Sound — 8
Without even creating our own sounds, just listening to the preset tones impressed us immediately. Someone who needs time to learn how to structure their own tone and gear, or for someone who just wants to be lazy and plug-n-play, there are lots of options both for home and live use here. Very convincing British tones, both clean and distortion, are what this amp specializes in. We listened through headphones and through a P.A. System, and the rock tones sounded like we had a room full of our favorite half-stacks, while the clean tones reminded us of our favorite Vintage combos. Some of the higher-gain amps and distortion pedal models have a fizzy quality to them, which couldn't be dialed out, but these weren't very noticeable until compared next to actual tube amps. On its own, the Tonelab EX sounded fantastic as an amp modeler. Further, we tried using the Tonelab EX for effects in the FX loop of a Marshall JVM410C amp, and it provided impressive delays, reverb and modulation sounds.
Overall Impression — 9
The Vox Tonelab EX is a great all-in-one package, at a very reasonable price for this much tone and functionality in such a small package. Many modelers require navigating through confusing menus of options to customize and tailor tones to a specific type of music and venue, but Vox has kept everything tweakable with individual dials and buttons, so everything is laid out in an easy-to-use fashion. Someone already used to a traditional pedalboard would feel at home here, as they could easily alter an effect on the fly without needing the user manual. The Tonelab EX is well-built for the road, as intended, and more importantly, has tons of convincing tube-like sounds for the amateur or pro guitar player.
Reliability & Durability — 10
Vox seems to be taking seriously their desire to make this the Tonelab for the stage and for the road. Even though its a compact pedal, that is lightweight and easy to setup, it is a sturdy unit, with padded control surfaces and dials, meant to take the abuse of being stomped on night after night. The input and output connections and dials on the back of the unit also felt heavy-duty and reliable, and the pedal feel, both construction and motion, are probably the best we've experienced on a modeler such as this.
Ease of Use — 9
The Vox Tonelab line of amp and FX modelers has been popular for years, with many lauding the unique tube-like tone that they provide through the use of an actual 12AX7 preamp tube in the circuit, which they say "warms up" the guitar tone before going through the digital processing. The Tonelab EX is their latest entry, with specific enhancements tailored towards live performance. Similar to other modelers, you can select an amp type, and then dial in individual types of effects such as delays, reverb, chorus, and various other modulation effects. In addition, a noise reduction pedal is built right in for high-gain players, and the amp selection covers all of the popular bases, from the classic Vox tones of yesterday and today, to metal Mesa-style tones and Marshall-style rock tones, and plenty of stuff in between, with 33 different amps and 11 different cabinets to select from. In addition, these can be stored across 50 banks of 4 channels, allowing you to store and retrieve up to 200 different tones at the press of a footswitch. Sure, all of this sounds very familiar to those with modeling experience, so what's new that tailors this for live use? Well, high on that list is the inclusion of actual stereo speakers built right into the unit! These are low-power, and not meant for long-term rehearsal, but they're perfect for backstage warmups and final tone tweaking. Second, the built-in tuner is a wide, strobe-style instead of a small digital readout, making it easy to tune up between songs under dim lighting. Third, the onboard pedal is a very sturdy pedal evocative of Vintage Vox Wah pedals, that can also be used for volume control. Finally, the Tonelab EX has plenty of inputs and outputs, including a USB connection for direct recording to your favorite DAW recording package on your computer.