The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

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audiojunkie
KVRAF
2917 posts since 19 Apr, 2002 from Utah

Post Wed Aug 14, 2019 11:13 am

Changing the subject a little bit (while remaining on topic), what's everyone's experience been with using (software) amp sims in live settings? I use a Zoom (hardware) with Amp and Cab sims built in, and I'm thinking about buying a Headrush FRFR-1212 to further travel down this rabbit hole of modeling, but I'm curious if there is a compatible and easy method for control while on stage. Do the standard midi foot controllers work for these programs? What alternates are there that work well in the budget range if so? Thanks!

Also, as far as modeling goes, what speakers/cabs is everyone using? Personally, I'm of the opinion that FRFR is not really an accurate term. Full Range makes sense, but flat response doesn't. Nothing is truly flat, and many manufacturers claim to have their FRFR "tuned" for guitar, or they have a contour button in the back (most speakers do). That says right there that they aren't really flat response. And yet, manufacturers claim that people shouldn't use PA speakers. Now, I understand that some PA speakers can be contoured for DJs with heaving bass and top end, but with a speaker with a "somewhat" flat contour, it should work just as well as any of these FRFR speakers. The same goes with keyboard amps or acoustic instrument amps. I had been thinking seriously about picking up a Roland KC-400 for simple small room performances (It's full range and has a built-in 4 channel mixer) and to use it as my modeling speaker as well. In the end, I decided to get the Headrush FRFR-112, because it bypasses the mic preamp that the sister speaker (Alto TS312) uses, and mixer preamps the KC-400 uses--which will give my modeled preamps a less colored sound. But it all comes back to the inaccuracy of the term FRFR. Since there are pretty much no amps that are truly flat response, the term should really be something different and more meaningful, such as Full Range, Uncolored Response or Full Range, Uncolored & Contoured for Guitar Response, etc. So, what is everyone using?

And just out of curiosity, for those following this thread and think that amp modelers suck because you tried one once: When you tried them, were they attached to a regular guitar cab? Were the in-built modeled cabs in the software disabled? I find that this is the most common problem of all (and the biggest misunderstanding) that people have with amp modelers, and why some people end up not liking them--they aren't using FRFR speakers or they have the cab modeling setting turned on and are running their signal into an actual guitar cab--both of which would ruin the sound.

Thoughts? :-)

Note: Edited for clarity.
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reggie1979
KVRAF
1879 posts since 26 Nov, 2018

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Wed Aug 14, 2019 11:30 am

When I was very young I actually played in a band and I used a pod and the controller. Sounded great and was very handy. Some sound guys didn't like it though (idiots mostly :lol: )

My drummer was a terrific sound guy so when we used our gear it always sounded ace.

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audiojunkie
KVRAF
2917 posts since 19 Apr, 2002 from Utah

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Wed Aug 14, 2019 7:33 pm

Wow! This thread died fast! 😕 Even the OP went MIA. 😕
C/R, dongles & other intrusive copy protection equals less-control & more-hassle for consumers. Company gone-can’t authorize. Limit to # of auths. Instability-ie PACE. Forced internet auths. THE HONEST ARE HASSLED, NOT THE PIRATES.

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telecode
KVRian
1309 posts since 24 Mar, 2015 from Toronto, Canada

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 5:29 am

The part I am trying to understand is.

Guitar Rig 5 came out in August 2011. Amplitube 4 came out in October 2015. Has there been that much change and improvement in AmpSim software technology in those 4 years?
Image | https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOB4JV ... 0396XaF1aQ

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

Echoes in the Attic
KVRAF
7291 posts since 12 May, 2008

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 5:57 am

telecode wrote:
Thu Aug 15, 2019 5:29 am
The part I am trying to understand is.

Guitar Rig 5 came out in August 2011. Amplitube 4 came out in October 2015. Has there been that much change and improvement in AmpSim software technology in those 4 years?
Both products have amps that are better than others within their own package though. Guitar Rig had models that were made far earlier in previous versions, and same with Amplitube, so you can't say it's a difference in 4 years of technology. I happen to think Amplitube was just modeled better, even the versions released at a similar time as Guitar Rig, but that's just my opinion.
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.

