Vox VGH Amp Headphones AC30 Review
With the Vox VGH Amp series, the traditional British brand is bringing three high-quality dynamic headphones onto the market, which can be used for hi-fi applications and direct operation on electric guitars or basses. This is ensured by a battery-operated analog amp simulation integrated into the ear cups, available in three sound versions (Vox VGH AC30, Rock, Bass), and can be activated if required. So it is possible to connect the headphone cable directly to the instrument for silent and mobile practice.
As in its Amphone series introduced in 2012, Vox had the headphone drivers developed by the Japanese company Audio-Technica. In terms of appearance, the VGH amps can hardly be distinguished from regular hi-fi headphones. All amp simulations have control options for tone and volume, an integrated effects section, and an auxiliary input for external audio sources. The following test will show whether Vox has managed the balancing act between hi-fi suitability and amp feeling and which model is recommended for whom.
The Vox VGH AC30 headphones come in a sturdy cardboard box with operating instructions and two AAA batteries. All three headphone models have the exact dimensions and controls and only differ externally by a colored ring between the ear pad and shell or by the color of their type designation (gold = Vox VGH AC30, red = rock, blue = bass). The lid of the left auricle can be opened with a twisting motion. It can thus accommodate the batteries, while the suitable auricle houses all controls and the permanently installed connection cable. The cable is 1.60 m long and has a 6.3 mm stereo jack plug. For listening to music, the VGH amps can be used as standard stereo headphones. When used on guitar or bass, only two poles of the plug are used for a mono signal. The ear cups of the headphones have a total diameter of 8.5 cm and are equipped with approx. 2 cm wide cushions. This creates a space of almost 5 cm in diameter for the ear, which can be described as a closed over-ear design. The padded headband can be adjusted in length between 30 and 40 cm and is connected to the auricles by rotating joints. Except for the inner metal clip of the headband, the headphones are made entirely of black plastic and have a total weight of 250 g, including batteries.
Operation and concept
Before starting up, you first have to decide how to function. First, of course, you want to use the VGH amp headphones. As pure hi-fi headphones, they are immediately ready for use and do not require any batteries. However, the amplifier section must be activated for direct operation on guitar or bass. If you have the headphones on, the connection cable separates the control elements of the right auricle into two areas. On the front-facing, the cheek, the standby / on a switch, the red LED, the effect potentiometer, and the 3.5 mm auxiliary input for external audio sources are located below the other. On the other side, towards the back of the head are the potentiometers for gain (preamplification), tone (treble portion), and volume (volume). All potentiometers are designed as small wheels and can be opened by two angular elevations on the edges.”
The effects section on the Vox VGH AC30 and Rock models is equipped with a chorus, delay, and reverb. The control path of the effect pot is divided into three areas. In the zero position, no effect is added to the signal, a chorus in the first third, a delay in the second third, and a reverb in the last third. The transitions between the effects are indicated by a signal tone, and the effect level increases within a range. Parameters such as depth, speed, or length of the impact are fixed and cannot be changed. In the bass model, the effects section only includes a compressor, the intensity of which can be adjusted over the entire control range.
The VGH Amp headphones have a frequency response of 20-20,000 Hz, an output sound pressure level of 97 dB, and, according to the manufacturer, battery life of 7-16 hours for the guitar models and 8-20 hours for the bass model, depending on whether you use zinc-carbon or Alkaline batteries used.
First, we want to test the VGH amp headphones in their function as a practice amplifier.
During commissioning, it quickly becomes clear what one of the greatest strengths of the concept lies: no start-up, no cabling, no power supply. It can start immediately.
The headphones sit comfortably on but do not reach entirely over the ear with slightly larger ears, which is why they would have to be described as a compromise between on-ear and over-ear. The cable, which looks a bit thin and is unfortunately permanently installed, has a comfortable length so that there is still enough play even when standing, and the standby / on the switch can be easily felt.
If you think that the middle position of all potentiometers (5) is a good starting point at the first test, you should be warned at this point. The two guitar models, in particular, can achieve extremely high output levels. Up to 4, the volume is still relatively practical, but at the latest, from 6 or 7, you have the feeling of kneeling directly in front of the loudspeaker of a loud amp. This may be justifiable for the hard-of-hearing old rockers, but too much for children and in the area of danger.
The general operation of the potentiometers requires a long period of getting used to. The tiny cogs are challenging to feel, and at first, you catch yourself putting the headphones on and off all the time. However, once you have found your favorite setting, it is enough if you can quickly find the volume wheel right next to the connection cable.
