Voices of Vox
First, of course,
Vox AC30TB Clean, with a brief Satch pedal improv outro to demonstrate how the clean amp takes pedals
I debated whether or not to run the pedal on this clean track at all, since it’s supposed to be a clean demo, but in the end I thought it would be useful to demonstrate how the amps respond to pedal input. To me, an amp’s responsiveness to dynamic, real input is just as important as how it behaves with its own modeled pedals and effects. I am a huge fan of dirt pedals, wahs, etc., as I’ve mentioned before, and if the amp modelers can’t make use of my collection the way that a real amp could, in my opinion something is wrong with the modeler.
Treble Boosted Dirty Vox, in the form of a short 16-bar blues jam!
ReValver MkIII and Guitar Rig 3 both have actual Treble Boosters built in, and both seem to be based on the Rangemaster. Amplitube 2, I improvised a treble booster with its Overdriver pedal (tone at 3/4, level maxed, dirt set to minimum) and two of its EQ pedals afterwards for more tone shaping and another 15dB or so of boost.
Alternate links if Tindeck is down:
ReValver MkIII Vox Clean w/ Satch pedal outro
ReValver MkIII Treble Boosted AC30TB
ReValver MkIII Vox “at the edge of overdrive” clip, by request
Guitar Rig 3 Vox Clean w/ Satch pedal outro
Guitar Rig 3 Treble Boosted AC30TB
Amplitube 2 Vox Clean w/ Satch pedal outro
Amplitube 2 Treble Boosted Vox AC30TB
And now featuring Waves GTR Solo’s Vox as well!
Peavey’s ReValver MkIII AC30 model has a very glassy clean tone. There is only one included impulse response explicitly for the AC30, but it is one of the best IRs in ReValver MkIII in my opinion and with minor tweaks to the Treble and Bass controls on the “RIR Speaker Convolution” module you can get just about any AC30TB tone you’d like, clean or dirty. ReValver MkIII gives you individual control over all three of the preamp channels (Normal, Brilliant, and Tremolo), and the controls respond and interact realistically. One of the best ways to broadly change the tone and responsiveness of the amp model is to simply adjust the balance of channels. For the clean clip, I used almost solely the Brilliant channel with just a hint of Normal, which gave me a brilliant and chiming foundation to further tweak with EQ. I didn’t feel the need to do any “Tweak GUI” changes to this model for its clean tone (or, for that matter, for its dirty tone) – this model seems to be just right as it is, to my ears. Of course you can edit anything in the amp if you so desire, so if you’ve always wanted an AC30TB clean tone but with a more “American” midrange character, you’re a few tube swaps and maybe a tone stack away from that. But if you’re going for an authentic, bright, responsive Vox tone, you’re probably not going to need to change anything at all.
The response of the model to my Satriani Satchurator distortion is very natural and fluid, with the tightness and focus that I have come to think of as one of the strongest characteristics of ReValver MkIII. One thing I noticed about this amp model is that it seems to want to overdrive more easily than I would expect compared to the real thing, though not at all offensively and certainly not even close to the extent that the Recto Clean channel did in the last review. In this case, all I had to do was roll back off the gain a little bit on the Brilliant channel and it cleaned right up. This could have to do with the particular vintage of the amp they modeled, or any number of factors – I can’t say for sure. What is certain is that this Vox AC30TB model is a very good sounding amp model that will certainly get a lot of use in my recordings.
Its dirty tone is really authentic to my ears, and pulls off the “treble boosted Vox” tone quite well. I’m feeding it a pretty fat input signal from a pair of humbuckers, and it’s still very bright and glassy but with a great deal of grit and grain as well. I love how articulate the model is when the heat gets going – though I’m playing a lot of notes really quickly and some big chords, it never gets muddy or mushy. For the dirty clip, I’ve got ReValver MkIII’s Treble Booster cranked up into the amp, with the Normal and Brilliant channels both maxed and a little bit of the Tremolo channel added in for extra grit and girth (it’s considerably darker than the other two and overdrives pretty easily; it only has tremolo going when you turn the speed and depth dials up). I think this amp is just really well modeled all around, and it’s really a pleasure to play.
