A relatively recent trend for low-powered, all-valve amplifiers is one - along with the ever-increasing use of the home studio - that's certainly catching on. In short, small amps are in!
More and more big-name makers are getting in on the game, offering low-cost valve amps that won't have your neighbours or, perhaps more importantly, your bank manager banging down your door to stop the fun.
Entering into the fray is the Peavey Royal 8, an all-valve, single-ended true Class A amplifier with a spec sheet that, along with the rest of the amp, is straightforward. One 12AX7 in the preamp keeps the front end pure and simple, while a single EL84 valve in the power stage provides extra British chime, and is designed with a no-negative feedback circuit, which, says Peavey, should offer a 'looser' feel and enable a more dynamic playing approach.
Equally sparse is the Royal 8 feature set: three mini chicken head knobs control gain, tone and master volume. The only other front panel features are high- and low-gain inputs, a headphone jack and a red jewel power indicator. The back panel has just a mains inlet - the only obvious omission is an external speaker output.
The EQ couldn't be simpler, offering one tone control that acts as a bias between low- and high-end frequencies - similar in operation to a presence control. Meanwhile, the combination of input gain and master volume controls is one that will please players with tight volume restrictions - five watts still packs a big punch - and this will undoubtedly make things a little easier when trying to obtain 'flat-out' sounds at a volume level suitable for home recording or general practice.
The Royal 8 is somewhat limited in aesthetic flamboyance, too, especially when compared to Blackheart's Little Giant or Blackstar's HT-5. Yet its rugged black covering is in keeping with the familiar Valve King look - a product line that has been hugely successful for Peavey.
The elegant, slightly angelic, sweeping silver wings straddling an oval Peavey logo are the only real visual treats to be had. As ever with Peavey, the build quality appears extremely good, especially considering its entry-level pricing. The sturdily built cabinet is compact and houses an eight-inch Peavey speaker designed in the USA specifically for the Royal 8.
Hear it in action. Here's the gain set to four, and the tone and volume on five:
Now the gain upped to six:
Finally here's the gain on nine, with the tone rolled back to three:
The Royal 8 offers plenty of playing dynamics and touch sensitivity. The harder you hit the input, the harder the amplifier works. Conversely, this works in a similar vein when running a more distorted tone and utilising a softer touch - suiting a blues-rock playing approach particularly well.
It's also noticeable how well the Royal 8 works with the volume control of your guitar: even the lightest of rolls either way transforms your sound from blues clean to classic rock mean.
A humbucker-equipped PRS Singlecut, with all EQ controls at 12 o'clock, brings a bluesy tone with plenty of spike in the top-end, working particularly well with darker sounding humbuckers.
Dialling down the master volume and pushing the input gain really gets the preamp cooking for a much more saturated tone and a rich palette of classic rock sounds that would be close to Angus Young's signature tone and not too far away from a more modern Stereophonics grunt, albeit always coloured by a element of inevitable boxiness from the small cabinet and eight-inch speaker.
Backing off the tone control darkens the signal up, and when plugging in a Fender Road Worn '50s Stratocaster a surprisingly big and open sounding Texas blues rhythm is unleashed: not too squishy in the low-end and with reasonable headroom.
For its size, the Royal 8 will certainly surprise some with its sound distribution; it fills an average size room with ease. What's more, despite its lack of EQ options, it responds well to playing dynamics and the use of your guitar's volume control.
Overall, if you're looking for a simple rehearsal, recording or small, mic'ed gig amp in a tiny package, the Peavey Royal 8 offers enough in terms of pure sound quality and portability, despite the lack of an extension speaker output.
An all-valve five-watt amp such as this is still loud, so the ability to dial down the master volume and crank the gain is one that will suit recording and bedroom players alike.