I have a VB
-3. I don't use a modern hi-fi tone so I can't comment on that aspect of it's sound. I favor a tone that is overdriven but smooth, controllable and clear yet quite distorted, mid-heavy, articulate but very very grimy. A combination of Exit Stage Left era Geddy Lee, Master of Reality era Geezer Butler, and Wings Over America era Paul McCartney.
-3 has been completely reliable operation-wise, nearly dead quiet, and the light weight of the amp feels almost like the amp is EMPTY inside, which we know isn't the case. But, my point is that the amp feels light even for a solid state amp, even given it's size. Just looking at the amp and then picking it up, it feels unbelievably light even before you realize that it's a TUBE amp, then you just kinda stare at it in disbelief.
The amp's knobs and sliders feel cheap. There's no other word for it...I've been using Peavey stuff for over 25 years, and still own 95% of it. The knobs, sliders, and controls on ALL my older Peavey stuff feel solid and expensive...even on their cheapest old stuff. The VB
-3's knobs feel loose and imprecise; one of the chrome covers fell off the day I opened it from its box in my kitchen. Also, the eq sliders feel loose as well...you can shift them left and right and feel them rub the slider channels. Cheap. No excuse for this on a TKO let alone a multi-thousand dollar Peavey. Their excellent quality reputation doesn't jive with the cheap feel of the controls on this amp. But, they work, and they are noise-free. They just don't FEEL like Peavey. If you appreciate Peavey, you know what I mean.
My bass tone is based around a Peavey Alphabass, run with various eq's and compressors and an ADA Ampulator (actually this all came about to address a flaw in the Alphabass' graphic eq design which I will get to later as the VB
-3 has a similar flaw). The Alphabass tone is PERFECT for me, but nowhere near loud enough on it's own...so I frequently run my "sound" into different power amps and/or heads for power and occasionally a little eq tweaking for fun...but the Alphabass tone is where I nearly always start. So, I'll start backwards and address the power amp aspect of the VB
-3, which was the main reason I got it.
Using the amp as a straight power amp (bypassing the preamp), the amp is INSANELY loud, super punchy, and gradually oozes into clipping. It's not harsh. Again I don't use a hi-fi tone so I can't vouch for systems that use a tweeter (I can't imagine why anyone would use a tweeter with power tube overdrive), but the power tube overdrive and response characteristics of this amp react EERILY similar to power tube overdrive in a typically engineered tube amp such as the power sections of the following, all of which I own for comparison: SVT-VR, SVT-II Pro, Mesa 400+, Peavey Classic 400, Orange Thunderverb 200, Peavey VB
-2, Marshall VBA-400, Fender Bassman 300, Bassman 135, and a '69 Bassman. The VB
-3's power tube overdrive doesn't SOUND exactly like any of those amps (no amps sound exactly alike) but if you're used to the FEEL of a tube power amp on the verge of compression and overdrive, then the VB
-3 will be very familiar to you. The amp's unique design doesn't take the tube amp feel away. Basically what I'm saying is that the design of the VB
-3 doesn't keep the power amp section from sounding like your standard tube bass amp...there was no "weirdness" going on that made me wonder if the radical new design was compromising normal tube power amp behavior. If your application requires a SUPER high powered thick punchy tube POWER amp that truly has negligible weight, the VB
-3 excels at this.
Oh and by the way...the blue lights look horribly cheap and cheesy...luckily they can be turned off.
Now, the preamp, with the bass plugged in directly. I can see hi-fi tone guys liking it, as the mid-section is the anti-thesis of vintage Peavey design. Basically, without using the graphic eq, control over the midrange is nearly non-existent as for some reason Peavey decided to make the mid control a mid cut ONLY, but then provided a frequency selector. But, the function of each control isn't made clear from the front panel. So, if you think, "Hey I'll set the frequency knob at 800hz and crank the mids a bit for that Limelight tone" like you would with a plethora of other Peavey and similar amps, you'll be sorely disappointed. There is no boost...only cut...so any mid setting less than max is actually CUTTING the frequency you select. It is a very weird feeling to have the mid control all the way up and changing the frequency shift selector does nothing. It's completely backwards, because the shift frequencies chosen for this amp are those that are classic mid BOOST frequencies for overdriven tube amps...these are the frequencies that traditionally WORK for a 70's thick overdriven tube tone. But, you can't boost them. You can ONLY cut. And they aren't the frequencies you'd generally want to cut for an overdriven thick tone that this amp BEGS to produce. Basically turning down the mid control on this amp is a "scoop" knob and you choose the frequency you want to scoop out with the shift knob. This is great for a solid state hi-fi modern tone, NOT for a thick overdriven 70's tube amp tone. The amp's mid control seems to act differently than other passive cut-only mid amps I've used in the following way: generally with the VB
-3 it seems that if you have the mid control ANY less than max (which is basically a flat setting where the shift does nothing) then ALL your tone goes away. It feels empty, thin, and HARD to play...like you're fighting it. Not good.
