really started bonding with the amp. It seemed as if no matter where I put the knobs, I found sounds I liked.

    After playing this amp for a while, I think the key word that I keep coming back to is "flexible". This amp has so many available tones, it is like getting about five different amps in one. I play in a jam band situation, and flexibility and variety are key. When your songs last 20 minutes, it is nice to be able to spice up the songs with different sounds during the journey. For the more traditional straight-ahead rocker, I guess it gives you more choices from which to pick "your sound".

    Here's my rundown on the things I have figured out about the amp so far:

    Unlike that Brian May AC30 that VOX put out (one knob!) this AC30 Custom Classic model has ten knobs and seven toggle switches, all of which affect the types of sounds you are getting. This would be the time to use the word 'plethora' -- as in, there is a plethora of sounds you can get from this amp. Did I mention that the key word is "flexible"?

    [​IMG]

    To start with, there are two inputs. There's a clean channel (called "Normal") and a overdrive channel (called "Top Boost"), each with their own preamp volume knobs. A master volume for the poweramp allows you to dial in as much (or little) gain for each channel as you like, without rattling the drywall right off the studs. Plus, using the "input link switch", the two channels are "blendable" so you can mix them together, and by setting each channel's knob independently, you can decide how much of each channel is mixed in.

    The downside is that you cannot switch back and forthe between the Normal and Top Boost channels using a footswitch. One way around this would be to run an A/B splitter, one line to each input, but if you have the Link Switch set to blend the Top Boost with the Normal channel, then the Normal channel by itself is muted. There is no easy solution to have ALL three modes at your foot's beck and call. Not that I can see so far.

    A "brilliance" switch adds top-end brightness to the Normal channel. Flexible!

    The EQ section includes Bass and Treble. There is a toggle switch between them called "Standard/Custom" which controls how the two EQ controls work, one setting the EQ to a "interactive" setup, which makes the midrange move the opposite direction from the Bass/Treble. In other words, in "Standard" mode, when you turn up the Treble & Bass, you are effectively turning down the Mids. In "Custom" mode, the midrange stays in place regardless of where you put the Bass/Treble. Again, these choices just add more variety to the amp's available sounds.

    The built-in reverb tank sits in the bottom of the cabinet, protected by a padded canvas shroud. It is controlled by a reverb section on the main panel, with a knob labled "Mix" (which controls how much reverb is added) and one called "Tone" (which controls whether you are getting a dark or bright reverb effect. There is a toggle called "Dwell" which sits between the two reverb controls, and the manual says to use one setting for high-gain sounds and the other for low-gain sounds. So, yet more flexibility in the type of sound you can get. A footswitch turns the reverb section off/on.

    The tremolo section provides the expected Speed & Depth controls, and the tremolo can be turned off/on with the footswitch.

    Right before you get to the Master Volume, there is a "Tone Cut" knob -- this tone knob affects the power amp section, not the preamp section (which is where the other EQ knobs do their work). Turn up the tone cut knob (clockwise) and it cuts more high end out. Turn down the tone cut knob and it lets more high end through. I kind of see it acting like a High Pass Filter on a speaker cabinet. It's a cool feature you don't find on some other amps, and it adds yet more flexibility and variety to the amp.

    [​IMG]



    On the back panel of the amp, we find two speaker outputs, one for an extension cabinet and one for an external cabinet. The extension cabinet output keeps the internal VOX speakers running, and is looking for a 16 ohm cabinet. The external output mutes the built-in VOX speakers, and is looking for either a 16 ohm or an 8 ohm cabinet. There is an output switch next to these jacks where you tell the amplifier what you are connecting.

    Further down the back panel, we find two more switches that provide yet MORE tonal flexibility and variety. The "Output Bias" switch has two settings: "82 Warm" and "50 Hot". I do not know much about biasing, so I will tell you what the manual says: "The 82 Warm setting will run your amplifier at about 22 watts clean (before clipping), with less headroom and a warmer sound at lower volume. The 50 Hot setting will run your amplifier at about 33 watts clean (before clipping), which will run the tubes hotter but will provide more clean headroom." What this means to me is ... you guessed it, more flexibility.

