Vox Night Train Tube Amplifier Head
Vox Amplification, voxamps.com
Originally published in Guitar World, 30th Anniversary 2010 issue
With its competitive price and streamlined but versatile features, the Vox Night Train is a welcome and worthy addition to the new breed of bantam amps.
Night Train is the name of a cool rhythm-and-blues song covered by James Brown (among many others), a fine apple wine and a cool song by Guns N’ Roses about that same fine apple wine. Now Night Train is also the name of a super-cool mini-tube amplifier head made by Vox.
The Vox Night Train is the latest entry into the fast-growing category of bantam tube guitar amplifiers that deliver huge, aggressive, professional-quality sound in the smallest package imaginable. It’s about the same size and power as the Orange Tiny Terror (one of the smallest compact amp heads on the market and the Vox’s closest competitor), but it manages to pack even more features into its diminutive chassis while it considerably ups the ante in the looks and styling department with its mirror-finish chrome diamond-grille housing.
Measuring only about 12 inches long, 7 inches tall and 6 1/2 inches deep, the Vox Night Train head is about the same size as a construction worker’s lunch box, but it’s jam packed with big, beefy transformers and sizzling pairs of EL84 power and 12AX7 preamp tubes instead of a greasy bologna sandwich and a thermos filled with hooch-spiked coffee. The Class A/B–configured power tubes allow the Night Train to pump out 15 impressive watts. Weighing in at 17 pounds, it’s about five pounds heavier than the Tiny Terror, but fortunately you can hear the difference in heaviness as much as you can feel it.
Although the Night Train features a relatively simple-looking array of controls (gain, volume, treble, middle and bass knobs), the amp’s Bright/Thick switch and Pentode/Triode operation mode switch (which also has a standby function) provide more tonal versatility than meets the eye. Thick mode significantly boosts the gain and bypasses the EQ controls, providing a richer and darker overall tone than Bright mode. Triode mode drops the amp’s output power to 7 1/2 watts, cutting the overall volume output and taming high frequencies slightly.
The Night Train’s rear panel offers only eight- and 16-ohm speaker outputs—there’s no four-ohm output, effect loop or line output. The amp ships with a cool and convenient padded custom carrying case with a shoulder strap, although you might want to consider upgrading the included skinny strap to a wider strap with more padding if you plan to lug this rather hefty beast on the subway or commute to gigs on your Harley.
Thanks to the Bright/Thick switch, the Night Train is almost like two amps in one. While Bright mode delivers plenty of that glassy EL84 Class A/B chime that Vox amps are famous for, you can summon up a lot of different personalities with the passive tone controls (note that no sound is produced when all of the tone controls are turned down). For example, by turning the treble all the way off and cranking the bass and mids, I got impressive AC/DC-style overdrive humbucker grind from a Danelectro (!) with lipstick-tube pickups (!!). Playing a humbucker-equipped Les Paul and turning up the treble, I was rewarded with sparkling highs and percussive twang that any Strat specialist would envy.
Thick mode delivers pure balls-to-the-wall high-gain aggressiveness that could compete with a classic Marshall. The lack of tone control functionality in this mode isn’t the letdown one would think it would be, and players who prefer to use the guitar’s volume controls as a “tone” control will love the way the Night Train’s Thick mode goes from clean and pristine to nasty and gnarly at the flick of a wrist. The tones in both channels are great for any style except perhaps the most extreme metal, but you can compensate for this with the various high-gain distortion pedals on the market. This amp loves pedals as much as it loves any variety of guitars, and it’s easy to slip into your existing rig should you plan on downsizing your gigging setup. Yes, this amp is plenty loud enough to gig with in most performance situations.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With its competitive price and streamlined but versatile features, the Vox Night Train is a welcome and worthy addition to the new breed of bantam amps. Whether you like tones that are fresh and funky or rowdy and raunchy, the Night Train can take you there with a first class ticket. Living up to its name, this amp can easily handle both the James Brown and Guns N’ Roses versions of “Night Train,” and it’s as affordable and intoxicating as its namesake libation.
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