Working with a beast that has four valves produces such a lively and incredibly detailed and responsive tone that you become aware of why the digital/modeling age hasn’t quite caught up with the analog – particularly where there are tubes or valves involved – unfortunately, the sound compression inherent with YouTube videos will not do my demo justice. Nonetheless, the sound of the Kraken V4 is pure British, although unique to Victory Amps and its chief engineer, Martin Kidd. It produces a wickedly grainy, yet sweet tone, which is the hallmark of Victory and why the company has produced such a great fan following over recent years. Channel 1 has more of a vintage British drive sound with a super crisp and cutting distortion when cranked full. Channel 2 has more gain, but with tighter bass and a more biting mid-range (fantastic for chugging and lead playing). The cleans are exceptional, as well; place the gain of channel 1 at about 10-o’clock and then dial back your guitar’s volume a bit for a sparkling glassy timbre. The unit’s EQ has a very workable range, in that you can use a lot or not so much bass, midrange or treble (any combination) and it sounds pretty darn good regardless, which makes it very practical since both channels share the same EQ and for the most part you simply can keep the same EQ settings and still hear a difference between the channels. The Kraken V4 also has a global tone control or Bright switch – I suspect it remains neutral in position ‘0’ if used as a stand-alone pedal, but if used within your amp’s effect loop you may want to reduce the treble by a little (-1) or a lot (-2). Setting the Bright switch will depend on your gear and your ears.
Bear in mind that the Kraken V4 is a preamp and still requires some form of cabinet for the best sound (since it’s only a preamp), which is where cab-simulators come in handy – although reproductions of actual speakers, whether using a cab-sim pedal, DAW software or if you’ve entered the Axe-Fx and Kemper world, it’s nice to be able to choose from dozens of offerings without having a room filled with wooden crates housing speakers. In fact, it’s difficult to demonstrate and appreciate just how good the Kraken V4 is without taking into consideration the cabinet/speakers you’re using, since each produces different tonal qualities. Nonetheless, and regardless of your speakers, or simulation thereof, the nature and grainy quality of the Kraken V4 shines through incredibly well and I demonstrated this in the video with Mesa, Marshall, Fender, Friedman and Vox cabs. Furthermore, this extraordinary preamp accepts pedals without reservation and better than other preamps I’ve tested. You can hear an actual hybrid of tones happening, as though the Kraken V4 is merging with the pedal in question and then producing an off-spring. As an example (demonstrated in the video) I combined a Friedman BE-OD Deluxe drive pedal (channel 1 gain at 25%) with the Kraken V4 (both channels tested at 50% gain) and the results were very pleasing – you could hear both the character of the Friedman and of the Kraken V4.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Victory Amps has won several awards through various guitar magazines/sites, and this preamp makes those reasons obvious, with its magnificent tone. The four valves running the Kraken V4 produces a rich tone and quality that I have not heard through other preamps or digital mimicking, making its $499 USD price a bit hefty to some, but definitely an investment if you’re looking for the crème de la crème. In fact, and although a pedal, the Kraken 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). Consequently, go ahead and keep your Marshall, Fender, Vox, Friedman or ENGL amp and still get the tones from Victory’s Kraken at a third the price and a fraction of the weight (an important factor for gigging musicians). It could be argued that various amp sims in a pedal offer up plenty of tonal variety, but if you are a gear snob and want the best in your tone, then an all-valve solution is the best solution – and that’s where Victory’s preamp collection (The Kraken, The Countess and The Sheriff) come in. Not only is the overall quality of sound note-worthy (pun intended), but the quality of construction is outstanding and other pedals sound awesome through both channels of the Kraken V4. And because you’re feeding this 4-valve beast a lot of power, it comes with its own 2-amp 12-volt adapter (together with plug ends to accommodate any country’s electrical concerns).
GENERAL USE: You can use the Kraken V4 preamp in two different ways – it can be a standalone unit (on your pedal board) or used with your current amp in the effects loop. I use the unit as a standalone, going into an Axe-Fx II for my speaker simulation (as demonstrated in the demo video). However, its chief design was to afford musicians the ability to use an amp’s channel(s) as usual, and also the Kraken V4 for additional sounds and tones (perfect for those who run clean single-channel amps). Because the Kraken V4 is valve-driven, it has that pure analog quality and will sound incredible with other valve amps. And so, you can have your channel(s) in your amp, then switch to the Kraken V4 (which bypasses your amp’s preamp) while giving you great sound. 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 Kraken V4 (dirt before, delay/reverb after and modulation where it sounds best). If integrating the Kraken V4 within your amp’s effect loop you can add pedals direct to your amp’s input or along with the Kraken V4 in the loop, whatever works best for you.
The Kraken V4 operates just like any other amp/preamp. There is a switch to bypass or turn the unit off (the LED is on when the pedal is on) and a switch to navigate between the two channels. Each channel has its own Master Volume and Gain, but both channels share an EQ. The Bright switch likely will remain on ‘0,’ which is neutral, unless you find your effects loop (or even a single-coil guitar) a bit bright or harsh, then you can remove some treble by flipping to -1 or -2. If operating in standalone mode you would want to adjust the EQ and reserve the Bright switch for when using the Kraken V4 in an amp’s effect loop. There also is a TSR input that allows remote switching, which is required if you have the Kraken V4 mounted atop your amp.
OTHER DETAILS: Measuring in at 225 (w) x 140 (D) x 80 (H inc. feet) mm (8.85 x 5.5 x 3.1 inches) and weighing 1.7 Kg (3.75 lbs), the Victory Kraken V4 is massively built and of great quality. With an all-steel chassis (held-together with high-torque 8-blade Posidrive screws and machine bolts) you are certain to keep the four valves protected. The 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 both pots and foot switches are silent when turned or engaged (no static, crackling or clicking sounds). The Kraken 4 boasts a protective kick bar with what appears to be a powder coated dark grey metallic paint – and the Kraken graphic look pretty cool. The LEDs for on/off and channel selection are raised only slightly and well located, and so they are free from foot stomping trauma. All connections are made through the back (with the exception of the TSR remote switching input), which is good for protection of the cables and inserts, but also saves on pedal board space. The rubber feet under the unit are not the cheap stick-on type, but screw into the bottom of the base.