XITS 10 Amplifier Review
A 17-watt EL84 box full of bass and brightness.
Two EL84s and a Celestion Alnico Blue speaker. For most of the guitar-speaking universe, that adds up to something a lot like a Vox AC15. But it doesn’t take much time with the Xits 10 to hear just how far it departs from the old Vox recipe.
To be certain, some things about the Xits 10 do recall the AC15. It’s chimy and bright, and it can be explosively potent when pushed. Yet the Xits also inhabits a unique sonic universe. It’s a bold, bass-rich, and sweetly sparkling, and at extreme settings it’s a thunderous little monster. For rock players who love straight-line Brit crunch—and less dogmatically constrained players who like their bass massive and treble sizzling—the Xits 10 is an intriguing partner in chime.
If you savor ever facet of the amp-construction craft, the Xits 10 is a feast for the senses. Its exterior is a delightful deviation from tweed and black-vinyl norms. The grey linen-patterned vinyl seems to be a nod to the original fawn AC15s (and a few 1950s blazers I’ve coveted). The woolen dot-pattern grille cloth looks and feels a little like a throw rug or sweater cloth—an inspired bit of design irreverence that works unexpectedly well.
Even the speaker baffle and alloy preamp tube enclosures appear color-coordinated, adding cool highlights that complement the deep blue of the Celestion Alnico Blue and the sky-blue highlights in the Xits logo. (We realize these touches have no bearing on how the Xits sounds, but they’re emblematic of the craft and care put into this thing—plus they look bitchin’!)
With so many playful design details, it’s easy to imagine Xits mastermind Michael Koski as a groovy design professor turned bespoke furniture builder. Look closer, though, and it becomes just as easy to imagine him as a stern Teutonic lab technician. The ½" Baltic birch plywood cabinet is flawlessly assembled and reinforced by finished hardwood trim. The chassis hood, made from the same finished aluminum as the control plate, reveals a similar fixation with detail. The tubes protrude from precisely machined ports. Nearby are two 1/4" speaker jacks. (The onboard speaker uses one.) There’s also a sturdy 8-/16-ohm switch.
Bright as the Blue Sky Above
One thing the Xits 10 is not, however, is a blank slate. That’s not to say it doesn’t sound great clean or work well with pedals—it does. But its cleanest tones still tend to be hot in the highs and fat in the bass. Using the AC15 as a baseline comparison, you’ll find the Xits capable of a far hotter high end and much more bass. In fact, the considerable—if not downright corpulent—low-end is probably be the first thing that will strike you. It’s huge for an amp of this size, and it can sometimes overpower the midrange tones that many folks seek from EL84 amps, even with the bass control near minimum.
This low-end enormity is no bad thing once you get acquainted. It sounds colossal with primitive, buzzing fuzzes (which tend to be pretty midrange-heavy), and it lends profound drama to modulation effects. The lows are similarly powerful on effect-free tones. This amp is tailor-made for bass-less duos, or trios where the bass player tends to venture beyond root notes. The substantial bass can also color jazzy chord phrasings and slow folky arpeggios in unexpected ways, lending weight and gut-rumbling sustain.
The Xits’s other prominent aspect is its super-hot high end. With the onboard “sparkle” switch enabled, the amp elevates the EL84’s characteristic fizziness to positively sizzling levels. Depending on your guitar, pickups, and approach, this may be a wonderful thing. A Hi-Gain pickup-equipped Rickenbacker 330 (which is very midrange-rich) sounded intoxicatingly panoramic. Even better was a Rickenbacker 12-string with toaster pickups. With heavy compression, the “sparkle” switch on, and a treble boost (perverse, we know). The Xits delivered dead-on facsimiles of McGuinn’s and Harrison’s hyper-squashed studio 12-string tones. Guitars with dark humbuckers also benefitted enormously from the Xits’ sonic profile. A mid-’60s Gibson Trini Lopez was a natural fit for the amp—the burnished humbucker tones collaborated with the Xits’ brightness and bottom end to achieve a kind of equilibrium from which you could still access the amp’s delightfully lacerating high end.
Stratocaster and Telecaster players may find the Xits to be a tricky fit, however. The bridge pickup on both ’63 and ’86 Stratocasters could be ear-frying without dialing the tone controls way back on both guitar and amp. Even the Strat neck pickup could generate vicious treble. Like the huge bottom end, these sometimes-piercing highs can be an asset—it’s easy to see imagine a resourceful engineer using the Xits’ high end to killer effect in the studio.
The Xits 10 is no AC15 clone. But its unique approach to the potential of EL84s and a Celestion Alnico Blue make this handsome box of bass and brightness an intriguing alternative for players needing to cover the extreme ends of the frequency spectrum at club-level volumes.