The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Interactive, forum-based, in-depth reviews, tips, tutorials and more!
User avatar
Anderton
KVR Expert
140 posts since 4 Mar, 2004
KVR Expert

Post Tue Aug 06, 2019 10:01 am

Amp Sims: Are We There Yet?

Welcome to a new “KVR Expert” thread, this time about Amp Sims. We’ll check out a variety of amp sims, cover their pros and cons, and of course, you’re invited to chime in as much as you want! But let’s start by establishing a few ground rules.

There is no best amp sim. Because I’ve used a ton of them, people are always asking me which one is best. That’s like asking which amp is best: Vox, Marshall, Fender, Supro, Mesa Boogie, or…

Of course, the answer is “it depends.” Different amp sims are made by different designers, with different priorities and different fields of expertise. You might like the high-gain amps on one sim, but hate the Fender Twin...or vice-versa. Amp sims are as different an amps and guitars. Just as you might use a 12-string on only one song, a sim might have that one amazing sound that just knocks you out.

Please, no cliches. I really don’t want to hear “only tubes sound like tubes,” “I’ll use tubes until you pry them from my cold, dead hands,” “it’s not the same thing unless there’s air coming out of a speaker and making my pants flap in the wind.” Okay, so use tubes. Bye!

But that goes for the positive stuff as well. We all know that amp sims are incredibly economical, and that hardly anyone can tell the difference between a recording of an amp sim and an amp. And yes, we’re certainly glad your neighbor stopped filing police complaints since you started practicing through an amp sim instead of a Marshall stack at 3 AM, and we’re happy for you, but that’s not really relevant here either. My position is that amps are cool and amp sims are cool...but this thread is about amp sims.

Amp sims are NOT plug and play. Just as many people will say an amp sim is a piece of garbage as will say it sounds just like the real thing. My experience is that whoever designed an amp sim’s presets probably doesn’t play the same guitar as you, use the same strings, have the same pickup, play with the same pick, practice the same playing style, or has the same taste in music. So if you decide whether a sim is any good based on whether you like the presets, that’s kind of like thinking the photos on an online dating site actually represent what you’re going to see.

Quick story: It took me a while, but I ended up getting some great sounds out of my original POD. When the second generation came out, I thought wow, this is going to be great! So I went through the presets and...I hated the sound. I couldn’t believe Line 6 had completely lost the recipe. But! When I pulled back the drive on the presets by about a third, all of a sudden everything sounded great. I suspect whoever designed the presets used .009 high E and a thin pick. I use .010 and thumbpick...that explains it. The bottom line is if you want an amp sim to sound good, you have to work with it to match your playing style.

Okay, that’s enough. And now, in no particular order, let’s talk about a bunch of amp sims. I’m not going to go super in-depth on each one, because the goal here to have a “voice of the people” situation where everyone is free to speak their mind (including manufacturers, by the way). We’ll start with AmpliTube, because it was the first commercial, native amp sim of which I’m aware. (Note: I won’t be covering mobile apps, but feel free to contribute your thoughts about them.)

Here are links to the specific reviews, courtesy of Zanman777 (thanks!).

IK Multimedia Amplitube 4 review
viewtopic.php?p=7483640#p7483640

Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 review
viewtopic.php?p=7485661#p7485661

Line 6 Helix Native 1.81 review
viewtopic.php?p=7492346#p7492346

PRS Supermodel Amps review
viewtopic.php?p=7494829#p7494829

Positive Grid BIAS FX 2 & BIAS AMP 2 review
viewtopic.php?p=7504250#p7504250

Blue Cat's Axiom review
viewtopic.php?p=7510982#p7510982

STL Tonality - Howard Benson Guitar Plug-In Suite review
viewtopic.php?p=7536894#p7536894

Scuffham S-Gear review
viewtopic.php?p=7542336#p7542336

Overloud TH-U review
viewtopic.php?p=7545513#p7545513

Peavey ReValver 4 review
viewtopic.php?p=7556148#p7556148
My educational website has launched! Read articles, see videos, read reviews, and more at https://craiganderton.org. Check out my music at YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit my digital storefront at https://craiganderton.com. Thanks!

User avatar
Aloysius
KVRAF
25053 posts since 11 Aug, 2008 from another dimension

Re: The Big Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Aug 06, 2019 10:07 am

Plugin Alliance make some of the best amp-sims in the world today.