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

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 11:22 am

audiojunkie wrote:
Wed Aug 14, 2019 7:33 pm
Wow! This thread died fast! 😕 Even the OP went MIA. 😕
Hey, I just did a post the day before yesterday...and I also didn't want to hijack the current discussion. Yesterday and today, I've been writing up the next amp sim profiles, and taking screen shots. I'll be posting the one on Helix tonight.

Unfortunately, I don't have a "writing sim"...I have to do all the "coding" myself :)
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!

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telecode
KVRian
1309 posts since 24 Mar, 2015 from Toronto, Canada

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 12:15 pm

Anderton wrote:
Thu Aug 15, 2019 11:22 am
audiojunkie wrote:
Wed Aug 14, 2019 7:33 pm
Wow! This thread died fast! 😕 Even the OP went MIA. 😕
Hey, I just did a post the day before yesterday...and I also didn't want to hijack the current discussion. Yesterday and today, I've been writing up the next amp sim profiles, and taking screen shots. I'll be posting the one on Helix tonight.

Unfortunately, I don't have a "writing sim"...I have to do all the "coding" myself :)
Looking forward to your Helix write up.
Image | https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOB4JV ... 0396XaF1aQ

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

reggie1979
KVRAF
1879 posts since 26 Nov, 2018

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 12:31 pm

telecode wrote:
Thu Aug 15, 2019 5:29 am
The part I am trying to understand is.

Guitar Rig 5 came out in August 2011. Amplitube 4 came out in October 2015. Has there been that much change and improvement in AmpSim software technology in those 4 years?

Not really. It took me a while to get AT4 because there was not a proper demo (can modeling) for a long time and I waited for a major sale to get it. I have the Nimbrini but that was more because of the good into price and the feel of it. I like the Kuassa stuff (RE's here) but they require oversampling to not have horrible aliasing and can get a little CPU intensive with that setting. But the Creme is the only one I really ever use.

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audiojunkie
KVRAF
2917 posts since 19 Apr, 2002 from Utah

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 2:49 pm

Anderton wrote:
Thu Aug 15, 2019 11:22 am
audiojunkie wrote:
Wed Aug 14, 2019 7:33 pm
Wow! This thread died fast! 😕 Even the OP went MIA. 😕
Hey, I just did a post the day before yesterday...and I also didn't want to hijack the current discussion. Yesterday and today, I've been writing up the next amp sim profiles, and taking screen shots. I'll be posting the one on Helix tonight.

Unfortunately, I don't have a "writing sim"...I have to do all the "coding" myself :)
Cool! Looking forward to it!! :D
C/R, dongles & other intrusive copy protection equals less-control & more-hassle for consumers. Company gone-can’t authorize. Limit to # of auths. Instability-ie PACE. Forced internet auths. THE HONEST ARE HASSLED, NOT THE PIRATES.

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audiojunkie
KVRAF
2917 posts since 19 Apr, 2002 from Utah

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 2:51 pm

So as a little bump to my comment:
Also, as far as modeling goes, what speakers/cabs is everyone using? Personally, I'm of the opinion that FRFR is not really an accurate term. Full Range makes sense, but flat response doesn't. Nothing is truly flat, and many manufacturers claim to have their FRFR "tuned" for guitar, or they have a contour button in the back (most speakers do). That says right there that they aren't really flat response. And yet, manufacturers claim that people shouldn't use PA speakers. Now, I understand that some PA speakers can be contoured for DJs with heaving bass and top end, but with a speaker with a "somewhat" flat contour, it should work just as well as any of these FRFR speakers. The same goes with keyboard amps or acoustic instrument amps. I had been thinking seriously about picking up a Roland KC-400 for simple small room performances (It's full range and has a built-in 4 channel mixer) and to use it as my modeling speaker as well. In the end, I decided to get the Headrush FRFR-112, because it bypasses the mic preamp that the sister speaker (Alto TS312) uses, and mixer preamps the KC-400 uses--which will give my modeled preamps a less colored sound. But it all comes back to the inaccuracy of the term FRFR. Since there are pretty much no amps that are truly flat response, the term should really be something different and more meaningful, such as Full Range, Uncolored Response or Full Range, Uncolored & Contoured for Guitar Response, etc. So, what is everyone using?
I'd love to hear people's opinions on this....
C/R, dongles & other intrusive copy protection equals less-control & more-hassle for consumers. Company gone-can’t authorize. Limit to # of auths. Instability-ie PACE. Forced internet auths. THE HONEST ARE HASSLED, NOT THE PIRATES.

