Exhilarating/unsettling Amp Modeling Experience

Discussion in 'Gear Chat' started by toomanycats, Dec 6, 2019.

  1. toomanycats

    toomanycats Well-Known Member

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    For those of you here who are familiar with the way I record and perform live, you know that I'm a real amp guy. If I'm tracking at home, I have a mic in front of a tube amp. If I have a gig I'm lugging an amp up on the stage. That's just how I roll.

    My experience with digital amp modeling is not necessarily zero, though it is quite limited given its widespread prevalence. Ten years ago there was a period when I used BOSS COSM quite extensively for recording. There was also a time when I was using the built in amp simulator in Logic. Neither of these could ever be mistaken for a real tube amp, and I used them at the time out of either necessity or convenience. I completely missed the Line 6, POD thing. But that's about the extent of my use of digital modeling, other than the rare occasion when I briefly plugged into something like a Roland Blues Cube at a friend's house. The entire evolution and continuing advancement of digital amp modeling over the last decade and a half has gone on in "secret" from me.

    Yesterday I went to a friend's house who had recently bought the newest Fractal Audio Axe-Fx III, in a rack, with some other add ons. He's one of those, "The man who buys quality cries only once," type of guys, so he went all in. He fired the rig up and proceeded to scroll through some presets while I played the guitar. At first I was unimpressed, as there were too many effects for me to clearly hear and judge the sound of the amp and he was choosing a lot of the high gain options. I imagine a lot of guys who get this thing use everything in the signal chain because they can, it's simply irresistible. I then saw on the screen something that looked like "JTM45" and I told him to pick that one and take off all of the effects, no reverb, nothing but the raw amp.

    I really was astonished as I played a couple chords. I mean, I know the sound of that circuit, because I use a very similar amp as my main rig for both recording and live performance. I use that amp like it's an intimately familiar instrument. The Axe-Fx III was making that sound, exactly. The body and fullness, the depth, the complex harmonic content were all there. I asked him to put the master on 7 or 8 and then began playing some lead. It grabbed the notes, it sung, it sustained, it sagged, it had that Class A lively and expressive feel to it. When I rolled the volume knob back on the guitar it cleaned up exactly as my amp does. When I dug in with the pick harder it broke up ever so sweetly, gently, and musically. I could not believe what I was hearing. I then told him to engage the TS-808 overdrive model that was in the signal chain. It sounded just like a real tube screamer with the JRC4558 chip does in front of my real amp.

    I tried a 50 watt Plexi, VH Jump type setting, and Fender Champ thing as well and was equally amazed.

    Now listen, I'm not saying I'm going to run out and buy this thing and sell my amps. And I haven't even ever tried the main competition, the Kemper. It has got me thinking however. What incredible tools to have at one's disposal. Perhaps I've come in at the right time as well, after the technology has had a decade and a half of maturation.

    So yeah, the title of the thread says it all.

    Exhilarating because of the thought of the possibilities.

    But also unsettling . . . because of the thought of the possibilities.

    I want technology to be transparent and invisible so I can be freed up to be creative. As an artist simplicity and self-imposed limitation are principles that have helped keep me focused. Getting bogged down in what I've heard referred to as "option paralysis" would not be good for me. I can see where it would require discipline if I owned something like this. I was reading on one forum where a guy wrote that he had 10,000 Kemper profiles downloaded, which seems completely insane to me. I'm reminded of a quote by Schopenhauer in which he says something to the affect that people buy books imagining that they're buying the time to read them all, when we all know that simply isn't the case.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2019
  2. golem

    golem Well-Known Member

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    Digital stuff gets more impressive every generation. If I want a hobbyist I could see myself using one.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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  3. mindwave

    mindwave Well-Known Member

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    YOu also want to watch out for the trap of 'overwhelm'

    When the Variax came out they sold like hot cakes, and it seemed like everyone who owned one spent so much time testing out "what Hendrix would sound like on a lap steel banjo..." that they never played actual music.....
     
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  4. mozz

    mozz Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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    Very good read. Seems like the nuances are there.
     
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  5. jgauker

    jgauker Member

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    The lead guitarist in our band uses the Axe-FX II and it really does sound incredible to me. I use a Mustang III v2 and I can get some good sounds but his is definitely way better sounding than mine. But I mostly play rhythm and I've got to give the Mustang credit, it sounds pretty good but rarely is my guitar the main sound in the mix.
     