Jazz Hands if you agree.
Hi-de-Hi!

SLiC
KVRAF
4227 posts since 2 Dec, 2004 from North Wales

Re: The Big Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Aug 06, 2019 10:53 am

Go in with a good Pre and they all sound pretty good...I use a Fishman platinum pro for my pizo-acoustic fretless and electric Bass and a Laney Pulse (little Valve pre) for electric guitars. Both give good impedance matching, a little natural compression and a nice hot dynamic signal before it hits the Sim.

I have used almost all of the currently available Amp Sims and own quite a few (I won't bother to list them!). They all sound pretty good, but I mainly just use Helix Native now for the following reasons.

It sounds as least as good as all the others, possibly a little better in some cases.
It has the best sounding effects (and the most varied fx) in my opinion
It can load IR's
Easier to use, visualise and map interface (is not trying to look like amps and pedals!
If you make a sound you like you can load it in to the Helix hardware and take it on the road!

So I have stopped looking Amp Sims, but I never stop looking for hardware to put in the chain and use live :D
i7 Win 10 PC+ Surface, BWS V3, StudioOne 4, Cubase 10, Live 9 suite, X32 Desk. , DM12, Odyssey, P8, Virus TI, 500hp Eurorack, Elektron A4, RYTM, Heat, Digitone, Deluge, OP-Z, Mother+DFAM, Drums, Guitars, Basses and Amps

reggie1979
KVRAF
1879 posts since 26 Nov, 2018

Re: The Big Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:13 am

I have a ton and agree there is no best one. But I've got enough experience to say I'm incredibly frustrated with mix results. Cleaner/funkier stuff not so much, but high gain is a nightmare for me ... especially leads.

My go-to right now is the Nembrini Soldano using their cabs. I need to eq it quite a bit though or the mids give me a headache.

Gain staging is pretty easy for me, so that isn't an issue.

User avatar
Anderton
KVR Expert
140 posts since 4 Mar, 2004
KVR Expert

Re: The Big Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:26 am

IK MULTIMEDIA AMPLITUBE 4

IK does things a little differently. They’ve licensed using the names of specific amps, and gotten approval from the companies concerning the accuracy of the emulations. When you see a Fender, Orange, MESA/Boogie, Gallien-Krueger, or Ampeg amp, it has been approved by those companies. IK also has agreements with Soldano, Carvin, Engl, Wampler, T-Rex, Seymour Duncan, Morley, Z-Vex, Dr. Z, Fullton, Jet City, and Groove Tubes. Furthermore, the artist packs have also received approval from the artist (Slash) or estate (Jimi Hendrix, Dimebag Darrell).

Image
The Metal Lead is a high-gain amp.

Furthermore, the buying process is something that has become IK’s business model. You can download a free version, AmpliTube Custom Shop, which is no slouch: there are 9 stompbox models, 4 amps, 5 cabs, 3 mics, 2 rack effects units, and a tuner. It’s cross-platform, and works as a plug-in or stand-alone.

But clearly, IK has adopted the “first one’s free, kids!” model, because then you can purchase credits (yes, IK has had their own virtual currency for several years...take that, Bitcoin) to buy additional amps, cabs, effects, etc. You also can try before you buy, which frankly is pretty much a prerequisite owing to the subjective nature of anything that relates to guitars. So really, IK offers the path of least resistance: Download something for free, buy more stuff if you like, or don’t buy more stuff.

However, buying à la carte is, not surprisingly, the most expensive option over time. IK offers no less than 17 different packages based on AmpliTube. For example, if all you want are the Orange amps and cabs, you can buy them in a bundle with AmpiTube for $99.99. Ditto the Jimi Hendrix version. If you want to go all out, there’s the Deluxe bundle (over 140 pieces of gear) and the MAX bundle ($499.99 delivers 80 amps, 92 cabs, 88 stompboxes...you get the idea).

The bottom line is that over the years, IK has regarded AmpliTube as a platform, and continued to develop for it (with the occasional rev update, like from AmpliTube 4 to AmpliTube 4). So you might ask, what does it sound like?

Good question.

