$900.00 MSRP, $549.99 street
By Jon Chappell
The Vox VT120+ is a 2x12 combo sporting Valve Reactor technology and a complete effects section. (Click images to englarge.)
Vox Amplification has always done a great job of melding their classic design, appeal and core sound with modern features of the day, including modeling technology and digital effects. In their latest line-up, the Valvetronix VT+ series, Vox serves up the best of both worlds: modeling versatility backed by a 100-percent analog power-amp stage with an onboard 12AX7 tube. The result is the classic tone-creation familiar to those who know and love the Vox sound, but in a presentation that meets the current demands of modern gigging musicians.
The new amps in the Valvetronix line all bear a plus sign (+) at the end of their names, and consist of a quartet of combo amps whose main difference is output wattage and speaker configuration. The numerals in their names don’t actually reflect the actual output wattage (which ends up being more), so you need to remember that for a given model name containing one speaker, the power, in watts RMS, is actually half-again as much (which is a good thing!). So the VT20+ is 30W (8" speaker), the VT40+ is 60W (10" speaker), and the VT80+ is 120W (12" speaker). The VT120+, a 2x12 combo, is actually 150W (not 160), but that’s more than enough to push the two 12" speakers. My VT120+ review unit was loud! After several weeks of working with it, I can’t imagine any situation where a 2x12 combo is called for that the VT120+ couldn’t cover with headroom to spare.
All Valvetronix+ combos use Valve Reactor technology with a 12AX7-driven power-amp circuit, and share common features, which include 33 amp models, 11 pedal effects, 11 modulation/delay effects, 3 reverbs, and 1 noise reduction processor. The amp is programmable, with 99 presets and 8 user-designated programs (2 banks of 4 channels each), accessible from a footswitch as well as the front panel. Any four effects (five, if you use multi-effects versions) can be used simultaneously. That’s an entire signal chain’s worth of stuff, even for guitarists who use a lot of effects.
The control panel is a thing of design beauty, with different styles of knobs and switches purpose-built to their function (see Fig. 1). Following an analog approach, there are 8 large vintage-style chicken head knobs on the top row for Amp Select, Gain, Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass, Master, and Power Level. On the bottom row are the switches and rotary knobs for bank/channel, tuner, and effects selection and control.
Fig. 1. The VT120+ controls are top-mounted and logically laid out with different styles of knobs and switches that facilitate quick and intuitive adjusments.
Speaking of the control panel, one nice feature is that Vox amps have top-mounted controls, which leaves the front—the part facing the audience—free and clean of knobs. In this scheme, even with the plethora of controls necessary to provide the comprehensiveness of the VT+ series, the classic Vox look is preserved.
All VT+ combos have a single 1/4" input, and 1/8"-stereo headphone and Aux In jacks. The rear panel houses a single jack for the optional footswitch (VFS5), which changes programs or turns selected effects on and off. The amp, despite having a lot of programmability and offering a complete complement of effects, is blessedly simple to operate live. Any operations involving tone, gain, and volume are as intuitive as on any all-analog or vintage amp. And because the Vox VT120+ distributes the effects controls logically, dialing up a sound with the proper pedal effect, modulation, and ambient treatment is just as easy as working a physical pedalboard. Since the amp is programmable, it should be noted that you don’t need the manual to learn how to save a sound. The simple two-word instructions “Hold Write,” placed beneath the four channel buttons, says it all.
There’s only one aspect of the VT120+ that requires even a glance at the manual, and that’s to glean how the Amp Select section works. This is the key to the amp’s multi-functionality, and here’s how it works:
The Amp Select knob has 11 positions, each labeled and named for a classic or otherwise paradigmatic amp type (Cali Clean, US Blues, Vox AC30, UK Metal, and so on). Each of these 11 positions can be green (Standard), orange (Special), or red (Custom), courtesy of a pushbutton (and LED) on the left. So that’s 3 states for each of the 11 positions—a total 33 discrete amp models. Detailed descriptions of each model appear in the manual.
Now, each of the 33 separate models can have, 3 further states themselves (green, orange, red, courtesy of a second LED to the left of the knob). This makes for a total of 99 separate states, or locations, when you consider the 11 knob positions x 3 LED1 states x 3 LED2 states. It’s all much easier to work than it is to explain, the upshot of it all being almost 100 different core sounds in just the amp choice! 33 of the preset choices are named after actual popular songs, which gives a great starting point for using as is or further refining.
