Street Price: $219.99
Vox made a splash a few years ago with the release of it’s MV50 series of amps. Touting a new technology they call “Nutube,” they are an all-analog 50 watt compact tone machines. I’d say it’s the smallest amp head I’ve ever encountered without being in a pedal format. With a single channel, three knobs, and a couple buttons, I’d say this nails certain variations of that classic AC tone without much cash or backache. They have also expanded this line to include High Gain, Clean, Boutique, and Rock variants, but the AC is the one you want if you want classic Vox tone.
-Max 50W RMS@4Ω, 25W RMS@8Ω, 12.5W RMS@16Ω
-Nutube 6P1 preamp tube
-Gain, Tone, and Volume Controls
-Switch for “Deep” or “Flat” EQ
-VU Meter for output level of the amp
Vox amps have a very distinct sound. This AC version of the MV50 series does that Vox tone, and that Vox tone only. If you’re looking for a Fender or Marshall sound, try the other variants. The Nutube technology does add some of the familiar dynamics you expect from a tube preamp. It does get plenty loud for such a small package too. The deep switch adds some bottom-end oomph! too, I pretty much just leave it on since I almost exclusively play through open-back 1×12 cabs.
Now, I’m not smart enough to know exactly how the Nutube technology works, supposedly it works exactly like a vacuum tube, but using florescent technology. I’ve played other amps of similar ilk with a 12AX7 preamp tube and Class D power amp (think Orange Micro Terror and Joyo Bantamp), and I’d say this is tonally on par with those. The benefits of the Nutube are it requires less energy, doesn’t run hot, and supposedly has a 30,000 hour lifespan. So far, they only have preamp versions, no poweramp Nutube yet.
Gain: The gain knob goes from mildly clean to moderately overdriven. It has about as much gain as a dimed Vox amp will produce. Chimey on the lower side of the gain knob, a bit raucous on the higher end. It responds fairly well to rolling your guitar’s volume knob back.
Volume: This is my first gripe, and it has everything to do with the marketing of these amps. It says 50 watts on everything, but, it’s only 50 watts at 4ohms. Even the little BC108 speaker they package to go with this amp (which I have not tried) is 8ohms. At 8ohms, it’s only 25watts, and then 12.5watts at 16ohms. In case you haven’t looked recently, there aren’t many 4ohm speaker cabs out there. To get to 4ohms, you have to have two 8ohm speakers in parallel, or four 16ohm speakers in parallel. I think it’s safe to say most one-speaker cabinets are going to be 8 or 16ohms, so unless you’re going to be wiring up multiple speaker cabinets or lugging a huge 4×12 to go with this little beast, you’ll never get to the full 50 watts.
When judging it as a 25watt class D amp through my 8ohm speaker cab, it can keep up with a drummer. This keeps it on the same level as Orange Micro Terror and Joyo Bantamps. I don’t know how Class D is so loud with such light weight, but I’m not going to argue with it.
Features: The deep switch was a nice addition, and I pretty much leave it always on. I haven’t tried this head through a 4×12 cab, I could see the Deep switch adding too much low end with a bigger cabinet.
The Eco switch and VU meter, honestly, I think were a waste of limited real estate. The Eco switch is meant to turn the amp off if no signal passes through it for 15 minutes. I’m not sure why this feature is there, maybe as part of a corporate goal or European Union mandate of being eco-friendly, I don’t know, but to me it’s useless. Also, the VU meter looks spiffy, but I could do without it. It really doesn’t add anything to the amp, how often do you just stare at your amp while you’re playing? I would rather have used that space and costs and had a built-in reverb or effects loop.
Headphone Out: The headphone out is actually not bad. Will it sound exactly like a mic’d cabinet? No. But I would put it towards the upper end of any amp with a headphone out, especially in this price point. It’s a sound that’s good enough for practice. It mutes the speaker output, so it allows for silent headphone practice. Here is a video I did of the heaphone out:
Aside from my critique of the useless features above, there is one more downside to this amp: it can’t handle being ran at full volume. I’ve honestly ran into this problem with heads of similar size/wattage too, so it might just be part of the micro-head craze. If you run it at 75% volume or higher, it will shut itself off to prevent overheating. Sure, this might help to prevent damage to the amp instead of it just burning up, but an amp should be able to handle the full range of its volume.
I wouldn’t call this next point I’m about to make a con, but it’s something to keep in mind if you want to buy one of these amps. Part of that Vox sound we’ve heard on countless recordings is heavily dependent on those EL84 power amps being cranked. Brian May of Queen got his tone by just having a wall of AC-30’s at full volume (pushed with a treble booster, using a handmade guitar, using a coin for a plectrum, and having his fingers and musical sensibilities….). You’re not going to sound like him with this amp, especially without the power amp breakup/sag/compression. You’ll be in the ballpark.
In other words, amps like this will sound similar to the tube amp it sets out to pay homage too, but like those amps when they’re not cranked. This isn’t something exclusive to the MV50s, any hybrid amp with a solid state power amp section is going to have the same result. Pure preamp gain with no power amp distortion is a sound that some people like, and it does have a time and place. Just know that if you’re expecting power tube reaction, you’re not going to get it with this format of amp at this price point.
If you’d like to buy your own Vox MV-50 AC, click HERE. This is an eBay affiliate link and a great way to support this blog without spending an extra penny. I just get a little cut of eBay’s part of the fees for sending you there.
Great review! And a rare one too. I mean, I’ve been looking at these for a while, and it’s great to read an honest critique that, while it addresses the potential negatives, doesn’t flat out say they stink. I still want one, but now I’m better informed if I decide to pull the trigger.
About some of the technical aspects you mentioned, you’re correct in you assumption, it works as a tube because it is indeed a vacuum tube, only smaller, colder and designed to run at lower voltages, but it still has the same basic parts an old-school dual-triode would have (these are dual-triodes like a 12AX7). So it’s not a smaller 12XXX, but a completely new component (well, an adaptation of another thing, really) created with its own specs to work in those types of circuits as expected from a regular tube, and draw just a few milliwatts of power.
That’s why there’s only pre-amp ones for now, it’d require yet another re-design of the concept to make it both power-efficient and high-power at the same time, and the R&D curve is a bit steep for now. The first iteration came from an application that was already low-power, so the jump was smaller. Regardless of power draw, what this means sonically is the same thing as swapping tubes on an amp for a different model of somewhat similar specs, you’re supposed to land in the same sonic ballpark.
As for the power rating thing, I’ve found this to be pretty much the norm on a lot audio equipment outside of guitar amps. Most the PA power units for example are marketed at their 4Ohm capabilities. It does seem odd though that they’d even bother designing the amp to run on such a heavy load because as you mentioned, 4Ohm guitar cabs aren’t all that popular as they are in pro-audio environments, but I’m not all that well versed on cabs and maybe they’re more readily available than I think. Either way, its one of those things I’m happy to know beforehand.
Honestly, I’d go for the new Mini Super Beetle over the MV50. I haven’t played the Super Beetle, but, it seems like the same basic sound but with reverb and tremolo. Plus it looks cool with the matching cab.
But the marketing of cheapo PA gear is so infuriating. It’s not just the 4ohm rating, but they also market with the peak wattage, I feel like that’s something that’s just crept in over the past 10 years or so. Like with most things in life “if it’s too good to be true…..” If you think you’re getting a 1,000 watt into 4ohm PA power amp for $150 and it’ll say “1,000 Watts” all over it, it’s probably going to be 100-150 watts RMS per channel when you run it stereo with 8ohm speakers (I think…). I’m fine with cheapo gear, in fact I love it, but you just have to know what you’re getting and keeping expectations in check.