Review : Bugera V5 tube amplifier

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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)

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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.

Price
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.

Presentation
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

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Sound
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)

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Attenuator
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.

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Headphones out
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
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.

Bedroom tube amp primer

In case it can help here is a little wrap up of a discussion in a dedicated forum, about bedroom use of tube amps.

I’m a pure bedroom player, no gig, no concert, just me myself and I.
I live in an apartment with neighbour so the sound level aspect is very important for me

I use a Laney CUB10. It’s a fantastic bedroom amp.
What follows applies to little, low power, cheap, beginner or light recording targeted tube amps. Some high end professionnal amps can perfectly be used at bedroom volume (for example some very high end Mesa Boogie) but they are clearly out of the scope for price and complexity reasons.

From my little experience a good bedroom amp must take the following in account :

Tubes , if you don’t want tubes, you will be happier with a software like Amplitube or Guitar rig and an audio interface like the M-Audio Fasttrack MKII perfect for guitar, happier than with a solid state amp. A software is more versatile and for the same price you got a ton of different amps, stompboxes, effects…
I would not say that there are no good solid state amp, I own a 1987 British Sessionnette 75 that is a gem, but usually solid state amps are so-so.
But all this lack.. life.. guts.. so .. tubes

A Master volume (separate gain and volume settings). If you amp has only one button, it has only one sound at a given level. The sound changes when the amp is pushed harder… but the sound becomes loud. With a master volume you can push one part of the amp without getting too loud

Two styles of sound : Amps with 6V6 tubes have a more Fender sound, with EL84 (more common) have a more british Vox-like sound. This is a rather raw (stupid ?) description but you may have a look to the tubes used in the amps you’re looking for.
It seems that Fender marketing team didn’t realize that the guys with long hair who played guitar in the 70s, stopped playing to become boring business men and now in their fifties, with grown up children, a wife gone away long ago and some time to kill, will become a real business opportunity. These guys play at home for their own pleasure in memory of their “fun young years” (no pun intended I’m one of those)
Vox did realise that. In the low wattage sector they have the Lill Night Train various AC4 versions including the gorgeous AC4C1.
Fender only have the former Champion 600 replaced by the more powerful (and expansive) Excelsior.. with one button, so one sound (at a given level).

A lot of manufacturers are in the market , most of them being of a “vox inspiration”. The list is very long
If you’re looking for a Fender-style sound the list of options is far shorter : Laney with the CUB10 (not 8, not 12), VHT with the fantastic special 6 and Bugera with the V5 ( and the V22 too powerful for bedroom use but somehow manageable).

Don’t be fooled by watts. To cut by half the perceived power you have to divide by ten the watts. That means that with the same set up (speaker ..) a 50w will be perceived as twice the loudness of a 5 watts. Consequence, whatever the number of watts a tube amp is loud. And if it has no master volume it is not usable a bedroom level (good example : Marshall Classs 5.. only 5 watts..impossible to use it at home) . An exception : the Fender Champion 600, but mainly because it has a very small speaker (see below), and even, cranking a Champion 600 full steam requires very friendly neighbour.

Speaker size matters. A 5 watts with a 12 inches speaker will sound louder than the same 5 watts with a 8 or 10 inches speaker, and likely louder than a 10 watts with a 10 inches speaker

Manageable doesn’t always mean nice sounding. A high power tube amp (15, 30watts) with a very progressive master volume and global volume knobs can be manageable at bedroom level (it’s the case for example with the very powerful Vox AC15 or Fender Blues Junior).
At bedroom level, these amps will sound very thin, and very far from their natural sound (the one you’ll get at a volume more suited for a gig than for an appartment) . There are some exceptions like the Laney VC15 that is usually considered as pretty nive even at very low volume.

Forget about headphones Tube amps don’t have headphone out. There are few exceptions, the Blackstar have a headphone output, the Bugera V5 has one and the Vox Lil Night Train has one. I just tried the Lil Night Train one it was awfull. If you need to be able to play at night with headphones, the good solution is a modelisation software and your computer (or a solid state amp with headphone output)

Don’t be fooled by youtube demos. The guys never precise the sound level (when cranked to the maximum every tube amp can sound honestly…. at bedroom level it’s a whole different story) and most of the time they never tell if they use pedals or other things that tweek the sound.
To illustrate : would you think that these two demos are with the same amp ,

Another example with the amp I own, at the given settings the guy (nice player by the way) is way above what I’d call « appartement settings »

Youtube is a usefull tool to get an idea of a musical instrument but it must not be the only tool to base your choice on.

Attenuators are not magic. One of the usual answer to the « my amp is too loud » syndrom is « just use an attenuator« . An attenuator is an electronic device placed between the amp out and the speaker. It transforms part of the output in heat so the remaining sound level is lower. Problem, a good attenuator is not much cheaper than a used low wattage little amp. The exception is for DYers, building it’s own attenuator is not overly expansive and can be a solution in some case, but of the shelves ones are expansive. On the top of that an attenuator is good at lower to sound volume (for example to use in studio recording a too powerfull amp) but don’t imagine be able to use a 100Watts amp in your bedroom thanks to an attenuator.
Lowering the speaker input with and attenuator implies that the speaker doesn’t work in an ideal way. It’s common to say that attenuator eat a good slice of the sound quality, in fact even the best one implies that the speaker will not work in a ideal way and therefore produce a sound that is not of an ideal quality. In some cases an attenuator can be a handyb solution, but there are not magic by far

– Last but not least, small tube amps are cheap, very often cheaper than a pedal so why own only one ?. For example with a used Fender Champion 600/WHT Special 6/Laney CUB10 and a Vox AC4 you’ll be able to cover a lot of sound territories for a very low price tag.