Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bugera V5 5-watt Class A Amplifier Review


These are heady times we live in, with everybody and their brother making nice-quality all tube practice guitar amps at very reasonable prices. I have reviewed oodles of these for Rex and the Bass, and today we get to take a look at another on: the Bugera V5.

Bugera? This is a relatively new brand (it launched in 2007), so how did they happen to get into the guitar amplifier business? Well, you are not going to like the answer – it is a division of Behringer. Yep, the same company that cranks out mediocre effect pedals, microphones and PA systems like there is no tomorrow. But, before you click on another link to get off this page, Bugera was Behringer’s introduction to all-tube market, and the V5 just happens to be a nice little amp.

For starters it is little, measuring approximately 17 x 12 x 17 inches, and weighing in at a touch under 25 pounds. This Chinese-made amp has a cool retro look, with 2-tone vinyl over its solidly built cabinet and chicken-head retro knobs for the few controls it has.

The V5 is a hand-wired 5-watt Class A all-tube amplifier with a single 12AX7 in the preamp stage and a single EL84 to provide the power. Bugera says these tubes are all tested at the factory and are matched in pairs. I am not going overseas anytime soon to verify their claims, so we will just have to take their work for it. The sound is run through a single 8-inch speaker that the company custom builds for itself, all the way down to stamping their own frames and grinding the pulp to form the cones. Right.

The controls are super-easy to figure out. On the front is the instrument input and the power switch, as well as knobs for gain, tone, volume and reverb. That is it! Around back is the power switch, and IEC cable socket (yay!) a line/headphone outs, and the attenuator control. The attenuator is a nice feature. Though 5 watts does not seem like much, with this thing fully cranked your mom will get super-pissed in a hurry if you are cranking out. Tube power is loud. The attenuator allows the amp output to be dialed down to 1 or 0.1 watt without losing any tone (i.e. overdrive). Or, you could plug in your headphones to keep everybody off your back.

Looking a little closer at the Bugera V5, it can be seen that it is really well put together. The Tolex and sparkly grill cloth are neatly applied, the joints are clean and even, and the wiring is very tidy. To be able to sell this for $200 and still make money must mean that their Chinese labor is incredibly inexpensive.

The proof is in the pudding though, and it turns out that the V5 is a really nice sounding amplifier. I tried it with my Tele, Strat and Les Paul, and it brought out the best tones in all of these guitars. For starters, there is no added noise, buzz, or hum, probably because of the printed circuit boards they use in conjunction with the tube power and preamps.

Bugera says the tubes are pre-burned in, but I noticed an improvement in tone as they burned in further. The forte of this amp is its naturally sweet classic rock/blues tone. It has a good clean tone that replicates exactly what you are playing, and as gain gets added in, it becomes perfect for blues and eventually delivers a respectable gnarly distortion for rocking out. The 8-inch speaker holds up well and does not start to crackle and pop at higher volume levels like many of these mini tube amps do. For a change the speaker is not the weak link in a combo amp!

The operation of the tone knob is subtle, so you will not observe drastic changes as it is turned (they call this a “Vintage Equalizer”). The reverb is a digital unit, which sounds a little dry to me, but it is certainly usable, especially if there are other instruments or vocals in the mix. For $200, I am not expecting a tank reverb.

The one thing you will not get is a good metal tone, but if that is what you are looking for you would not be reading this review in the first place.

It is not super loud, but 5 watts of tube power will get you pretty far. It is perfect for practicing at home, and would be good enough for coffee house or small church gigs. But, once you start getting into painfully loud garage band practices, jam sessions and paying gigs you are going to need and want more. And I am pretty sure that adding a 12-inch speaker to the auxiliary out is not going to get you much further. It is what it is.

As long as you are realistic about how much volume you are going to get out of this thing, the Bugera V5 5-watt all-tune guitar amplifier is a very good value. It is well made, it looks nice and it sounds very good. These amps have a list price of $259.99 and a street price of $200, which puts it nicely in line with the slew of other great little amps that are on the market today. Check one out and see what you think!


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