I’ve been using AmpliTube since it first came out, and first things first: like Guitar Rig, the sound quality has improved over time. If your last memory of either one was from 15 years ago, you’re in for a surprise. Second, some of the amp models I will never, ever use—while others are my first-call models, particularly for leads. A big advantage is that if you get the Deluxe or MAX versions, there’s simply so much stuff in there that even if you don’t like some of the sounds, you’re bound to find sounds you love. IK amps generally handle the clean/breakup transition well, and the models I find most compelling seem particularly adept at swampy, greasy, bluesy sounds—which are tough to do.

The visuals subscribe to the same school of skeuomorphic overload as Propellerheads’ Reason. I find it cool, others might find it excessive. The paradigm is a pedalboard with eight different routings, including series, two-path parallel, and series/parallel.

Image
The two pedalboard slots hold six stompbox effects.

After proceeding through amps and cabinets, there are also “rack effects.” This recognizes that a lot of the recorded guitar sounds we consider iconic had almost as much to do with the studio processors they went through as the guitar and amp itself.

Image
One of the two rack-mount effects sections.

Two stomp box sections handle up to six effects, and depending on the configuration, these can be in series or parallel. Dual-amp setups are of course in parallel, although you can have a single amp feed two cabs. The miking/cab options are particularly noteworthy; the miking section is almost like the studio equivalent of a flight simulator if you want to learn how to mic amps. It’s very well done.

Image
The miking section is quite comprehensive.

Another cool aspect that seems to fly under the radar is that in stand-alone mode, AmpliTube is a looper and a scratchpad DAW.

Image
The scratchpad DAW is available in stand-alone mode for getting ideas down fast.

Bottom line is that I would not want to be without AmpliTube—I’ve become too dependent on too many of its sounds. Since it first appeared, a lot of worthy amp sims have appeared, and many of them are highly evolved. But at least on my hard drive, nothing really replaces the options AmpliTube provides. Finally, note that the Deluxe version of AmpliTube is included in the Total Studio 2 Deluxe bundle ($499.99), so if you want a collection of virtual instruments as well as AmpliTube, you’ll save money by going for the Total Studio package. AmpliTube 4 MAX is included in Total Studio 2 MAX, which costs $999.99 and has a ton of virtual instruments.
My educational website has launched! Read articles, see videos, read reviews, and more at https://craiganderton.org. Check out my music at YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit my digital storefront at https://craiganderton.com. Thanks!

User avatar
Anderton
KVR Expert
140 posts since 4 Mar, 2004
KVR Expert

Re: The Big Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:28 am

Aloysius wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 10:07 am
Plugin Alliance make some of the best amp-sims in the world today.
If you have a couple favorites, let me know and I'll see about adding them to the list.
My educational website has launched! Read articles, see videos, read reviews, and more at https://craiganderton.org. Check out my music at YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit my digital storefront at https://craiganderton.com. Thanks!

User avatar
Anderton
KVR Expert
140 posts since 4 Mar, 2004
KVR Expert

Re: The Big Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:32 am

reggie1979 wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:13 am
I have a ton and agree there is no best one. But I've got enough experience to say I'm incredibly frustrated with mix results. Cleaner/funkier stuff not so much, but high gain is a nightmare for me ... especially leads.
The only way I'm truly happy with high-gain amps is if I use multiband distortion (and roll off the highs going in).
My educational website has launched! Read articles, see videos, read reviews, and more at https://craiganderton.org. Check out my music at YouTube.com/thecraiganderton, and visit my digital storefront at https://craiganderton.com. Thanks!

User avatar
Aloysius
KVRAF
25053 posts since 11 Aug, 2008 from another dimension

Re: The Big Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Aug 06, 2019 12:23 pm

Anderton wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:28 am
Aloysius wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 10:07 am
Plugin Alliance make some of the best amp-sims in the world today.
If you have a couple favorites, let me know and I'll see about adding them to the list.
You may as well look at Nembrini Audio too. As far as I know, they do a lot of work for PA.

As regards favorites, who could really choose? PA are kings of hyperbole right now and we believe everything they say without question, so maybe every Amp-Sim under the PA umbrella is the ''correct'' answer.
Hi-de-Hi!

