VOX amPlug AC30 Guitar Headphone Amplifier

For years, practicing electric guitar or bass at home has been a quiet activity for me. Since I don’t want to annoy the neighbors, the wife, or the cat (especially the cat), plugging my Fender Stratocaster into an amplifier and cranking it up to 11 has just not been an option.

But I love to play, and since I’m in two bands, I need to practice and keep up those chops! But what to do?

Well, the typical solution has been to just go unplugged … and hear what I’m playing just a little. Solid-body guitars and basses have barely any acoustic properties—just the resonance in the wood—so when you strum or pluck them, you’ll hear a faint sound, a weak note that’s barely representative of the rawk n’ roll awesomeness that will come forth when you go up to 11.

There are solutions I’ve used that won’t bother anybody. I have couple of guitar and bass processors—all-in-one units that, in addition to providing a ton of effects, also can serve as a mini-amplifier that you can listen to on headphones via the output jack.

But that’s not ideal, since the output jacks are mono and usually just send sound to one ear. Plus, they’re not exactly portable—hard to walk around the house and practice your rock moves when your headphones are connected to a pedal on the floor plugged into an AC outlet.

Plus, if I’m trying to learn a new song from a recording, there’s no way to hear it if I have the headphones on.

The solution to all of these problems has arrived in one compact item, the VOX amPlug AC30. This little beauty gets its name from the VOX AC30, one of the company’s classic guitar amplifiers. It’s so named because its sound is intended to emulate the sound of the original amp.

It’s a simple little unit, but it delivers exactly what I—and, I’ll bet, many of my fellow musicians out there—need to practice without bothering anyone.

And you can learn new stuff, thanks to one fantastic feature—the auxiliary jack! With this, I was able to plug in my iPod and listen to it in-line along with my guitar. Awesome!

Getting started with the amPlug AC30 was a snap. I put in the two AAA batteries (included—thanks, VOX) and then inserted its ¼-inch plug directly into my Strat.

Then I plugged my headphones into the appropriate jack, and flipped the on switch. The light indicated we were powered, so I turned up the guitar volume, and did likewise on the amPlug, which has Gain, Tone and Volume controls. It was obvious what Volume and Tone did, but Gain actually cranked up a little distortion, giving the sound a little edge, which I presume is evocative of the original AC30 amp.

It was equally easy to add my iPod to the party. A simple stereo male-to-male audio cable plugged from the iPod right into the amPlug, and the song I wanted to practice with—the killer instrumental “YYZ” by Rush—came through beautifully. I could adjust the song’s volume on my iPod, and then control the entire mix through the amPlug’s knobs.

The sound is very good. Is it the equivalent of what you’d get from a full-size amp? Of course not, but I never expected it to be. The amPlug delivers exactly what it’s supposed to: good practice sound—clean with the option of a little “amp dirt” if you want it—in the privacy of your own head.

And that’s really it in a nutshell. The amPlug does exactly what it’s supposed to, delivering clean, accurate amplification—with the option of mixing in another audio source—in a quick, efficient way that won’t disturb the neighbors (or the cat), all for one low price (it lists for $56, but can be found online for around $40 from a number of sellers).

The amPlug comes in a series of models, including Acoustic, Classic Rock, Metal … even a Joe Satriani model, and a Bass version, providing different sounds for whatever style you want to play in (prices vary for the different models, but most range from $40 to $50 at retail). If you’d rather play without the headphones, VOX also has a mini amPlug Cabinet (lists for $50, sells for around $30) with a 3-inch speaker and .7 watts of output.

Did I mention that the amPlug is cool-looking? Modeled after the look of a VOX amp, it’s a little plug-in with style.

This isn’t the first product of its type. The Rockman line of headphone amps have been around for a long time, but they don’t have a direct guitar plug-in (you have to connect your guitar with an external cable) and they cost about twice as much. Other companies also have their own comparable products. But I haven’t encountered a line that offers such an irresistible combination of features, compact size and ease of use at such an affordable price point. This is a winner.

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