    Next to the Output Bias switch is a "Smoothing" switch. The manual says this switch "changes the values of the filter caps within your amplifier." This is getting into boutique-amp-lingo now. I do not know hardly anything about filter caps, but I know that people who are hardcore into electrical engineering side of amplification talk about the various values of filter caps in an amp, and switch them out to get different characteristics. I am sure there are MANY people who are reading this who understand exactly what this does to an amp, and I am pretty sure I won't understand their explanation either. Ha ha. The choices available for are "22µf Vintage and "44µf Modern." The 22µf Vintage setting is described in the manual as "more open & loose," with more hum, while the 44µf Modern is described as being "tighter & quieter". Okay, thanks for that. 'Preciate'cha.

    The Output Bias & the Smooth switch are basically two more switches that add to the choices I have. I will fiddle with them until I find a sound I prefer. For a while. Then I'll end up changing them again. That's the way I am... never settling on a sound long enough to call one my signature sound. Ha ha.

    There is an effects loop Send & Return, and a switch that completely bypasses the loop if you don't want it obfuscating your signal. I put a delay in the loop. I also ran a couple of pedals (Tube Screamer, Blues Driver, other distortion) in front of the amp and they sounded good too. Not Marshally, but ... VOXy. Vintage. Old school.

    If there is a downside to this amp, it is that you can't easily switch among all these great sounds easily in the middle of a song. The footswitch turns on or off the reverb & tremolo, but you can't switch channels, activate the bright switch, or any of the other tone controlling options from your feet. Whatever the amp is set to, you are pretty much stuck with for the duration of the song.

    I did not spring for the extra $500 they wanted for the Alnico Blues model. I got the one with the Wharfdale speakers. I figured that I could put blue Celestions or Webers in it later if I feel like it. So far these Wharfdales sound good to me, and I will pound on them for a while and see how they sound after a couple of months.

    I lugged the giant up to the church where I play last night, and set it up at my spot on stage. Practice is this coming Thursday & I'll try to post some thoughts after using it with the jam-oriented band. I am hoping I can get to love this amp. Hopefully optimistic. If not, GC has a great return policy. ;)

    Thanks for reading.



    EDITED TO ADD that if you don't replace the rectifier & preamp tubes, you will be sorry. You will be blowing fuses like crazy until you do. --Scott

    EDITED TO ADD that the earlier generation AC30CC's wired the speaker wires directly to the board, but the newer generations use a 1/4" jack, making it much easier to pull the chassis. No un-soldering required on new units.
     
  2. re-animator

    re-animator Senior Member

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    good review! i feel exactly the same way about most of the things you mentioned... its sooooo damn tweakable i get the feeling that most of the people who don't like this amp never spent the time neccesary to dial one in!


    when I feel simple though, I just plug into the normal channel, hit the volume at 3/4, tone cut at 3/4, and adjust the volume to the point that my eardrums no longer bleed and its TONE baby!








    I do have two real complaints about this amp though:


    1. Lack of independent master volumes - I normally set the top boost for my clean sound and normal for distortion. I wish I could disable MV on the TB channel so I can use it as a NMV clean amp, and use the (surprisingly good) master volume only on the normal channel to dial in some crunch.

    2. the worst reverb on the planet!! Nothing major, a pedal can fix that.
     
  3. Scott Auld

    Scott Auld Staff Member

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    Yeah, re-animator, that is a good point about a shared master volume.

    I think the key on the reverb is to keep the amount used to a minimum, and to play with the reverb's tone knob and the dwell switch. It is real easy to overdo the reverb on this amp, which I suppose some bands will get some use out of as well.

    Thanks for the reply and the kind words. :)
     
  4. Scott Auld

    Scott Auld Staff Member

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    Last night I dragged a drummer & bass player up to the play area and plugged her in and played for about an hour with everybody going.

    FUN! I really like this amp. :D:D:D
     
  5. dave s

    dave s Member

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    Scott:

    Really nice review. It's apparent you've already spent some time with the amp and have a pretty good grip on how to navigate the amp properly.

    Great amp. Still have mine although it's been relegated to 'backup' status due to (big surprise here) the WEIGHT of the amp! Have a 15w VOX that will have to do. Like to have the 'bigger' sound of the CC2x, but my elbow says 'no.'

    Enjoy tha new amp.

    dave
     
  6. Chiba

    Chiba Gold Supporting Member

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    Good review, very thorough... any reason you chose the combo as opposed to the head? That would certainly cut down on the weight!!!

