Guitar Gear Review: The ToneSpeak Birmingham 1275 Took My VOX AC30 from Good to Great

During my recent studio session, I had the opportunity to delve into an amplifier that I had previously only scratched the surface of: the VOX AC30. While I had a Tech 21 Liverpool pedal on my board, which provided me with some fantastic VOX sound, I hadn’t spent much time exploring the amp itself. However, after spending a weekend in the studio with the AC30, I was so impressed that I went out the next day and purchased a used VOX AC30 CC2.

For those unfamiliar with the AC30, it could be likened to the Fender Twin’s drunken, rowdy soccer hooligan cousin from the UK. Despite both being 2×12 and incredibly loud, they have vastly different electronic configurations and sounds. One of the key distinctions of the AC30 is its Top Boost circuit, which enables guitarists to achieve incredible saturation and overdrive, delving deep into the realms of hard rock and even classic metal territory.

When most people think of the VOX AC30, they might associate it with artists like The Beatles, The Edge, and Tom Petty. However, my goal in acquiring the Tech 21 Liverpool pedal, and subsequently the AC30 CC2, was to capture the VOX tones of guitar legends like Jimmy Page, Brian May, Tony Iommi, and Frank Zappa – musicians who were able to coax out the rowdy, aggressive side of the VOX amp.

Tony Iommi AC30
Tony Iommi during the recording sessions for the iconic album “Paranoid,”

Over the years, the VOX AC30 has been factory-fitted with a variety of different speakers, some iconic and some merely serviceable. While the AC30 CC2 comes equipped with quality speakers made by Warfdale, I always strive for excellence rather than settling for good. Despite scouring the web for speaker suggestions, I found myself disappointed by the same tired recommendations found on guitar forums and YouTube. Whenever someone mentioned achieving “the authentic VOX tone,” it felt like they were missing the mark – I was after the raw, gritty sound of Page or Iommi, not the chimmy tones of Lennon and Harrison.

When it comes to crafting the perfect guitar tone, every component of your rig plays a crucial role, and perhaps none more so than the speakers in your amplifier. The selection of the right speakers can make or break your sound, influencing everything from frequency response to tone efficiency and sensitivity. In this in-depth exploration, we’ll delve into the technical nuances of speaker selection and why it’s so vital in achieving a truly exceptional guitar tone.

At the heart of speaker selection lies the concept of frequency response. Simply put, frequency response refers to a speaker’s ability to reproduce different frequencies of sound accurately. For guitarists, this means finding speakers that can faithfully reproduce the entire spectrum of guitar frequencies, from the deep lows of a bass note to the shimmering highs of a lead lick. Speakers with a balanced frequency response ensure that every note you play is heard with clarity and precision, allowing you to express yourself fully through your instrument.

Jimmy Page VOX
Jimmy Page playing through a VOX amp at Olympic Studios

Tone efficiency is another critical factor to consider when selecting speakers for your guitar amp. Tone efficiency, often measured in terms of sensitivity, refers to how effectively a speaker converts electrical energy into sound waves. Speakers with higher sensitivity ratings require less power to produce the same volume level, making them ideal for amplifiers with lower wattage outputs. This means that even lower-powered amps can achieve impressive volume levels and dynamic range when paired with efficient speakers, allowing for greater flexibility and versatility in your tone.

Sensitivity also plays a role in shaping the overall character of your tone. Speakers with higher sensitivity ratings tend to be more responsive to subtle nuances in your playing, delivering a more dynamic and expressive sound. On the other hand, speakers with lower sensitivity ratings may require more aggressive playing to achieve the same level of responsiveness, resulting in a different playing experience altogether. Understanding the sensitivity of your speakers allows you to tailor your playing style accordingly, unlocking new possibilities for expression and creativity.

In addition to frequency response and sensitivity, the construction and materials used in speaker design can also have a significant impact on tone. Different speaker cone materials, voice coil sizes, and magnet types can all influence the way a speaker reproduces sound, from the warmth and richness of a vintage paper cone to the clarity and definition of a modern ceramic driver. By experimenting with different speaker configurations, guitarists can fine-tune their tone to suit their individual preferences and playing styles, achieving the perfect balance of clarity, warmth, and responsiveness.

