THE NOTION OF A “CLASS -A AMP” has been a powerful promotional tool ever since manufacturers first decided to make a virtue of it a couple decades ago, and we’ve had a virtual cult of players devoted to the breed ever since. Rivera has previously specialized in quality multi-channel amps with big, bold class- A/B American and British tones, but moved into the class-A arena a few years ago with its well-received Venus 3 and Venus 6 models, and expands the template further with its new Venus 5. The Venus 5 generates a listed maximum of 35 watts from a pair of 6L6GC output tubes in class A, which makes it a rather different beast for the genre. Of course, by “class A” most manufacturers actually mean “cathode biased,” which defines a biasing technique that emphasizes even-order harmonics for a juicy, overtone-saturated sound, at the expense of efficiency and output volume, but the label has a good ring to it, and seems to have stuck.
Whatever you call it, the result is heard most prominently in the Venus 5’s lead tones in Channel 1. Crank the Gain anywhere past mid morning and you tap a cushy, lush, pliable overdrive that is superbly playable and extremely dynamic. This channel’s versatile 3-band EQ, coupled with the output section’s Focus and Presence controls, allows you to carve out anything from contemporary West Coast high gain to thumping, scooped stack rumble, along with gentler vintage-leaning crunch and blues lead tones. More extreme settings lack the low-end tightness and overall firmness that your strict thrash-metal devotee might demand, but the raw tone is certainly there. There’s enough gain available in Channel 1 for players with more incendiary tastes, and the handy preset Boost function brings a little more when needed, along with increased harmonic saturation. Ultimately, it’s such a fun channel to play that it’s hard to switch away from.
But switch we must, and fortunately Channel 2 rewards with an entirely different palette of colors, which excels at bold country twang, warm jazz, and chiming pop. While the class- A label might aim us toward Brit combo territory (or, conversely, smaller American tweed), Channel 2 feels more classic “blackface,” with a tautness in the low end coupled to a highend shimmer that bracket a clear, cutting tone at most settings, and the addition of a touch of the Venus 5’s spacious long-spring reverb only reinforces that impression. Interestingly, its solidity arguably reveals its only drawback: With no Master on this channel, you need an overdrive pedal to crunch it up a little without cranking it to volume levels that might exceed your requirements. But hey, that’s where the Vintage power setting comes in. Flip to 25 watts, and you access easier breakup in Channel 2, although that also browns out Channel 1’s lead tones somewhat, making everything there a little softer, darker, and spittier—just the nature of triode output operation. Still, it’s a great option to have, and accesses a range of useful voices for recording in particular.
All in all, the Venus 5 is an extremely flexible head with a well-aimed bundle of bonus features. And if it compromises a little with the clean-going-crunchy sounds toward the middle of the spectrum, it makes up for that in spades with a bold clean voice, and lip-smacking lead tones that are simply play-all-day delicious.
RIVERA VENUS 5
PRICE $2,199 street (head); K4x12T cabinet $1,199 street
CONTACT (818) 767-4600; rivera.com
KUDOS Bold, sparkling cleans and rich, lush lead tones that feel extremely dynamic and playable. Excellent build quality.
CONCERNS Some players might miss having a Master on the clean channel.
CONTROLS Channel 1 (lead): Gain 1, Bass, Middle, Treble, Master 1 (with Pull Boost on Master or footswitch); Channel 2 (clean): Gain 2, Treble, Middle, Bass, with Pull Bright and Pull Notch; shared Reverb, Focus, and Presence
POWER 35 watts Class A pentode (cathode biased), 25 watts triode “Vintage” mode
TUBES Five 12AX7 preamp tubes, two 6L6GC output tubes
EXTRAS Accutronics spring reverb; footswitchable channels, lead boost, and reverb; parallel FX loop with Send Level and Return Level controls; line out; parallel speaker outs with 4/8/16Ω switch
SPEAKERS Tested with Rivera K4x12T cabinet loaded with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers
WEIGHT 40 lbs (head)