Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

Vox Heritage Collection AC30H2 Review

Looking for vintage AC30 tone? The AC30H2 is worth a look.

Download Example 1
Ch. 1 (EF86 pentode mode) Vol. 2 o'clock, Brill. off, Cut noon
Download Example 2
Ch. 2 "Top Boost," Vol. 10 o'clock, Treb. 1 o'clock, Bass 11 o'clock, Cut noon
Download Example 3
Ch. 2, Vol. 1 o'clock, Treb. 2 o'clock, Bass 11 o'clock, Top Cut 9 o'clock
Nash S63 Lollar bridge pup; recorded in Sound Studio on a MacBook Pro using Digidesign Mbox (SM57).

Everyone knows that VOX is a name to conjure

by. The AC30 in particular has achieved its

reputation among all types of rock ‘n’ rollers

by earning it over the long haul. Tonehounds

know it as a great all-around amp with a

sound entirely its own—as sought after for

its bell-like, pristine cleans as it is for its raw,

saturated overdrive that gets rich and creamy

with just the flick of a knob. Anyone who’s

ever played a good one knows it’s a dynamic,

sensitive and responsive tone machine, and

almost as simple as they come. A good guitar

and an AC30 can be the quickest trip to tone

heaven you can take.

So, plugging a guitar into the handwired

AC30H2 Heritage combo, made to celebrate

VOX’s fiftieth anniversary, expectations are

going to be… well, high. In addition to a reputation

that precedes it, this amp has a smart

vintage styling, with cream vinyl covering, gold

trim and logo, light brown leather handles and

brown diamond grillcloth, complete with a

VOX 50th anniversary badge. Under the hood

it sports a handwired circuit (using TAG board)

with the usual EL84 power section, GZ34 rectifier

and a pair of VOX/Celestion Alnico Blue

speakers, as well as combining, for the first

time, the EF86-driven preamp channel from

1958 with the ECC83/12AX7-driven Top Boost

channel of the early sixties.

I also have to admit I had high expectations for

the EF86 preamp channel, which VOX phased

out during the transition to the renowned

AC30/6 Twin model. This pentode tube has

a higher gain, but a reputation for becoming

severely microphonic; although debate flourishes

about the exact nature of the problem,

most agree it can be temperamental. It’s also

become legendary for its tone and character,

which is why the EF86 has been showing up

for years in VOX-inspired (and other) boutique

designs by Matchless, Valvetech, Dr. Z, 65

amps, Top Hat and Xits, just to name a few.

Channel one of the AC30H2 features two

inputs and only one knob for volume. The

remaining controls are all switches: a three-way

Brilliance switch that offers a flat response and

two other voicings for tone shaping; a Bass

Shift switch for a vintage-correct or a tightened

bass response; and a switch that changes the

operating mode of the EF86 from Pentode

to Triode. True to form, this channel boasts

a somewhat darker, more aggressive sound,

without so much of the chime or compression.

It does have fat, punchy mids and a meaty

grind, and a very different breakup than the

more common ECC83/12AX7 preamp. It’s a

splendid complement to the brightness and

clarity of channel two—think down and dirty

rock. The pentode mode does indeed put out

a sweet high gain tone, but the triode mode

has a less vibrant response and sounds dull

in comparison. Personally, this option doesn’t

appeal to me because I don’t see why you’d

want to run a Pentode circuit in triode mode.

The sound of channel two is the inimitable

sound of the Top Boost preamp circuit.

Everyone has heard the description, so perhaps

I’ll narrate instead. For a test, I took the

VOX out to a recent gig. Setting up for the

sound check, I decided to forego my usual

desire for versatility and run my new Nash S63

Strat-style guitar with Lollar pickups into the

AC30H2 on the backline with no mic and nothing

in the signal chain but an EH Small Stone

Nano phase shifter (gotta have some of that

Outlaw sound), a Lizard Leg Flying Dragon

boost, and a Boss tuner. I had my Duesenberg

out on a stand, and another rig ready to go,

but I shouldn’t have bothered—I didn’t touch

either one all night. Although I hadn’t played

the Nash and the VOX together yet, I’d played

them both and had a good feeling about the

combination. Damn if it wasn’t the best decision

I’ve made in months.

The dynamic sensitivity was just right, and the

clarity was just ridiculous. That rig merged

into a single instrument that unceremoniously

knocked me and my band mates out, over and

over again all night.

The shimmering, sparkly highs, the focused

mids and low end, the compression, the richness

of the harmonics, the breakup—all of it

was brilliant. The sweet, ringing cleans opened

up a lot of the tunes on which I normally look

for a darker sound, and the vintage character

of the tone was so warm and woody. The flawless

sixties sounds would have been enough

for me, but I also got some fat, muscly blues

tones, SRV and Rory Gallagher tones, a seriously

spanking country tone, and some delicious

in-betweens—all without touching the

amp. I stayed on channel two with the same

settings for four and half hours. That might

sound more like a testament to the quality of

guitar and the pickups than the amp, but that

kind of control is exceptional. The “swish” of

that phaser has never sounded clearer, and it

took the boost like a champ. And, while I’m

used to using a bit of reverb and a slap delay

every once in a while, I didn’t miss either of

them—the openness and depth of the amp

made up for their absence.

The amp also offers output Pentode/Triode

switching, which changes the operating mode

of the EL84s as a way of achieving a half-power

mode in the amp—the idea is to get the same

cranked tone at tamer volume levels, but it’s

not correct to say the volume is cut in half, or

even necessarily “tame.” More importantly,

changing to Triode mode seems to take some

of the swagger out of the amp when it’s

cranked, and I’m not sure about what I’m getting

in return for giving that up. A half-power

mode can be a useful feature (and clearly

popular), but in this amp it seems like a shortcut.

There are other ways to offer that kind of

control, like “shutting off” one pair of output

tubes while allowing the other pair to work the

way they were designed. It’s not that I have

a problem with this feature, it’s just another

option I wouldn’t use.

To be sure, any reissue should

have an old-school look that harkens back to

the days when it all began, but it’s the tone

that really makes it a celebration, and the tone

of this one is above reproach—two channels

of real VOX magic. Although it’s got a vintage

look, up close it discloses the signs of modern

mass production: plastic vent covers, small

flaws in the cabinet fit and covering—nothing

major, but it’s got me wondering.

For me, the downside is that I’d feel like I was

paying for features I wouldn’t use, and it has

a look I’d have to get used to; the upside is

that an amp this good doesn’t need a lot of

features, and it does have a look of its own.

It’s dead simple to use, and it gives up great

tones. My expectations of the AC30H2 turned

out just a bit higher than what it delivered,

but it unquestionably lives up to its name and

reputation sonically. I have concerns about its

roadworthiness, but I would have no qualms

whatsoever about using it in the studio or on

an occasional gig.

Buy if...
you’re looking to add an AC30 (or another AC30) to your lineup, and you want it a bit different.
Skip if...
you’re looking for more of a straight-up reissue or something better suited for road abuse.

Street: $2000 - Vox Amplification -