Truth be told, Vox isn’t a brand that needs to do much to impress us. The British company earned their title as one of the best amp manufacturers of all-time decades ago, after their original AC30 made waves in the early ’60s. And it’s back to the swinging sixties we head today with the AC30HW2. This gorgeous all-tube combo sports the same fundamental features as the modern-day AC30, although also boasts a host of classic features that will have more than a few vintage enthusiasts a little misty eyed…
While judging an amp based purely on looks alone is not something we endorse, the design of the AC30HW2 suggests that this high-end amp is going to be something special. Unique is the word here, as the birch-ply housing is covered in a gorgeous fawn vinyl, similar to the classic AC30s of the ’60s and exclusive to this hand-wired series. In a world of all-black amplifiers, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Inside this casing sits three ECC83/12AX7 preamp tubes and four EL84 power tubes, along with a pair of 12” Celestion G12M Greenback speakers. In total you have 30 watts of power on offer, which is a nice amount for gigging, although a considerate switch allows you to cut the output in half, down to 15 watts for quieter sessions.
Most impressively, and one of the reasons this amp is so pricey, is the hand-wired turret board. This turns it from a regular AC30 into something even more special. What this hand-wiring actually does is simplify the signal path through the amp, resulting in pristine organic tones when compared to amps with modern printed circuit boards.
The amp has two channels – one normal channel with a bright switch, then a Top Boost channel offering a hot/cool switch. Both channels offer two inputs, for either a high or low voicing, which adds to the tonal versatility of this amp. Finally, the AC30HW2 arrives with a VFS1 footswitch for easy hot/cool switching, along with a premium dust cover for when the amp isn’t in use (which won’t be often!).
For a high-end amp, the controls are refreshingly simple – more reminiscent of a practice combo than a premium hand-wired amp. For that reason, it won’t win any awards for versatility, although it gives you everything you need to control this amp with minimal fuss.
There are three panels to accustom yourself with. First is the normal channel, which offers the two inputs for high/low, a volume knob and the bright switch, which – as the name suggests – makes the overall sound brighter.
The second panel is the Top Boost channel. Again, this has two inputs, a volume knob, 2-band EQ (bass and treble), and the hot/cool switch.
Finally, you’re presented with a simple panel comprising the master volume and a tone cut knob, along with a bypass switch. Original hand-wired amps had no master volume control, so playing with high gain meant enduring ear-splitting volumes (even if the tone was sensational). Turning this bypass switch on means you can return to the ‘good old days’, although quickly switch back to a more standard setup.
This is a true audiophile’s amplifier – the tone is awesome. If vintage is your cup of tea, the AC30HW2 is the pot! Thanks to the hand-wiring and ample headroom, the cleans are stunning – rich and sparkly, very clear and touch sensitive.
The hot/cool switch on the Top Boost channel is a good addition too. The ‘cool’ mode offers the vintage Vox vibe, while flipping the ‘hot’ switch adds gain, boosts volume and results in a lead player’s dream. Overdrive is rich and creamy, and well saturated. It’s not hot enough for more modern rock styles without any boost or distortion pedals, but the amp is perfect for classic and indie rock.
The only thing this amp really lacks in terms of tone is the inclusion of any effects. This isn’t a deal-breaker (especially considering the AC30HW2 takes pedals very well), yet a little built-in reverb would have gone a long way to making this feel complete. Still, a couple of minutes with it and you will undoubtedly be hooked.
There’s no way we weren’t going to love this amp. Due to the limited controls and lack of effects, it’s not the most versatile amp out there, especially at this premium price. But it’s hard to fault the high-quality vintage tone, the power and the style – not to mention the overall feeling of owning something special.
It’s probably overkill for casual guitarists (and, if that’s you, the 4-watt version – the Vox AC4HW1 is worth checking out), but for gigging and recording artists, the AC30HW2 is hard to pass up if a vintage Vox tone is your goal.