I like a midrangy tone. I like midrange thickness, punch, and fatness. So, the next thing I figured I'd try to do was boost the mids on the graphic eq in a reverse smiley for those mid frequencies that the rotary eq section couldn't provide. This works...but extreme settings overload the graphic eq circuitry. I'm not talking good overload. I'm talking slam/pop/honk/something's-wrong clipping overload. This is due to the non-tube graphic eq's IC circuitry in the amp, and it has been a problem in past Peavey amps when extreme boosting is used. As I stated above my main amp/tone is a Peavey Alphabass, and the graphic section of that amp has the SAME PROBLEM. It was sent back to Peavey for an entirely new board back in 1992, and it came back with the same problem. (Simply, on the Alphabass the "Post" Master Volume control is actually BEFORE the graphic, and when you have the graphic boosted and try to turn up the Post Volume control for adequate sound output, the graphic section gets overloaded and starts farting...I got around this by using an outboard graphic eq in the pre/post loop mainly as a gain control so that I could set the Post Volume control on the Alphabass and leave it, and use the level control on the outboard graphic eq as the actual volume control feeding the Alphabass power amp section.) This same overloading problem occurs in the old Mark III/IV amp heads when extreme eq boosting is used. The VB
-3 suffers this same problem...but ONLY with extreme graphic eq settings. The problem appears when using a combination of using the overdrive channel with a good bit of distortion, then setting the graphic eq for a reverse smiley Master of Reality era "Into the Void" Geezer Butler tone (massive thick overdriven low mid boost). The graphic IC's get overloaded, clip and pop, and you have to either back off the signal feeding the graphic or lower the boost on the graphic itself, which completely changes the tone you're trying to get. It's a shame because the distortion on this amp IS usable and reasonably smooth and controllable (which is rare in a bass amp). But, when you use a distorted tone like this amp produces, it naturally lends itself to that Geezer Butler type of tone, and to GET it, the graphic's design can't handle the signal and it farts out. Not good.
So to sum up the preamp...the amp's overdrive channel distortion is very usable, and seems like it favors that 70's thick midrangy distorted tone. But the preamp's mid control is cut only, so it's useless for this type of tone as the distortion SCREAMS "turn up the mids!!!" yet to do that you have to use the graphic eq. But then, when you use the graphic to get the distorted tone that this amp seems perfect for, it clips the IC's.
Also, the tube compressor works OK, but it is WAY too sensitive, and any settings over the lowest settings are completely unusable due to insane pumping. I don't know if they have changed this on later amps, but on mine it's not usable.
So...while the preamp IS very promising (and I'm SURE I could arrange a work-around like I did with the Alphabass to eliminate the graphic clipping issue but I don't need to as the Alphabass set up IS my tone), the amp has a few design issues in the choice of mid-cut ONLY in an amp that SCREAMS for a mid-heavy thickness, a graphic section that can't handle extreme settings, and a feeling of cheapness to the front panel's controls.
But, I bought this as a light-weight tube LOUD power amp that I could carry without it killing me for my already established preamp tone. For that use it is ABSOLUTELY unrivaled. The power amp section of this amp is AMAZING. For my use, it is perfect.
I just wish they would have paired the perfect power amp section with a preamp section that could provide a tone that this amp seems like it SO BADLY wants to make...a 70's fat, smooth, overdriven, articulate, controllable, mid-heavy pool of oogling thickness.
But, on it's own...it doesn't and it can't.