I set out to write this review as if I was Kafka. Huddled tubercular and wheezing over a rickety desk in a dank and lightless room, blackening pages with all the blustering energy befitting an image so surreal as a Vox MV50 amplifier head. There is something inherently bizarre about these things, after all. A nondescript, black, cardboard box is loaded into the back of your van and you drive home aghast as it twitches silently to itself over your shoulder. The two of you arrive home and it throbs with anticipation as you push a key through the measly line of tape that has managed to keep this beast imprisoned thus far. The lid flops open wantonly and this tiny, shining thing gazes up at you like a sleeping kitten. You’ve been told it’s an amplifier – 50 watts of high gain and/or boutique amp RMS, no less – but it looks like something you stored marbles in as a child. Nonplussed but inquisitive, you sit it atop some old quad box and bang out an E minor. By God, what a sound – what a high and awe striking wail. How do they do that?
Ever the innovators and unafraid wanderers down scarcely trod paths, Vox has had versions of these tiny yet mighty terrors on the market for a while now. The two newest additions to the litter, the High Gain and Boutique types, are in reality far from what you’d call runts. Anyone who has ventured to converse with any of the MV ilk thus far will attest to just how surprising the amount, let alone the quality of tone inherent to the patented Nutube technology at play is. This is exactly the heart of the whole line, after all. It looks like a 12AX7, but heats up like a whole battery of them and, depending on what capacitors and transistors Vox chooses to sit before it, barks like a wounded dog. The HG has an unimaginable amount of crispness in its bite. The tone knob allows it to go from Randall style searing mid-scoop to everything at 12 AC30 and, coupled with the EQ depth switch on the back, stitches in a fair amount of tightness or openness depending on how angry you’re feeling. The BQ has a similar palette, but with a considerably bluesier bent. Both clean up to almost Fender-like glassiness and each has a distinct sense of self that few other micro heads have managed to harness.
How and why have we come to a point where we’ve done away with the idea that a machine’s size might have some direct correlation to its output? The proof is in the disappearing pudding, I guess. Vox has met this question with an increasingly wry and knowing grin. The MV50 High Gain and Boutique micro heads have more attitude and tone on tap than some amps ten times their size, so don’t be deceived or they’ll slip through the cracks in the floor and you’ll never hear that magic again.