Vox VGH AC30
For Vox, the simulation of their classic amplifier is, of course, a matter of honor, and most guitarists should be aware of where the journey is going. Pearly highs, slightly nasal mids, smacking distortion, and a tidy bass area. These sound attributes were implemented quite authentically. The amp simulation sounds direct, balanced, and realistic. It doesn’t quite come close to the dynamics and depth of a high-quality digital solution. Still, for practice purposes and against the background of the simple concept, the sound is absolutely useful and, above all, latency-free. Natural clean sounds can only be created with single coils in the minimum setting of the gain potentiometer. But the reserves extend far beyond the possibilities of a real Vox VGH AC30 and are also suitable for more complex styles. However, it becomes a bit too muddy and undefined for modern metal sounds from the second half of the gain control range. The control range up to 5 would also have been sufficient for the tone control. Above this limit, it becomes harsh and unnatural, and from 7 with single coils even unusable. Since the bass range is also relatively thin, you usually stay below 4 with all pots and thus get a great crunch sound that works with a wide variety of guitar types and conveys an authentic feel.
Forewarned by the Vox VGH AC30 model, we start with the rock version with all potentiometers at four and immediately get a good load of gain on our ears. Every Metal fan over 40 should be tempted to sing the intro of Megadeth’s “Holy Wars” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9d4ui9q7eDM) because we are in this sound category. Aggressive highs, lots of gains, and few mids make the VGH rock amp an ideal partner for staccato riffs and fast solos. The name “Rock” is a bit misleading because the gain potentiometer already produces very high degrees of distortion in the first third, which become denser over the other control path, but hardly change their essential character. Clean sounds are hardly possible here. As with the AC30 model, the tone potentiometer can hardly be used sensibly from the second half of its control range and tames the somewhat chainsaw-like basic sound best at settings below 4, which even then sounds very sharp in single-coil operation. For practicing and warming up, you have a good-sounding and quickly available practice amplifier at hand, which is particularly recommended for hard rock and metal fans in terms of sound.
Effects (Vox VGH AC30 / Rock)
The two guitar models, Vox VGH AC30 and Rock, share the same effects section consisting of the chorus, delay, and reverb. All effects can be called up one after the other via the control path of the effect pot, and the volume can be regulated within their range. Of course, you shouldn’t expect miracles here, but all effects are well-coordinated and can be used in a practical way. The chorus sounds balanced and warm, the delay has a fixed speed of around 250 ms, and the reverb sounds appealing and valuable.
The specialist for the low frequencies immediately impresses with the electric bass with a rich bass foundation. You would have wished for a little more of this in the guitar models, and you get a first taste of the hi-fi suitability of the VGH headphones. The sound is designed in a more modern way with a slim midrange and easily adjusted in the treble using tone control. The gain potentiometer acts as a preamplifier and makes the signal louder without producing significant distortion. There is, therefore, no noticeable difference between gain and volume. A compressor can be infinitely mixed in via the effect potentiometer, which does its job satisfactorily and at the same time acts a bit like an enhancer by refreshing the highs. The VGH bass amp headphones become the ideal practice amplifier for big bass sounds that would not be possible with a small practice amplifier. But this model also cuts a fine figure on the guitar for clean jazz and funk sounds.
The VGH headphones were compared with a Sennheiser HD-25 and a Marshall Major II for their hi-fi suitability, both in a similar price segment.
The Vox headphones do not have to hide here and score above all with a pronounced bass range and sound external attenuation. So they should also cut a good figure as DJ or stage headphones. The resolution of the highs is somewhat better with both comparison headphones, but the VGHs can come up with more warmth and softer high mids compared to the Marshall Major II. In regular everyday use, the Vox headphones should be sufficient for ears that are not too demanding.
The Vox VGH amp headphones are an exciting fusion of hi-fi stereo headphones and practice amplifiers, which should be an interesting option, especially for traveling musicians. No additional cables, power packs, or power sources are required to play in backstage areas, hotel rooms, or at home without being noisy. The Vox VGH AC30 variant is a bit ahead in terms of sound and versatility, while the rock model is recommended for hard rock and metal purists when it comes to guitar models. The bass version is also worth a look for jazz or funk guitarists who are primarily interested in full clean sounds. It produces modern amp sounds with a strong bass foundation on the electric bass and is therefore recommended as a natural alternative to small practice combos.
A practical effects section, an aux-in for external audio sources, and the option of using all three as pretty good hi-fi stereo headphones round off the positive overall picture.
Unfortunately, the control paths for gain, tone, and volume on the guitar models make a less convincing impression. Starting from position 5 (out of 10), results that are hardly practical or tolerable in volume can be achieved. One sometimes longs for settings beyond the minimum setting to produce slightly warmer clean or crunch sounds.