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  6. Beyer160

    Beyer160 Well-Known Member

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    What speaker setup were you using?
     
  7. toomanycats

    toomanycats Well-Known Member

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    Surprisingly, they weren't that big. Maybe JBL or Yamaha, white, probably 5" woofers.
     
  8. Rollin Hand

    Rollin Hand Well-Known Member

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    The new modelers really are amazing...but that's the trap. Then they become obsolete, or the AxeFX4 comes out with even kore computing power and accuracy, and suddenly you need it.

    I have had my ElevenRack for years now, and it is good enough for me, but every once in a a while I get the itch.

    FWIW, the Eleven Rack has a pretty decent brown sound.
     
  9. bleys21

    bleys21 Well-Known Member

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    Sounds like you might like the Kemper, especially if you want to go straight to the plain amp sound first, then maybe layer a few stomps later. I like things simple, and find I just pick an amp in the Kemper, and play, usually with nothing else in the path, just amp and cab, and it sounds glorious.

    Now, the first thing I did when I got the Kemper was I deleted every rig from the unit. There were like 300 of them preloaded, and that's analysis paralysis for me, so out they go. Then I went through with the Rig manager, and tried a bunch, just real quick...some open chords, power chords, and some solo stuff, and if it grabbed me, I added it back in. I think I've got about 30 rigs (Kemper speak for a profiled amp in a specific setup, i.e amp set a specific way, to a cab, mic'd up and fed back to the Kemper) and that works for me.
     
  10. Chocol8

    Chocol8 Well-Known Member

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    I am a lifelong tune snob who has tried digital modeling a number of times over the years. They never lived up to the promise to me...until recently. We are currently mostly “there.”

    The cab modeling still needs some work, but for the most part, the top dogs have the amp modeling down pretty good. They are not perfect yet, but so close, they sound great and are FUN to play just like a real amp.
     
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  11. Narsh

    Narsh Well-Known Member

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    Fractal with Ownhammer or ML cabs is unreal...

    I'm quickly learning that the Kemper is equally as impressive. Together these things are sick and let me enjoy my hobby to the fullest. Best 4k I've ever spent.
     
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  12. glasshand

    glasshand Well-Known Member

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    I do believe that current modelers are getting really, really good. Like good enough that 99% of people are not going to be able to tell the difference in a blindfold test (given good speakers and all) and 99.9% are not going to be able to tell in a live gig situation.

    But here's the other thing, to me: I know a few guys who are all "Nobody should buy a traditional amp anymore. A profiler sounds exactly the same and is way more portable and flexible." And I firmly believe that if you feel a modeler is the solution for you, then you should go that route, because you know your needs and wants and preferences better than anybody else. But a Kemper or Axe-Fx costs about $1800, has more knobs and switches than the control panel of a nuclear submarine, is about as big as a traditional amp head, and does not include a power amp. At this point I am starting to not see the advantage for most of us. If you are a recording studio or concert hall, absolutely. For your average guy who jams at home, goes to a rehearsal studio, plays with his band at some local venues and street fairs, and goes to a local recording studio now and then, what's the advantage of a profiler?
     
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  13. Rusty Rat

    Rusty Rat New Member

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    For anyone still interested....the speakers were JBL LSR 305p. Great little monitors for the price and highly recommended. The Axe FX III was clocked from and run via SPDIF into a Focusrite 8i6 3rd gen, then out to the JBL's. I have relied on some form of JBL for studio monitoring duties since the 90's, and have come to know and trust their sound.

    It is a shame that Fractal Audio does not partner with music stores/chains...so that folks who are curious or interested in actually playing / hearing the thing can get a chance to demo prior to plonking down a large investment, but my gut says the company is just too small to make this happen. I did a large amount of research / analysis before my purchase decision. As with anything, there are always pros and cons. I was initially going to go with a Line 6 Helix, but in the end the sound of the unit became the deciding factor. Regardless of the review / demo I looked at, I felt the quality of the Axe FX output was equally high and seemed to edge out the Helix ever so slightly...at least to my ears.

