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Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

I’m falling in love again with my Aracom VRX18. This was the amp that first got me introduced to Aracom and my good friend Jeff Aragaki. My amp is actually a tweaked version of the stock VRX18 as it sports an EZ81 tube rectifier, plus a tweaked circuit that adds a bit more sag and sustain. The result is just a gorgeous overdriven tone that really brings out the best of the EL84 power tubes.

One thing about EL84 amps is that if they’re done right, they have a distinctive overdrive tone that creates a subtle top-end fizz when they’re overdriven. I’ve played others that drive the power tubes too much, and they sound very harsh and incredibly compressed. Jeff did this amp right, and while the power tubes do indeed compress a bit, the overdrive tone retains its open character, while adding that nice top-end fizziness that EL84 amp lovers have come to appreciate.

The clip below is an excerpt from a slow blues song I wrote. It features my beloved Goldie plugged straight into the Aracom VRX18, and it also features the insane Aracom PRX150-Pro attenuator! Believe it or not, the amp was recorded at just above loud conversation levels! We’re talking less than 1/10 of a Watt, and the amp still retains its tone and dynamics! Anyway, here’s the clip:

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps VRX18 18 Watt Head

Aracom Amps VRX18 Watt Head

Summary: Based on the original “RoxBox” (no longer available), the VRX18 sports an improved master volume inherited from the VRX22, and a reworked, smoother overdrive profile.

Pros: As dynamic and expressive as its 22 Watt sibling, the VRX22, but oozing that bright, chimey EL84 goodness. When driven, produces a nice, tight overdrive.

Cons: None.

Price: $895 direct

Specs:

– (2) EL84 Power Tubes
– (2) 12AX7 & (1) 12AT7 Preamp Tubes
– S.S. Rectifier with “sag” circuit
– Hi/Low B+ voltage switch (18/9 watts)
– On/Off Switch
– Indicator Lamp
– Custom Heavy Duty Aluminum Chassis
– Custom Wound Transformers
– 4, 8, 16 ohm Speaker Jacks
– Custom Handcrafted
Turret Board
– Handwired
– Weight: ~35 lbs

Head Cabinet
Standard Tolex: Black Levant. See options below for other colors.
– Dimensions: 19″w x 8″h x 8.25″d
– Weight: 23 lbs

Also available in 1 X12 and 1 X 10 combos (or Jeff can custom build one to your liking)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0. When I can swing it, I’ll be getting this amp to complete the VRX Series!

Jeff Aragaki, founder and builder of Aracom Amps, always chuckles when I tell him that he’s onto something with his VRX (short for Vintage Rox) series amps. With the VRX22, he seemed to have stumbled onto a sweet spot that produced an amp that has an incredible and beautfully balanced tone that bring out the best tonal aspects of the 6V6 tube. He’s done it yet again with the updated RoxBox 18, now renamed the VRX18, but incorporating many of the same features he built into the VRX22.

I just purchased the VRX22, having fallen in love with the tone that it produces, and I’ve fallen love yet again, but now with the VRX18. I’m like a hopeless romantic that loves two women for their individual virtues, but in this case, the women don’t mind – they can co-exist with each other. Okay, bad analogy… 🙂

I originally reviewed the RoxBox 18 back in December. At the time, I totally dug its tone, but took marks off because of the mildly harsh breakup at lower volumes. There’s nothing harsh about the tone of this amp now – at any volume! It’s a great amp to play, and as expected, it’s pedal friendly, and responds really well to overdrive pedals. Also, I played four guitars through it, and it sounded incredible with all of them!

I won’t go into a lot of detail, since I already covered pretty much all the descriptive information I needed to in the original review, so I’m going to cover some important things I’ve learned about the VRX 18 and the VRX series in general. But first, as opposed to doing this last, here’s a short clip featuring the VRX18 to show you how kick-ass it sounds:

For this clip, I used a Strat with just the middle pickup, plugged directly into the VRX18. I just dig that EL84 grind! I had the Channel 2 volume dimed, and the master volume at halfway in full-power mode. It was very loud, much to the chagrin of my wife. 🙂 But I needed to capture at least some of that EL84 compression.

What’s cool about the EL84 is that it compresses nicely when pushed, but still seems to retain a certain openness in its overdrive. This is unlike something like a KT-66 that compresses so much when pushed you lose volume.

The Best Master Volume in the Business

I don’t say this lightly when I say Jeff has the best master volume in the business. I’ve played many amps. But when Jeff created the VRX22, he did something with the master volume that is pure magic. It has a nice, even volume sweep that seems to act independently of the channel volume. This means you can crank the channel volume to get some serious grind, but control the output via the master, and it won’t suck your tone! I’ve found this to be a real problem with other amps. That master volume is incorporated into the VRX18.

The Best Half-Power Switch in the Business

A lot of manufacturers use a pentode/triode switch to achieve half-power settings in their amps. I’ve played several amps with this feature. But in half power mode with the pentode/triode configuration, I’ve noticed a distinct tonal difference between the two modes in amps configured this way. It’s not that the tone is bad. In fact, many I’ve played around with sound great in half-power mode. But it’s like two different amps.

Jeff Aragaki takes a different approach and instead adjusts the B+ voltage to maintain the usage of all pins in the power tubes. I’m not an electrician, and can’t even begin to explain this technically, so I’ll just say it this way: When you switch to half-power mode in any Aracom Amp, the amp doesn’t change its tonal characteristics. It sounds and plays the same!

The Difference Between Old and New

In addition to the great master volume Jeff incorporated into the VRX18, the first thing I noticed was that it was nowhere near as easy to get this amp to overdrive in channel 2 as it was with the original RoxBox 18. This is not a negative thing at all because as I mentioned in my original review, the overdrive was pretty harsh at lower volume levels. I spoke to Jeff about this, and he said that based upon my original tests and review, he decided to mellow out the extra gain stage in the VRX18 so you could get a nice overdrive tone at any volume level.

You won’t get over-the-top gain with the VRX18. But for that, I have a simple fix-all: Get a great booster pedal like a Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 (again, the best booster on the planet), and SLAM the front-end of the amp. 🙂

But all that said, if you’re in a venue where you can dime both master and channel volumes, you will be rewarded with gorgeous harmonics and overtones and luscious feedback!

Overall Impressions

Like I said, this is my next amp… It just rocks the house! And at $895 for the head, you could get both the VRX22 and VRX18 for under the price of a single boutique amp! This isn’t a sales pitch. The value proposition of the VRX series is something that should be seriously considered. You’re not getting a production line amp that’s built overseas. With the VRX series of amps, you’re getting a US-made, handwired amp for under a grand!!!

Admittedly, I was a little skeptical when I first ran across Aracom Amps. But I’m now a believer, and a faithful customer!

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