guitarzan
KVRian
1162 posts since 3 Sep, 2005 from Outer Bongolia

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 3:23 pm

So, since no one can be arsed to even consider properly modeling the dynamics of a tube power amp and output transformer, amp modeling shall always suck, lesson not having been learned from the 80's about relying on flashy pre-amps for tone. Anyone who normally digs into the power amp for true overdrive will get zero satisfaction — there is nothing there but the rails and, if you're real lucky, some ersatz compression and a dash of filtering. No proper power amp dynamics at all — zero. Nothing awaits but a square wave of shitone.

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

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 5:55 pm

HELIX NATIVE 1.81

Image

Personal bias alert: This is the sim that does exactly what I want, because it makes it easy to create multiband presets. You can do them in Guitar Rig if you can keep track of all the splits you have to make, and you can double up sims with parallel processing (e.g., AmpliTube, TH3), but having it all in one instance is what I’ve wanted since the mid-80s. No wonder I was happy when Helix finally appeared.

If you’re not familiar with multiband processing, I wrote an article for reverb.com that explains what it’s about, as well as how to do multiband processing in several different ways. The short form is that for distortion, splitting the guitar into four frequency bands, and distorting each one individually, prevents excessive intermodulation distortion within the amp. Low notes and high notes ring out separately. In fact, one of my favorite techniques is having the lower mid and low frequencies distort a lot, but pull back the drive on the higher bands so the strings ring out clearly. Multiband distortion is particularly important for me, because I use chords so much. To my ears, chords is where most amp sims fall down.

Image
Typical 3-Band preset

This is not a sound for purists, because it’s not about emulating a specific amp. No Marshall sounds like this. What it does sound like, though, is the “idealized” Marshall, or Vox, or whatever I hear in my head. I like the smooth sound, the ability to do stereo, and the option to control articulation really precisely. There are links at the end of this post if you want to hear multiband distortion in action. But is this for you? I have no idea, but find out for yourself - you can download a demo version from Sweetwater from Sweetwater that works for 15 days.

Ok, back to Helix. It didn’t start off as a native product, but as a floor unit. As soon as I saw the four paths, that did it for me. Helix Floor came out in 2015, but it’s important to note it wasn’t just a one-shot deal, but a platform. It has had multiple updates, the most recent being within the last few weeks. It’s an audio interface, works with the Variax, and now, can provide remote support for the DT25/DT50 amps and Powercab Plus. But let’s dig in to the plug-in...

Helix has 72 different amps (8 new ones came with the last update) and 37 cabs. In terms of stereo effects, there’s a lot: 29 distortion, 8 dynamics, 7 EQ, 23 modulation (18 in mono), 20 delay (15 mono), 5 reverbs, 7 pitch/synth (6 mono), 4 filter, 10 wah...you get the idea, according to Line 6 there are 194 effects total (and I don’t think this includes the legacy effects that were added a few updates ago). Bottom line is there’s lot of stuff, and if that’s still not enough for you, you can load IRs and there’s an effects loop for your hardware.

Is all of it “good”? Beats me, because I’m sure that some sounds I like others won’t like, and vice-versa. The point is that with the Helix, if you’re undecided about a sound, you can probably tweak it to do what you want...if you’re willing to make the effort to do so. But the other aspect is there are so many options that even if you’re not thrilled with some of the sounds, you still have a huge sandbox of sounds you'll probably like.

