VHT Special 6

Monday, April 19, 2010| by Will Chen

One of the biggest criticisms of affordable tube amps is PCB board construction with boutique proponents arguing the superiority of point to point wired amps due to their ease of maintenance, some even boast point to point designs deliver better tone. When I saw the early press regarding the VHT Special 6, a hand wired point to point (actually following a component>wire>pin eyelet board layout for the technical sticklers out there) 6 watt tube amp, I was intrigued. I mean, the Special 6 boasts a price point under $200 for a combo and under $400 for a head with matching cabinet. Could it possibly deliver the goods?

The Special 6 is a 6 watt tube amp hand wired in China sporting a single 12AX7 preamp tube and single 6V6 power tube. While at first glance the controls appear rather stripped down offering only volume and tone controls, there are also high and low inputs, high/low power switch, and the volume control features a pull boost which is also foot switchable. The back panel features the jack for the aforementioned foot switch as well as 4, 8, and 16 ohm speaker outputs. This review focuses on the Special 6 head and matching closed back 1 X 12 finger jointed, birch plywood cabinet loaded with a 12” VHT Chrome Back 1260 speaker rated at 60 watts and dual 16 Ohm speaker jacks allowing daisy chainable operation).

Excited to start with my audition, I plugged up my dual Humbucker Indie Shape Total Natural and decided to throw all caution into the wind and simply crank the amp up to max and hopefully bring the rock. My hopes were met as my ears were treated with a delightfully moderate grind with a fairly tighter low end associated with more modern British amps but the midrange sweetness and over all warmer tonal signature of classic American amps. The overdrive characteristic is best described as sounding uncompressed and open, for lack of a better word, which will be familiar to fans of single ended tube amps versus those praising the sag of an A/B design with a tube rectifier. After noodling around quite a bit, I remembered the pull boost function and eagerly engaged it. Whoa momma! The boost kicks things up a few notches and offers enough grind to cover pretty much any Texas blues or classic rock tunes.

I adored the pairing of single coils with the amp which yielded a nice tight low end response and just enough high end bite to sound bright and chimey without any ice-picky harshness immediately bringing to mind the earlier works of Dave Grissom, Doyle Bramhall II, and many other Texas roots rockers.

I also plugged up my SX SST57 and Highland Royal and the amp treated each guitar’s unique tones with respect. Dialing back the guitar’s volume knob resulted in the amp cleaning up very nicely. Despite the amp’s minimal controls, given the dynamic nature of the amp including the foot switchable boost, one could easily coax 3 distinctly different tones from the amp (guitar volume back for cleaner, volume up for dirty, and boost for leads). Very nice! I adored the pairing of single coils with the amp which yielded a nice tight low end response and just enough high end bite to sound bright and chimey without any ice-picky harshness immediately bringing to mind the earlier works of Dave Grissom, Doyle Bramhall II, and many other Texas roots rockers. Pulling back the amp’s volume knob results in the amp cleaning up as expended with settings left of noon on the dial warming things up considerably. Paired with the Highland Royal, I was getting some sweet, old school, verge of breakup, jazz tones (think Grant Green or John Scofield). A nice surprise is the amp retains enough volume and semi-clean headroom to be used in a quieter groove/jazz group in a smaller room.

I was really surprised at how effective the wide sweep of the tone knob was at eliciting different aural textures. That being said, I seemed to prefer the tone cranked up pretty high for more traditional rock tones and with some guitars I would’ve liked just a bit more brightness at the extreme end of the knob. On the other hand, the left side of the dial provided some very cool smoky, jazzy tones on cleaner amp settings.

Impressed with the amps performance at full power, I flipped the switch down to half power hoping to hear the same tones at a slightly more manageable decibel rating. This is a very loud amp and my ears where ringing considerably after running the amp full tilt in my small home studio (the combo with a 10” speaker is supposed to be more geared to home usage than the mini stack). Per VHT, the switch is a pentode/triode switch but functions a bit differently than I expected. In my experience, running amps in triode mode typically results in reduced headroom and increased compression however the half power switch seems to function more akin to a master volume cut switch. As such, the low power mode doesn’t generate the grind of the boosted full power mode. This was a bit of a let down as the Special6cranked up is loud and powerful enough to hang with a drummer in a moderate sized room but total overkill for home practice. I was hoping the half power switch would give me the same sweet tones at a bedroom manageable level. Given the different tonal signature of the amp at lower volumes I plugged up several dirt boxes as well as a Digitech RP355 and the Special6bonded with all of them fantastically.

Overall, the Special 6 is a very nice amp which I anticipate becoming quite a hit for those seeking lower wattage tube amps. I was very impressed by the range of tones and volume capable from the amp considering it fairly simplistic layout and its point to point wiring pretty much guarantees the ability for the tonal adventurer to transform the amp into pretty much anything under the sun. But honestly, I think it sounds darn good dead stock.

Price: $199 Combo, $179 Head, $149 Matching Cabinet
Pros: Very good and versatile tones; solid construction
Cons: More volume than the average bedroom rocker requires

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