Purchased from: Guitar Center
Features — 10
I was on a quest to get a really great and versatile tube amp since June 2013. From then until this review, May 2014, I have bought, returned, and 14 amps. That's not including the dozens of amps I have played in lots of music stores in the Chicago area. At times I had 3 new amps so I could test them side by side at home. I have kept only 1. The one I am keeping is the Egnater Vengeance. This is the story part of the review. The actual review is below in the "sound" section.
I started my quest looking for a combo either a 1x12 or 2x12. Once I bought the Vengeance I still got some more combo's, but also bought some heads to try out as well. Even after getting the Vengeance I still wanted to try out some other amps I had been wanting, and I wanted to directly compare them to the Vengeance. Before my foray into new amp land I was using 2 amps. A B52 AT100 half stack, full tube amp. And, my 1x12 TubeWorks RT2100 MosValve hybrid, dual tube pre-amp w/100 watt SS power. I have had my MosValve new since the early 1990's and I'm keeping it just because it's become VERY rare and interestingly the resale prices have gone way up. But that's a different story.
Since buying my Vengeance I also discovered that Bruce Egnater also designed the B-52 AT100 amp that I had. I liked that amp a lot. I bought a half stack new in 2005 and had it up until a few months back when I sold the head. The amp that I wanted had to have a great clean tone and a very good high gain channel. That's a tall order as most amps accel at one or the other.
Here is the list of the amps I have bought and tried over nearly the past year.
- B-52 ST100 2x12 combo
- Line6 Spider Valve 1x12 combo
- Egnater Rebel 30 1x12 combo - beautiful cleans, not very high gain
- Black Star HT-40 1x12 combo
- Bogner Alchemist 1x12 combo
- Genz Benz Diablo 60 1x12 combo
- Peavey XXX 60 watt 1x12 combo - rare model as most are 40 watt
- Peavey JSX 2x12 combo
- PRS SE-30 1x12 combo
- Bugera 6262 120 watt head
- Bugera Tri Rec 100 watt head
- Randall Diavolo RD45 45 watt head
- Laney Iron Heart IRT60H watt head - GREAT amp!
- Egnater Vengeance 120 watt head - THE best of these!
Build quality on this amp is fantastic, very very solid. It has a built in cooling fan at the back of the chassis to keep things nice and cool to help extend tube life. Access to all the tubes is very easy. Remove the metal back panel and they are all there with easy access to all of them. There are 4 6L6 power tubes, and 6 12ax7 pre tubes including a very nice pair of Tung Sol 12ax7s. These are some of the best pre tubes available. The rest of the tubes are ok, mostly Chinese no name. I have replaced all tubes except for the Tung Sol's. Not that the Chinese tubes are bad sounding, but because I have my own preference for pre and power tubes.
One of the best and greatest features on this amp are the way in which the power tube section is designed. Full power is 120 watts using all 4 tubes. You can play in half power 60 watt mode with a simple flick of the front toggle. Many amps have a half power feature so that's not very unique. What is unique is that Egnater's design let's you use DIFFERENT power tube pair's as long as they are the "octal" variety, which is a lot of tube types. You can use a pair of 6L6's along with EL34's, or EL34's along with KT66's, or 5881's and 6550's, or KT88's, lots of options.
On top of that great feature there are external bias test points for each power tube pair along with bias adjust for each pair. That's why you can run different tube types with no worries. This gives you the ability to mix the different tones of different tubes, or get the tone of only 1 tube pair if you run those tubes in the outer tube position for the 60 watt mode. To mix in the other pair switch it to 120 watt mode. The external bias test/adjust will SAVE you money, because if/when you change power tubes you don't have to pay a tech to adjust your bias. Plus, you can experiment with different bias settings for each pair and check out how the amps tone and feel changes when you try lower or higher bias settings from the recommended factory settings.
Another outstanding feature is the mid range tone options. Each channel has 3 settings for different mid tonal range, with cut, normal, and boost. VERY useful and very effective for getting plenty of different tones, and the mid control is activated or cut using the foot switch. Each channel also has it's own "tight" +/- setting, which gives more tonal options and slightly alters the feel of the amp. Each channel has 2 levels of gain, normal and high. You can get very pristine chimey and harmonic cleans all the way to gritty blues and moderate rock distortion on the clean channel. On the high gain channel you start where the clean left off and easily go to modern ultra high gain. And, each channel has it's own "bright" boost option.
There is a global "presence" control, and a "density" control which does for the low end what presence does for the highs. Great feature to put in some rich thickness and useful for single coil guitars to fatten up their tone. The foot switch, it's one solid, beefy, and very useful beast. It's over a foot long and clearly marked with each function having it's own LED light to let you know when it's active. You can see the layout on Egnater's website. VERY useful foot switch. Another cool feature is the addition of a SECOND Master volume, so you can set the 2nd Master higher and use it for a volume boost when you want and need it, like for solo's.
