Vox Tonelab -ST
Original Author: Staffay
Weapon: Preamp/Multieffect/Amp modeller/Soundcard
Model: Tonelab -ST
Price: 189 € (Thomann.de)
VOX is the english company responsible for the classic AC-30 amp dated back to the 60's. In the latter years, the company has started to produce new ranges of amps, re-issues and replicas of their classic wah-wah. The VOX-sound stands out as a sound itself, different from the old Marshalls & Fenders. The box reviewed here, has of course the VOX-emulation but also a lot of other amps are modelled. What is a little peculiar however, is that VOX hardly mentions its soundcard capabilities in their marketing. Since the device can be connected via USB to a computer, it also works very well as a soundcard in any digital workstation similar to POD's etc.
Under the hood
The heart in this device is a 12AX7-tube found in the pre-amp section of most tube-amplifiers today (and since the 50's). It has further been combined with pedal emulations, digital effects, speaker emulation and the USB-features. There is a pedal that can be assigned to different parameters on the device such as volume, wah-wah, delay etc. Included is also a built-in tuner and memory slots for storing Your own presets. However, the device ships with a lot of good presets to start out with. The manual is easy to read, and the device should be no surprise to those who are aquainted with regular amps/effects.
The amp-section has controls for gain, bass, middle, treble and volume (Presence is also accessible via an options button). There is 11 different amp-models to choose from including Fender, Marshall, Mesa and some other hi-gain amps, these are referred "UK-hi-gain" etc. but is easy to identify. One drawback here, is that I found no way to really by-pass the pre-amp section and use the device only as an effect module, even that if You use the "clean" -sound, You can match the sound of Your amp pretty well.
The pedal section has some overdrive/dist. pedals emulations as well as compressor, wah-wah, univibe, octavider and treble booster. These effects cannot be combined, however. Further on there is a modulations-section which deals with delay/chorus/flanger/echo -settings and finally a digital reverb to form the final room of the sound. Interesting here is that there is a "spring" emulation that is supposed to model a spring reverb, which in my taste is preferrable when playing live.
On the back panel sit all connectors/jacks for the device. We have a standard-device USB connector, jack for power-unit, input, a shared stereo output for both phones/amps. There is also an aux stereo-in and a trimpot. for adjusting the output to match Your amps/soundcard input. A little switch with four positions can be used for auto-selecting the type of amp You have, or simply put it in "line"-mode. The purpose of this is to match the device to Marshall, Fender & Vox amps respectively - but it can also be used as an EQ-kind of switch for those who want to experiment. What it really does is to change the frequency response of the output, and hence act as a master equalizer.
At a first glance this unit seems to be a simple one, but only until You start to mess around with the speaker configurations and the amp variations. There are 33 amps and 33 speakers that can be combined giving nearly 1000 of different configurations...... on top of this works the tone-section and the gain/volume very well. I will say that VOX really chose an appropiate name for this device - since a tonelab is exactly what it is. I found that this device is capable of emulating most of the sounds heard in music today, and it does it pretty well. The response is good and it sounds tube all the way. Even the clean sounds have a touch of tube. Especially the more "hard-distorted" sounds shine even though it may lack some "crispiness" in the sound. It's fairly quiet and is very versatile in recording situations. I've tested it in some of my amps, and had no problem to make it sound good there either. I'll bet that it will even make a bad transistor amp sound decent. Vox has really put a lot of effort in modelling the amps/cabinet and comparing to other emulators (software included) it sounds a lot more natural in my belief. (exception has to be made for emulators in higher price ranges though and POD, which I actually haven't tested)
This is a real good unit for very little money. As stated before You also get a decent soundcard included as well as some effects - maybe not the best sounding, but decent enough. The drawbacks I found is really the lack of a by-pass for the pre-amp section, but I also found the pedal on the device a little too small. I would also prefer separate stereo-output jacks and another line-jack for going straight to a console when playing live. On the pro's side, it's amazing what features VOX has packed in this little handy unit. It is really both a preamp, multieffect, soundcard, amp/speaker simulator, audio-interface - all in the same box. The fact that it's based round a real tube is the most interesting in my opinion, since it gives the device a more warm sound than strictly digital devices in the same price-range.
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