Gear Review: Aracom Amps Vintage Rox VRX18 Combo

(formerly known as the RoxBox 18)

 

April 18, 2009 by goofydawg
The article below is an excerpt from guitargear.org's VRX18 review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary: Based on the original ďRoxBoxĒ (no longer available), the VRX18 sports an improved master volume inherited from the VRX22, and a reworked, smoother overdrive profile.

Pros: As dynamic and expressive as its 22 Watt sibling, the VRX18, but oozing that bright, chimey EL84 goodness. When driven, produces a nice, tight overdrive.

Cons: None.

 

Price: $895 Head / $995-$1095 for Combo (depending on speaker)

 

Specs:

 

- (2) EL84 Power Tubes
- (2) 12AX7 & (1) 12AT7 Preamp Tubes
- S.S. Rectifier with ďsagĒ circuit
- Hi/Low B+ voltage switch (18/9 watts)
- On/Off Switch
- Indicator Lamp
- Custom Heavy Duty Aluminum Chassis
- Custom Wound Transformers
- 4, 8, 16 ohm Speaker Jacks
- Custom Handcrafted Turret Board
- Handwired
- Weight: ~35 lbs

 

Tone Bone Score: 5.0. When I can swing it, Iíll be getting this amp to complete the "my" VRX Series!

 

Jeff Aragaki, founder and builder of Aracom Amps, always chuckles when I tell him that heís onto something with his VRX (short for Vintage Rox) series amps. With the VRX22, he seemed to have stumbled onto a sweet spot that produced an amp that has an incredible and beautfully balanced tone that bring out the best tonal aspects of the 6V6 tube. Heís done it yet again with the updated RoxBox 18, now renamed the VRX18, but incorporating many of the same features he built into the VRX22.

I just purchased the VRX22, having fallen in love with the tone that it produces, and Iíve fallen love yet again, but now with the VRX18. Iím like a hopeless romantic that loves two women for their individual virtues, but in this case, the women donít mind - they can co-exist with each other. Okay, bad analogyÖ

I originally reviewed the RoxBox 18 back in December. At the time, I totally dug its tone, but took marks off because of the mildly harsh breakup at lower volumes. Thereís nothing harsh about the tone of this amp now - at any volume! Itís a great amp to play, and as expected, itís pedal friendly, and responds really well to overdrive pedals. Also, I played four guitars through it, and it sounded incredible with all of them!

I wonít go into a lot of detail, since I already covered pretty much all the descriptive information I needed to in the original review, so Iím going to cover some important things Iíve learned about the VRX 18 and the VRX series in general.

Whatís cool about the EL84 is that it compresses nicely when pushed, but still seems to retain a certain openness in its overdrive. This is unlike something like a KT-66 that compresses so much when pushed you lose volume.

The Best Master Volume in the Business

I donít say this lightly when I say Jeff has the best master volume in the business. Iíve played many amps. But when Jeff created the VRX22, he did something with the master volume that is pure magic. It has a nice, even volume sweep that seems to act independently of the channel volume. This means you can crank the channel volume to get some serious grind, but control the output via the master, and it wonít suck your tone! Iíve found this to be a real problem with other amps. That master volume is incorporated into the VRX18.

The Best Half-Power Switch in the Business

A lot of manufacturers use a pentode/triode switch to achieve half-power settings in their amps. Iíve played several amps with this feature. But in half power mode with the pentode/triode configuration, Iíve noticed a distinct tonal difference between the two modes in amps configured this way. Itís not that the tone is bad. In fact, many Iíve played around with sound great in half-power mode. But itís like two different amps.

Jeff Aragaki takes a different approach and instead adjusts the B+ voltage to maintain the usage of all pins in the power tubes. Iím not an electrician, and canít even begin to explain this technically, so Iíll just say it this way: When you switch to half-power mode in any Aracom Amp, the amp doesnít change its tonal characteristics. It sounds and plays the same!

How it sounds:

Channel 1 is considered a normal channel, while Channel 2 is a drive channel that will break up a lot earlier. But with Channel 1, the name of the game is ďclean.Ē With my Strat plugged in, this channel has so much clean headroom that I had to really dig into the strings to produce even a slight amount of grind. My PRS with P-90ís and the Saint Messenger could only produce moderate amounts of grind when the volume was dimed. Thatís pretty impressive, and definitely not what I expected. With so much clean headroom, Channel 1 is VERY pedal friendly. (excerpt from GuitarGear's orginal VRX/RoxBox 18 review)

Channel 2 on the other hand definitely breaks up early and is voiced just a tad brighter than Channel 1. But it also has a lot of clean headroom as well. With my Strat, I had to turn the volume knob past 7 to get some decent grind, and had to peg my guitar volume. Believe me, thatís not a bad thing either. On the other hand, My PRS SE Soapbar II and the Saint Messenger had no problems producing grind. I could get breakup at around 4 with the Messenger, and around 5 with the PRS. To get earlier breakup, Channel 2 actually has a third ďhiddenĒ pre-amp gain stage in series behind the pre-amp you plug into with fixed settings. Itís voiced a bit hot, and as Jeff puts it, itís like having a built in tube overdrive. The end result is you get breakup a lot earlier. I have to say that while I like Channel 1ís tone, for pure versatility, Channel 2 really does it for me, as it is lively and responsive to changes in attack and guitar volume. And putting a booster in front of this Channel really brings on the growl that this channel is capable of producing. (excerpt from GuitarGear's orignal VRX/RoxBox 18 review)

You wonít get over-the-top gain with the VRX18. But for that, I have a simple fix-all: Get a great booster pedal like a Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 (again, the best booster on the planet), and SLAM the front-end of the amp. But all that said, if youíre in a venue where you can dime both master and channel volumes, you will be rewarded with gorgeous harmonics and overtones and luscious feedback!

Overall Impressions

Like I said, this is my next ampÖ It just rocks the house! And at $895 for the head, you could get both the VRX22 and VRX18 for under the price of a single boutique amp! This isnít a sales pitch. The value proposition of the VRX series is something that should be seriously considered. Youíre not getting a production line amp thatís built overseas. With the VRX series of amps, youíre getting a US-made, handwired amp for under a grand!!!

Admittedly, I was a little skeptical when I first ran across Aracom Amps. But Iím now a believer, and a faithful customer!

 

Click here for sound clips of the Vintage Rox VRX18, including a couple by Brendan ďGoofydawgĒ Delumpa:

Aracom Amplifiers Audio Clips

 

 

GuitarGear.org is an awesome Guitar Gear blog site. Content includes; unbiased review on gear, Products "Found", tips, interesting articles and more. You'll enjoy the excellent writing style of Brendan "GoofyDawg" Delumpa. In his 35+ years of playing the guitar, Brendan has developed a very good ear for tone and knows a lot about gear and proper set up. GuitarGear.org is refreshingly a non-commercial site; you can count on their honest reviews. The only Gear Review posted on this site is equipment that Brendan personally uses or likes enough to be considered part of his own rig. So when you have a G.A.S.(Gear Acquisition Syndrome) attack, visit guitargear.org before you buy.

 

For the complete review on the Vintage Rox VRX18 amplifier as well as reviews on other ARACOM Amplifier products visit guitargear.org.

http://guitargear.org ††