The last feature I have to mention is a hidden one. It's shown in the tube layout chart, but it doesn't tell you what it does. And, it can only be accessed by removing the back panel as you would for tube changes. Looking at the amp from the back, there is a metal toggle right in front of the right hand transformer. It has 2 positions up and down. Up is ODS and down is ODV. This toggle is only in effect on the high gain channel. What does it do? In the ODS position the V1 tube is replaced by an analog distortion circuit. It is NOT a diode clipping over-drive/distortion type circuit. It is an honest to goodness actual analog circuit the type used in high end high gain distortion pedals like the Wampler Triple Wreck or Bogner Ecstasy Red pedal. The ODV position is full valve/tube distortion putting the V1 tube back into the circuit. If your V1 tube fries out on you you can flip to the ODS position and the amp will work just fine. Or, use the analog distortion if you like that tone.
Interestingly, the default factory setting is ODS! I find that VERY odd considering this is a full on tube high gain amp. It should be set default in the ODV position so that you get the full tube generated sounds. Then, have the ODS option for players to try it out. I think that most, if not all, people who have tried this amp and didn't like it may have been put off by the high gain tone especially if they prefer tube based distortion/high. Don't get me wrong, the ODS sounds great, but I really prefer the ODV setting. To my ears it is harmonically richer and the amp sings better using the V1 pre tube compared to the ODS circuit. Egnater needs to rethink this, and move the switch to the outside of the back panel so that it's easily accessible and easy to switch without having to remove the back panel.
Final feature is the digital reverb, which is a very nice sounding reverb. Great reverb sound, but, it's implemented by being tied to the channel gain so when you set your reverb to the level you like it you expect it to remain at that level no matter where you set your gain and/or volume. However, that's not the case. If you turn your gain up or volume the reverb gets much louder and then you have to reset the reverb level. Too complicated for something like a simple reverb. This doesn't happen on analog spring reverbs or even reverb pedals. You set the reverb level you like and it's level stays consistent no matter where you set the gain or volume. Egnater needs to re-look at that too.
Sound — 10
Now to the tone and feel of the Vengeance. The best way to know what the feel and tone are is to go play this amp. It's not easy to "hear" an amp by reading words, but I'll give it a shot. Given that this amp is named "Vengeance" you expect the high gain to be very high, and it is that. It'll go from a classic rock crunch to full on drop tuning Metal and all in between. This amp accels in it's ability to give a rich and harmonic saturated distortion along with excellent clarity and articulation. It even holds this integrity when the gain is turned all the way to "11." Just understand that as you approach maximum gain you lose a bit of clarity and that's common to all high gain amps. That's why you eventually learn that better note clarity and better distorted tone is achieved without having to dime the gain. There is so much great high gain tone and feel that you really don't need to dime/maximize the gain. It's plenty brutal even at 6 or 7 of 10.
The GEM in the amp, the clean channel. WOW! This is why I wanted to try a high gain Egnater. I feel in love with Egnater's clean tone when I had the Rebel 30, which is not a high gain amp at all. But it's clean tone is so smooth, warm, and 3 dimensional that I wanted to have that in an amp that also has extremely high gain. This amp delivers what I wanted. It has the same singing clean tones of the lower gain Egnater amps even though it's also a VERY high gain amp. This is why this amp is a rarity among high gain amps. The very large majority of high gain amps suffer by not having a great clean channel. Sure, they have a clean channel and it may even be "usable." But they don't have a clean channel that even a clean amp lover would love. This amp does, period.
It's such a good clean channel that it rivals a Fender. It's not as bright as a Fender clean, but that's what I really like about Egnater. The clean tones have their own character, and they are warm and round and FULL sounding. Is it a better clean tone than a Fender? That's the wrong question. If you want a Fender type clean tone, then you get a Fender amp. If you want an Egnater type clean tone, then the Vengeance easily gives that to you. Either amp has it's own character. You just have to decide which one you like. The clean tones are not more or less, they are unique, and for me I really like having a great clean tone that's not as common as a Fender. I will one day get a Fender as I really like Fender's clean tone as well. It's just a different flavor, and like ice cream I don't always get vanilla or chocolate or peach, I like to try different flavors and enjoy them for what they are.
The "fee" of the amp is great. I'll give it to Fender and to some other high gain amps, like the Laney Iron Heart I had, they have a "quicker" feel, but the Vengeance is no slouch. The only way to know if this amp is for you, you have to simply go and play one. I like a quicker more "wet" feel and I got that with the Vengeance by adding a boost pedal at the front end. I use a Fultone FullDrive II boost/distortion pedal set mainly as a boost and it's given the feel a nice spongy feel and I really like that.
