Over the last few years, manufacturers have been releasing a good number of low-wattage tube amps that have been made to recreate the tone and warmth of full sized gear at lower volumes. This means you no longer have to have a heavily sound-proofed room in order to enjoy true, tube overdrive and tone. But just like their beefier brother, not all low-wattage tube amps are created equal. Today, we’re taking a closer look at one such amp – the VHT Special 6 Ultra. Does this 6-watt tiny-terror deliver on the goods of true tube tone or does it miss the mark? We take a closer look.
A beefed up version of the VHT Special 6 combo, this Ultra model is made with high gain tone in mind. It also comes packed with plenty of features, including two gain channels (Clean and Ultra); a variable watts control that lets you dial in your desired power anywhere from half a watt to six watts; an overdrive gain control; a three-position Texture switch; an all-tube buffered Effects Loop and a mod-friendly Eyelet-type circuit board for players that have the know how to tinker with the insides. It's nice to know VHT has taken the amp modding community into consideration.
Other features include an 11-position depth control knob, line-out jack, and a footswitch compatible boost mode. And finally, a single 6V6 output tube, two 12AX7 preamp tubes and a 12” VHT ChromeBack speaker round out the package. The build is also solid, featuring quality construction to go with its sleek yet subdued looks. Not bad at all for less than $400.
By far, the biggest selling point of the Special 6 Ultra is its variable wattage control. With the amp on its lower settings, you can easily crank out full on tube tone at a volume level that is perfectly suitable for solo use in your room or garage. At full blast, the Special 6 Ultra is loud, very loud in fact, loud enough where it would be able to keep up with a full band at smaller venues (and more than good enough for practice). Personally, I found 2 or 3 watts position to be the sweet spot, enough power that I’m completely engrossed in the sound but not loud enough that I’m shaking windows.
While the Special 6 doesn’t feature the same amount of EQ controls as your typical full blown tube amp, there is plenty of versatility and control to be had inside the box. Instead of the usual Bass, Mid, and Treble controls, the amp features a Tone , Volume, and Depth controls, the latter of which fine-tunes the low-frequency range. It might not seem like much, but there's enough there to carve out plenty of legendary rock tones, especially if you’re a fan of classic Fender amps thanks to the included 6V6 tube (although it can also accept other types of output tubes in case you’re looking for something different).
A few minutes of messing around with the Depth control will easily give you a feel of what it can do to your tone. On the clean channel, setting the Depth control to its maximum gives a full, piano-like chime that pairs great with jazz guitar, offering plenty of note to note articulation and superb clarity. At its lowest point, it noticeably cuts the bass while emphasizing the midrange and giving a nice punch to the treble.
On the Ultra channel, you also get the added use of the Ultra knob, made to push the amp even further. Sending the amp into a slight breakup yields a smooth and sweet overtone that, while a little dark, works perfectly for classic rock rhythms. Pushing the amp even further can give you anything from modern garage rock distortion, '70s rock leads to full on heavy metal grit. While there was some loss of tonal character at full gain, which would naturally disappoint metal players in particular, pairing the amp with a distortion pedal alleviated the problem.
The amp isn’t perfect, though. The fact that you have to plug directly into either the Clean or Ultra channel with no option to quickly choose between them (other than manually swapping out your cable) is a bit of a letdown, but not a deal breaker. It's also a kind of ironic that the amp has some slight hiccups at full gain settings considering this is an amp with high gain in mind. Still, using a pedal can easily fix both of these problems.
While there’s no substitution for jamming out on a 100-watt beast, doing so in your room or garage will probably lead to a visit from the police (not to mention plenty of angry neighbors). But with the VHT Special 6 Ultra, you get a tonally rich, highly versatile, low wattage amp that delivers on the promise of real tube sound at levels perfect for solo use. Add in the tough as nails construction plus the solid price point, and you have an amp that I would happily recommend. While it's not perfect, the VHT Special 6 Ultra proves that you don’t have to settle for solid-state tone just because you need to keep the volume down!
If you have any questions regarding the purchase of this amp or any other piece of gear, don't hesitate to chat with one of our friendly PAL pros by using the chat feature below or by calling us toll-free at 1 877-671-2200!
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