VHT Special 6 Ultra

Tuesday, June 7, 2011| by Will Chen

With its “essentials only” approach and mod friendly construction (not to mention great tones), VHT’s Special 6 has generated a bit of a cult following. I gave it a very positive review with my only small concern being the amount of volume necessary to get significant breakup was greater than your typical bedroom rocker requires. Enter the Special 6 Ultra which expands upon the Special 6’s Volume and Tone (with pull/foot-switchable boost) controls with an additional 11 position Depth switch, 3 position Texture switch, Watts dial, and secondary Ultra input with its own dedicated (gain) knob. So all these new controls sound cool, but what do they do? Good question.

The Depth and Texture controls are functionally high and low pass filters inspired by the selectable frequency feature of Pultec equalizers fine tuned for the guitar’s tonal curve and the Watts control is a power scaling control promising beefy crunch at bedroom volumes. Around back, the amp has two parallel speaker outputs with a 3 position ohm switch (worth noting - the under chassis speaker output does not mute when the external speaker jacks are used. Kudos!), a line out, and a tube buffered effects loop. And as if all that wasn’t enough, the Special 6 Ultra is housed within an birch ply cabinet rather than the MDF you typically see at this price point. Construction is very neat and sturdy across the board yielding an experience one might expect with a much more expensive amp. Just like its little brother the Special 6, components are wired to a mod friendly eyelet board and its 6 watts are delivered via a 12AX7 based preamp (2 tubes in the Ultra vs 1 in the Special 6 due to the additional features) and 6V6 power. And if you order in the next 10 minutes...I know, I know. I sound a little like an over excited infomercial announcer, but VHT is really serving up a ton of features at a street price right around $330.

Tonally I wouldn’t go as far as dubbing the Special 6 Ultra an ultimate tonal chameleon, but it covers a very wide range of fine tones. The aforementioned Texture and Depth controls are very effective at respectively smoothing out the highs and tightening the lows relative to the Tone control’s overall voicing. As you might expect, all of the Ultra’s controls are very interactive. Despite the unique approach to EQ, the amp is surprisingly easy to dial in. With an SX SST 57 Stop Tail (Strat style), it was easy to get extremely convincing Texas blues tinged grit from the cranked up clean channel. Dialing back the Watts control reduced headroom and gave the amp a spongier feel not too unlike a cranked up Bassman. I was equally comfortable dialing up old school jazz tones using a Luna Athena (semi hollow w/ mini-humbuckers) with the amp at lower volumes, but as you might expect at 6 watts clean headroom at performance volumes is pretty limited. Plenty for bedroom practice, small room rehearsal or maybe a small coffee house with a drummer using hot rods or brushes, but you’ll run out of clean headroom real quick in a louder club setting with anything more than a light handed drummer. Of course clean is a fairly relative word in the rock world. Plugging into the Ultra channel with PRS Singelecut SE the amount of gain on tap is increased exponentially with a tonal signature leaning solidly to the modded Fender/Mesa side of the spectrum perfect for chunky riffing and liquid leads with enough dirt on tap to cover everything from 70’s vintage rock up up through 90’s alt rock stopping just shy of the most aggressive modern metal tones. Again, dialing back the Watts control decreased the headroom of the amp, increased saturation, and generally provided a spongier/saggier response while lowering the volume.

Plugging into the Ultra channel...the amount of gain on tap is increased exponentially with a tonal signature leaning solidly to the modded Fender/Mesa side of the spectrum perfect for chunky riffing and liquid leads

To round out the Ultra test I fed the amp a variety of stomp boxes ranging from the mid boosted spit of an Ibanez TS9 to the Muff like roar of a MOEN Fuzz Moo and the amp responded well to all. I also wired the amp up to a Line 6 POD HD500 both into the tube buffered effects loop return and using the 4 cable method and in both cases I was happy with the performance. Though as stated earlier, 6 watts doesn’t provide a ton of clean headroom for rehearsal or gigging. Though I was able to coax just a bit more oomph out of this little combo by flipping the back panel ohm selector to 8 Ohms and plugging in a VHT Special 6 1X12 Closed back Cabinet. The slightly more focused tones of the closed back cabinet paired nicely with the more airy response of the open back combo creating a very nice mini stack setup with a combined street price under $500.

If this was a higher priced amp I might note that the Watts control can get fairly fizzy at minimal settings (especially when using the Ultra input) or that having a dedicated input for each channel seems slightly quirky to me. Having a single input with a 2 button footswitch (one for boost, one for channel) would be more user friendly. But given the performance/price ratio I feel a bit silly being so critical. In a world where low wattage tube amps are generally feature handicapped, VHT has delivered a very liberating experience in the Special 6 Ultra. Tonally the amp covers a ton of ground and from a feature point of view I believe it is a market leader at its price.

Price: ~$330
Pros: Feature rich with a wide range of very good tones.
Cons: None.

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Filed Under: Reviews, VHT