Another experiment with a tube-like guitar amp and 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 speaker: more vintage/steampunk audio than audiophile

I’ve talked about an audiophile milonga concept (Towards a music-focused tango: the audiophile milonga) arguing that tango music at a milonga should be treated similarly to the listening to classical or jazz on an audiophile sound system. Specifically, I argued that DJs should use high resolution transfers, high-end DACs like the Chord Qutest, audiophile grade software like Audirvana Studio, and should consider getting acoustic treatment for the dancing room. I also suggested that you need a lot of amplification and a lot of speaker power, ie., big speaker drivers. However, when it comes to amps and speakers it’s less clear that an audiophile type system is necessarily the best option because the situation at a milonga is different from that in a listening room. In particular, for events as opposed to listening rooms you need PA type speakers that, as I understand, are designed to project sound more forward.

Now one type of PA type system is a guitar amp. I have a couple of Roland Acoustic Chorus speakers, the AC33 and the AC90. The reason I have them is that they are designed for amplifying acoustic guitars. But recently I’ve been transitioning to playing an electric jazz guitar and for that the Roland speakers just aren’t suitable. So I started looking around for a new amplifier/speaker setup and came across an interesting alternative that may also be interesting from the point of view of setting up an audio system for a milonga.

A guitar amp has two main parts: the amplifier which call an “amp head”, which is just the amplifier electronics that you plug your source into (guitar, microphone, aux, etc.), and the speaker cabinet, called a “cab”, which is the box with the speaker driver. A “combo” guitar amp has these two parts integrated into a single unit. That’s what my Roland amps are like. However, it’s possible to buy the head and the cab separately, and to match them in various ways, connecting them with a speaker cable.

This is what I decided to try. After doing some research I decided to get a Quilter 101 Mini Reverb 50W amp head for USD500, and then looking around for a cab I discovered that one of the most widely used drivers is the 12″ 8ohm 60W Celestion Vintage 30. I was pleased to find a cabinet with this driver made by Wangs for USD130. It’s a big driver and is well matched with the Quiter. I find the sound very satisfying for my jazz guitar. So of course I was curious and decided to see how this works for tango music.

I wanted to plug my NAD C338 amplifier into the cab. The problem is that the standard speaker cables out of the amp don’t come with the 6mm audio jack that goes into the cab. Maybe that exists but I don’t have it. So I plugged the Chord Qutest into the Quilter 101, into the guitar input. I wasn’t sure what to expect because the guitar signal is as far as I know pretty small, so wasn’t sure if the whole thing isn’t going to blow.

Turns out no problem at all. The sound is fine. More than fine. It’s very cool. I found that I needed to cut the treble, but other than that, it’s very good. Totally a vintage sound. Now, the interesting thing is that the Quilter 101 is reputed to be the closest thing to a tube amp while being a solid state amp, ie., no tubes. Tube amps are loved for their wam sound which is not precise but is “euphonic” and which many audiophiles really love. The problem is, apart from cost, tube amps are heavy, get hot, and have tubes, which are made of glass. Not really great if you want to be moving around with this. The Quilter 101 is so great because, while getting that vintage euphonic sound, it weighs around 1kg, is compact, doesn’t get warm, and has no glass parts, but instead has a sturdy metal case that’s perfect for transportation.

So to sum up, you’re getting a tube amp-like sound in a very portable package. Then you connect that to a sizeable 12″ woofer that’s also like for a vintage feel. The Celestion Vintage 30 woofer is big and heavy, but at around a $120, if you have to move you can just buy another one. Unlike the Roland AC90 which costs something like $600 or more new. Try to sell this if you have to move and can’t take it with you on the plane. With the Celestion speaker you get two options. You could disassemble the cabinet, put the driver in a suitcase and then find a cabinet at your destination to put the woofer into. Alternatively, you can probably just buy another one secondhand for under $100. As far as I know they are quite common and you can probably pick one up cheaply on eBay or the like.

It’s a very satisfying sound in a very versatile package. I can’t say that it’s audiophile, in the sense that you’d want to listen to other genres of music, although I might try that. I’d call this sound vintage or steampunk audio. And I think this is what you want for tango. With this setup I think you can easily fill up a small to medium size venue, although that’s something I’m going to have to test out in the future. For around $600 I think it’s a very good deal.

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