Several months ago I picked up a Vox AV15 hybrid amp. This is a 15W amp with an 8” speaker and a single 12AX7 tube that is used by both the preamp and the power amp. It has 8 fully analog settings for different amp sounds, 2 Fender cleans, Vox AC10 and AC30, 2 Marshall’s (supposed to be a Plexi and a JCM I think and 2 high gain amps(modeled after Mesa Boogie). There are also digital chorus, delay and reverb effects which can be selected alone or in combination. You can set the depth and rate of each of the effects as well.
To my ear this amp excels in clean to crunch. Everything from the Fender cleans to the Vox AC30 crunch sounds are really, really good. In my opinion the Marshall sounds are good and the high gain sounds are just ok, a little muddy in my opinion. I don’t play metal or anything too heavy, so this suits me. The heaviest I tend to play would be some Pumpkins or Green Day, so nothing too crazy.
Of course the tube in this amp is absolute magic. It makes the amp sound like it was assembled by magic pixies and then enchanted by a Strat-wielding wizard with mad magical skills….well maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit.
I’ve owned a few amps in my time and I will say this is the best sounding amp I’ve owned. It is also the first amp I’ve owned that was not fully solid state and was appropriate for home use. I will say it is a great sounding, easy to use and all-around good amp. I will not get into the tube clipping vs. solid state amp debate because I don’t pretend to understand it. I think if you compare a hybrid amp like this to a not too cheap solid state amp at home use volumes you would be hard pressed to hear a huge difference. I would like to compare this against an AC4TV, and may go that route in the future.
When I was looking for an amp my contenders were the Vox AV15, the Vox AC4TV, Orange 20RT and the Fender Champion 40. I did not want to get into modeling or overly complicated amps.
So basically the AV15 sounds absolutely great from clean to moderately dirty. You metal folk would not like this I don’t think, but I don’t think Vox is known for high gain goodness anyway. To my ears the AV15 and Orange Crush 20RT were pretty comparable, at least at the volume I play at. Could you gig with either of those? Nope. Well maybe you could use the line out, but they are designed as practice amps after all. If I crank this little guy it is uncomfortably loud but it’s still an 8” speaker being pushed by 15W. I didn’t find a Champion 40 to compare it too; the stores near me only carry the Mustangs which are way more popular. From what I’ve read the Champion is a good amp with not much character, but that’s not a personal observation. And I didn’t go too far down the AC4 road because it cost significantly more, has no effects as it’s a full-tube amp and I’m not sure it would sound good as quiet as I sometimes need to play. The Orange Crush 20RT sound was comparable in sound, cheaper and with fewer options. I would have been happy with either the Orange or the Vox I think.
Anyway, this is long-winded but is supposed to be a review of the AV15. I’ve mentioned the tones from this little guy are good. The delay and reverb are very good…in my opinion the chorus is just good. I don’t use chorus too much, but it’s nice to have a good delay and reverb. No tuner, but whatever, that’s a nice to have and not a deal breaker. There is no screen on this amp, which speaks to how easy this amp is to use and navigate.
Controls are super easy. 8 way selector for the amp model, from Fender clean to high gain. Gain knob, 3-band EQ, Volume and a master that works as an attenuator. This is great; you can set up your levels and sound and then knock it down or crank it depending on who is home. I love this feature.
Second row of controls are the 3 effects, chorus, delay and reverb. The level knob works when you first select an effect, the light blinks for a few seconds while you set it. If you only have one effect turned on the level for it works all the time.
After the effects section there are some switches for changing tube dynamics. There are fat and bright switches for the preamp and bias and valve reactor for the power section.
The fat and bright work great for single coil pickups, it fattens up the sound of a strat nicely. The bias and reactor switches are not as noticeable, especially at low volumes. The bias switch gives you an out of phase sound and the reactor tightens things up a bit for more modern high gain sound, or gives it a more vintage feel and sound if you are playing that kind of music.
I tend to stay mostly between the 2 Fender and 2 Vox settings, and just tweak the gain depending on what I’m playing. Even though it has an 8” speaker in a sealed cabinet it sounds great for home use. I’m currently going between 3 guitars, an SSS Strat, an HSS Ibanez and a P90 loaded Epiphone Les Paul Special. All 3 of them sound good through this amp. The LP has a lot of hum with the gain turned up if you aren’t in the middle position, but that’s to be expected with P90’s.
Overall I would say this amp is definitely a keeper. The fact that it sounds great at all volumes and has the attenuator make it a great option for practicing at any time. You can use headphones, but you can get it so quiet that I’ve never had to resort to this. With nothing to back me up I have a feeling that the AV series has not done as well as Vox hoped, and I’m not sure why. The pricing is pretty good, the look, quality and sound of these amps are excellent. For a home practice amp I’m not sure what would be better than the Vox AV15 at this price point and I’ve read that the AV30 and AV60 are good amps capable of gigging, and those larger models throw in an dedicated tube for preamp and power amp as well as an effects loop.
Overall I couldn’t be happier with this amp and it’s definitely worth checking out.