Top positive review
170 people found this helpful
on October 28, 2008
I recently discovered this little tone wonder by cruising the guitar effect pedal vids on You Tube. (I discover a lot of new things that way, especially with independent user reviews). The sound of this little effect box was a real eye-opener! Plus, I was looking for something that would be very simple for practicing on the couch, that didn't require connecting a lot of wires or an AC adapter. Everyone seemed to be very positive about it - which has got to mean something.
My gear lust got the best of me, so the next day when I happened to be in Best Buy, I checked with their new music department (!) and there it was, they had several of them. I purchased it on the spot and couldn't wait to get home and tear the wrapper open.
There are almost no instructions included, except to tell you the obvious not to break it. I was a bit worried that it would not fit into the jack cavity on my two Stratocaster's, but it does quite nicely, so obviously that was part of Vox's design criteria.
All the Amplug effect plugs were made to be plug and play as simple as possible. All you need is a set of headphones, and your guitar to be ready to go. The body features a very bright red LED indicator for on/off status, and three tiny embedded pots labeled: gain, tone and volume. That's it!
The most obvious difference between this and any other distortion/amp modeling effects I've tried, is that the Amplug is completely modeled with analog circuitry. There is nothing digital involved. The benefit is like night and day. The unit totally reacts to your playing, and your guitars pick up and volume settings. When you push it hard, it sags a little bit, and pushes back at you like a real amp and does - NOT like a digital model. The effect is uncannily warm and realistic, like a real tube amplifier.
There is one simple headphone output, which is fine for personal listening, but is a bit of a minus for recording. After hearing this thing I definitely decided that I'm going to be using it for a lots of my recording sessions, but it is a little weak in the output department, which adds a little noise to the signal. It's not a horrible issue, and certainly not worse than using a real amplifier, but I wish they could have addressed this and given the output a hi/lo setting. I record with this by using an eighth inch stereo adapter cable from its headphone output to the stereo RCA ins on my mixer.
The unit is powered by two little AAA batteries. I think it goes through them faster than the 15 hour rating, because it's crucial that you use it with full battery power, otherwise the tone suffers. So, if you buy this keep several pairs handy (or better yet use rechargeables.
I am giving this a rating of 10 for sound quality simply because it just sounds so good!. It's the closest thing I've ever heard to a real Vox AC30 tube amp, without having the real thing cranked and miked up in a room. The fact that you can have that kind of sound for $40 is pretty unbelievable.
I have had several tube preamps (Hughes & Kettner), a Marshall combo, a Roland VG-88 modeler, and most of the latest guitar amp software - this little unit simply blows them all away. The sound is rich and juicy, without ever becoming shrill or brittle, no matter how you set the controls. The three knobs are extremely touch sensitive; the slightest change makes a huge difference in the sound. I have never had anything that reacts so much to changes in my guitar settings. In fact, before this I always left the volume and tone on my guitars all the way up. You have nearly an infinite variety of sounds from clean to dirty (within the realm of an AC30 - this is definitely not a metal device), and even after hours of playing you'll find yourself discovering juicy new tones from it.
The basic sound is warm yet chimey, like a classic AC30. Roll the gain past 8, and the drive suddenly kicks in and puts you in Brian May territory. So convincing! It can also do cleaner Beatles 60s type sounds.
Every other distortion type effect I've tried (especially in Guitar Rig3 and Amplitube - yuch), simply sounds like a dead layer of brittleness stuck on top of your sound. Usually they don't change depending on how you play and lean in. This is completely different, it's more organic like a real amplifier. Back off and it's clean - push in hard and it really rings and grinds. I was really surprised by how it did that - and I'm wondering why it took so long for any manufacturer to do it right - especially since this is built with older analog technology.
With the tone control up past five there is definitely noise introduced. It's not horrible, and no different than any real amp I've played, but you'd think they could make a modern device a little quieter. It sounds very good with all my guitars and seems to bring out their true character, but it really sounds the best with my Fender Strat with stock single coils. Chime city! With my Les Paul I was able to coax out sounds from buttery smooth to 70s rock. It was easy to get the chunky sound from the beginning of T. Rex's "Bang A Gong" (no digital modeler ever let me do that before), to the blocky rhythm guitar sounds from Thin Lizzy's "The Boy's Are Back In Town".
I was also surprised that it sounds very good with my two bases (a Hamer Cruise Bass and a Thunderbird). With a little low end EQ added into the mix, I was able to get a very warm and satisfying recorded bass sound. Not the SVT I'm looking for, but that's another search....can't wait to try the Amplug Bass when it comes out.
The build is made from very light plastic. It looks nice, but it feels a little cheap. I worry that the pots, and the jack are not going to last very long. For something that sounds this good I do wish they could have made it more robust - because I plan on keeping this around for a very long time. Oh well, guess I can't complain for $40. At this price point, if it broke I would definitely go out immediately and buy another. This device is just begging to have a pro-model made that uses the same analog technology, but in a rocksolid floor mount case, with better output options.
I've been playing guitar for longer than I'm going to admit here. My playing and tastes tend to go a little towards the eclectic. I like 70s album rock and progressive styles ranging from Zepplin, to early Genesis to Killing Joke, with a dash of Terje Rypdal. All played with taste of course ;)
Currently, I am primarily concerned with recording in my home studio. For the last few years most of my guitar sounds have been coming from my Roland VG-88, primarily using my own patches that I've spent ages tweaking. I'm not going to put down the VG here, as I plan on keeping it for ever, but since getting the little Amplug AC30 this week and recording with it, the Amplug has now earned it's place as MY sound. It's that good. In fact, I'm going to put my opinion on the line and say that this device with my two Strats is possibly one of the best guitar sounds I have ever heard. At least coming from my hands anyways....
In my studio instead of plugging it into my guitar, I have it plugged into the output jack of an MXR 10 band EQ so it can always stay in one place, with an adapter cord going from it to my mixer. My guitars plug into the MXR pedal. Don't think you can put another distortion pedal in front of it - it can't handle any type of boost in the sound and will break up in the most horrible brittle way. The MXR EQ is just tweeaked ever so slightly to remove a bit of middle and add top end.
It's very important to remember to change the batteries as soon as the light begins to dim, otherwise the sound loses its character and becomes very thin and brittle as well. Keep several sets handy. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that a $40 pedal has become my signature sound - but it's the truth. I plan to try out the other Amplug flavors, and maybe collect most of them, but the AC30 seems to be the most versatile as it can go from clean to dirty.
Oh yes, one more useful thing that I've discovered about it: if you turn the bright red LED on and and hold it by the jack plug right up to somebody's face, and tell them it's a small personal Taser device, they tend to jerk back really quick as it's really very convincing at that too....