Peavey ValveKing Combo 50
Back in 2006, Peavey gave the amp world a thorough shake-up. The ValveKing's canny Chinese construction undercut just about every other amp company under the sun, providing all-valve tones at prices almost every player could afford, and opening the floodgates to countless cut-price valve heads and combos. Now the company has revisited the ValveKing afresh, adding a host of all-new features.
The ValveKing Combo 50 gives you two channels (clean and lead), each with its own three-band EQ. You get a bright switch on the clean channel for adding sparkle to humbuckers, while there are footswitchable volume and gain boosts on the lead channel - although you'll have to fork out an extra £20 or so for the footswitch.
Like its predecessor, the ValveKing Combo 50 boasts a number of features that come straight from high-end amps. The Vari-Class control adjusts the amp's response from Class A/B to Class A, with changes in output power and sonic character along the way, while TSI tube-monitoring LEDs keep you up to date on your valves' health.
Perhaps the most notable additions are hidden away at the back of the amp, though. Here, you'll find a switchable power output from 50 watts down to 12 watts and even two watts for bedroom-friendly tones, plus XLR and USB outputs with Peavey's new MSDI (Microphone Simulated Direct Interface), which offers simulated mic'd-up tones that you can run straight into your recording software.
It's an exhaustive list of features - especially at this price - but ultimately, the ValveKing has to sound good to deserve such specs. Flick the standby switch to on, and a fat American-style clean offers a warm welcome, combining touch sensitivity and punchy compression.
However, push the clean channel by cutting the wattage or tweaking the Vari-Class control, and the amp gets pretty grainy - it's not the greatest break-up we've ever heard, although the Class A/B setting provides smoother results.
Still, kick in the distorted channel and it's unlikely you'll be revisiting the cleans too often; the 'King serves up filthy 6L6 tones that are perfect for modern rock and metal. Turn the gain down and there are some tasty overdrive tones to be had, but crank the gain too far and the low-end starts to get a little muddy. There's more than enough dirt on offer, though, so it's unlikely you'll need to push the gain dial past halfway.
The ValveKing certainly delivers the tonal goods, but we did find it a little finicky to dial in - you have to seek out its sweet spots. The reverb is also a little sterile for our tastes, so you'll want to keep an eye on that dial, too.
We can't complain, though: getting hold of such an impressive array of features, not to mention tones, for under £700 is a killer deal, and anyone on the lookout for a cut-price, gig-ready valve combo will hail the ValveKing.