Blue Cat’s Axiom
This is not your average amp sim. It’s a dual-channel (parallel) multieffects based on Blue Cat’s Destructor plug-in, but places it in an effects-laden enviroment. In a nod to their Patchwork plug-in, each channel can also load VST/AU/VST3 plug-ins at the input and output, as well as in effects chains within each path. (Yes, that means I can put a limiter on the guitar to keep peaks under control even before it enters Blue Cat’s world.)
The screen shot above shows the basic Axiom interface.
Of course, with a DAW you can just insert a plug-in before an amp sim, but making plug-ins a part of a preset is a great idea. The only other amp sim I can think of offhand that also loads plug-ins is Peavey’s ReValver 4.
Let’s establish at the outset that Axiom’s target demographic is probably the guitarist who likes sound design. It’s not plug-and-play so much as plug, go into a super-cool rabbit hole, play, and then return with sounds that are very popular in Alpha Centauri’s movie industry. The UI does have “easy” and advanced modes, which helps those whose brains are subject to exploding when presented with too many options, but those who love to tweak can live in “advanced” world.
This shows a preset’s basic mode.
Here’s the same preset, but with the Advanced interface that lets you do just about anything (most of it is legal in most countries).
Destructor, the hear of the plug-in, has four elements. Granted, you might think with a name like Desctructor, this is all about bitcrushing and super-non-linear distortion curves. That’s not necessarily the case; you’re better off thinking of it as a “destructor” of stereotypes.
The first element is a pre-FX section with noise gate and compressor. These are as expected. The second element is the preamp; it’s close to the traditional idea of an “amp sim,” with tone controls and distinctive preamp/amp sounds. The second element is essentially a user interface to create transfer functions, where you can set the level at which distortion occurs, the level at which saturation begins, what happens after saturation begins, and so on. So not only can you control the nature of the distortion, but also, how it responds to dynamics. The third is, for lack of a better term, the “speaker emulator.” You can load impulses, but there are multiple filters for those who like to customize the sound (I’m more into EQ-based cabs than IR-based ones, generally speaking). In a way, Destructor reminds me of iZotope Trash, because it’s more about giving you the tools to create your own mayhem, rather than pre-packaging those same tools into various amp simulations.
As anyone knows who’s read anything I’ve written for the past 30 years, I’m a huge fan of parallel processing...Axiom does not disappoint, with two complete parallel paths. Each has six effects slot before and after the path’s Destructor plug-in. However, there’s yet another parallel “tools” slot that seems more intended for standalone mode. It allows loading virtual instruments, so if you wanted (for example) a REX file player to play drum loops, you can do that.
The amp section isn’t all there is to this. In addition to being able to load VST plug-ins, there are 40 effects, and you can add them pre- or post-Destructor. These include distortion effects, dynamics, filters, pitch/other effects, modulation efects, delay/reverb effects, mid-side encode/decode, and various utilities. These range from really cool to “I’d-rather-use-my Waves-reverb,” but they all have value. However, here’s also the mind-blowingly recursive part: you can load Axiom as a plug-in within Axiom. So far, this has not seemed to cause a disturbance in the time-space continuum, but I’m being careful nonetheless.
Speaking of effects, you have your choice of a “standard” VST folder, and a user one. With Windows, you can use mklink functionality to add more folders; I wouldn’t know how to do this on Mac. Also, I could not find any way to use sidechain functionality.
You can load Waves plug-ins, even though they load through a shell—load the shell, and then a drop-down menu appears with the effects you can load. However, not all shells work; probably not surprisingly, you can’t load DX plug-ins wrapped as VSTs.
Axiom comes with a ton of presets, both meta-presets for the plug-in itself, and plug-ins for the various modules, like the Late Replies delay (one of the best delay plug-ins on this planet, and probably other planets as well).
Is there such a thing as a gourmet delay? If so, this would be the equivalent of boeuf bourguignon, with a Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
Overall, the presets didn’t knock me out as super-useable, but that’s usually the case with any presets, so no demerits to Blue Cat. However, they are like having a teacher who says “Axiom can do this. Next preset. Axiom can do this. Next preset. Axiom can do this...” If you like them “as is,” great. But reverse-engineering them will teach you a lot about Axiom’s possibilities.
You can map almost any parameter to any MIDI continuous controller (but not MIDI notes), on any channel.
Axiom has MIDI Learn, you can set any of several control response, and scale the control minimum and maximum ranges—which you can switch to reverse the “sense” of controllers. I also find the MIDI dishwasher and lawn mowing modes very useful. (Okay, I’m kidding about the last two. But if there were MIDI dishwashers, I bet they’d work with Axiom.)
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
You can skin Axiom, drive instruments while creating sounds, use it in stand-alone mode, choose volume and pan for the two parallel paths, lock particular sections so they don’t change when you change presets, randomize parameters with Late Replies, and even change skins...this is a really, really deep plug-in.
SO...IS IT FOR YOU?
If you’re into guitar sound design and ambiance effects, I don’t think you’ll find a better plug-in anywhere. Period. Download the demo, and within 30 minutes, you’ll buy it. It’s like a sound design laboratory; if you can imagine an effect, you’ll probably be able to do it with what comes with Axiom, and won’t even need to insert any VST/AU plug-ins. But that said...I was pretty happy with what happened when I dropped IK Multimedia’s Quad Imager into a few presets. And the ability to do mid-side processing is totally cool.
If you want a plug-and-play amp sim (“Just give me an effing Marshall, okay?”), this would likely not be your first choice. The presets don’t make it clear which amp sounds are associated with specific presets, and if you want to make some tweaks, the process is less intuitive than it would be with, say, AmpliTube or Guitar Rig.
The bottom line is that Axiom is unique. There is no other amp sim like it. If you’re a tweaker who plugs in your guitar and says “I wonder what would happen if I…,” then you’ll fall in love with Axiom.