In 1962, a young, upwardly mobile pop group called The Beatles became proud owners of a set of Vox amplifiers, thanks to a canny endorsement deal struck by their manager, Brian Epstein.
In the years that followed, The Beatles took over the world and, together with other high-profile users such as The Shadows' Hank Marvin, their success helped Vox become established worldwide as the sound of British pop in the swinging 60s.
However, it wasn't until 1992 when Vox was bought by its present owner, Korg, that the brand's true potential was finally realised, and ever since Vox has gone from strengthto strength.
For 2016, Vox has widened its high-end Custom range to include two new heads – the AC15 and AC30 Custom – that feature Vox's new Reactive Attenuator. Today we have our hands on the AC30.
The AC30 Custom heads is fabricated in China, but all the R&D work takes place here in the UK at Vox's UK headquarters. Vox was among the first to shift its manufacturing base overseas and, as you would expect from Korg, the quality control is first class.
Inside the cabinet, we find a robust steel chassis and two main printed circuit boards. The top one is oriented vertically and holds all the controls, while the lower one sits horizontally and holds all the valve bases.
Access to the valves is easier than some older Voxes: a wooden panel on the underside fastened by woodscrews is all that needs to be removed to get to the 12AX7s and four EL84s.
The wiring is neat, the soldering is clean and bright, and both amps look ready to take on the world.
The AC30's control panel offers high- and low-sensitivity input jacks for both channels, a reverb tone control and separate LEDs for mains and standby.
The rear panel features a pair of speaker outlets, a footswitch jack and a chickenhead knob operating a rotary switch that controls the Vox Reactive Attenuator circuit. This reduces the output power in three steps: from 30 watts to 15 to one third of a watt.
Overall, the amp is well built and looks the part, especially when sat on top of Vox's matching 2x12 enclosure. The AC30 head also benefits from an effects loop with switchable levels to accommodate rack and stompbox effects.
Feel & Sounds
When discussing the 'Vox sound', we often hear the words 'chime' and 'jangle', which may give the impression that AC models are thin and trebly, when in fact both heads have a distinct midrange emphasis.
That chime and jangle is still there and comes into its own for mildly distorted stuff on the top boost channel, but it's the smooth, warm mids that are as much a part of the Vox character as its complex high frequency response.
This is accentuated by the Celestion-loaded V212C open-back cabinet, which is perfect for delivering the articulate pop-rock chord and solo stuff that both Vox heads really excel at producing.
At cleaner settings, with a lot of reverb and a decent tape echo emulation in the AC30's effects loop, it's easy to nail practically any classic 60s British pop tone, from The Beatles and The Shads, to The Hollies and The Kinks.
Crank up the amp, and you're in a thick soup of harmonic-laden overdrive that's as relevant to today's indie bands as it was to the British Invasion back in the mid-60s.
It's a particularly vocal overdrive with just a hint of fuzz that sounds equally toothsome with single coils or humbuckers, and fully maxed out you can get that boxy midrange grind that typifies Queen's wall of sound.
Power-wise, the quartet of EL84s ensure that there's enough clean headroom for stuff that demands it, like country picking or funk.
Getting a half-decent cranked up sound at home or in the studio would be more difficult as both amps are very loud, but thanks to the new Reactive Attenuator, it's wonderfully simple: just flip the rear panel switch to its lowest setting and enjoy the fully-cranked effect at conversation levels.
The AC30 heads are worthy additions to the Vox Custom range. While combos are often considered more portable, an AC30 is a weighty beast to cart around. Separating the amp and speakers makes this job easier, while adding a degree of flexibility – you can use any available speaker cabinet, although there's no doubt that visually and sonically, the specially designed V212C enclosure is the perfect companion.
The new Reactive Attenuator circuit is a great addition and makes both heads ideal for stage, studio and home use.