User avatar
GaryG
KVRAF
5828 posts since 13 Jan, 2003 from Kent, UK

Re: The Big Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Aug 06, 2019 1:23 pm

Aloysius wrote:
Tue Aug 06, 2019 10:07 am
Plugin Alliance make some of the best amp-sims in the world today.
I recently got Bx bassdude in their sale and am loving it so far. A nice rounded tone that effects well but also plays nice if you stick a distortion plugin in front of it.

Also like Kuassas ampsims, currently using the computer music amplifikationCM 2, great fender-ish tone, maybe more controlled (or produced?) than bassdude so easier to use but not as... alive.
()_()
(O.o)
(")(")

electro
KVRAF
4533 posts since 6 May, 2002

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Wed Aug 07, 2019 10:15 pm

TwinR from Sknote is fantastic.
https://www.sknoteaudio.com/wp/index.ph ... assic-one/

Also great are the Ampeg Bass Amps from Brainworx
https://www.brainworx.audio/products/ampeg/svt-vr.html
Intel Core2 Quad CPU + 4 GIG RAM

User avatar
telecode
KVRian
1305 posts since 24 Mar, 2015 from Toronto, Canada

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 08, 2019 2:35 am

electro wrote:
Wed Aug 07, 2019 10:15 pm
TwinR from Sknote is fantastic.
https://www.sknoteaudio.com/wp/index.ph ... assic-one/

Also great are the Ampeg Bass Amps from Brainworx
https://www.brainworx.audio/products/ampeg/svt-vr.html
dumb question. what is exactly "supports UAD-2" format? i am still on GuitarRig. Does the output of Brainworx VST sound higher resolution that GuitarRig?
Image

Gear: Mac Mini 2008 model, i7, OS X 10.13.x (High Sierra), 16gb RAM, Cubase 10.5, Cubase 9.5, Maschine MK3, Maschine Jam, Arturia, Komplete 6, Komplete Ultimate, lots of guitars and lapsteels

abi
KVRian
664 posts since 11 May, 2004 from cologne,germany

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 08, 2019 2:43 am

I still like S-Gear very much, and also use Kazrog Thermionik a lot (the latter is discontinued for whatever reason).

Mats Eriksson
KVRist
128 posts since 4 Sep, 2016

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 08, 2019 3:16 am

Yes, I still like S-gear a lot, but only for home practicing. I still haven't found anything that will mothball that one, in a heartbeat. I think a distinction has to be made with amp sims that are totally software dependent to run on a CPU whether it's PC/MAC or dedicated hardware amp sims like AxeFX/Kemper.

There's room for both real amps, and amp sims still.

It was a long time ago one couldn't hear the diff. Mind you, even at the late 80s, the Texan prog metal/proto-grunge guys Kings X caused quite a stir with the guitarists "Gretchen" sound. One of the most sought after sounds in rock. Years later it was revealed that he only used solid state stuff, a Lab Series amp, and not one single tube in sight. No modelling, no digital DSP. And yet people had the nerve to ask him in interviews "But hey, some tubes..." but he replied nope.

There will be always development with all software "Now our Fender Twins will sound even better". But I rarely see this announcements by Fender. "Now our Twin sounds better". Go figure. I like S-gear still a lot, and even uses Guitar Rig 4 in front of it, certain pedals. It's like 7-8 years old now, but it's easy and not that unwieldy to configure. I don't use ANY of the GR4 amps anymore. Some companies have stopped developing guitar amp sims, Native Instruments too, their Guitar Rig 5 was their latest.

I still think the UA bundled Marshall Plexi ones, is one of the better takes on that particular amp, including speakers. Made by Softube I think. But after a while, just exactly like a real life tube Marshall Plexi amp cranked, one tends to slowly get fatigued with its one trick pony sound. Too.

I think, among program software that can be installed on any PC/MAC it's mostly an even wash these days. There's so many out there fighting for space, cutthroat competition, so I woudln't be able which is the best amp sim for what. I can only tell what's my favorite, and it's a 7-8 year old version of the S-gear. It's not anything that'll blow the rest out of the water, because it's aimed at traditionalists. Modern metal guys don't like it that much. I used too, sometimes Karzogs recabinet, some of them, but mostly for basses. S-gear+Karzog here too.

