Vox Amplug Classic Rock/Metal/AC30

Description:
The VOX amPlug is a range of personal amplifier circuits powered by AAA batteries and intended for use with headphones and a guitar. They plug directly into the 1/4" jack on the guitar and have a small form factor. They are not intended to replace amps, but serve the purpose of convenient and portable tool for practice, or sound checks, or tooling around on the road.

Price (AUD):approx $60
The Scoop:

These devices do work reasonably well - the main difference between the various flavours is the amplification circuit used has different characteristics when driven hard at high gain. They certainly are powerful and the sound you can get out of them is quite convincing. Keep in mind that you are using headphones with this device so the sound needs to be pretty good if you are pluggin the output directly into your ear. The main impressions of the various versions - Classic vs Metal vs AC30 - are outlined at the bottom of this page.

The Rub:

These devices are not ALL positives. Having used them a lot I can summarise a few design and performance issues that prospective buyers should be aware of. Having said that, this device is a useful addition to my colection of gadgets and it does get used, particularly for practicing my guitar late at night or in the garden.

The first negative is a design issue, rather than a performance issue. The knobs are very small, and sunken into the edge of the device. Unless you remove the device and hold it up to your face there is no way to know what settings you have set. It is hard to make adjustments to the setting on the fly.

I have used these VOX amPlugs on my Strat and my Les Paul. The issue on the Les Paul is the the amPlug ends up being tucked away on the edge of the guitar. Once you get used to navigating the dials by feel it is no big deal. However, if you get tired and want to play sitting down you may find that the amPlug is sitting in the way and getting knocked around by your thigh or the seat.

Because of the location of the 1/4" plug on the Strat, I find a different issue with these guitars. The amPlug is visible and accessible, however it sits up and out of the guitar body, and can interfere with the movement of the whammy bar.

Finally, the most serious issue I have kept to last. If you have any kind of GAIN setting (say 3 or above) and the amPlug is turned on, you had best be super careful about unplugging the device. Any earthing of the center pin would cause an unbelievably loud, high pitched squak to be produced and if you have earphone in your ears then you are going to be racing your reflexes to rip them out of your ears before you do damage.

I took a nice clean AC30 Vox Amplug to the guitar store so that I could test the various guitars and pickups in the store relative to a known amplification source. You'd think that you could just plug it into a guitar, play a bit, take it out of the guitar and plug it into the next one, and so on... You'd be wrong... Doing that would earth the centre pin as you were putting it into the next guitar and your ears are in for a blast. [NB: Only happens if you have moderate gain settings, but still]. What you need to do is fumble around for the tiny ON/OFF switch, turn the device off, plug in the next guitar, fumble for the tiny ON/OFF switch, turn it on, then play. If you should ever forget, then you will be harshly reminded.

More visible switches would be an improvement, a tweak to the circuit to stop the howling caused by earth leakage would be good too.

Vox Classic Rock

This is the sweetest sounding of the range by popular vote of myself and a couple of guitar buddies. The sound is smooth and clean at low gain, and a rich overdrive sound when the gain goes up. Very nice sound.

Vox Metal

The metal has some pretty harsh distortion, and clearly sounds solid-state. Often "metal" is a synonym for harsh or ugly sound, but it is possible to get some good metal sounds out of this unit. Since I use these Amplugs for practice I am not to concerned about the tone too much. At high gain the unit responds pretty well to hammer-ons and pull-offs. Not too bad.

Vox AC30

The AC30 is a good clean sound. Since I do not yet have an actual AC30 amp to compare it to I have to presume that is is a reasonable analogue for VOX to bother putting AC30 on the label. I use this most often , because when I practice late at night, or when I am away from the rest of my gear, I like to hear a clean reproduction of what my fingers are (or aren't) doing rather than looking for an overdriven/distortion effect. Crisp.

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