Given that the clean channel is so great I wanted to see what a really good distortion pedal would sound like so I bought a Wampler Triple Wreck pedal and a Bogner Ecstasy Red peda. AMAZING pedals running into the harmonically rich clean channel. I got both pedals and was going to pick one and return the other. But, each pedal has it's own voice so I'm keeping both. I now have a LOT of different crunch and distortion tones to keep my happy for a long time and I regularly switch between the pedals and the amps own high gain, and it's fantastic as they all sound great with my different guitars. The amp alone has plenty of distortion tones. The pedals are just more flavors to enjoy along with the amp.
I play anywhere from crystal clean funky to drop tuned saturated distortion goodness and this amp reproduces all of it without breaking a sweat. And, if you're looking for an amp that will give you an awesome high gain tone even at lower apartment volume levels, then you need to check this amp out. By having adjustments for channel gain, channel volume, and then a Master volume you can get awesome high gain tones even at normal conversation volume levels. V is for versatile and V is for Vengeance. Egnater marketing can use that, but I want some cash up front for it.
Reliability & Durability — 10
I've only had my Vengeance for about 7 months so I can't speak to it's long term reliability. But I can tell you that I have not had even a single issue with it. I don't expect to have any either seeing how this amp is constructed, it's VERY solid. The transformers are huge and that's important for great tone and for reliability. The built in cooling fan definitely adds to prospects of longer tube life so that ups the reliability right there.
Egnater has had some issues with power transformers in a couple of their other amps, but I haven't heard of those issues with the Vengeance or it's brother the Armageddon. The Armageddon has a couple of added features, but it's base structure and design is shared with the Vengeance. I've also read player experiences saying that the Armageddon does not have any more gain than the Vengeance, just a few more features that some may want. All the switches and controls feels very solid and very smooth in operation. No sloppy or loose feeling knobs on this beast. The large toggles click solidly into position and the micro toggles have a very solid engagement as well. This is a very solid amp.
At $1100 MSRP it's not low cost or cheap, but it's tone, features, and construction match amps that cost double if not more. I got a great deal on my amp. It was a new demo so I didn't pay retail. Plus, being that it was a demo and is as solid as it is today, it's a testament to it's durability and reliability. If this amp were made in the USA it would easily cost double if not more. It stands right up to other amps that do what this amp does, and most of those don't have some of the very cool features as the Vengeance especially the external bias test/adjust and the ability to run different power tube pairs. That's a rare feature even on $3000 amps.
Overall Impression — 10
Overall, I think I've written too much already. Not much left to say. Overall impression is that it's a fantastic amp with unique features not found in other amps in it's price range nor in double to triple it's price. Tonally it easily stands right next to other fantastic amps, and does it by giving it's own voice and personality and not trying to be something else, but easily being better than most other choices.
If I go for another high gain amp in the future I'd like to try an Engl. I played a couple of those and they too have their own unique voice, and I like it. My Vengeance is staying right here for the foreseeable future. I also thought I would like the EVH 5150 III 50 watt amp. I had played it at Sweetwater music in South Bend, Indiana and it was a great sounding and slick feeling amp. It's high gain channel has more gain than the Vengeance and more gain than any other amp I've played, and I've played a LOT of them. But, you can't use all of the gain that amp has. It's high gain is really over kill. Most players I know that have that amp barely go above the mid point on the gain setting. Plus, the clean channel is not great, not even close to as good as the Vengeance. It's best tones are from classic rock gain all the way to 2 step down tuning guttural crunch.
I got a chance to play one in a closed room at a Guitar Center in Chicago. I wanted to hear and feel what that amp would do at high volume. It was great at low to moderate volume, but, once I cranked it up to ear ringing volume it feel apart. The tone went flat and feel became like stone. It was very very surprising. I suspect there must be something wrong with it, or the bias was set too high. It felt starved for power at high volume. I quickly decided the EVH 5150 III is not for me. It's price is about the same as the Vengeance. 5150 III is about $1000, and it has less features, and no reverb, if you care for such things.
If you really want to know what the Vengeance sounds and feels like, again, the ONLY way to find that out is to actually play one. Too bad Guitar Center no longer sells Egnater, but I think they still may have a few Vengeance heads available. With their 30 day local store return, you could get the Vengeance and try it out at home. If you don't like it just return it to you local GC store. Forgot to mention, the amp has a 3 year warranty on everything except the tubes, which are covered for 90 days. That's pretty common for tubes cause tubes are not made by amp manufacturer's so they aren't going to cover problems caused by another manufacturer's defects.
I got the 5 year Guitar Center full coverage warrant that includes accidental damage. Great warranty. It even covers all the shipping to and from if it has to be shipped to get repaired. On heavy full sized head the shipping to and from can easily cost around $100 and over, and as with all amp makers, they don't pay shipping and they certainly won't fix it under warranty if your amp gets dropped or your drummer spills beer all over it. My GC warranty covers all that too. Something to consider. GC, you owe me for promoting your warranties. You can send a check. My info is in your customer data base.