Price paid: A$ 695
Purchased from: Smithys PA Stage & Lighting, Sydney, Australia
Sound — 10
This amp can go from mild and bluesy to "liquid HOT magma", "fuel-rods-gone-critical" style seething fuzz depending on your choice of guitar, pickup and the amp settings. I've never used an amp that responded more to guitar choice than this. First, however, set aside the idea that it will sound exactly like an '800 or vaguely like a Recto or some other modern amp. Laney tones are have a characteristic looser, chocolate-y feel in the bass. You can tighten it up but in many ways that would be defeating the purpose. In the Low Input there are some nice clean to blues tones to be had and good single coil pickups sound nice here. In the High Input you need to be a little conservative if you're using a Strat or Tele otherwise they can sound really harsh. Conversely a Les Paul or SG with good Alnico pickups like a Duncan SH-4 JB or the Gibson 498T can absolutely scream. Using my SG Standard without the AOR boost you're looking at classic AC/DC rhythm and lead tones. With the boost it will kick out Guns'N'Roses and Motley Crue tones all day and all night... And most of the following morning too. The bass boost is scary... More low end wallop than a fat cop trying to bust through a locked donut shop door. And with the Alnico pickups it stays pretty tight in the bass too. Go to a ceramic magnet, like the Rockfield Mafia in my B.C. Rich Mockingbird Exotic Classic and the amp goes nuclear. The non-boost sound has smokey heavy overdrive verging on metal with whispers of loose bass. Kick on the AOR and you're into full Sleep, Fu Manchu and Nebula territory. Down tune with either guitar and you're up for sonic mayhem. It also responds brilliantly to the mid-focused snarl of soapbars. Both the P100 in my Melody Maker copy and the original '50s P90s in my '56 ES-225 sound stellar. The woody sound of the 225's hollow body is actually really nice too, even at super high gain. The big thing with this amp is noise. Buy a Boss NF-1 Noise Gate or NS-2 Noise Suppressor and run it in the Line Out/Line In. It'll take the +8dBv level and tame it. BTW, this will murder a 50w Marshall. It's fricken loud.
Overall Impression — 10
This amp is astounding value and after using it I'm really picky. I play all sorts of music... Covers music from the '50s all the way to recent rock, worship music at church, doom metal and stoner rock. It does the lot and straddles the middle ground. Listen to The Sword's first 2 albums to hear how good these amps sound. The only new amp I like enough to perhaps sink money into would be a MI Amplification Iron Duke. But with the money it would cost I could buy 2 AORs. The big thing with this amp is the +8dBv Line business. I can even handle the noise, but I'm currently having a techie friend make me a device for dropping the signal out so I can run it to FX pedals and then boost it back up to run it back in. There are other products out there designed to overcome the issue too but it's a pain that it has to be sorted when Laney already had it right. If this amp was stolen I'd probably look about for a 100w model but aside of that it's my go to. I'm currently looking for a way to get a second head so I can run them in stereo and mess around running 1 amp's preamp clean, the other dirty and switching in between them with the power amps slaved. I really do hate when people call them "a poor man's Marshall". Like I'd ever want a Marshall when I'd have to get it fully service and tweaked to make it sound the way this does stock! If it doesn't sound right it's either your guitar or it's you.
Reliability & Durability — 10
I've never had this break down. That said I've owned it about 18 months. But I've also owned an AOR30 combo for about 20 years and it never broke down. Some parts died and needed replacing but I was never stranded. Regular servicing and proper care will have these running for years. Oh, and judicious experimentation with tubes also gets the best from them.
Features — 9
This is a single channel amp with a switchable gain boost (AOR) and it's an '88 model. It runs 4 preamp valves... Either 4x 12ax7s, or 3 12ax7s and a 12at7 in the Phase invertor... And 2 EL34 power valves. It's a British design and it's basically a super modded plexi in the same theme as JCM800s. Many confuse it as being a JCM800 clone... It isn't. Both came out around the same time and were the product of development towards hotter amps. The difference is Laney went the next mile, added an additional preamp valve and achieved in their production model what alot of people had to get the JCM800s modded to do. And JCM800s still aren't as flexible tonally. There's been some discussion that the AORs were an adaptation of a Lee Jackson design but there's no specific proof. There isn't any getting around the fact it's a similar amp to a JCM800, but then the Laney Supergroup and Klipp amps, the predecessors of the AOR, are very similar to early Marshalls... Which in turn were modded clones of early Fender Bassman circuits. Enough about that. The AOR amps have 2 specific features that set them aside, and arguably ahead, of most other high gain amps from the 80s. Firstly, they have 4 stages of gain... Plug into the High Input and you have 3 stages immediately with a 4th switched in with the AOR boost. If you plug into the Low Input it cuts out an entire valve and drops it to 2 stages of gain. It also disables the High Input completely. So either you get the high gain options of the High Input or you get the cleaner sounds of the Low Input. The other specific features are the EQ boosts. The AOR amps have a pull boost on the Treble, Middle and Bass. They're not like bright controls. They actually have a dB boost in each EQ range and the effect of these boosts is very dynamic, especially the bass. The preamp controls are confusing at first. Preamp 1 Volume controls the gain... But so does Preamp 2 Volume. If you plug into the low input Preamp 1 Volume is disabled entirely since the 2 stages of gain are cut out. Generally Preamp 1 Volume has a more trebly and harsh gain and Preamp 2 Volume has a darker, low mid gain. You mix them together for a desired result. Preamp 1 Level only works when the AOR boost is engaged. It works as a second Master. With lower gain setting it helps to balance out the non-AOR and AOR levels. With the gain close to flat out it the non-AOR sound is as loud as the AOR boost so it's not much of a help. Paradoxically, it still works when plugged into the Low Input... Even though the Preamp 1 Volume doesn't... Weird, right? In this situation you can switch the AOR in with it set as rhythm volume and then switch it off for solos or sections where you need to be heard. On the back panel is a socket for a AOR boost single footswitch, a +8dBv Line Out/Line In (presumably for slaving amps together), 2 speaker outs with a rotary impedance switch that has 4Ω, 8Ω and 16Ω settings, and an international voltage selector rotary switch with everything from 110v to 240v, very handy for people who would drag their amps to tour overseas. So there are stacks of features. The downsides... Firstly, the fact you can't A/B between High and Low inputs means it's hard to get definable clean & dirty switching. There are ways using different pedals and your guitar volume, but it's a pity Laney didn't find a way to make this possible. Secondly, and most frustratingly, the +8dBv Line Out/Line In is so close but so far away from being a proper FX loop. NO effects enjoy the super HOT signal it punches out although some analog pedals will cope with it. Digital fx however just have their input stage overdriven and most pedals attentuate the signal in some way because they are being overpowered. During the same period Laney was producing their AOR30 combo with a -6dB buffered FX loop and a -12db DI out. Why didn't Laney put the same thing in the 50w and 100w heads and combos? In reality, while you can turn the volume right down in your bedroom this isn't a happy camper. It sounds best pushing a quad box with the Master above 4 and you won't make many friends doing that in your bedroom. There are really only a couple of things it won't do. Primarily it won't do scooped modern metal. Those seeking Meshuggah and black metal buzz saw sounds need not apply. Go to the modern valve or solid state section of the store. The other is super loud cleans. It has nice clean sounds and the 100w model is probably better but headroom is limited. I would've given this a 10 but the +8dbv thing is beyond silly. Laney deserves a smacked bottom for getting it right on the 30w and not making the effort with the higher wattage models.