Now here’s the downside: Line 6 throws a lot of CPU cycles at Helix (and Helix Native) to get the level of detail obtained in the amp sounds, so it’s fairly CPU-heavy—and even more so when you have four parallel paths with their own amps. In fact for some amp models, you can’t load up four amps and cabinets without running out of CPU. However, I’ve found that you can easily run two bands into one cab, and the other two bands into another cab. This retains the good qualities of multiband distortion because you’re still avoiding excessive intermodulation, although two cabs cuts down on your stereo options.

Image
How to save CPU with a 4-band preset: use two cabinets.

Speaking of CPU, the original Helix Native had the same CPU restrictions as the floor Helix, regardless of your computer’s power, to ensure that patches developed on one could port to the other. That restriction has since been lifted on Helix Native if you want, but I’m sticking with the default so that any patches I develop are “universal.”

Also note that if you really want to pile on the DSP, you need to balance between the two sets of dual audio paths. For example, you may load up one path and think you’re out of CPU, but can still load modules into the other path.

The UI is interesting. Helix jettisons the traditional skeuomorphic graphics in favor of a matrix of modules. It’s not drag and drop; you select a block, then select the module you want to put in it. Recent updates have made it possible to cut/copy/paste blocks, which saves time. One element I was not expecting—and I think this may have been more like a “happy accident” for Line 6—is how touchscreen-friendly the editing can be. The section outlined in yellow, where you adjust the actual parameters, is fantastic on a decent-sized touchscreen. Loop the section you want to tweak, and then play with the edits until you get the sound you want.

Image
Editing Helix Native on a desktop-sized touchscreen is a delight.

The $399 price tag can be scary, because you can certainly find good amp sims for less (like the three Waves PRS SuperModels, Scuffham S-Gear, Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro, and the like). But you can also pay more, like AmpliTube 4 MAX ($499.99) or Positive Grid’s Platinum Bundle plug-in ($699). Helix falls between the two extremes, and so does the price. It’s extremely versatile, but doesn’t include a ton of optional-at-extra-cost add-ons—you need to go to the Helix Marketplace for those. Fortunately, if you have a Helix hardware unit, the price is $99 (and even that is sometimes discounted).

I don’t make any apologies for being a Helix fan, because it’s a product that was designed for people like me: You can make non-traditional sounds as well as traditional ones if that's your thing, the MIDI control is extensive, and there’s more than enough raw materials to get a huge variety of sounds.

(An aside: I like a lot of the Line 6 original effects more than the traditional effects the Helix emulates. If I had any one request, it would be to let the developers loose on developing unique effects. Sure, they do a good Tube Screamer...but there's more to life than Tube Screamers.)

Finally, here are two videos. I made a set of presets for myself and when Line 6 heard them, they asked whether I’d be interested in placing them in their marketplace as a commercial product. Sure thing, so I did a video that shows the difference between single-band and multi-band sounds.

https://youtu.be/9nhXh39tZPs

If you want to hear a song where all the guitars use multiband processing with the Helix, the most recent song I’ve done is a cover of “Walking on the Moon” as a tribute to the anniversary of the moon landing. Yes, I know...it’s an iconic song, doing a slowed-down hard rock version is a travesty, and how dare I do something like that. Got it! Meanwhile, check out the sounds if you want to hear Helix in action, in a rock context. And of course, any/all Helix questions/comments are welcome. :)

https://youtu.be/ivXWaWW9e74
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!

reggie1979
KVRAF
1879 posts since 26 Nov, 2018

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 6:45 pm

Sweet.

I've had the floorboard and sent it back. I've also demoed the native and was not any more impressed with it than the floorboard.

I don't have this wonderful detailed reason of why, but they were expensive and didn't do anything for me in my playing or mixing.

Everyone is different, there are not "wrong or rights" here.

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

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Aug 15, 2019 7:21 pm

reggie1979 wrote:
Thu Aug 15, 2019 6:45 pm
Sweet.

I've had the floorboard and sent it back. I've also demoed the native and was not any more impressed with it than the floorboard.

I don't have this wonderful detailed reason of why, but they were expensive and didn't do anything for me in my playing or mixing.

