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This article was originally published in issue #25
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Starter amps are one of the harder things to get right. They need to appeal to a specific demographic, be affordable, robust, and offer a variety of sounds. Consumers today are far more clued up about what equals “good tone” and value for money than they once were and there is a lot more choice on the market, especially since the major brands took their design and voicing expertise to Asia to take advantage of cheaper manufacturing costs.
Chord is a company that prides itself on offering well made, affordable equipment right across the range, including amps, pedals and guitars. We've reviewed a fair few of Chord's products and they've received good star ratings every time. But this time Chord has taken on the big names in the amp business, nearly all of which now offer small combos packed with extras that in the past would only have been seen on their higher priced models. So what does this combo offer that the others don’t and how does it perform?
The unique selling point of the CVH-40 is the hybrid bit, which means it is part valve/tube and part solid state. When you look at the price, that makes this an immediately attractive proposition. Valve amps don't usually come this cheap, simply because they cost so much more to make.
The CVH-40 combo offers separate footswitchable Normal and Drive channels, three-band EQ per channel, effects loop and spring reverb. A 12AX7HG valve drives the pre-amp, through a solid state power section, offering a high gain lead channel with contour control. The overall layout of the amp is clear and straightforward to use.
In use, the clean channel offered warm, deep tones, albeit slightly boxy sounding. This is probably due to the use of a basic 10” speaker, which could easily be up-graded at a later date if you wanted, though it's perfectly good enough to start off with. Just two tone EQs on the clean side, Bass and Treble, plus a channel volume control, it would have been nice to have a Middle control but it's not essential.
The drive channel is switchable by a small button in between the two channels, or by a footswitch. While I'm on the subject of footswitches for amps, it seems to be an ever increasing trend not to supply the footswitch with the amp, making you have to buy it separately. It's clear why manufacturers do it, but it's really annoying when you fork out a fair bit of cash for a new amp and it would be nice to have the footswitch included. Rant over! The OD Channel also only contains bass and treble tone EQs but has a contour dial that helps to shape the sound of the distortion, from crunchy through to fully scooped and saturated.
The Gain control also offers plenty of headroom, in fact it's very gainy., even below 12 o'clock, making the OD channel on this amp more suited to hard Rock and Metal. The distorted tone from this amp was very impressive, in fact - not muddy in any setting, remaining crisp throughout the gain and contour range. A separate volume control also on the OD side of the amp means you can set the two channels to the specific volume you require, so you won't see a massive increase or dip when you switch from one to the other. The Chord also comes loaded with a spring reverb offering everything from subtle hall sounds through to full-on empty cathedral!
Other features that you may not expect to see on an amp in this price range include; an effects loop, auxiliary input so you can jam along to your favourite backing tracks, and the all-important headphone output. The overall finish and built quality seemed very good, the styling is a little un-inspirational but that's not what this amp is about.
Chord has plunged into a very competitive market and yet has come up with a great little amp that goes above and beyond what is expected at this price range. The hybrid technology makes the amp perform and feel like a more expensive product than it is and there are plenty of tones available, no matter what style you play. The speaker isn’t the best quality and it's annoying that the footswitch isn’t included, but all that can be forgiven as the rest of the package is top notch.
If you are looking for a starter amp or maybe a small decent practice amp, you should definitely put the Chord CVH-40 firmly in your sights. Don't be put off just because this amp doesn't come from a big brand. Check it out and compare it against the competition. You might be surprised just how good it is.