Once you’ve selected your sound (be it a model or preset song), you move on to the pedal effects, modulation, and reverb (see Fig. 2). The pedal effects include a compressor, acoustic simulator, Uni-Vibe, octave divider, tube and metal overdrive, fuzz, and several other distortion effects with different characters. Modulation effects include choruses, a flanger, phaser, tremolo, rotary speaker, pitch shifter, envelope follower, and several delays. The last stage is the VT120+’s reverb programs (room, spring, and hall).
Fig. 2. A close-up of the controls.
Apart from being able to dial up 99 basic sounds from a single knob and two pushbuttons, the V120+ also operates in three modes: 1) Preset allows you to select each of the 33 amp models’ basic, effect, or song programs for a total of 99 programs; 2) Manual is where the VT120+ behaves like an analog amp—the sound is a reflection of whatever positions the knobs are in at the time (except for Value and Depth on the bottom row); and 3) Channel Select allows quick access to the 8 user-assigned programs.
I found the best way to get oriented with the VT120+ was to tour through the songs, playing the appropriate rhythm figures and lead lines. This demonstrated the range of tones available from the amp, and it’s quite stunning how varied and convincing the sounds are—not just from the effects, but the core amp sounds themselves. I often strip away the effects (by degree) so that I’m working with a drier sound than was programmed, which lets me hear the amp more. Then I bring back up the effects to taste. I’m a big fan of Valve Reactor technology, where a 12AX7 (ECC83) tube (the “valve” in Valve Reactor) puts a tube in the power amp section, which imbues the 100 percent analog stage with real tube-like behavior. The Power Level control (which adjusts the output wattage) adds yet another gain-based tool (along with the Gain, Volume, and Master) for shaping the amp sound.
Strapping on my Fender Stratocaster, I especially liked the Fender, U.S.-based, and Vox models. (No surprise about the Vox!) These were clear, bright, and punchy, yet gritted up nicely when I turned up the Gain, and backed off the volume. Applying Tube and Orange pedal effects got me 99 percent of the way to a nice classic rock sound. When I switched to my Les Paul Standard and went looking for that higher-gain, hard-edged sound, four models—the UK Metal, US High Gain, US Metal, and Boutique Metal—stood out. UK Metal was quite good for crunchy rhythm parts with the individual voices of the chords still clearly intelligible, and Boutique Metal produced my favorite, soaring sustain-for-days lead—jumping out of a midrange mix, but never becoming shrill in the process.
The range of sounds I could get was quite impressive, and the fact that I could program them into one of the 8 memory locations for instant recall makes this an extremely valuable gigging amp for me. I play a lot of different types of gigs, where I have to go from acoustic to clean to crunch to a plethora of distorted characters for music from blues to country to classic rock to metal. The VT120+ is just at home producing a clean Roland JC120 with a subtle chorus as it is a mid-70s Marshall with nasty midrange snarl. My one criticism, after weeks of using the VT120+, has nothing to do with the sound or performance of the amp itself, but with the way Vox has packaged the VT120+: With its “total signal chain” approach to sound-crafting, it’s just not feasible to work with the amp without the optional footswitch (Vox VFS5, $59.95 street, see Fig. 3). Many amps include a foot pedal, and the VT120+ should be one of them. This is an easy fix, though: just order the footswitch along with the amp. You’re still spending around $600 if you do.
Fig. 3. The optional VFS5 is essential gear for operating the VT120+ in a peformance situation.
Despite having a complete signal chain’s worth of processing stages onboard—including the controls to wrangle it all from the front panel—the VT120+ remains simple to operate and feels, well, like an amp. This is due in large part to the Valve Reactor technology, Adjustable Power level, and Vox’s devotion to nailing down the core sounds of the amps it emulates. I really appreciated having the effects and not using them (treating the VT120+ as a straight-ahead amp), as well as having them and using them, for the times when the uncluttered look of my guitar going straight into an amp—but having comprehensive effects processing—was advantageous. For all these features, the excellent core sound that’s convincing and realistic over so many styles, and at a purchase price of just over $600 (and that’s including the optional VFS5 footswitch), the Vox VT120+ is an excellent amp at an amazing price.
Jon Chappell is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Digital Home Recording (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular For Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).