Surely everyone needs a low/mid powered 1×12″ club-sized combo, and this affordable Vox has some cool-sounding surprises up its sleeve. Review by Huw Price…
Description: Twin-channel 15W valve combo with digital reverb, Celestion G12M Greenback speaker, and 2×8 Ohm extension sockets. Made in China
Contact: Vox Amps – 01908 30463 – www.voxamps.com
We like the way Vox’s marketing department have described the looks of the Night Train 15 as ‘extreme’. They’re certainly distinctive, but those who are aware of the heritage of this company will recognise the familiar rounded corners as well as the moulded plastic carrying handle. Equipped with cream chickenhead knobs, vintage Vox-style black tolex and wide cooling vents, the Night Train has a sturdy and robust feel with impressive finish quality. The ’60s-style rectangular logo is a nice touch, too.
This 15W combo is driven by three 12AX7s in the preamp and a pair of EL84 power amp valves. It has two channels designated Girth and Bright, an FX loop, onboard reverb and a Celestion G12M Greenback speaker. A Vox VFS2A footswitch can be purchased separately for channel switching and tone stack bypass – effectively turning the Night Train 15W into a three-channel amp.
The Gain control adjacent to the input works on the Bright channel. This is nominally the clean channel and shares the equalisation controls with the dirtier Girth channel. With Thick disengaged, this is a very versatile clean channel with a respectable amount of clean headroom for a 15W valve amp.
Vox clean tones have always been about chewy mids, a slight furriness in the upper mids and degree of chime in the treble register. Roll back the treble, boost the middle and engage the Dark switch and the Night Train 15 will take you straight there.
Being hyper-critical, we’d say that the chime isn’t quite the same – but that’s probably due to the Night Train having a rockier-sounding ceramic G12 Greenback rather than a shimmering Alnico Blue. At this price, we can’t complain. The cooling fan was the only feature that bothered us; having said that, it’s possibly the quietest we have encountered, and totally inaudible when the amp is in use.
Disengaging the Dark switch provides a bit more upper midrange bite along with a hint of sweet overdrive that responds superbly to playing dynamics. Playing a Stratocaster though this setting certainly put us in a very Hendrix frame of mind.
As if that wasn’t enough, rolling the Middle control back and turning the treble up pulls a very convincing Fender blackface-type tone out of the Night Train. Turn up the reverb for a classic American blues tone, then push it beyond halfway and you’ll be surfing USA-style. The reverb is extremely spring-like – so much so that we felt compelled rock the Night Train back and forth to test for ‘spring boing’ on a couple of occasions. Nope; no springs. It’s definitely digital, but it certainly doesn’t sound that way.
All the above goes out of the window when the Thick switch is engaged and the tone stack is bypassed. On anything other than a British amp it would be unsurprising if this were labelled ‘Tweed’ rather than ‘Thick’, because it produces significant boost in both midrange and overdrive.
As the status LED switches from green to yellow you’re rewarded with a compressed and valvey grind, sweet harmonic saturation and ample sustain for soloing. It’s old-school stuff that will please players who prefer to control things from their guitar, because the Thick mode cleans up superbly with no loss of vibrancy or dynamic response.
Many amps struggle to achieve the level of versatility that we have experienced so far, and we haven’t even tried the Girth channel yet. Thick mode is a hard act to follow, but rather than going for more of the same, Vox’s design team has opted for something crunchier and far more contemporary.
The first thing that struck us was the difference in dynamic response. Where Thick mode did the fat midrange with saggy dynamics thing, Girth mode is a good deal punchier and more aggressive. This proved to be a very positive asset, because Girth opens the Night Train up to some serious levels of gain where extra focus and tightness are prerequisites.
We reckon that the smooth highs and punchy mids of Greenback G12 make it a good choice because alnico speakers can sound a tad fizzy and edgy with very high-gain amps. Since the Night Train veers into metal territory we’re pleased to report that harsh overtones, beating harmonics and grainy fizz are absent, even at maximum gain.
It’s inevitable that there will be some degree of compromise when two channels are routed through the same tone stack. To Vox’s credit they have kept
this to a minimum, and in Thick mode the two channels are pretty much independent. Since the Girth channel has its own volume control, the shared master volume is a non-issue and balancing up the gain and output levels for each channel couldn’t be simpler.
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The Night Train 15 is an unusually versatile valve amp that produces convincing high-quality sounds over a wide range of styles. With a street price of less than £600 it should be attractive to those looking to upgrade to their first serious valve amp as well as more experienced players seeking killer valve tone in a grab-and-go package.