What is it?
Victory has built up a fearsome reputation for its exquisitely voiced lineup of lunchbox-sized guitar amplifiers, but the Duchess it takes this pursuit for great tone in compact formats to its logical conclusion – the pedalboard.
The Duchess conforms largely to Victory's V4 pedal preamp series, if just a little bit bigger. You don't even have to place it down by your feet – on top of the speaker would work well too. It is about the size of a cigar box. It weighs 1.6kg. You could throw it in your backpack as you ride the bus to a gig.
And it's got a lot of power; 180-watts into 4 ohms, 80 into 8, with a valve-driven preamp and a class D power amp.
The enclosure is unmistakably Victory, with chickenhead knobs, graphic-covered powder-coated steel finish and a raised steel kick bar to protect it. There are perforations across the right-hand side of the unit with a 60mm fan on the left to keep it cool.
There is no off switch for the amp but the fan is quiet enough and does a good job keeping the top of the enclosure cool.
Controls-wise, well, it's an amplifier and is laid out as you might find them on a regular head, though there are two rows of four knobs to make the most of the space. On the top you've got bass, middle, treble and volume. On the bottom you'll find master volume, tremolo depth, tremolo speed and reverb.
There is a footswitch to switch the tremolo on and off, and the rear of the unit houses return sockets for the Duchess’s series effects loop, balanced line out, and a single loudspeaker outlet. Elsewhere you will find a standard nine-volt 500mA outlet, very useful for powering other effects, plus an input for a footswitch should you choose to position the amp back on top of the speaker cab and want to switch the tremolo on.
Under the hood, the Duchess has a similar layout to its V4 kin, only there's a little more going on here, with nine circuit boards and a lot of tidy wiring. The valves have a board to their own, and are mounted on ceramic sockets. Here, things are familiar, with the V4 valve lineup of an EC900 triode in the V1 position followed by three CV4014s (there are four in the preamp in total, hence the "V4").
The CV4014s are a military version of the EF91 pentode, an early '80s NATO build by Mullard. They had been hitherto in cold storage, liberated from the nuclear bunker in pursuit of tone. Why use military-grade valves? Well, a minimum lifespan of 6,000 hours is as good a reason as any. You get a two-year warranty on them, which is pretty generous.
There is no off switch, but this 60mm fan works all the time and with not too much noise.
The series effects loop is ideal for connecting your time-based effects and modulation. The Duchess makes an excellent pedal plaftorm.
The tremolo is superb and you can switch it on or off via the enclosure's footswitch here, or alternatively use an external footswitch if you have the amp on the speaker cab.
Performance and Verdict
The Duchess is all about delivering those honeyed cleans you expect from a fine valve amplifier. Those clean tones, with just a little bit of heat on them, are simply magical for blues leads, and will bring your chords to life.
Being a single-channel affair, it's a relief that the Duchess plays nice with pedals. It loves overdrive. Throw what you like at it – Tube Screamers, Klon clones... A Boss HM-2 might be a like ordering a pint of snakebite at a black-tie event but why not? Ultimately, the Duchess offers a phenomenal base layer of tone for pedal freaks to indulge, with the series loop out back through which your delay and modulation can go.
• BluGuitar Amp1 Mercury Edition
The Mercury Edition is definitely a step up, with increased definition that makes it even easier to slot the Amp1 into a mix, and an excellent new reverb that’s as good as any you’ll find in or out of a studio.
• Strymon Iridium
Awesome cab sims allied to great tones from three amp classics make the Iridium a hugely versatile and compact all-in-one rig for the stage or the studio.
Through a Victory with a 2x12 open-backed cabinet fitted with Celestion Vintage 30 (8 ohm load), the Duchess's 90-watt performance is ridiculously loud, with an abundance of headroom. It's more than enough for gigging. But for all the glassy headroom, there's a warmth to the cleans. There's clarity but it's a million miles from sterility.
The onboard effects are top-notch. We found the digital reverb to somewhere between warm and bright, while the tremolo just classes things up with an intoxicating vintage wobble. Headroom? Check. Tremolo? Check. Musical reverb? Check. There's a whiff of the Twin Reverb about the Duchess.
There is no speaker emulator, but this is a deliberate decision on Victory's part – the thinking being that with so many standalone options, players would find one of their own.
You might find some more versatile or feature-packed heads around, but there are few that can deliver this quality of tone in such a small format. It's the preamp, and the value in packing it with the very best valves you can find. Professional players will love it. It's got so much power, a very classy tone, and it doesn't get any more portable than this.
MusicRadar verdict: Ample headroom, clean tones sweetened by an incredible valve-driven preamp, reverb and tremolo for adding space and movement to your tone, the Duchess has it all in one little box.
- ORIGIN: UK
- TYPE: Valve preamp, Class D power amp
- OUTPUT: 180W RMS into 4 ohms, 90W into 8 ohms, 45W into 16 ohms
- VALVES: 1x EC900, 3x CV4014 (EF91)
- DIMENSIONS: 105 (h) x 224 (w) x 170mm (d)
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 1.6/3.5
- CABINET: Pressed steel
- CHANNELS: 1
- CONTROLS: Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble, Master Volume, Reverb, Tremolo Speed/Depth
- FOOTSWITCH: Single-button tremolo footswitch (not supplied)
- ADDITIONAL FEATURES: Footswitchable tremolo, series effects loop, digital reverb, balanced line out, DC power outlet
- OPTIONS: None
- RANGE OPTIONS: The matching speaker cab is the V112 Neo Cabinet, with a single 4-ohm Celestion Neo 250 Copperback speaker (£499 / €599 / $699)
- CONTACT: Victory Amps