Vox Venue Keyboard Combo
The keyboard version of the new Vox amplifier range, offering 100W through a special 15" speaker.
This is one of the new Vox range of solid-state amps, which includes a guitar combo, a bass combo and a PA mixer/amp with speakers. It is obviously intended to compete with the Carlsbro Cobra 90, which it resembles in nearly every respect, right down to the knobs on the front-panel!
The Vox Venue is a three input mixer amp. Though primarily intended for keyboards, you could also use it for electronic drums, occasional microphone, bass or guitar use, or even for group practice. Each channel has two input sockets with high and low sensitivities and a reasonably high input impedance (the same on both sockets) of 47K. The knobs are volume, treble and bass tone controls, with two push switches for reverb and an effects loop. The inputs are sensitive enough for most stage microphones, but overload fairly readily: care should be taken with very high output synthesisers and guitars to avoid distortion.
All three channels are identical. On the right of the panel are controls for master volume, overall reverb level, and presence boost at about 8kHz, which is useful for adding a bit of extra brilliance when the hall starts filling up and all those bodies soak up your treble. The reverb is switchable via an optional footswitch should you so require.
The effects loop is designed with levels suitable for floor type pedals, and worked well with my Carlsbro (oops!) echo and graphic equaliser, and also with the Amdek delay machine (see elsewhere this issue). Noise and distortion from the echo units were much improved by this connection, and they can of course be applied to all the inputs simultaneously without having to buy three of the same pedal! Some higher quality units can also be linked up, and the E&MM Digital Delay was used very successfully.
One design feature of the effects loop is that the direct path through the amplifier is not interrupted by plugging in the effects as it is on some other makes. This means the loop works best with effects like echo, phasing or chorus which mix with the direct sound. Units such as equalisers and fuzz will have their effectiveness diluted by the direct signal, and you can't use a volume pedal to control the whole amp, which is a pity.
The amplifier is rated at 100W into its internal 15" speaker and treble horn, more with an extension speaker fitted (8ohms minimum). There are two speaker sockets provided, but if you use two extension cabinets they must be 16ohms minimum to avoid overloading the amp. Also provided are sockets for a slave amp, DI (that's direct injection, not detective inspector; you can come out of the cupboard), and a headphone socket which cuts off all the speakers.
The Vox is solidly built from 5/8" board covered with the ubiquitous black vinyl, and protected with moulded corners which allow several amplifiers to be installed when stacked on top of one another. The speaker chamber is completely sealed, and the speakers are front-mounted and accessed via a removable front grille; whatever did we do before Velcro? One person can carry the combo for short distances with the top handle, and there are side handles for a two-man lift if required. There are supposed to be castor fittings too, but these were mysteriously absent on the review sample.
The four PCBs are mounted on a plated steel chassis, which also carries the reverb springs; these are spring mounted without any damping and clang somewhat alarmingly when you pick up the amp. Internal construction is good and neat, and the power-amplifier board plugs in for easy replacement. The output transistors are mounted on the back under a simple cover; they are accessible to sweaty fingers and dangling beads which could either give you a belt or vaporise the output stage respectively.
On a happier note, the mains lead is detachable via an IEC connector, with a built-in fuse holder containing a handy spare fuse. There's also a fuse to protect the speaker in the event of the amplifier going to The Great Transistor Factory In The Sky.
The combo was used with two Casio keyboards, a Logan string synthesiser and a Roland guitar synthesiser. If you can afford only one amplifier, a keyboard amp is in many ways a better compromise than a guitar amp for the wide frequency range of the Roland. There is a permanent midrange boost at 3kHz, and in fact it's impossible to get a completely flat response from the Vox; this may have been done to equalise the speaker, but remember the DI and slave outputs will be affected also. Because of this boost, the lack of a midrange tone control isn't so serious; electric piano and brass-type sounds were belted out with a great deal of punch, as was the guitar synth, but strings and those delicate tinkly Casio sounds were somewhat lacking in warmth. The cabinet isn't much bigger than the speaker, and the resulting colouration doesn't help either.
This Vox Venue combo will come across loud and clear in most situations, even if it lacks a little finesse. It's sturdily built in Britain, and quite reasonably priced to boot. Take the preceding comments in the light of this, try to ignore Vox's lack of originality and hear it for yourself - as always, let your ears decide!