Everyone is different, there are not "wrong or rights" here.
Absolutely, and there's also the question of priorities. Some amp sims are going to be designed with goals that match those of particular users - perhaps a specific sound, or easy workflow, or in my case, multiband processing.

Again, let me emphasize that I feel the need to wrestle with any amp sim I use. Maybe I'm just picky...but I've learned that I can't trust my first impressions. Some sims that seemed great at first didn't have the depth needed for the long term. Others, and I include the Helix among these, did not give the sounds I wanted at first, but I thought the potential was there so I kept at it. Fortunately, I did end up getting the sounds I want...but it took a while.

The preset pack that Line 6 and reverb.com is selling took me a year to get right. Looked at solely from a business standpoint, I'll never get back what I put into it. But from a musical standpoint, I would have worked on those presets anyway, because I wanted certain sounds for my music and playing style. I got those sounds, so in that respect, it's a success :)
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 Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Fri Aug 16, 2019 7:57 am

audiojunkie wrote:
Thu Aug 15, 2019 2:51 pm
So as a little bump to my comment:
Also, as far as modeling goes, what speakers/cabs is everyone using? Personally, I'm of the opinion that FRFR is not really an accurate term. Full Range makes sense, but flat response doesn't. Nothing is truly flat, and many manufacturers claim to have their FRFR "tuned" for guitar, or they have a contour button in the back (most speakers do). That says right there that they aren't really flat response. And yet, manufacturers claim that people shouldn't use PA speakers. Now, I understand that some PA speakers can be contoured for DJs with heaving bass and top end, but with a speaker with a "somewhat" flat contour, it should work just as well as any of these FRFR speakers. The same goes with keyboard amps or acoustic instrument amps. I had been thinking seriously about picking up a Roland KC-400 for simple small room performances (It's full range and has a built-in 4 channel mixer) and to use it as my modeling speaker as well. In the end, I decided to get the Headrush FRFR-112, because it bypasses the mic preamp that the sister speaker (Alto TS312) uses, and mixer preamps the KC-400 uses--which will give my modeled preamps a less colored sound. But it all comes back to the inaccuracy of the term FRFR. Since there are pretty much no amps that are truly flat response, the term should really be something different and more meaningful, such as Full Range, Uncolored Response or Full Range, Uncolored & Contoured for Guitar Response, etc. So, what is everyone using?
I'd love to hear people's opinions on this....
Well, you asked... :)

I stopped using guitar amps in 1968 and went over to keyboard amps. At the time, tube quality was going downhill. But also, I was concentrating more and more on getting "my sound" independent of the amp, which is something I've continued to refine over the years.

While it's true that no amp is truly flat, the reality is that today's portable PA systems (e.g., QSC, JBL, Cerwin-Vega, etc.) have internal DSP that tunes the system to match the cabinet. The response is about as close to flat as you can get in the real world, and that's what I want...the advantage of a flat system is that your sound will be the same in the studio or live. Check out the frequency response graphs for QSC CP speakers, they're pretty darn close to flat.

As to the term FRFR, technically it's true that no powered speaker is going to be ruler-flat, but it states the design goal and what a company is trying to accomplish. I've used PA speakers with sims, if you choose the right speaker (i.e., not designed to hype certain frequencies) they're fine. But, it does place the entire responsibility for getting your sound within the amp sim.

I have some guitar amps for recording, but rarely use them. I visited Michael Wagener a while ago, and he was selling most of his amps because a Kemper did what he needed in the studio. But for live use, I'll take a powered speaker any time. That way I know the sound I got in the studio will be the same sound I'll get live.

Frankly I'm not very particular about what I use, because almost anything can be tweaked to get the sound I want eventually. But if I start with a flat response system, I'll be able to get the sound I want much faster - the only compensation needs to be for any variations among systems. And there are other considerations...for example in my "power duo" with Public Enemy bandleader Brian Hardgroove, I used a Bose L1 because I could hold the guitar parallel to the column, and get great feedback effects...and send the line outs to the FOH mixer. Fun times!
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!

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