Vox amPlug AC30 Review
The Vox amPlug originally was released with three basic versions: AC30, Classic Rock and Metal. Since then more versions have been released and you can expect more in the future as the amPlug have been very popular. At the moment here are the other versions available: Bass, Acoustic, Lead, Twin, Night Train & Joe Satriani. This review covers the AC30 version as this is the one tested, however the main features are basically the same across the different models. The main difference is the type of sound you’re going for. The basic idea with the Vox amPlug is that you simply plug it directly into your electric guitar, then plug in some headphones. The unit acts as an amplifier and lets you play your electric guitar in complete silence. It’s great as a practice tool when you don’t want other people listening to you or when you’re travelling and don’t have the room to bring an amp with you.
Here are the basic features available with the Vox amPlug AC30. Other versions (eg: Lead, Classic Rock) all have the same basic features with only slight differences in the tones available.
The unit fits in the palm of your hand and is made of plastic. The unit plugs easily into any electric guitars including stratocasters. It uses a standard 1/4″ (6.35mm) jack so you can even plug it into other instruments such as an electro-acoustic guitar or bass (although a separate model is available for bass from Vox). As it does plug directly into the guitar you need to be careful when you put the guitar down – I recommend always using a guitar stand to avoid damage.
The unit uses two AAA batteries. Zinc-carbon batteries are expected to last up to 9 hours and alkaline batteries can last up to 24 hours.
The main power switch is on the side with two settings: standby and ON. Other versions include an FX option. There are three dials you can control to adjust your tone, gain and volume. By adjusting the three you can have anything from a very clean tone to a heavily driven overdrive/distortion tone.
You can also connect a device such as an iPod, MP3 player or anything else with a standard 1/8″ (3.5mm) jack. This would be handy for backing tracks or drum machines.
The intended use is to use the 1/8″ (3.5mm) output jack to connect to headphones. But you do not need to use headphones. An alternative is to plug the unit into any speaker system that uses the 1/8″ jack (eg: computer speakers).
Ease of use
The unit couldn’t be easier to understand: plug it into your guitar and connect speakers or headphones. Depending on your type of guitar you may find it awkward to adjust the controls while playing. If you have a strat style guitar or any other guitar with the jack on the face of the body, you will find it easy as the unit will sit at a convenient angle. For most other guitars with the jack on the side of the body, the unit will be out of view from normal seated/standing position. This means you will need to flip your guitar over to adjust the controls. It’s a minor inconvenience and once you have your tone set up the way you like it you won’t need to worry about it anymore. The amPlug provides you with a very simple sound. As there are no effects to tweak, you simply adjust the tone and gain settings to your liking and you’re good to go. This means you won’t need to spend much time fiddling around with settings as there’s only three dials to adjust.
The Vox amPlug AC30 aims to simulate Vox’s AC30 guitar amps. If you’re unfamiliar with the amp, think of Brian May’s tone from any Queen track. Vox boast having 100% analog circuitry in the amPlugs so if you aren’t a fan of digital modelling technology, you might prefer this. The tone is excellent quality given the size of the unit. It definitely gives across the AC30 style sound but if you own the real amp, don’t expect too much. Keep in mind that the unit is mainly used for silent practice and while you could easily use it for recording, don’t expect amazing quality tone. The AC30 doesn’t have enough gain for metal tones which is why there are different versions suited to different styles. If you’re after a high gain setting for metal you will be better off with the Metal version. Likewise, if you mostly play lead, the Joe Satriani version may suit you better. All amPlugs have roughly the same features and quality so you should simply choose the version that suits you best. I personally found that the AC30 was great for rhythm parts and had plenty of gain for a simple rock tone. When changing to lead I felt I needed a bit more gain as the tone was a bit thin for my liking. But every player will have different preferences with tone so don’t be put off by this.
The unit is made of plastic which means it’s very possible to break it. It would have been nice to see a version made out of metal however this would have pushed the cost up. The main thing to keep in mind is that you need to be careful when sitting your guitar down if the unit is plugged in. If you’ve ever damaged a guitar lead when sitting a guitar down, you need to be extra careful when the amPlug is plugged in. As long as you keep in mind that the unit is made of plastic and can break if treated poorly, you won’t have any trouble with it. The quality of the sound and the unit is excellent as will be fine for home use. You wouldn’t take it to band practice or gigs anyway so you shouldn’t need to worry about whether it will last or not.
- Great quality sound
- Very portable
- Low cost
- AUX input turns it into a great practice tool
- Limited range of tones
Who is it for?
Beginners – if you’re learning guitar in a house full of other people, this unit is a must. You can practice at any time you want without disturbing anybody else. Repeating the same exercise 100 times or playing bad notes can drive family members or housemates crazy, so this unit will prevent a lot of arguments. At the same time you won’t feel self conscious when playing because nobody else will hear you.
Travellers – if your job requires travel, this is a great way to continue to practice/play your electric guitar without needing to bring an amp around. One of my students regularly travels and uses the Vox amPlug when staying at hotels so he can practice at any time without receiving noise complaints.
Advanced players – if you’re working on a technical solo or working on your techniques, this unit will allow you to practice in silence. Your other family members or housemates probably won’t appreciate hearing the same sweep picking exercise 1000 times, so this unit provides you with a way to practice while still enjoying a good quality tone.
Guitarists who prefer simple tones – if you prefer the sound of a guitar plugged straight into an amp without any effects, the Vox amPlug will probably suit you. It offers a very direct sound that suits straightforward rock tones.
Who isn’t it for?
If other people in your area don’t have a problem with your amp levels or you don’t need to be quiet, you may not have a need for the Vox amPlug. On the other hand if you prefer a complex tone that uses delay, phasers, compressors, modulators or any other combination of effects, the Vox amPlug may not suit you as it provides a very basic guitar and amp tone.
How to get the most out of it
There are a few things to get the most out of a Vox amPlug AC30 (or any other version):
1. Always use a guitar stand
If you normally stand your guitar up and rest it against a table, then the odds are you will eventually break your unit. Using a guitar stand will ensure that you don’t accidentally drop your guitar onto the amPlug.
2. Always start with the volume turned all the way down on the unit
Have you ever put headphones on then hit play only to be blasted with a distorted sound at full volume? Avoid this happening by turning the volume down on the amPlug all the way before you plug it into your guitar. That way when you put your headphones on (especially if you use in-ear headphones), you won’t ever be blasted with piercing sound. Then you simply roll the volume up to the right level.
3. Use the AUX input
While it’s fun to play on your own and use the amPlug for practicing, you will get the most out of it when you plug in an MP3 player or drum machine. Connect your iPod or PC to the unit and load up some backing tracks to jam over. You can even load up Guitar Pro on your computer and play along with the guitar TAB. Playing with headphones means you won’t hear any external speakers well so use the AUX input to get the best experience.
If you have an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad, a great alternative is to use an Amplitube iRig or similar device. It basically allows you to plug your guitar into your iPhone and use programs such as Amplitube or Garageband to control your tone. The apps available give you far greater flexibility with your tone compared to the Vox amPlug.
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