This review is not about a new product, on the contrary I’m likely the very last bedroom guitarist to jump in the Bugera V5 wagon..
For the gigging musician, power is an important item for a small tube amplifier to be heard even with an hysterical drummer. When it comes to bedroom playing, power is not an issue, or on the contrary, two much power can be an issue. The situation is simple, any figure is too much watts for home use, so what makes a good bedroom amplifier is not the amount of power it can deliver, but the various systems it can use to reduce the power to a manageable level.
They are numerous little tube amplifiers for home or recording studio use, this is a clear trend among manufacturers, but very few of them propose all these features : low price, low power, attenuator, headphones output.
The Vox Lill Night Train has a (usually considered as average sounding, but I’ve never used one personnaly) headphones output but no attenuator, the AC4TV has an attenuator but no headphones out, the gorgeous AC4C1 has none of them.
Fender has no more small tube amplifier. The Greta is more a toy than a musical product, the Excelsior is too powerful for bedroom use and the Champ 600 seems discontinued (and had neither attenuator no headphones out).
The wonderfull Laney Cub10 (I had one) has no attenuator and no headphones out, the Cub12 has none but a 1w entry that could be of some help sound level wise.
The list can continue for long, the very good VHT Special 6 is rather loud and has no attenuator no headphones out, the VHT Special 6 Ultra has an attenuator but no headphones out.
There comes the Bugera V5. This little amp has 5 watts (12AX7 preamp + EL84 power) a 8 inch speaker, a headphones out and a 3 positions attenuator (0,1W, 1W and full 5W)
I moved a few months ago and my beloved Laney CUB10 was a little bit too loud for my new apartment (in the city with thin walls and neighbors everywhere) I first looked at the very appealing Fender Mustang line, but in fact I didn’t really get the point compared to Amplitube on my iMac. I tried a Mustang.. and it was not very different from my iMac, great sounding for sure but exactly like my iMac, getting one would have been getting twice the same settings, and I wanted something different from my iMac, something more « organic sounding », lively.. so a tube amp.
The Bugera V5 costs 160 euros, either from Thomann or from some parisian brick and mortar stores (Woodbrass). Price difficult to beat, only the VHT Super 6 is at this price level. I bought one used near new for 100 euros. At that price, in case of deception, the loss would have been very small and the risk very low.
The Bugera V5 is very small but heavy, perceived build quality is excellent. It’s a Chinese cheap product that doesn’t look and feel like a Chinese cheap product.
The is no buzz, no sound this way, the amp is very silent. The heat is pretty high and I hope that air cooling is efficient because at first the way the amp is warm is rather impressive. I didn’t remember my CUB10 producing that amount of heat.
Control and cables plug are on both sides , this is rather annoying. Guitar cable on the front, Power cord on the back, headphones plug on the back, volume , reverb and gain on the front, attenuator on the back. The consequence on this is when everything is plugged the real depth of the amp is much more important than the official 22cm
The sound is a thick clear vintage sound (at appartment level). On the lowest settings (0.1Watts) a little bit of crunch is possible. The sound is thicker than the Laney CUB10 but a little bit less than a Fender Champ 12 (an amp I had some years ago).
The sound is mainly clean (at apartment level) with a little bit of grit (thanks the the EL84 tube) , it’s not the pure clean in the Fender style. Pushed, the sound crunches slightly in the British way (not the classical Vox sound, not the typical Marshall sound, something in the middle).
There is no real EQ : a Gain, a Tone and a Volume, and no Fx loop.
The reverb sounds ok when used lightly. Its a digital reverb not a spring one but the sound is really ok.
Overall the sound is great, even (and this is a good surprise) when using the headphones out, see below
So the sound is clear (mainly) and the Bugera V5 accepts without any problem distorsion pedals. I use mine from time to time with a Boss SD-1 (an overdrive, not a heavy distorsion box) and this duo works great.
There is a 4 ohms external speaker out (in fact the internal speaker is plugged on it)
3 Positions : 0.1W, 1W, 5W
In fact it’s two positions only, 5W is without attenuation.
In my appartement 1W is the ok setting, 0.1W is thinner sounding but allows for more distorsion (crunch at least).
The difference between the 3 positions is not huge, 0.1W is quieter than 5W but not a lot more.
As long as no saturation is involved, the headphones out sound quality is very good, at least far good enough for silent night sessions at home. The plug is the large “guitar style” 6,35 jack instead of the little 3,5 minijack found on some other products (Fender Mustang, Vox Lill Night Train). I prefer because my good old Beyer Dynamic DT150 headphones has a 6,35 jack.
It’s better to lower the volume level before wearing the headphones because the level of sound can be rather high.
Overall, for 160 euros new/ 100 euros used, it’s very difficult not to like this little amp. It is well built, features rich, produces a great sound very manageable at apartment level.
The sound is great with the default speaker (not a tremendous speaker, but ok for home use) and also when using the headphones out. This is an important point, most of the headphones out provided by low power tube amps are usually considered as crap (for exemple Lill Night Train, or Marshall Class 5)
I’ve read a lot of texts, forums posts and so on about upgrading the V5 by changing the tubes and replacing the speaker by a Celestion Super 8, a Jensen P8R or C8R. In my own opinion, out of the box the V5 works wonderfully and I’m not sure that a upgrade is really required. If it is required , it’s perhaps a signal that the V5 is not the best candidate for the job. The upgrades benefits will be heard at a level above the usual bedroom level, and in this case, instead of upgrading this cheap little box, it’s (in my opinion) a better idea to go for the upper model, the Bugera V22,more powerful, with an effects loop and not a lot more expansive.