- - - - - - - -

One liability that most amp sims suffers from, is the initial pick attack, before any oscillation of the string occurs, that percussive, pluck, or magnetic thump. I want to hear diff if I angle the pickup while hitting the string. I do sense a slight more immediate response on real amps to that, even if they're solid state. But then again, no one in the audience will care. In the end, I am in the both camp, and not polarized. It's different instruments really. I am the one of very few, who thinks that the amp/cab and electric guitar TOGETHER makes one instrument in total. You can't remove or change either end of it. It's not a complete instrument without the amp. Remember, a connected guitar to an amp is always a closed electronic circuit.

User avatar
telecode
KVRian
1305 posts since 24 Mar, 2015 from Toronto, Canada

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 08, 2019 3:41 am

Mats Eriksson wrote:
Thu Aug 08, 2019 3:16 am
Yes, I still like S-gear a lot, but only for home practicing. I still haven't found anything that will mothball that one, in a heartbeat. I think a distinction has to be made with amp sims that are totally software dependent to run on a CPU whether it's PC/MAC or dedicated hardware amp sims like AxeFX/Kemper.

There's room for both real amps, and amp sims still.

It was a long time ago one couldn't hear the diff. Mind you, even at the late 80s, the Texan prog metal/proto-grunge guys Kings X caused quite a stir with the guitarists "Gretchen" sound. One of the most sought after sounds in rock. Years later it was revealed that he only used solid state stuff, a Lab Series amp, and not one single tube in sight. No modelling, no digital DSP. And yet people had the nerve to ask him in interviews "But hey, some tubes..." but he replied nope.

There will be always development with all software "Now our Fender Twins will sound even better". But I rarely see this announcements by Fender. "Now our Twin sounds better". Go figure. I like S-gear still a lot, and even uses Guitar Rig 4 in front of it, certain pedals. It's like 7-8 years old now, but it's easy and not that unwieldy to configure. I don't use ANY of the GR4 amps anymore. Some companies have stopped developing guitar amp sims, Native Instruments too, their Guitar Rig 5 was their latest.

I still think the UA bundled Marshall Plexi ones, is one of the better takes on that particular amp, including speakers. Made by Softube I think. But after a while, just exactly like a real life tube Marshall Plexi amp cranked, one tends to slowly get fatigued with its one trick pony sound. Too.

I think, among program software that can be installed on any PC/MAC it's mostly an even wash these days. There's so many out there fighting for space, cutthroat competition, so I woudln't be able which is the best amp sim for what. I can only tell what's my favorite, and it's a 7-8 year old version of the S-gear. It's not anything that'll blow the rest out of the water, because it's aimed at traditionalists. Modern metal guys don't like it that much. I used too, sometimes Karzogs recabinet, some of them, but mostly for basses. S-gear+Karzog here too.

- - - - - - - -

One liability that most amp sims suffers from, is the initial pick attack, before any oscillation of the string occurs, that percussive, pluck, or magnetic thump. I want to hear diff if I angle the pickup while hitting the string. I do sense a slight more immediate response on real amps to that, even if they're solid state. But then again, no one in the audience will care. In the end, I am in the both camp, and not polarized. It's different instruments really. I am the one of very few, who thinks that the amp/cab and electric guitar TOGETHER makes one instrument in total. You can't remove or change either end of it. It's not a complete instrument without the amp. Remember, a connected guitar to an amp is always a closed electronic circuit.
Thanks. Good post. I learnt a.lot.

So you feel that S Gear sound better or more superior than Amplitude and / or Guitar Rig.

I guess I am more of a traditionalist. So usually gravitate towards stuff like Fender Twin and Jazz Chorus amp sounds.
Image

Gear: Mac Mini 2008 model, i7, OS X 10.13.x (High Sierra), 16gb RAM, Cubase 10.5, Cubase 9.5, Maschine MK3, Maschine Jam, Arturia, Komplete 6, Komplete Ultimate, lots of guitars and lapsteels

Echoes in the Attic
KVRAF
7275 posts since 12 May, 2008

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 08, 2019 3:47 am

I've always been happy with the Fender Twins in Amplitube. I wished I liked the Guitar Rig twin since I've owned it with Komplete forever, but it has no mojo like the real thing. Amplitube is good enough for me for the cleans and bluesy tones for sure. Recently upgraded to MAX so looking forward to trying the Orange and Mesa boogies etc.
This is a block of text that can be added to posts you make. There is a 255 character limit. Once I have something clever, I will certainly fill it in.

Return to “KVR Experts”