What’s up Gear Mortals, Trey Xavier here. On today’s edition of Gear Gods Quality Control, we’re taking a look at the Ox Amp Top Box!
The Universal Audio OX is a lot of things – it’s a load box, an attenuator, a modeler of speaker cabs, rooms, and effects, a way to practice silently with your amp at full volume, and a direct amp recording solution. It’s priced at around $1300 street, and it comes with a free app on iPad or your Mac computer to control its many features.
First, let’s talk about the things that are awesome about the Ox. First of all, it looks great. That’s a classy piece of hardware right there, and in this category, it outstrips every other in my opinion. It’s extremely simple to use, and even if you didn’t crack open the powerful app, there’s a tone of sounds you can get just tweaking the front panel knobs. It has a powerful but easy-to-use mobile app, which I haven’t seen in any similar hardware, and a very straightforward interface. It has digital S/PDIF recording which is top-notch for the studio if your interface has that kind of input. Having a front-mounted headphone jack is a great and practical thing, both for silent practice and for hearing what’s gonna be going out to front-of-house exactly. It has 4 vintage-style effects built in that you can use, and lots of options for tweaking the sounds in the Ox.
Now let’s talk about the things I think the Ox could improve on. First of all, the Ox has a couple of mysteries, which are these USB ports and footswitch jack, both of which the manual only describes as “non-functional” – what? After doing a little digging, I discovered that the USB ports are necessary for upgrading the Ox’s firmware, and can in theory also be used to charge mobile devices and, if you have something like the Mission Engineering 529, you can even use it to power pedals – although I wasn’t able to get either of those things to work. Currently, there is no support for Windows machines or Android devices, and the app is only for Mac computers and iPads, which limits the audience considerably. Although I’m not aware of a competing device with a mobile app of any kind, I think having the app on a phone rather than a tablet could make it easier to modify your patches on the gig, which I think would be incredibly useful. I think it could use some XLR outputs, which could replace any of the weirdly non-functioning ports on the back and increase its live usability and convenience.
The Ox comes loaded with 17 different cabs, 6 mics, and EQ options, which you can tweak with the app, including using two close mics at once in addition to the room mics that can be controlled via the Room knob on the front panel. I think the one major thing missing from the cab lineup is some kind of Vintage 30-loaded 412, which for heavy music is the kind of standard. Also, as of this moment, there’s no way to load 3rd party cab IRs and UA says there are no plans to add one. So, the cabs that are in here are the cabs you’ve got. You can, of course, bypass the Ox’s internal cabs altogether for recording and load IRs in a plugin if you like.
The cabs that are included are mainly centered around vintage and classic type tones, with a focus on smaller cabs and analog cloned effects such as an 1176 compressor, plate reverb, vintage-style EQ and delay.
There are many different kinds of guitarists with different needs and desires for gear. Some chase tone down every possible rabbit hole and some want convenience and immediacy so they can get to playing straightaway. What the Ox lacks in advanced features, it makes up for in user-friendliness. Without an IR loader, for example, it precludes the endless tweaking, A/B’ing, and general option paralysis that a huge selection of aftermarket IRs can give you, not to mention spending money on them. Instead of a screen on the front with a complex menu to scroll through, there are big knobs with minimum fuss.
The Ox is a different tool for the same job, for a different audience than some of the competition. If you’re really picky about your IRs, the Ox might not be the right one for you, but if you’re into plug-and-play simplicity with no hassle in your rig, the Ox can be a powerful tool for live performance and recording of your loud amp, or just being able to finally run your amp wide open without waking the neighbors or obliterating your eardrums.
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