Hands-On Review:Vox ToneLab LE Valvetronix Guitar Effects Processor
Cutting-edge technology serving a tradition of tone
By Lenny Briggs
Vox’s newest in the series, the ToneLab LE, is sure to add more luster to ToneLab’s shining reputation. The ToneLab SE has already won the hearts of many guitar-wielding admirers—myself included. It’s a fantastic tone machine, and the ToneLab LE is equally cool.
When I first heard that Vox was introducing a new, much lower priced LE model, I interpreted “LE” to mean the light version. Also, because of its lower price, I assumed it would be a little brother to the SE model I use. It would make the core ToneLab technology more affordable. Cool idea. But I was wrong.
Though smaller and lower in price, the LE is a full-tilt ToneLab. Rather than a trimmed down version of the SE, it’s a refinement of it. It keeps all the essential features of the SE model and builds on them.
The ToneLab LE’s smaller footprint doesn’t mean it has less capability. Though it has fewer switches than the SE, their functions are combined to do more with less. The most obvious difference between the LE and SE is one expression pedal instead of two. I like the SE’s dual pedals. I use one as a dedicated volume and the other for wah and other effects. The second pedal is nice but probably the least essential of the ToneLab features. Other than being one-footed, the LE has all the tones, superior sound quality, and capabilities equal to those of its predecessor. The smaller size is itself a plus. It takes up less floor space onstage and makes it less cumbersome to use as a tabletop device for recording.
In the zone for tone
There are a lot of reasons to like the ToneLab LE. It is built like a tank, easy to use, and offers an incredible range of sounds. The biggest reason of all is its tonal excellence; it sounds fantastic, improving upon its predecessor by upping its processing from 20- to 24-bit. It has the most realistic amp models of any unit on the market, the highest quality effects, and the sounds hold up beautifully at gig level volumes. It is a perfect tone solution for players who need a lot of sounds and are picky about tone.
The ToneLab LE’s 16 amp models cover the classics—British and American, from vintage tweed to modern boutique. It’s a dream collection of the great rock and blues amps. The Vox models are superb—as you would expect—but the other amp models are equally good. When you play each one free of effects, you can really hear how true each one is.
I don’t know how Valvetronix technology works, but I do know how well it works! Valvetronix combines models with an output section that uses a 12AX7 tube circuit, a virtual transformer, and a dummy speaker to emulate, not only the sound of the modeled amp, but also its feel, its dynamic response to how you play. What is especially amazing is that the output section actually reconfigures for each model to capture such response differences as those between Class A and Class AB amps.
The big easy
Another thing I like about the ToneLab LE is its ease of operation, largely the result of its knob-based editing. The amps, stompboxes, reverbs, delays, modulation effects, and expression pedal are all adjustable with front-panel knobs. No navigating through screens or scrolling through menus. You simply select the amp or effect you want to edit by pushing a button that begins to blink, indicating edit mode. Then you refer to a matrix printed underneath six knobs. On the left side you'll find a vertical list of everything that is adjustable, with a line across listing what the knob above changes. As you tweak the knobs, you hear the result instantly. When you’re done, you push the blinking button to take it out of edit.
One nifty detail is when you turn a knob, an icon pops up on the display to indicate when that knob position matches the parameter of the original device. If you want authentic Vox Wah, it tells you where to set the knobs. If authenticity isn’t so important to you, the ORIG icon at least gives you a reference point to work from.
Once you have everything the way you want it, you simply hit the write button twice to capture your settings as a preset. There are 120 slots available for stashing your custom settings. There are also 40 programs from Vox that are interesting and all very useable. It’s so easy to create your own presets from scratch, that you hardly need the ready-mades.
A bag of tools
ToneLab LE puts a ton of tone shapers at your finger and toe tips. In addition to the amp and cab choices, there are 16 stompboxes (all the crucial ones), plus 11 each of reverb, delay and modulation effects. With all these effects and adjustable parameters, any tone for any style of music is readily available. All the great sounds from rock guitar history are there to be dialed up. It represents a mountain of expensive dream gear, all contained in a single, portable, easy to use device. The creative possibilities are unlimited.
The new stuff
Of course, a new model should offer new functions and the LE adds to the already-extensive ToneLab arsenal. New effects include a metal distortion pedal that takes high-gain-nasty to a shocking extreme. On the sweeter side, the LE offers a larger selection of acoustic sounds including a new resonator tone. Other effects new to the LE are a slap reverb and a multi-tap chorus that allows independent taps for left, right, and center outputs for incredible spaciousness.
Another new feature is a five-mode amp/line out, each voiced for a different type of amp or recording set-up. It optimizes your sound for your gear or situation. One of these options includes a very classy three-band EQ modeled from one of the all-time great studio mixers. This EQ and a S/PDIF optical output, along with its smaller footprint, make the LE more versatile and effective when used for direct recording.
Whether used onstage as a floor processor or on the tabletop for recording, the ToneLab LE is amazing. The technology may be new, but the sound is true to the Vox tradition of great tone. If you haven’t experienced ToneLab, do it. Your ears will hear the truth—nothing rocks like a Vox.
Features & Specs
- Amp types: 16
- Cabinet types: 11
- Pedal type effects: 16
- Modulation type effects: 11
- Delay types: 11
- Reverb types: 11
- Noise reduction: 1
- 24-bit A/D/A conversion
- Number of user programs: 120 (30 banks x 4 programs)
- Factory presets: 40
- Knob-based editing
- Assignable expression pedal
- Headphone output with level
- Valve Reactor circuitry with 12AX7 tube
- QuickAssign function
- LCD screen display
- Connection for external insert effects (with switching)
- Rugged metal chassis
- Built-in tuner
- Tuner range: A0-C7 (27.5Hz -2.093kHz)
- MIDI in/out
- Dimensions: 19-3/4" x 9-4/5" x 3-1/5"
- New 5-mode amp/line output
- New metal distortion pedal model
- New acoustic simulator (3 acoustics plus a resonator)
- New multi-tap chorus
- New slap reverb
- New S/PDIF output
- Dedicated editing software available for download