Incredible tone driving this 4-valve preamp barely scratches the surface. I’m in awe at the Countess V4’s clean channel, with its vibrant, detailed and glassy tones, ranging from ultra clean (gain at about 9-o’clock) to somewhat grainy and glassy (12-noon) and even low-gain drive when cranked. Channel 2 has a wonderfully thick and meaty (chewy) quality that definitely has a unique tone that keeps me from wanting to add other gains or distortions in front of it. Although British made, by Victory Amps and its chief engineer, Martin Kidd, the Countess V4 does not sound British, nor does it sound German, US or anything else. It really does have its own characteristics, which I’m very much enjoying.
The three-band EQ has a very usable range that allows you to push the Bass, Midrange or Treble (or to cut back on any of the three) without it sounding out of place. A lot of bass does not sound muddy, nor does a lot of Midrange. A lot of treble does not sound brittle or harsh. And although adjusting any of those EQs brings forward certain frequencies (obviously), you could keep everything around 12-noon and be content. Like the other preamps in the V4 series (Kraken and Sheriff) the Countess V4 has a global tone control or Bright switch – typically this is left in the middle or neutral position ‘0,’ particularly if used as a stand-alone pedal. However, if used within your amp’s effect loop there may be instances that the treble response is too bright and this can be calmed by flipping the Bright switch to reduce treble by a little (-1) or a lot (-2). Setting the Bright switch will depend on your gear and your ears.
For best sound you still require some form of cabinet for the best sound (since the Countess V4 is only a preamp), which is where an actual cab comes in, but also cab-simulators via reproductions of the actual counterparts. I use my AxeFx II for cab simulation, although there are plenty of VST plug-ins and pedal-type cab sims that do a good job to fully realize the potential of the Countess V4 Preamp. I like using cab sims since each one has a different flavor and this can produce a wide array of Countess V4 tones that otherwise would require a lot of storage space to house all the actual speaker cabinets. And although my experience may be limited when compared to other gear hounds, I have found Channel 1 of the Countess V4 the best pedal platform thus far, bringing to life any modulation, delay, fuzz, overdrive or distortion thrown at it.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: The Countess V4 is part of an award-winning collection of preamps, and one of the best clean tones I’ve heard – very full and clean… to very glassy (with the gain up to 12-noon)… with more of an edgy clean/slightly broken up beyond that point. Channel 2 has one of the more addictive thick, meaty and chewy tones I’ve heard, making it awesome for crunch and lead tones. With four valves pushing the Countess V4 you would be hard-pressed to find such incredible sound in a standard pedal or even many preamp pedals currently on the market, making its $499 USD price-tag a bit rich, but an obvious investment for tone snobs looking for the best. Like other preamps, the nature of the Countess V4 was designed primarily to be integrated into an amp’s effect loop, to give access to additional amp tones at a fraction of the price of a new amp (and so, you can set it atop your amp head or amp/cab combo), or it can be used as a standalone unit with your pedalboard. Because of the quality engineering and four valves, the Countess V4 integrates far better with other amps (in the effects loop) than what often is possible with lesser preamp pedals. This means you can run it into a Marshall, Vox, Fender, Mesa or any other brand and the quality of output will be equal to those brands of preamps and definitely not digital sounding or thin. In doing so, you get to keep your favorite amp and still have access to two more channels of tonal bliss at a faction of the price of another good amp (that you have to haul around). For gigging musicians looking to expand their sound pallets, you couldn’t ask for better. As well, the quality of construction is outstanding with the Countess V4 and how it responds to other pedals (modulation, fuzz, distortion), thus making it a perfect pedal platform and particularly through Channel 1. The Countess V4 does require a heft of power, and so it comes with its own 2-amp 12-volt adapter (together with various plug ends to accommodate any country’s electrical concerns). There’s a reason why Guthrie Govan likes the Countess V30 amp – it sounds incredible, as does the Countess V4 Preamp.
GENERAL USE: There are two ways in which to use the Countess V4 – it can be a standalone unit (on your pedal board or on the floor) or used with your current amp in the effects loop (typically sitting atop an amp). I use the unit as a standalone, going into an Axe-Fx II for speaker simulation. And because of the incredible clean channel it makes an awesome pedal platform for anything from chorus to high-gain distortion.
The main focus of this preamp was to afford musicians the ability to use an amp’s channel(s) as usual, and also the Countess V4 for additional sounds and tones (perfect for those who run clean single-channel amps) in the effects return loop. Because the Countess V4 is valve-driven, it has that pure tube quality and will sound incredible with other valve amps. And so, you can have your channel(s) in your amp, then you can switch to the Countess V4 (which bypasses your amp’s preamp) while giving a different flavor among another two channels. Adding dirt or delay pedals, for example, will need to be arranged as usual and to your preference. In standalone mode you place whatever you want before and after the Countess V4 (dirt before, delay/reverb after and modulation where it sounds best). If integrating the Countess V4 within your amp’s effect loop you add pedals direct to your amp’s input or along with the Countess V4 in the loop, whatever works best.
Functional in a similar manner to other amps/preamps, there is a switch to bypass or turn the unit off (the LED lights up when the pedal is on) and a switch to navigate between the two channels. Each channel has its own Master Volumes and Sub-Volumes (which are actually Gains), but both channels share the same EQ. The Bright switch typically remains on ‘0,’ which is neutral, unless you find your effects loop/amp (or even a single-coil guitar) a bit bright or harsh, then you can remove some treble by flipping to -1 or -2 (1 = less treble and 2 = even less treble response). If operating in standalone mode you would want to adjust the EQ and reserve the Bright switch when using the Countess V4 in an amp’s effect loop. There also is a TSR input on the left that allows remote switching, which is practical if you have the Countess V4 mounted atop your amp.
OTHER DETAILS: Weighing 1.7 Kg (3.75 lbs) and measuring 225 (w) x 140 (D) x 80 (H inc. feet) mm (8.85 x 5.5 x 3.1 inches), the Victory Countess V4 is built like a tank and of superior quality. The chassis is all-steel (held-together with high-torque 8-blade Posidrive screws and machine bolts) to keep the four valves well protected. The pre-amp pedal comes with a 5-year warranty and the valves come with a 2-year warranty (good for approximately 6000 playing hours, which works out to two-hours-per-day over eight years – they can be replaced for approximately $15 USD). The pots have a very smooth feel when turned and all seven pots and foot switches are silent when turned or engaged (no static, crackling or clicking sounds). The Countess V4 also has a protective kick bar with a powder coated slate grey paint – together with the Victory emblem and Martin Kidd’s signature (the engineer behind this pedal and The Countess amplifier series). The LEDs for on/off and channel selection are raised only slightly and well located, and so they are free from careless foot stomping. All connections are made through the back (with the exception of the TSR remote switching input on the left side), which is good for protection of the cables and inserts, but also saves on pedal board space. The rubber feet under the unit are heavy-duty screw-on types.