VOX amPhones Bass & AC30 Review. The amPhones are an ambitious design that works for silent practice, however their sound quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Jamming on the go, learning that lick, or franticly rehearsing before a gig, whatever it is you can’t always have your guitar or bass rig there right there with you. Practically moving the gear with you is almost always going to be impossible, but what if you could practice anywhere? This is a good question because it seems that at Vox Amplification they have come up with cunning solution -
The packaging itself is a little standard and typical of what you will discover with HIFI headphone boxes currently in high street stores so there is nothing remarkable here. Opening the box reveals a standard 3.5mm mini jack with a 1/4" jack adapter. As both headphones require two AAA batteries Vox do seem to provide these for a quick and easy setup as nobody likes getting caught out with products that don't contain batteries!
The overall feel of the headphones is that they both are sturdy beasts, but the driver housings are quite plastically and where you insert the batteries may make you aware that these are Chinese made. Moving on... as we turn attention to the earcup covers they are clearly made from the standard supple porous leatherette material found on many headphones. This is great as they easily compliment the soft nature of the skin on your ears and incorporates nicely into the overall design.
As standard the Bass headphones are complete with controls for Gain, Tone, Volume and Effect (in which case is compresion) and similarly the guitar AC30 model features control dials for Gain, Tone, Volume and Effect (which here is reverb). The control values can be made with a small spin of the selection wheels which are very fiddly to use, especially if you have large fingers. Also we did find this to be quite a flaw as you had to remove the headphones repeatedly to accurately find the sound you want as it is near impossible to alter controls whilst wearing the headphones. With this said, when you do have those prize settings, you can note down the dial numbers to quickly jump into practice but it has to be known that this can be a difficult process of finding and changing the tones dependant on the style/genre choices may drastically vary. With this known, where you insert the battery cover there is a small space, and if you need dial number notes you can possibly store them in here.
When playing your bass through an amp much of the soulful feel is created by the resonance. Vox claim that their ‘Bassilator circuit’ replicates the resonance between the bass cab and the floor of a real amp. I can audibly hear their attempt at this, and yes the bass sound appears fuller than what I initially may have thought it would. Personally, I like having a very specific control over my tone whilst playing so I obviously understood that I shouldn't expect too much from the headphones DSP, but they do give a varied amount of control and definition over the tonal qualities which create the bass sound. Overall, due to the active circuit, there is an audible white noise hiss underneath the sound when playing and I found it to be frustrating when I played at low volumes. I would like to say that the replication of a bass amp is higher than expected as the sonic capabilities of the ‘Bassilator Circuit’ do produce a useable sound that I found acceptable as a musician. During the review process, I used these headphones in a loud and noisy room, mixed with other instruments playing and many voices too, and was surprised with their performance with regards to the rejection of ambient noise. It is a nice quality for a product such as this to have that means that they can be adequately driven without developing tinnitus so I could be able to practice efficiently.
The AC30, as you can guess from the name, is a replication of the Vox AC30 amplifier, so I need judge their relation to the real AC30 in the sound. Obviously it is extremely hard to encapsulate the unique sound of an AC30 amplifier into a driver that is located within a pair of headphones but I honestly wasn't quite so convinced. Perhaps VOX is using the AC30 success to drive sales of this unit? Anyway, as there was with the 'Bass' model, there is an white noise hiss that lingers at a very low volume, but this is not too much of a problem as it is rendered inaudible whilst actively playing; even at low volumes. The tone control is not varied and I had some difficulty hearing a difference between settings. Alongside this, the reverb sounds either on full or off and I found it difficult to find a middle ground that I wanted. However on full, the reverb is very believable and I was surprised on how well the sound generated enhanced my guitar sound. Driving these headphones, like an amp hard, will make them distort slightly. If you want that sound, it is quite pleasing to the ears and isn't has harsh as I had expected. Finally, as with the Bass amPhones, the rejection of ambient noise is functional and will allow you to play effectively with little distraction.
On both sets of headphones there is an Aux In 3.5mm port that enables the user to play along with tracks from a phone or portable player. This is great extra inclusion by Vox and will aid most of those players who like to rehearse to backing tracks or play along to their favourite music -
The concept of these headphones is brilliant and I see this being a great way of being able to practice in private whilst on the go. I can also see this being an asset to any school where your are limited on practice rooms for students playing guitars. Both headphones do allow you to amplify your guitars and with some more tweaking and development these headphones could be pushed even further. However the quality of just using these as headphones just doesn't work for me and I feel this drastically ruins the overall product, but again, this is not a huge task to overcome. I do see myself watching this product and will be interested to see their development but, as it stands,The Pro Audio Web Blog rates the Vox amPhones (AC30 and Bass) a 3.5 out of 5 stars.