IK Multimedia’s Amplitube 2 Vox AC30TB is remarkably clean, even indelibly clean. In fact, you can barely get it to overdrive at all on its own. My experience with ReValver MkIII and the real amp leads me to believe that this program is not modeling all of the preamp channels. The EL84 power section responds very realistically to high input levels (as the dirty clip indicates), but without putting a hefty signal boost up front, this amp is very, very clean. Its tone seems to indicate that it is the Brilliant channel, and the resulting clean tone is very lovely. It really shimmers when clean, and the EQ controls are highly interactive, just like the Vintage AC30TB on which this model is based. People tend to record the AC30TB with the channels jumped (the same trick that was used on early Marshalls and other multi-channel amps that operated in parallel rather than being switched between channels), so this model isn’t what a lot of people might expect, especially if they were going for a more biting or crunchy driven Vox tone! ReValver MkIII and Guitar Rig 3 both model jumped-channel Vox AC30TBs, they both have individual gain knobs for the channels of the amp, and they both overdrive much more easily than Amplitube 2, so I really think it’s just modeling one channel… Still, the single channel (if I am right, and I think I am) does mean that the power amp can be totally cranked to get some lovely, light upper harmonics going on which really sweeten the tone without getting gritty. Whether that’s what you’re going for might be another question.
The AC30 2×12 speaker cabinet impulse response cab sim is very good. As is pretty common with a really clean tone, you don’t really need more than one mic to capture the satin sheen and warm undertones of the amp model. As you would expect with a (mostly) Class A EL84 power section running hot and being fed a high dynamic range signal from its (single?) preamp, the amp is very, very responsive. It follows the envelope of the input signal very faithfully, with very little compression or saturation in its clean tone. I really like the interplay between the Treble and Hi Cut controls; the balance between them allows you to totally shape the tonality of the amp model’s output. Engaging the Satriani Satcurator pedal does some interesting things with the Amplitube 2 AC30TB, showing off its broad frequency response and dynamic headroom. Probably because of the lower inherent input gain of this AC30TB model, the pedal sounds the least compressed into Amplitube 2’s AC30, at least to my ears.
Doing the dirty clip took some creativity. First, Amplitube 2 doesn’t have a Treble Booster, and an Overdrive adds way too much grit and color to the signal to get an authentic AC30TB overdriven tone. I decided that I’d have to improvise a treble booster if I was going to see what the model could do when pushed to the limit, so I used the Overdriver pedal with the gain lowered all the way, the tone at 3/4, and the level maxed; I ran its output into two EQs, which further shaped the tone to give it a profile more like a Rangemaster and which also boosted up the gain by another 15db or so. Running that into the AC30TB makes it really come alive! I continue to be impressed by how well the IK Multimedia guys model power amp overdrive. This model’s EL84 power section, when really hammered, gives up some lovely, dynamic distortion. I like it! Now, since I’ve had to approximate what a Treble Booster does with an EQ pedal in front of the amp (and hence I’m adding a lot of “junk” treble frequencies in addition to the upper harmonics that a real treble booster would add) I’ve used a parametric after the amp to control the fizz and hiss that would otherwise result. Hopefully Amplitube 3 will give us some great new pedals, among them an authentic treble booster. But I think it’s remarkable how their AC30TB blooms when you really slam the input!
Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 3 has a good Vox AC30TB model as well. I don’t think that it is modeling the same AC30TB as ReValver MkIII, as it only gives you control over the Normal and Brilliant preamp channels but still offers on-board tremolo with adjustable speed and depth. But, it is definitely more like ReValver MkIII’s than Amplitube 2’s – it wants to overdrive on its own. The EQ controls are not as interactive as ReValver MkIII’s or Amplitube 2’s, but they do a pretty good job of shaping the tone. Still, you’re probably going to want an EQ of some kind somewhere after the amp if you want more control over the shape of the output. I didn’t have much difficulty dialing in a clean that would stay clean under stress. I think it sounds good, quite usable, but not as articulate or refined as ReValver MkIII’s, and not as shimmery as Amplitube 2’s. Still, you could definitely get away with this in a recording – it’s got a very authentically Vox character. I sometimes get disappointed in some of the Guitar Rig 3 amp models because some feel less dynamic than the real amp; however, this time I think they’ve done a good job of capturing the “aliveness” of the AC30TB. Setting a balance of Normal to Brilliant gives you the expected foundation from which to dial in your tone. The less interactive EQ means that you don’t get as much control or width to the tonal changes possible with the other software modelers’ offerings, but the hi-cut still cuts the highs, and the treble still boosts your treble. I dialed out a little bit of sag, and dialed in more responsiveness using the Guitar Rig 3 “+” menu on the amp model, which resulted in a more authoritative tone than it had before tweaking. I didn’t like the way this amp reacted to the Satriani pedal, but it could be a matter of EQ… Or just a matter of taste. I’ll let your ears make that call.
