Vox AGA30 Review
It wasn’t long after Vox introduced its AC-30 in 1958 that British Invasion bands like the Shadows, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks helped made this jangly-sounding valve amplifier an industry standard. Vox continued to produce the AC-30 while branching out with a series of electric guitars in the 1960s and, more recently, digital modeling amplifiers and stompboxes. And now the company has turned its attention to acoustic guitarists with the AGA series of amplifiers designed for the industrious performer. We checked out the smallest of these models, the AGA30, as its name suggests, a smart 30-watter.
I knew that the AGA30 was the smallest model in Vox’s acoustic line, but removing the amp from its shipping carton, I was struck by just how diminutive it is—about 12 by nine by 10 inches and a mere 14 pounds. It would definitely be easy to carry with one hand to a gig, especially nice for the city musician who relies on public transportation.
Acoustic guitar amplifiers can be homely creatures, but the AGA30 has awesome cosmetics. The streamlined front panel, its black woven-diamond grille tagged with the original Vox logo, looks retro, and the closed-back cabinet is covered with an attractive dark brown tolex. The top-mounted control panel is outfitted with cool chicken-head knobs, and the labeling for the controls, in all caps and white against a dark background, is very readable.
While some acoustic amplifiers have a labyrinth of controls, those on the AGA30 are refreshingly straightforward. Arranged in separate rows, each of the two channels—Tube Pre and Normal—has four knobs: volume, bass, treble, and effects, along with a switch for low or high gain. Two additional knobs, Anti-Feedback and Master (volume), are used in concert with both channels. And the Tube Pre channel has a combination guitar-and-mic input (accepting both 1/4-inch and XLR plugs) plus a phantom power switch, while the normal channel has just a standard guitar input.
On the rear panel is a power switch; a mini input, handy for connecting a CD or MP3 player to play along with; a 1/4-inch tuner/direct out; and a 1/4-inch input for plugging in the optional VFS2 footswitch, which has two buttons to switch the effects on and off or mute the amp’s sound entirely, for silent tuning. The footswitch retails for $35, but for those disinclined to spring for this, pretty much any two-button footswitch with a 1/4-inch plug will do the job.
Warm and Responsive Tones
To test the AGA30, I used a Martin DC-28E dreadnought with Fishman Aura electronics and a Takamine P3FCN nylon-string with Takamine’s own electronics. Being a fan of tube amps for electric guitar, I was excited to try the tube channel, powered by a 12AU7, an uncommon feature on an acoustic amp. With both guitars, the tube channel sounded excellent; it seemed to add a hint of color or spongy warmth to the tone. It responded with clarity to everything from Carter-style strumming on the Martin to fingerstyle jazz on the Takamine.
Edging up the tube pre and master volume controls, I found the amp fairly robust for such a small package—30 watts RMS into 4 ohms, with a 6.5-inch speaker—plenty loud for playing unaccompanied or with a small ensemble in a medium-size venue. But I did experience a bit of clipping with frenzied strumming at higher volumes, an effect confirmed by a handy LED indicator on the control panel.
Next I tried the normal channel, which was also superb. A bit more direct-sounding, it did a great job of capturing the natural woody sound of both guitars: the musical bark of the Martin and the mellow warmth of the Takamine. With some feedback intentionally coaxed from the amp, the anti-feedback control lessened the howling but did not entirely discourage it. Another small complaint about this channel is that it doesn’t have the combo guitar/mic jack; it would be nice to be able to, say, plug in a vocal mic here while running a guitar into the tube channel. But at least this second channel allows the amp to function as a mini PA system, with a guitar and a vocal mic plugged in simultaneously.
Each of the twin rotary effects knobs on the AGA30 travels between reverb, chorus, and a combination of the two. Guitarists who are keen on effects will lament the lack of adjustability here—there’s no dialing in of parameters such as delay time and number of repeats, and the amp doesn’t have an effects loop for patching in external gear after the input signal—but the onboard sounds are all very good, clear and musical, perfect for adding some subtle depth and shimmer to one’s sound. These effects are all that many acoustic guitarists will need.
That’s the great thing about the AGA30. It doesn’t overwhelm with an abundance of features but rather provides the best sounds in a streamlined and compact package, one that is also nice to look at—all for a street price of around $250. Which is another way of saying that this is an ideal amp for the working acoustic guitarist.
SPECS:30 watts. 6.5-inch speaker. Two channels (one with 1/4-inch/XLR input and the other with ¼-inch input), each with gain, volume, bass, treble, and effects controls. 12AU7 preamp tube. 12-volt phantom power. Anti-feedback control. Master volume control. Aux in and tuner/direct out. Onboard digital reverb and chorus. Optional two-button footswitch. 11.93 x 8.90 x 10.16 inches. 14.33 lb. Made in Vietnam.
PRICE:$375 list/$250 street.
MAKER: Korg USA: (631) 390-6500; voxamps.com/us.
Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar May 2013
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