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This article was originally published in issue #7
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Despite great success in the USA, where it has a star-studded list of endorsers, including Joe Walsh, Steve Vai and Allan Holdsworth, Carvin has remained a bit of an enigma outside its homeland. Though available - at least in the UK - it has tended to be the preserve of a handful of specialist retailers - not uncommon for a boutique brand, of course, but Carvin is far more mainstream in its native North America. A recent change in UK distribution means that its amps, at least, are now receiving wider attention here, so we arranged to borrow one of Carvin's Micro Series valve amps - the all-valve V3M to see what had made such an impact on its launch.
Unboxing the V3 was a very easy affair, especially when it came to actually lifting it, due to it's rather remarkable weight of just 19lbs (8.6kg)! I'm often surprised by the sheer weight of some of the small amps that arrive in the office for review, so this was a big plus point. If lugging gear around is a headache to you, this is certainly a good reason to look at the Carvin!
Aesthetically, I personally found it to be a little on the unusual side and although this has no bearing on the most important factor - its sound - a classy design goes a long way in my book and the Carvin is... well, it's different, so I'll leave the wow-factor judgements to you! Having said that, one of the coolest features on the Carvin is the LED light switch at the rear of the amp. Choose from red or blue LEDs which light from inside the head itself. Very cool!
Businesswise, four EL84 tubes can be found in the amp's power section, while four 12AX7 tubes reside in the pre-amp. This amp is only designed to take EL84's so if you were thinking about swapping to 6L6's, you'd have to think again. At full power the V3 is capable of belting out 50 Watts but thanks to an onboard attenuator that can be reduced to 22 Watts, or even further down to seven Watts, which is a bit more suitable for those who don't want to make their neighbours' lives a misery!
The effects loop can be found at the rear of the amplifier, alongside the variable impedance switch to match your cabinet, footswitch connections and a very useful variable boost which can add up to 6dB of volume boost for solos, activated via a footswitch.
The V3 is essentially a three channel amplifier, offering a clean and two overdrive channels. However, it is within each of these channels that the fun really starts! All three channels offer the same rotary controls: Drive, Volume, Presence and a three band EQ. In addition, each channel comes equipped with a three-way switch which gives you access to three different 'drive modes' within each channel. Each of these 'drive modes' changes the gain structure of that channel thereby placing a huge range of tonal possibilities at your fingertips.
On the clean channel (ch3) I found that the actual setting should be set at five or above to get the best out of the drive modes, although it works fine for settings below that. For a more clean sound, I set the drive to below five.
However, not only are there lots of tonal possibilities with the drive modes alone, Carvin has also added an 'EQX' switch for each channel. This switch is an 'equaliser expansion' facility which gives access to a wider frequency range for the three band treble, middle and bass rotary controls found in each channel. Very nice indeed!
In action, the V3M delivers some very nice tones even with all the settings on flat. The cleans, whilst not mind-shattering, were very nice and the gains from light crunch through to heavily saturated, were tight and responsive all the way. It's not hard to see why the Carvin was so well received at its launch.
The sheer amount of features contained within this micro package is staggering. If you're looking for an elusive sound it might very well be here but you also might also have to dig around for it - a factor which you can look at as either a positive, or negative, of today's highly versatile amplifiers.
If you are looking for a very versatile micro amp that is jam-packed full of features and easy to transport, you owe it to yourself to check-out Carvin's V3M.