Vox Venue PA120 and PA112H Speakers
Peter Maydew on a new budget PA system from a well-respected name.
Peter Maydew concludes his look at the new Vox Venue range of amplifiers by giving the 120 PA system a thorough lab and road test.
This is the PA system from Vox's new Venue range, cousin to the keyboard combo reviewed in E&MM March. In common with the combo, it has a certain resemblance to Carlsbro equipment, in this case the Marlin amp which was coincidentally E&MM's competition goody in that same March issue. The Vox costs about £100 less, and you only get four input channels as opposed to six, along with other omissions such as no balanced mic inputs.
Four microphone channels are quite sufficient for a normal-sized group where there wouldn't be more than four vocalists, and in any case there is insufficient power in reserve for feeding other instruments through the amp whilst keeping the vocals clean.
All four input channels are identical, with volume, bass and treble controls. There are two input jacks, one roughly twice as sensitive as the other (5.6 and 11.3mV respectively), both at 47K impedance. Two push-switches activate a built-in spring reverb and external effects loop, which in a strictly vocal PA would probably be echo, I should have thought. The levels on the loop sockets are appropriate for Copicat-type units, although quite a few digital units would also work, including E&MM's, as would floor-pedal analogue types for the really cost-conscious. As with the combo, the loop sockets don't cut off the direct path through the amp; this is not so serious, and certainly avoids total loss of signal should the effects or their leads become faulty.
A master volume control is provided, along with reverb level and a presence control which operates on all channels. This gives a boost at 8kHz which helps the vocals to cut through in a crowded hall - you should be so lucky! The reverb can be turned off with an optional foot-switch, for making announcements and around the back there's an IEC socket for the detachable mains cable - no more ripping the cable off as you're loading up the van; with this amp you'll probably lose it instead - and quarter-inch jacks for two speakers, DI for recording your masterpieces, headphones (yes really!) and slave amplifier should you need a bit more oomph.
120watts is really the minimum for a PA amplifier. A handy rule of thumb is to allow at least the same power as all the group's instrument amplifiers put together, always assuming that these are adequate and remembering that a drummer can easily generate 100 watts' worth!
Efficient speakers, mounted on stands, can make all the difference to a low-powered amplifier, and the Vox PA112Hs are certainly efficient. Vox measurements indicate 121dB sound pressure level at 1 metre from the entire system, and the 12" speakers plus rectangular mouthed horns certainly whang it out, for want of a better expression.
Holes for stands are provided on the bottom of the speaker cabinets, which are otherwise of sealed construction with the drivers front-mounted behind a removable grille. The moulded corners are cunningly designed to allow speakers to be stacked on top of each other, though I wouldn't like to try this on top of a flimsy stand!
Two sockets are recessed into the back of each speaker, though you're not allowed to feed more than two speakers from one PA120 - it would overload the amplifier. Twin sockets might be handy for situations where both speakers are remote from the amp - only one long lead would then be necessary - but I can't think of another reason for having two.
Whilst I'm on the subject of leads, Vox's are a joke. They're only five feet long: not enough to stretch across my living room, let alone the most meagre stage. The custom seems to be to site the amp on one side of the stage, and one twenty-foot and one ten-foot lead is about right for most small venues... Also, the jack-plug clamps don't clamp the outer cover of the cable but the inner leads: they'll wear through eventually (if you don't crunch the plastic covers first), then - blooey!
Construction is very similar to that of the keyboard combo; in fact, I imagine the entire range uses the same chassis with different pre-amps, hence the inclusion of strange facilities like a headphone socket on a PA amp. The chassis itself is plate steel, and the cover is the obligatory vinyl-covered chipboard with nice meaty corners and handle - pleasantly rugged.
There's a bit of a cloud over the electrical reliability, which is a pity since the standard of construction is good, with quality components. The first sample was mysteriously non-functional, but the mystery soon cleared up when I did a short-circuit test on the output of the second example and obtained identical symptoms. The manufacturers say that one or two duff output transistors may have slipped through on early amps, and that they all get a short-circuit test as part of production-line checking. I'd advise you to be careful with the speaker leads all the same; even if the amp doesn't blow up, you could still get some nasty noises. Just good practice really.
On the third sample, the reverb didn't work. I took the amp to pieces in true E&MM fashion(!) and discovered that none of the reverb unit's wires had seen a drop of solder in their lives. Only inches away from the four dangling ends was a label saying 'tested' and signed Steve G. I hope his ears are burning! If I was a manufacturer sending an amp to a ham-fisted reviewer who'd already had two dead ones, I'd make extra sure the third one worked really well, wouldn't you?
Cambridge band Project 4 kindly agreed to try out the system at a local club gig, in place of their normal PA of MM amplifier and home-built speakers. This is quite bulky, and the band were impressed by the compactness of the otherwise very similar Vox gear.
Project 4 change their personnel so often that their publicity pictures are deliberately blurred so that no-one will notice the difference; consequently, new guitarist Mick had his mic very close to one of the speakers, which was in turn hiding his crib sheet. Despite this, adequate volume was obtained before the dreaded feedback set in, due to the directionality of the speakers. This was in fact the cause of a complaint by the band, who couldn't hear themselves sing as well as they'd been used to.
The acoustics of the venue (if indeed there were any) were atrocious, and the band played quite loudly, but the sound out front was very stable. The vocals were always audible and intelligible, if a bit harsh. The Vox was straining a bit to keep up with three guitar amps, but there were no reliability problems and the back of the PA120 stayed at a reasonable temperature even though there are no fins to dissipate excess heat.
I've treated the Vox Venue system as a rock vocal amplifier, and it's certainly ideal for club and pub work, with a certain capacity for cutting through crowds of beer-stained punters. It could be used in many other applications where an easily portable PA system is needed; none of the components is at all heavy.
Hopefully my sample problems were just early production glitches (the speakers had handmade labels, for instance) and if Vox can step up the quality control a bit, the Venue will be real value for money.
The PA120 amplifier has a suggested retail price of £199 including VAT, with the speakers available separately, also at £199. For further information, contact Vox at (Contact Details).
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Review by Peter Maydew
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