I must admit that even though my stereo rig is half valve, half solid-state - I have tended to shy away from tube-driven devices a touch because of the additional burden of fragility and ongoing maintenance and servicing. I have considered tube PreAmp pedals by both Kingsley Amplifiers and Effectrode Thermionic at various times before - but have always worried about the servicing and maintenance aspects (and size!) - particularly of the latter ones which have their tubes poking out from the top face.
Traditionally these types of pedals have used the 12AX7 family of tubes - which although the smallest of the regularly used Amp tubes, are still bulky compared with overall typical pedal size. Tube pedals have always needed to be a certain size (large) to accommodate valves, and have high power requirements in tandem. Mr Victory himself - one Martin Kidd’s genius here is his discovery of smaller size usable audiophile quality tubes. In this case Russian military spec 1 x EC900 for bias control and 3 x CV4014 for the right thickness of tone.
I have included the Thomann review video here as it is the quickest and most efficient at communicating the advantage and superb sound quality of these pedals - there really is very little to separate them from their original full-size amp inspirations. There have of course been numerous amps-in-a-box before - but I feel here for the first time we have a genuine high quality alternatives to the amp originals.
Martin achieves just the right balance of noise floor and dynamism and all 3 PreAmp pedals have that same depth of soundstage that the amps do. The three on offer here are as follows:
Kris at Thomann does an excellent job of dialling in all of the above so they sound pretty darn close to their amp originals - you can take your pick really depending on the level of gain you like to play at. I’ve heard Rabea play his Kraken live once or twice now and I really like the tone of his amp - so that would be my pick here.
All the PreAmp pedals have exactly the same controls and ports and allow for the 4-cable method with proper FX-loop which is active even when the 2 PreAmp channels are not.
Controls are in 3 rows:
On the reverse there are 5 Jack Sockets:
Input | Through | Loop In | Loop Out | Effect Out - allowing you to use pedal in various configurations
There is a Remote Switch Jack Socket on Left-hand side also
Current Draw = 800mA, 12V - power supply provided
The Brightness toggle switch is critical for setting the right baseline level for the pedal EQ section - and needs to be adjusted per output device / and if playing at vastly different output levels.
These are still pretty large devices - but more compact and practical still than than the lunchbox amp format. I don't think they're yet fully pedalboard friendly because of their size and power requirement. I do feel they would make the perfect base for a fly-rig though - for those journeymen musicians - who now have something very decent to plug into an arena soundsystem with.
For us home-players it gives us an easier way to get some of that Victory sound into our rigs - it also means that you can use something like a Seymour Duncan PowerStage 170 floor power amp and go direct to cab. The world is getting ever more flexible in how you setup and what you play through - and you can still be neat and compact and benefit from that full-throated high-cooking tube tone.
It's the first time in a while I've looked at acquiring a tube-powered device, and this time I really think I might pull the trigger one of these days. Of course I would like the pedal to be a little more compact, and not everything is perfectly laid out. The steel bar seems to be somewhat offset from the main dials and yet also a touch too close to the footswitches. And since the pedal is already quite large - why not use the extra real-estate for a 3rd independent boost footswitch - that would really ramp up the versatility of this pedal and go further towards justifying the larger enclosure size.
I still have ongoing concerns about maintenance here - and the need to at some stage swap out those 4 tubes. I would be more comforted if there was a link on the Victory site to re-order a set of PreAmp tubes, and some reassurance about biasing and ease of self-maintenance.
Overall though I do think these are quite the achievement, and should see more customers make their way towards Victory Amps in the near future. The use of separate Channel and Master Volumes kind of reassures me about the power-scaling side of things - but I would of course like more details about home-play context. I don't buy any amp which does not allow me to ramp down to at least 7 Watts. In my current rig the Boss Katana KT100 is set to 0.5W and the Carvin V3MC is set to 7W - master volume dials on both are only around 9 or 10 o'clock - so it would be nice to know equivalent calibrations of the Victory PreAmps.
As I said - I see these mostly going to bedroom and journeymen players and think it's a real feather in Victory's cap to provide these very handy relatively low-cost (£349) alternatives to its signature amps - I hope they ship container loads of these!