Behringer's rack-friendly versions of their V-Amp 2 and Bass V-Amp add extra connection flexibility and rugged 2U hardware.
Back in my SOS June 2002 review I found Behringer's V-Amp 2 to combine value, very respectable sound quality, and a super user interface. Now Behringer have released a rackmount version of this unit, the V-Amp Pro, with expanded I/O options. Like the basic V-Amp, it utilises rotary encoders surrounded by LEDs, rather than regular pots, and the system of identifying patches by number rather than by name has been retained. Created for both live and recording applications, the V-Amp series combines guitar amp modelling, speaker modelling and effects, enabling a fully produced DI'd guitar sound to be achieved on stage or in the studio. There's also a guitar tuner built in.
The 2U mains-powered unit features identical controls to the V-Amp 2, but set out in a linear fashion and with the addition of a Line In button to allow line-level signals to be reprocessed via the Pre DSP Insert line input jack on the rear panel. As the photograph shows, there's a rotary control with 16 positions which, in conjunction with a shift function, accesses all 32 amp models covering all the usual US and UK amp suspects, as well as some models cooked up by Behringer themselves. A similar rotary switch to the right of the display selects from 16 effects types, some of which are combinations.
The V-Amp Pro provides exactly the same amp, speaker and effect facilities as the V-Amp 2, where patches may be stored in 125 preset locations (arranged as 25 banks of five) which come filled with factory settings that can be changed or replaced if required. There's also free downloadable editing software, though, to be perfectly honest, setting up sounds from scratch is so quick and easy that I don't think many people will bother to use it.
A Gain control sets the amount of overdrive for those models designed to distort at high levels, and there are also separate knobs for adjusting the reverb (which is always available) and effects levels. A further Volume control sets the output level, so it's possible to balance the relative levels of the amp models when saving patches, while the Master volume control regulates the overall output level. Five dual-function buttons above the display select patches A through E in the current bank, as well as providing access to the digital output, configuration, and MIDI parameters. A full MIDI chart at the back of the manual reveals that MIDI can be used to adjust most of the parameters in real time.
Other functions available with the patch buttons in their shifted mode are the Drive, Cabinet, Reverb and Noise Gate settings, the latter of which can be saved with each patch. Buttons below the display step through the banks, access the tuner and operate the tap-tempo function. Holding both Bank keys together puts the unit into editing mode, after which one of the buttons above the display may be used to select a candidate for editing. The parameter values show up in the display during editing. Saving is simply a matter of holding down the preset button for two seconds or more, and you can save any edit into any memory location.
The rear panel is surprisingly busy, as only the input jack and phones output jack are on the front panel. The analogue section comprises pre-DSP (mono) and post-DSP (stereo) insert points, as well as analogue line-level outputs on both unbalanced jacks and balanced XLRs, with switchable ground lift. The jacks and XLRs usually carry the same signals, although there is a lot of flexibility here, of which more in a moment. There are coaxial S/PDIF and AES-EBU outputs and there's also an external word-clock input that can lock to any source between 32kHz and 96kHz. Note, however, that the internal processing always runs at 31.25kHz, so the audio bandwidth is around 15kHz regardless of the word-clock rate. MIDI In and Out/Thru sockets are fitted along with an IEC mains socket.
As with the V-Amp 2, the Tap button normally used for entering delay and modulation times has been given a second function as a shift button for accessing extra parameters, such as the Presence control (operated by the Treble knob) and the alternative amp models. Each amp model includes a Bass, Middle, Treble, Presence equaliser section that conforms to or expands upon what was available on the original amplifier, but there's also a three-band overall EQ, plus five distinct operating modes to accommodate just about any stage or studio setup. The preamp may also be bypassed for those occasions when you might want to use the effects on their own.
Before moving on, it's worth explaining the five different possible output modes, as some thought has obviously been put into these. The first, Studio 1, sets up a stereo output complete with any stereo effects and speaker simulation. By contrast, Studio 2 applies the effects only to the right output; the left output carries only the modelled amp sound with any dynamic processing, which is ideal for recording without effects while monitoring with them. The Studio 3 mode sees the left output with amp modelling, but without speaker emulation or effects (for feeding into a guitar power amp and speaker), while the right output has all effects and speaker emulation on. This mode can be useful for recording where you may want to change the speaker simulation characteristics later.
The Live 1 mode is similar to Studio 1, but with the global three-band EQ active and cabinet simulation on, while Live 2 is rather more complex, as it feeds different signals to the jack and XLR outs. Here all outputs other than XLRs have the three-band EQ, but with no speaker simulation, while the XLR outs are the same, but with Behringer's 'Ultra-G' analogue cabinet simulation added, a feature not available on the basic V-Amp 2.
The rackmount Pro version of the Bass V-Amp (reviewed back in SOS October 2003) features all the same facilities: stomp box modelling, amp/speaker modelling, compression, and effects. The metallic grey 2U unit shares all the operational improvements of the V-Amp Pro, including all the same rear-panel hardware.
The main benefits of going to the rackmount format for most users will probably be these extra I/O capabilities, including digital connections, word clock, and internal power supply. However, the rackmount unit's sturdier metal construction will also appeal to those who find Behringer's plastic 'kidney beans' a little on the flimsy side. Again, the output modes of the Bass V-Amp Pro have been extended, and cater for most normal live and studio uses, including bi-amping. Mike Senior
The V-Amp Pro's 32 amp models may be used in conjunction with any one of 15 cabinet models (or no cabinet model at all), before being fed into the effects section. Reverb is always available, and offers a choice of nine reverb types, while the main effects or effect combinations are selected using the rotary Effects switch. The current bank is normally shown in the oval display window, along with the sample rate, digital sync status, and signal and clip LEDs. A further '17-32' indicator shows when the shifted amp settings are being selected.
I was impressed by the sound of the original V-Amp and its version 2 upgrade, but it's probably fair to say that things have moved on a little since then, and the Line 6 Pod XT holds the current 'amp modelling realism' crown. Nevertheless, the V-Amp Pro's sounds are strong, very playable, and even the clean and slightly dirty sounds are very plausible. The amp models interpret playing dynamics reasonably well, so you can get a lot of tonal change by winding down the guitar's volume control or playing less aggressively, and there's a good impression of low-end power, even at fairly low volumes.
The additional I/O features and output modes make serious recording or stage use easier, and having balanced connections is always a good idea for recording anyway. I don't think the basic sound is significantly different from the V-Amp 2 other than perhaps having a little more sparkle and definition, but the rackmount format, digital outputs and enhanced analogue I/O are well worth having.
In many applications, the V-Amp 2 works just fine, but where a digital output is needed, or where a choice of output connectors and insert points is required, the V-Amp Pro is an obvious choice, yet despite its more comprehensive format, it is still surprisingly inexpensive. I don't think it's the most authentic-sounding amp modeller out there, but it's definitely one of the best-value options, it makes you want to play, and the sounds you can coax from it with a little editing are seriously good.
The clean sounds are probably better than from the original Line 6 Pod, but some way behind the Pod XT. However, when it comes to dirtier sounds, the judgement becomes much more subjective. I like the way the V-Amp Pro cuts through a mix without sounding gritty, and the effects are solid and dependable, though not having compression available all the time might be considered a limitation by some. Then again, any small criticisms have to be set against the very attractive UK price of the V-Amp Pro, so if you need an easy, cost-effective way to record lots of different guitar styles with a better-than-average degree of feel and tonal authenticity, you need look no further.