REVIEW: VHT Special 6 Ultra
The VHT Special 6 is a very fine little amp indeed, which I’ve reviewed before and developed quite an attachment to. Any time I see one I remember those glorious few weeks I that the Ultra 6 was kicking around the house, and I get all wistful and nostalgic. It’s a 6 watt, boutique-style hand wired amp rocking a single 12AX7 preamp tube and a 6V6 in the output stage. The control options are pretty limited: just a single tone pot, a volume control with a gain boost, and a low/high power switch. One of VHT’s goals with that amp is to make something simple to serve as a platform for modders to work their magic on its minimal circuit. And it worked. If you go online you’ll find all sorts of mods for the Special 6. Different speakers, upgraded caps, bright switches, gain mods… it’s a tinkerer’s dream.
But y’know who else wanted to tinker with the Special 6?
Think of the VHT Special 6 Ultra as a factory-modded Special 6. It shares a lot of common features with the regular, non-Ultra Special 6. It has the same volume and tone controls, the same foot switchable boost, the same low/high power switch, and a similar intentionally mod-friendly eyelet board. But there’s also a new eleven-position Depth control for fine-tuning the low frequencies, an additional preamp gain stage, a variable Watts control, and a tube-driven effect loop and a three-position Texture switch inspired by vintage studio EQs like the legendary Pultec EQP-1A. In fact, in the manual VHT describes it as “like a build-in post-production Pultec mastering EQ.” And there’s a new line out which is in parallel with the effects loop send and return jacks. Use it to send a tube-buffered low impedance unbalanced signal to mixing consoles or other amps, or use it to connect to another Special 6 Ultra by connecting it to the second amp’s effects return jack.
There’s still a 6V6 power tube, but now there are two 12AX7s instead of one. It’s still a six watt amp, with a 12″ VHT ChromeBack speaker at 16 ohms in the open-back cabinet. There are two extension speaker jacks with selectable 4, 8 and 16 ohm modes if you need more volume or would like to experiment with different speakers before you swap out the stock one. And interestingly there are Clean and Ultra inputs, and no amp-mounted channel switch. If you wish to flip between channels you’ll need the (included) foot switch.
By the way, the manual is great. It gives you a complete circuit diagram as well as charts which map the parameters of the various controls.
First up, the clean sounds are quite nice indeed, with plenty of authentic boutique feel, especially once you start experimenting with the Watts control in combination with the Texture switch. The middle position of the switch offers clear highs and thinned-out mids, while the left and right positions seem to make the tone progressively darker and more mellow. Using the Ultra mode, which kicks in the extra gain stage, you can get some pretty damn distorted sounds, great for punk and classic rock but also with plenty of heft for stoner metal if you crank the Depth control all the way up. The Watts control is a great way of comparing the amp’s preamp and power amp distortions, and it’s interesting to find the point at which the power amp grind starts to overwhelm the preamp fuzz. The Depth control is relatively subtle compared to the Texture switch and Watts control, but it all adds up to a huge amount of tone-shaping potential.
Some players will love what the Special 6 Ultra offers right out of the box, without any mods. Others will probably think “Woo hoo! Even more stuff to mod!” And although I’m sure that ingenious tweakers will be able to conjure something even cooler from the Special 6 Ultra’s guts, I think plenty of players will be more than happy with the amp exactly as it is right out of the box.