Powerful Combinations Plus
Following on from last month's five-amp round-up, Paul White puts two more keyboard combos thoroughly through their paces. Do they make the grade?
Hot on the heels of last month's five-unit round-up of the latest in keyboard combo design comes a duo of reviews on the combos that didn't make it here in time.
Although Vox have changed hands on numerous occasions throughout their long and chequered history, they are probably still best remembered for their legendary AC30 amplifier.
The Venue is nothing like an AC30. Built to satisfy the demands of today's multi-keyboardist, the Vox Venue seems to offer a reasonable degree of sophistication whilst remaining quite affordable. Basically, it's a 100W solid-state combo with three separate input channels, each with its own bass, treble and volume controls. The auxiliary circuits are organised in a manner very similar to that employed by Carlsbro, in that a pushbutton for both 'effect' and 'reverb' is fitted to each channel. To the right of the front panel is the Master section, and this includes the master volume, reverb and presence controls in addition to the effects loop sockets and the reverb footswitch socket. Each channel has two inputs of different sensitivities, which should help to minimise instrument matching problems.
Fabricated from chipboard and plywood, the cabinet measures 24" x 21" x 9½", and is neatly covered in grained black vinyl. Standard plastic stackable corner protectors give the whole thing a finished-off look, and the solid-state amplifier section itself is located in its own compartment at the top of the cabinet.
In the speaker department, output power is handled by a generously-rated 15" driver and a sizeable high-frequency horn, both of which are mounted in a sealed section of the cabinet.
The Venue's back panel is well recessed, containing as it does output jacks (for extension speakers), the DI and slave outputs, and a headphone jack for players too embarrassed to expose their practising to the outside world. The mains connector is of the now standard IEC type and as an added bonus, a large Union Jack is printed on the back of the heatsink cover to remind you and your Japanese support band of the amp's origins.
In spite of its solid construction, the front panel design of this combo lends it a somewhat cheap and cheerful air. On checking out the combo using the trusty DX7, however, I was impressed by the clarity and power it provided and, although the tone controls are fairly standard, they're still more than adequate for any normal requirements.
The reverb is the usual spring type, which sounds effective on keyboards but a little twangy on drum machines. Mind you, there's no denying it would cost a lot to improve this performance significantly. If anything, background noise levels are better than average, but these do of course increase a little if a lot of top boost or reverb is added.
So, with the possible exception of its rather unflattering front panel design (red buttons and purple stripes - the Production Editor would never approve), the Venue looks good, and it works very well indeed, giving a strong, clean sound up to quite high levels with plenty of bottom-end punch available at the tweak of a knob, if you'll excuse the expression.
McGregor is already a household name in the UK and most parts of the planet, but probably not in the field of musical instrument amplification. This combo could be set to change all that, however. Designed and built in sunny Warrington, home of the most famous vodka distillery this side of Leningrad, this combo represents a conscious, no-holds-barred effort to satisfy the discerning professional musician, something that's reflected in both the physical size and the asking price of the amplifier.
The fact that the McGregor is a three-channel keyboard combo with reverb will raise few eyebrows: it's when you realise that it's powered by a 200W MOSFET amplifier and incorporates no less than four loudspeakers in a three-way ported enclosure that it starts to take on the appearance of something a little bit special. These features, coupled with a seven-band graphic equaliser and two auxiliary effects loops, make the McGregor a very flexible amplifier indeed.
The McGregor's cabinet is quite conventional, being built from ¾" chipboard and plywood and finished in a standard black vinyl with black stackable corner pieces. But even though the handles and speaker grille are also off-the-shelf items, the design still exudes quality, this being due partly to a tidy front panel design and partly to the grey-painted baffle which shows off the speakers to excellent effect.
The main speaker is a McKenzie 15" drive unit, whilst two 5" units and a horn tweeter handle the mid and high frequencies, a combination that gives a clear, natural sound with plenty of kick. I'm glad that the makers have resisted the temptation to fit a strap handle on the top of the unit for carrying purposes, as this combo is certainly no lightweight. Still, if you're concerned about space, the overall size is only about 32" x 2O½" x 14", so the McGregor will fit easily into the back of most cars without any problem.
Each of the three input channels is identical with the notable exception that the third channel incorporates a DIN socket for connection to a tape recorder. Rotary controls are fitted for volume, treble, bass and reverb functions, whilst pushbuttons select the two auxiliary effects loops. Both high and normal impedances are fitted to the first two channels, but the third input has only a high impedance: in practice, though, this should match virtually any input source.
Moving right brings us to the graphic EQ, and this is a fairly standard but nonetheless effective seven-band design that will normally be used to compensate for anomalous room acoustics among other things. Directly below this are the effects loop sockets, the line output jack and the footswitch socket, whilst to the right are the reverb and master volume controls. In the extreme lower right-hand corner is the power switch, the operation of which will no doubt be familiar, though apparently, some Guitarist readers still believe that the small red indicator LED is some sort of light bulb. It is not.
The McGregor's multiway speaker system certainly adds a touch of class to the overall sound. During the test period the breath of flutes, the gentle bowing of violins, and the tinkle of bells all sounded clear and natural, which is really rather surprising as all the sounds came from a DX7. The reverb behaved itself extremely well and there was always plenty of power in hand, though if you wish to unleash the full 200W output on your audience, you'll need an eight-ohm extension speaker cab to handle the extra power.
The basic tone of the amp is so good that virtually no variation in EQ is needed to obtain a decent sound, but if you're really intent on using some, there's plenty of control available, even before you start to use the graphic EQ. And background noise remains commendably low at all settings.
At around £450, the McGregor is a little bit more expensive than most of the competition, but it really does perform well. Just about all the facilities you could wish for are included except for a headphone outlet, and that really is the McGregor's only minor problem (or should that be miner problem?).
The combo's high power, clean sound, and low background noise levels make it an attractive proposition for both professional and semi-pro players, and if you're looking for that extra bit of quality and versatility, you've simply got to give McGregor a fair audition.
Prices and Addresses
Vox Venue Keyboard 100 (£299) - (Contact Details)
McGregor Combo (£450) - (Contact Details)
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