    I think TMC made a great point with respect to "option paralysis". I am a keyboard player foremost, and only recently started to learn guitar. I have literally THOUSANDS of synthesizer and modeled acoustic keyboard instrument options in my workstation....and have often whittled away countless hours going through sounds to get just the 'right one' for a track - often not finishing an idea because of the "stream of consciousness" preset auditioning which can lead to other ideas than the one you were initially trying to find a sound for, or, more detrimentally, can totally derail the groove you were working on. Sometimes limiting one's choices can often inspire creativity. Anyone who has ever worked with a 4 track Portastudio can attest to this.

    There is a Russian proverb that states, "Perfection is the enemy of Good Enough".

    For the workflow I have when working on a piece of music, the Axe FX fits nicely. Everything can be controlled from either the unit or by using a control app on your computer. It seems pretty quick to dial in a useable (and just as importantly for me- a recallable) tone. Also since the unit's release, there have been 11 (eleven) firmware updates - each one adding an additional feature, or additional amp and cab models. The team at Fractal Audio seems pretty devoted to the platform so I am not too worried about impending end of life scenarios at this point.

    Will it be around in 50 years and hold or increase in value like a well-built tube amp? Nope...not even a chance. As long as one keeps this idea as one of the central themes during comparisons or purchase decisions, it may help to frame the Axe FX as another tool in the toolbox and not as an either / or piece of kit. I personally do not see the unit as a full on replacement for a good amp (which I have yet to buy!)...but I am happy with using it in the studio and so far enjoy the results it has given.

    Thanks TMC for hanging out....I had a great time!
     
  14. toomanycats

    toomanycats Well-Known Member

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    Hey everybody, @Rusty Rat is my friend who sang and played keys on the cover of "Worried Life Blues" I recently posted. Great set of pipes on this guy!



    In our future collaborations I'd be interested in tracking some guitars through his Axe-Fx setup and will surely share it with the forum so you can hear what I'm describing in my OP. The thing sounds damn impressive.
     
  15. Chocol8

    Chocol8 Well-Known Member

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    Your opinions are based on assumptions that are not correct or no longer correct. For example, a Kemper that includes a power amp is smaller than most heads and lighter. I also think you have it backwards on who benefits.

    The big $$$ studio that has dozens of the best tube amps, dozens of cabs, drawers full of microphones, and expert engineers to set it all up? They gain little. Same for the guy doing stadium tours with a big budget and expert techs.

    For the guy jamming at home, the profiler/modeler can hit the sweet spot of tube distortion at any volume level or with headphones. It doesn’t need giant speakers (this example was 5” studio monitors). You only need one or two (smaller) speakers and a single modeler/profiler to get the same sounds as a handful of different heads and cabs that all take significantly more space and cost more to acquire.

    For the guy going to small gigs, he can send the FOH the same signal at every venue and not have to deal with cab placement and mic placement and how small changes can impact his tone. He and the FOH don’t have to worry about stage volume, mic bleed, interference between the cab on stage on the sound from the PA etc. He can monitor with IEM’s or a smaller monitor and not carry a big cab or any cab at all. Setup is faster, sound check is super fast. He can get away with fewer or zero pedals. He can switch many effects and other setting with a single pedal press instead of turning a bunch of pedals on and off. He can have the tones from different amps in the same set or even same song without carrying multiple amps to the gig.

    For recording at home or a small studio without expert engineers to help setup and dial in, he can use an IR or cab simulation that is already expertly mic’ed or he has the choice of using one that does not include the coloration from a mic. He can plug right in and not have to worry about loud volume levels, mic bleed etc. He can record a raw tone and re-amp it later, changing amp and effect settings until it sounds right it the mix rather than having to get it all right before playing/recording.

    I have always been a tube amp guy. The kind that not only buys and plays, but also builds, repairs and mods them. I still own a few, and I always will, but I can’t see ever taking one to a gig, a studio, or a friends house to jam ever again.
     
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  16. glasshand

    glasshand Well-Known Member

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    OK, that's a fair criticism. Which model were you looking at? Because the one I looked at did not, but that might not have been representative of them.

    OK, but much the same is true of any solid state amp, or just about any decent amp with a good pedal to get you the sound you want. The choice is not just between an $1800 100-watt tube head through a 4x12 and an $1800 modeler, after all. I guess if you insist that you must have the simulation of a 1959SLP at home that only a Kemper can provide, OK...

    I suppose that's true for the guy who's super interested having a bunch of different heads and cabs. That's not me, or most of the other home players I know. A lot of us have "our sound", and that makes the value of having hundreds of different amp models rather less.