Brian May VOX AC30
According to Brian May’s guitar tech, When playing live, nowadays he usually uses 9 AC30s

The selection of the right speakers for your guitar amp is a critical step in achieving a great guitar tone. By considering factors such as frequency response, tone efficiency, and sensitivity, guitarists can tailor their speaker selection to suit their individual preferences and musical goals. Whether you’re aiming for vintage warmth, modern clarity, or something in between, choosing the right speakers will ensure that your tone shines through with clarity, depth, and expression.

After an extensive search for the perfect guitar speaker, I finally stumbled upon the website of ToneSpeak and discovered their Birmingham 1275 – 12 Inch Guitar Speaker. This speaker boasts a classic British rock tone reminiscent of the iconic sounds from the ’60s and ’70s. Upon installing it in my rig, I was immediately captivated by its unique personality, characterized by a balanced frequency response and rich harmonic complexity.

The Birmingham 1275 delivers a remarkable performance across the frequency spectrum. In the low end, it offers punchy and defined bass frequencies that remain tight and focused, even at higher volumes. The midrange is warm, throaty, and broad, providing a solid foundation for lead and rhythm guitar tones. Moving up to the highs, the speaker exhibits a nice grit with soaring articulation, adding a touch of aggression and presence to your sound.

The Birmingham 1275 12-inch speaker represents a significant upgrade over stock speakers, offering enhanced clarity, projection, and tonal balance. From the moment it was installed in the amplifier, the difference in sound was immediately apparent. Compared to the stock Wharfedale speakers, the Birmingham 1275 exhibited a more open and expansive soundstage, projecting a wider spectrum of frequencies with greater clarity and definition.

One of the first adjustments required when dialing in the amp for the new speakers was to rebalance the bass and treble settings. With their enhanced projection and tonal clarity, the Birmingham 1275 speakers revealed nuances in the amp’s EQ that were previously masked by the stock speakers. By backing off the bass and treble controls slightly, I was able to achieve a more balanced and refined tone that allowed the true character of the speakers to shine through.

Another notable improvement offered by the Birmingham 1275 speakers was their higher wattage rating, which provided increased headroom and improved dynamic range. With the stock speakers, speaker breakup was a contributing factor to the amp’s overdrive characteristics. However, with the higher-rated Birmingham 1275 speakers, the overdrive was now purely coming from the VOX AC30’s preamp, eliminating the need for speaker-induced distortion.

This shift in the amp’s overdrive characteristics had a transformative effect on its tone, eliminating some of the amp’s raspiness and making it much easier to dial in a great sound. With the Birmingham 1275 speakers handling the amplification duties with ease, I found that I could achieve a more refined and articulate tone, with greater control over dynamics and expression.

The installation of the Birmingham 1275 12-inch speakers proved to be a game-changer for my amplifier rig. Their enhanced clarity, projection, and tonal balance transformed the amp’s sound, revealing new levels of depth and nuance in my playing. By choosing speakers that complemented the amp’s sonic characteristics and provided increased headroom, I was able to unlock the full potential of my rig and achieve the perfect guitar tone.

Constructed with quality components, the Birmingham 1275 features a 12″ steel basket diameter, a 75-watt power rating, and an 8-ohm (or 16 ohm) impedance. It is equipped with a 1.75″ copper voice coil with Nomex an inherently heat and flame-resistant fiber and a Kurt Müller guitar cone, ensuring durability and reliability for years to come. Additionally, the speaker utilizes a 50 oz. ferrite magnet to deliver ample magnetic force for enhanced responsiveness and sensitivity.

One notable aspect of ToneSpeak speakers is their meticulous design process, which involves years of testing, field experience, and collaboration with elite tone-chasers. This dedication to tone perfection shines through in the Birmingham 1275, making it a top choice for musicians seeking authentic British rock tones.

In terms of practicality, the Birmingham 1275 is easy to install and compatible with a wide range of guitar amplifiers and cabinets. Whether you’re recording in the studio or performing live on stage, this speaker delivers consistent and reliable performance, ensuring that your tone always stands out in the mix.

The ToneSpeak Birmingham 1275 – 12 Inch Guitar Speaker is a stellar option for guitarists looking to capture the essence of classic British rock tones. With its exceptional sound quality, robust construction, and competitive price point, it offers an excellent return on investment for any musician serious about their tone.