Packaging the Kraken amp’s preamp in a stompbox yields a flexible, malleable, and monstrous high-gain machine.
The clips were recorded using an ESP M-17 and a Mesa/Boogie Blue Angel combo.
Incredible range of sounds. Flexible routing options.
Shared EQ. Wall wart adapter.
Victory V4 The Kraken
Ease of Use:
England’s Victory Amps has come a long way in six years, managing to grab an impressive foothold in a market crowded with established amp options. Victory’s Kraken, an aggressive amp created with input from Dorje guitarist Rabea Massaad, is certainly among the amps that most helped raise the company’s profile. Introduced in 2015 as part of the brand’s compact series, it was an immediate hit. Betting on more of a good thing, Victory introduced a big brother—the full-sized Super Kraken—and repackaged the preamp as part of the company’s V4 series.
Handbuilt in England, the V4 version of the Kraken preamp is part of Victory’s pedal preamp series, which also includes preamps from the company’s plexi-inspired Sheriff and high-gain Countess amps. The V4 Kraken’s all-valve signal chain uses four tubes. Interestingly, Victory didn’t choose 12AX7 or 12AT7s. Rather, the Kraken uses three CV4014 tubes and one EC900. The CV4014 is far from a household name among guitarists. And as far as we know they’ve not been used on production guitar amps before. (The most common musical application seems to be headphone amps.) But Victory came across a huge supply of them and liked them so much that they based the whole V4 series around them. Note that you cannot swap 12AX7 or 12AX7 tubes in, but replacement tubes are available through Victory. And, unlike power tubes, preamp tubes tend to last a very long time. Victory estimates the lifespan of a CV4010 at 10,000 hours.
The V4 Kraken is essentially a two-channel preamp in a pedal format. And just as on a conventional channel-switching amp, there are two gain modes with individual gain and master knobs for both channels. There are also knobs for a shared EQ section (bass, middle, and treble), a 3-position bright switch, and two footswitches that let you toggle between gain channels 1 or 2, and bypass. A TRS jack on the left side of the pedal lets you operate it remotely in case you want to move the V4 from the floor to a rack.
Connecting the Kraken
One of the coolest things about the Kraken is its flexible routing options. There are two ways to connect it to your amp: “standalone” mode and “amp through” mode.Standalone mode lets you patch V4 The Kraken into the front end of your amp, like a conventional pedal, or into a power amp or recording interface. Amp through routes the Kraken via your amp’s effects loop, essentially replacing the amp’s preamp with the Kraken. When the Kraken is off, the signal flows through the amp’s preamp section as normal— though if you also have effects like delay and reverb in the loop they will remain on.
To facilitate these routing choices, there are jacks for input, through, loop in, loop out, and effect out. There are helpful labels for each I/O and, as obvious as it sounds, it’s a thoughtful touch, because routing can get relatively complex and you don’t always have the time to research connection options before a show.
Extended Gain Range
I tested the pedal using an Ernie Ball Music Man Axis Sport and an ESP LTD M-17 7-string through Mesa/Boogie Blue Angel and Fender Super-Sonic amps. I used the pedal in standalone mode with both amps, and also patched it into the effects loop of my Super-Sonic. Through the loop, I was pleased that there was no extraneous noise, hum, or volume drops.
I started with both gain knobs at 1 o’clock, and at this setting, unity gain starts with master knobs at around 7 o’clock, so there is a ton of headroom and the amp can get very loud. Channel 1 is the lower gain mode, and the sounds often evoke JCM900 or Marshall Guv’nor tones. Single notes are clear and sustain readily without exhibiting much compression. For chugging rhythms, it sounds focused, deep and free from boominess.
The Kraken also has a wide dynamic range and is touch-sensitive, making it musical and versatile beyond loud-and-heavy applications. Small variations in guitar volume and attack take the pedal from clean—even at high gain—to fat and crunchy and blooming with gorgeous overtones. Players that enjoy nuance and subtlety will love these capabilities.
Channel 2 is more aggressive in the midrange and, in general, thicker and more saturated along the lines of a 5150 or a Dual Rectifier. Ostensibly, V4 The Kraken is designed for progressive and extended-range sounds, so with the 7-string in hand, I tuned way down to Aflat and messed around with open-string riffs. Even down this low and with the gain past the 3 o’clock mark, the pedal remained articulate and precise, with razor-sharp note definition.
Goldilocks and the Three Brights
The 3-way bright switch is a quick and effective way to shift the tone drastically. It’s also a great way to quickly tailor the Kraken’s voice to a particular amp. With my 7-string through the Blue Angel, I initially had the bright switch at “-2”, which was great for Petrucci-type, upper register lead sounds. For power chords, it was a little too warm and vintage sounding, while the “0” setting was a little too metallic for my taste. However, “-1” was perfect, lending my tone just-right clarity without harshness.
If you love your amp’s clean channel but long for an equally killer dirt channel (Fender tube amp lovers, I’m talking to you.), the Kraken stomp demands a look. It’s essentially a Kraken amp without the power section, and you can completely bypass it to take advantage of your amp’s lovely cleans. At a fraction of the cost of a Kraken amp, the V4 preamp version of the Kraken is an all-around victory.