    --chiba
     
  7. Scott Auld

    Scott Auld Staff Member

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    Thanks, dood :)

    I guess I really wanted to stay with the classic tried and true original AC30 thing. I know those heads have been around for a long time too, but when I think AC30 I think of the 2x12 combo.

    I did not want to be questioning the tone down the road, wondering if what I was generating with a certain cabinet was true AC30 tone or not. At least this way, if I decide someday I don't like it, at least i won't be wondering if it's the VOX's fault or the cabinet I chose.

    Plus, it just looks so right :D:D:D

    the Top Boost channel, with a little bit of the Normal channel blended in with it, is a really cool sound. Indescribable but cool.
     
  8. Scott Auld

    Scott Auld Staff Member

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    Thanks, Dave.

    It's not just the 75 pounds, it's the SIZE too. The cabinet is freaking huuge. When I first unpacked it, the comment my kids saying was "... um, that's big."

    All that weight PLUS a gigantic package = ungainly to carry around.

    Despite my review, I'm still getting used to all the knobs and switches and what they do. I keep finding a switch and going, "Oh yeah, I forgot it does that too!"

    :)
     
  9. jgyn

    jgyn Member

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    Great review!
    (I have the head)
     
  10. re-animator

    re-animator Senior Member

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    I power cleaned it to impress my girlfriend.
     
  11. Scott Auld

    Scott Auld Staff Member

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    Thanks, jgyn :)


    Um, ok. Cool. I think... :D
     
  12. semi-hollowbody

    semi-hollowbody Member

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    I was considering a vox but have sworn I will NEVER buy another amp that does NOT have a mid pot...damn...
     
  13. sqadan

    sqadan Member

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    Hey... I think I remember you from the TDPRI forum..

    Glad you changed your mind about the AC30... I love mine - despite the ridiculous weight! It really is the most versatile amp I have owned right out of the box... Gets lots of different tones, crunch at lower volumes etc...

    Enjoy!!
     
  14. Scott Auld

    Scott Auld Staff Member

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    I hear you. :) Mids are important for guitar.

    There is a toggle switch between the Bass and Treble knobs in the EQ section, labled "Standard/Custom". When this switch is set to "Standard", the Mid moves in the opposite direction from the Bass & the Treble. If you boost the Treble, you also cut the high mids. If you cut the Bass, you also boost the low mids. Not for everyone, though.

    Hi sqadan, Yes, I was at TDPRI for a little while. I liked that forum a LOT but it was slow-moving, unfortunately. Very nice folks. I guess that's the trade-off :)

    You were right about the AC30; thanks for remembering me during my search. :)


    Scott
     
  15. Miles

    Miles Member

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    I'm glad you found it!! They are great amps and they are tons of fun to play. I love the new layout of the Custom Classic series, and I love master volume amps.

    Some players criticize master volume amps because they equate it with buzzy pre-amp tone. When I use the master to get that tube saturation and dial the preamp down to achieve power tube overdrive rather than buzzy pre-amp.

    Anyways, great amp, congrats!
     
  16. Scott Auld

    Scott Auld Staff Member

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  17. Scott Auld

    Scott Auld Staff Member

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    Update:

    Last night, 12 days after I bought the VOX, the mains fuse blew. I replaced it and when I powered it up, the smaller 500mA fuse blew.

    When I tried to replace that fuse, while removing the fuse holder, I saw that half of the fuse holder is snapped in half :( The fuse holder is a cheap plastic tube that is screwed into the rear panel with little tiny plastic threads.

    I am not a gorillia-hands kind of guy, so I know I did not snap it off with too much force. I'm a thin guy with little gentle hands and it must have already been either broken or near broken. Kind of disappointing for the whole $1000 amp to be out of action because of what looks like a 99 cent part.

    It's going back to GC tomorrow for a swap out. I really like this amp, but I hate when things like this happen :(
     
  18. cg

    cg Silver Supporting Member

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    I am a huge fan of this amp. Nice review!
     
  19. Scott Auld

    Scott Auld Staff Member

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  20. ford

    ford Member

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    That is a bummer. Get another one... make sure the fuse area is good before you leave. These are very nice amps, especially at the price point!

    bford
     

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