    For this whole bit, I'm just going to say that your experience of small gigs may be rather more different (and professional) than mine. In mine, you are lucky to get any worthwhile help at all from the sound guy, you may not have any monitors at all, etc. Sound check, when you run a simple rig, is pretty much "plug in, get an idea of levels, you're done", and that's basically no different from what you describe for a modeler.

    I mean, if you are in some kind of cover band where you have to/want to use a totally different sound per song, or multiple times per song, sure, but for those of us who aren't, it's not really a selling point.

    I do agree with you more about recording: I do pretty much all of my recording into Garageband, so pretty much the same concept. (This is why it surprises me you think a recording studio wouldn't care about modelers. Think about it: much less space needed, much less equipment to manage and worry about wear and tear on, much less need for amp techs, much less need to wrangle cables, mic placement, room sound, etc...all the things you cited as advantages in a live performance context.) And I'm no amp snob! I like my tube amps, but I'm also quite happy with my solid state stuff too.
     
  17. Partscaster

    Partscaster Well-Known Member

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    Can they feedback in a musical manor, or does it all turn to squelch?
     
  18. mozz

    mozz Well-Known Member Supporting Member

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    The more i read here, the more is see many good points but also many bad points. I'm old school so i like 20 or so tube amps. They make self driving cars and they are getting better all the time, but i will never own one, i like to drive.

    I asked this before, maybe my memory is going. Say i have a favorite tube amp such as a old Valco, 2-12 combo. This thing is sampled all knobs set to 5, and now i have the amp profile. If i want to turn the bass up to 7 and treble up to 6, i have to resample the amp. How is it going to know the bass and treble frequencies, how much db boost is at 10 and how much cut is at 2, without totally doing a sample at each setting? There is 100 samples just with a bass and treble 1 thru 10. Then you have the volume interaction of 1-10 so now we are up to 1000 samples. God forbid if i have a negative feedback switch with 3 positions, now 3000, add reverb, presence, mids, etc.

    Am i over-thinking this? Are the cabinet sims accounting for speaker distortion by being pushed by different wattage heads? Is cone cry available?
     
  19. Chocol8

    Chocol8 Well-Known Member

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    For me personally, the choice was my tube amps AND either a $300 Amplifire Box or a $500 Amplifire 6. I don’t need the flexibility that the Axe and Kemper provide and I thought the Atomic products sounded better than the more expensive Line 6 offerings.

    For your very small gigs, or for going to jam with a friend, the AA6 and a powered “FRFR” is no more to carry and setup than a 1x12 combo and a pedal or two. I agree it isn’t much easier either, more of a wash unless tonal flexibility is important to you.

    For my needs, I spend the vast majority of my time with a Fender Twin Reverb clean or a early Marshall/tweed Bassman type crunch. Real tube or modeler. The modeler is a heck of a lot easier to transport and is cheaper than just those two rigs. For someone with a desire for a third or fourth tone the gap is even bigger. You don’t need to use a different amp per song in a cover band scenario to see the benefits.

    As for your other questions... Kemper makes their toaster and rack mount units in both unpowered and powered versions. There are also third party amps you can add to an unpowered Kemper. That said, the powered versions are mostly used by guys who still want to play through a traditional guitar cab. Nearly all FRFR solutions have the power in the speaker. For example the little JBL305’s that inspired this thread are powered monitors so no need to have power in the modeler or a separate power amp.

    If your sound is just one amp, you have it easy. I play single coils and humbuckers, and different styles/genres of music. I can mostly get away with just 2 amps but it would be harder to do just one without relying on a pedal board. At that point the modeling pedal starts to get attractive.

    You will see Kempers and Fractals Axe units in big studios. I am sure there are some that love them. The point was the big guys already have a ton of gear and experience using it that the small guys don’t. It isn’t a game changer for them like it is for a small studio and a home studio where we can suddenly access a ton of tones that were not practical or affordable before.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2019
  20. Chocol8

    Chocol8 Well-Known Member

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    The Atomic into a cranked 1x12 FRFR with my un-potted pickups feeds back beautifully and controllably, just like standing in front of a cranked tube amp. I am sure the Kemper and Axe will do it well also. Over do it and it turns to shit, just like with a real amp as well.
     
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