The speaker sim for the AC30 is actually quite good in Guitar Rig 3, better than the other speaker sims which have been around as long (as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I find that the added-with-GR3 amp and cab sims are really great, while the others might be good or might not, so I wanted to point out that this is a good one that was not added with GR3). I found it helpful for the dirty clip to dual mic the cabinet to capture more of the body and punch of the tone as well as the cutting treble characteristic of a driven Vox. It responds very naturally to its Treble Booster module into both amp channels cranked. I liked it best this way, and I think it stands up well beside the other programs even though I think they are both more accurate in how they model the EQ and power amp overdrive. The preamps in Guitar Rig 3 are well modeled, and when the amp starts overdriving the crunch is natural and defined. I don’t have any real complaints about this amp when things get dirty – it sounds good when you hear it and feels good when you play it. Dialing in the right balance with its speaker sim wasn’t difficult – I used its “Tube Condenser Mic” on the center of the cone, and another off-axis at a lower mix just to fill out the body of the tone. Nothing extreme. Of course Guitar Rig 3’s excellent effects are put to use here – I’m dialing in a reasonable amount of its great Spring Reverb module to thicken things up a bit.
Waves GTR Solo‘s Vox AC30TB is extremely glossy and shimmery. You practically can’t dial that out, it’s as though there is a studio sheen on the whole thing from the moment you load up the amp. Some will absolutely love that about this program as a time-saving feature with a lot of wow-factor, while others will find that it makes it more difficult to tailor the track to your own needs later in the mix. I have to say, this is a program that demands to be taken seriously – and right now, it’s completely free for a full year. This Vox is similar to Guitar Rig 3’s Vox in its general tonality and response to your playing (in fact, they seem to be modeling the same vintage of the amplifier – the 1980s era AC30TB-2, which doesn’t have interactive EQ controls among other changes to the unit). One peculiarity about this model is that it features not only a Midrange control, but also a Presence – and it lacks a “Tone Cut!” Waves definitely isn’t worried about having a fully authentic modeled featureset, but the sound of the amp itself is quite authentic into the included 2×12 cabinet sim with any of the mics included. This program lacks some of the depth of editing that other programs allow, and only has pedal effects which go before the amp, no rack units or other post-effects options, but as a result it is quite straight-forward and there isn’t much of a learning curve. Combine that easy-access limited featureset with its immediate “studio gloss” and I can definitely see why some people fall in love with GTR when they first load it up. There is a very “set it and forget it” vibe to this software which, once again, will be a boon to some and a bane to others.
I found its clean character to sparkle very appropriately, and its overdrive to occur quite naturally and dynamically. You don’t get individualized control over the preamps as would be correct for the amp if the only concern were authenticity; instead, you get Waves GTR’s typical -12db to +12db “Drive” control. Honestly, though, it functions more or less how the preamp controls would, though I do miss the other programs’ ability to dial in a balance of Brilliant to Dirty (excepting Amplitube 2, of course, which I think is only modeling one channel unless my ears are really lying to me). I was pleased to find that this model, like ReValver MkIII, is able to easily achieve the vaunted “at the edge of overdrive” tone where you’re sitting right there at the extension of what the amp will do cleanly and any digging into the strings pushes it over the edge. That said, it almost sounds to me like there is some compression going on in the signal uncontrolled by the user, because while the amp responds as you would hope to playing very softly or really hammering the strings, the output level hardly changes at all. Interesting, for sure, and another feature which makes the sound fit smoothly into a mix more or less out of the box (though there is an associated cost – I once heard it referred to as the inability to achieve both unity and perfection). And for now, this is a free program; I have to recommend you check it out for that alone, since its only competition in the “absolutely free” price category doesn’t begin to measure up.
Whew, that concludes the updated review. Here are the patches that I used in this comparison, with instructions in each individual program’s folder for those who don’t know how to import patches into their program(s) of choice. This file includes my Fender Pt. 1 comparison patches as well, but the space requirement is trivial. You’re welcome to ignore the Fender patches if you really, really only want the Vox ones. I’ve included some patches that didn’t make it into clips here, including a Guitar Rig 3 patch which gives you a reasonable “At The Edge of Overdrive Tone” and updates to the other patches to make them sound slightly better than in my clips.