Vox’s Cambridge 50: Amidst Fierce Competition, This Amp Holds Its Own
As mentioned previously in my review of Strymon’s Iridium amp modeler, we are living in a golden age of amp modeling, where digital recreations of classic analog circuits sound more realistic than ever – and in some cases, to some ears, are indistinguishable from each other. What was not mentioned in the review of the Iridium is that we are also living in a great age of affordability of quality gear. While the Iridium, and the rest of Strymon’s line, could be classified as “aspirational” due to the cost of the devices, it cannot be denied that some other brands are bringing good modeling to more affordable units. Enter, Vox’s Cambridge 50 1x12” combo amp.
If the name “Cambridge” used in a Vox context sounds familiar to you, it should. The name has actually been used for various models throughout Vox’s history – usually in budget-friendly packages. So it is fitting, then, that Vox should resurrect the model name for an amp that occupies a competitive spot on any major manufacturers’ product line: the $250-$400 modeling amp. The Cambridge 50 is a clear competitor of Fender’s popular Mustang GTX 50, which priced at $379, boasts several amp models and effects, as well as USB compatibility for editing parameters beyond those that can be edited physically with the amp knobs itself, just like with the Cambridge 50.
Getting acquainted with the Vox Cambridge 50 is a familiar and user-friendly process. If you’ve ever used a Vox Valvetronix amp, you’ll feel right at home with the layout. The amp models, 10 in total plus a line-in feature, have a dedicated rotary switch, while the eight on-board effects are spread across two other knobs. Treble and bass are adjustable, as well as gain and volume, and a very handy power level sweep, which allows you to dial in clean or overdrive tones at bedroom or gig volumes.
So let’s talk about the amp models. Vox has chosen the selection of models very wisely, giving you virtually every major platform to find your sound, whether that be Fender-style clean, Dumble-style overdrive, Marshall-style, Mesa-style, and, of course, both classic Vox AC30 voicings, normal and treble boost. This amp also utilizes the same Nutube technology as the MV50 series, so you are able to achieve authentic tube breakup without traditional, fragile vacuum tubes. While I found all of the amp models to be usable, some certainly did stick out to me:
- Deluxe Clean – For the past several years, I’ve been mainly in Class A, EL84-tube driven amps, such as the most obvious of all, the Vox AC30. So when I think “Deluxe Clean,” I can’t help but hold back a slight yawn. It’s not that I find Fender cleans to be boring – I’ve owned and loved Fender amps before, it’s more just that I sometimes find these tones to be predictable and milquetoast. With that being said, I was delighted by the Deluxe Clean mode on the Cambridge 50. Sure, it is rooted in classic Fender clean DNA, but it has an airiness to it that really opens up at higher volumes that I found delightful and addictive. Plan on running a bunch of pedals in front of the Cambridge 50? Go with this amp model and you won’t be disappointed.
- Boutique Clean – Although Vox doesn’t come right out and say it, this channel is based on a Dumble-style amplifier. For those unfamiliar, Dumble amps are made in extremely low quantities of two or three per year, and sells for upwards of six figures on the used market. These amps are generally only owned by celebrity musicians or extraordinarily wealthy non-musician collectors. So while I cannot say I’ve ever tried a Dumble, I can say that this channel is as fun as a barrel of monkeys to play through. Imagine a Fender crossed with a Vox, and you’re in the ballpark of what this amp model is capable of. It’s super clean like a Fender, but has a certain top-end sparkle not unlike the kind found on Vox amps. If you’re looking for something a little different, go with this one.
- Vox AC30TB – What’s the only thing better than an AC30? An AC30 with more treble, of course. When I was auditioning the Cambridge 50, there happened to be a Vox AC10 tube amp right next to it, and A/B-ing the two was going to be a true test of how finely-tuned the model on this amp was. Thankfully, the two revealed minimal differences. The model on the Cambridge 50 is a very tasteful recreation of the classic Vox sound.
- Brit 800 – When trying this model out, I did what any dutiful guitar player would do: lowered the master volume and cranked the gain, and man, this model gave up the goods in spades. What surprised me most was how nicely it cleaned up, however. No compromises on this model, it sounds great both squeaky clean and driven hard.
So after covering all the amps, I moved onto the effects. On-board effects encompass chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, delay, tape echo, spring reverb, and hall reverb. These effects will likely appeal most to the beginner guitarist who may not have a pedal collection to run into the front of the Cambridge 50. That being said, they’re all usable, and I found the “Twin Trem” in particular to be a very gorgeous-sounding tremolo.
There’s so much good to report about the Cambridge 50, but there is an improvement that I wish Vox would have implemented; that, being a closed-back cabinet construction. The models of the amps are, by their nature, pretty bright, and a closed back would have done wonders to push some of the low-end thump back at you. Thankfully, this problem is easily remedied by utilizing the bass and treble control knobs, which have very generous sweeps. You’ll likely want to turn the bass knob to at least 65% to get a desirable low-end response from the amp.
All-in-all, this is a lot of amp for $299, especially when you consider the Celestion speaker that is included as standard. The most obvious question for someone considering this amp is, “who is this for?” I had the same question before I auditioned it. This is certainly a viable gigging amp for clubs or bars if you’re keeping the power level at the full 50 watts, and yes, it will keep up with your drummer. This could also be a very nice upgrade for a beginner guitarist who is getting a little more serious about their craft and wants a larger tonal palette to play around with. For me personally, I can very easily see this going into my computer room, where I spend a lot of time, but do not have any guitar gear. Thanks to its small footprint and no-compromising tones, this will satisfy as a versatile secondary house rig.