The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

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

Post Fri Oct 04, 2019 10:34 pm

All right...again, sorry for the delay. It was a bear to rebuild my C: drive, but it's great to have a functional studio computer again, and it now has several improvements as well. So, let's get back into the swing of things with STL Tones' Tonality - Howard Benson Guitar Plug-In Suite.

Several months ago, I was urged to try this sim out because it was supposed to be the be-all and end-all of amp sims. As I started evaluating it, I wasn’t impressed. It was okay, but came out around the same time as the PRS SuperModels, which I felt were just plain better overall. The STL Tones sim lay pretty much dormant on my hard drive, until I felt I should probably include it in this review.

For some background, this sim was done in conjunction with Howard Benson and Mike Plotnikoff, who certainly know rock and metal guitar production—and that’s what this plug-in is all about. Don’t expect step sequencers, a pedalboard, being able to swap out mics, place mics, use a splitter, or anything beyond the basics. You get five amps, five cabs (you can load your own impulses, which is welcome of course, but I wanted to evaluate these based on what came with the package), and three pedals—overdrive, delay, and reverb. The package goes for $129.

Image

Out of the five amps, Amp #3 really does it for me with leads.

As I re-visited Tonality, though, I started warming up to it. I realized that my biggest problem was that I really didn’t like the cabs, which have that characteristic, digital “fizz” I dislike in many amp sims. So I tried my usual solution of notching out the fizz—what a difference. If anyone has the STL Tones Howard Benson plug-ins, I’d be curious what you think about the sound when you add a high-Q (e.g., 8 or so) cut, around 5.3 kHz, after the cabs. I then added a light, gentle high-end shelf to compensate for the slight loss of highs from the notch—and that solved the cab piece of the puzzle. Once that was squared away, everything magically fell into place.

Image

You’ve heard of mic cabinets...this is kind of like a cab cabinet.

Because I now liked the tones I was hearing, it was time for a deeper dive. I found amps #2 and #3 to be unusually responsive to playing dynamics. You can really dig into a note and bear down on the distortion, or pull back for a cleaner sound. The high-gain amp #1 was great for sustaining leads, especially if you put a little limiting in front of the sim. The sims also seemed to benefit from putting my transient control circuit in front of an audio interface. Overall I feel the amps are at their best when driven fairly hard, although the Fenderish amp #4 is a responsive, pleasing clean amp.

The more I played with the amps, the more I found “sweet spots” that really appealed to me. And this is where the philosophy of the set also started to fall into place. By limiting your choices, and not trying to be all things to all people, you can dial in genre-specific sounds you like pretty quickly. When you find something you like, save it as a preset—done. I do wish there had been a stage of parametric EQ at the output to deal with the cab issue (like what Eleven did with its expansion pack, for the same reason), but with a DAW, it’s easy enough to add EQ afterward.

As to the pedal effects, you don’t get a lot but what you get makes sense. The overdrive adds the right amount of crunch—not enough to overwhelm, but enough to make a difference, without impacting articulation. The delay has an “analogish” sound, and the reverb is well-suited to the tones. It’s not a spring reverb, nor a conventional chamber; at short decays it has a somewhat metallic/plate room timbre. When you increase decay, the sound seems to “bloom” and cascade. It’s different from the average reverb, and an excellent complement.

Image

Three pedals? Well, they’re three good pedals.

So, here’s the verdict. There’s a 10-day trial, and that’s enough to find out if Tonality does what you want. Just remember it’s dedicated to a specific type of sound, in a specific genre. I don’t mean that to sound limiting, because there is a lot of flexibility. Also remember that if you want to compress going in, or add chorus, or whatever, you’ll need to look elsewhere. (This is a situation where if you have Waves GTR but don’t use the amps, the Waves stomp effects can serve you well.)

It’s interesting how I went from not liking this sim to liking it, once I tamed the cabs so I felt they sounded creamier and not so “digital.” Of course, tone is subjective, and I wouldn’t assume everyone would agree—the non-EQed sound has its own character, which you might prefer. But it does point out just how subjective amp sims are, and perhaps more importantly, how many times an amp sim can be just a slight tweak away from giving you the sound you want.
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!

Dewdman42
KVRAF
1650 posts since 14 Mar, 2006

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Sun Oct 06, 2019 10:41 am

MacPro 5,1 12core x 3.46ghz-128gb 10.14, X32+AES16e-50, LPX, Cubase, StudioOne, DP, Reaper, VEP7, VSL Full Cube, MirPro, EWHO Diamond, Kirk Hunter, etc

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telecode
KVRian
1100 posts since 24 Mar, 2015 from Toronto, Canada

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Sun Oct 06, 2019 1:12 pm

Dewdman42 wrote:
Sun Oct 06, 2019 10:41 am
John Mayer on modeling:

https://www.musicradar.com/news/john-ma ... sicradarfb
Hmm. Perhaps the comment on the three note bends sounds plausible but the rest is seems pandering to older skule sound players. Amp sims is a different tool than a real tube or SS amp. You chose to use amp sim because it's a lot more practical and efficient than trying to record a Marshall stack in a bedroom and you pretty much get about 80% of the results... And once that guitar part gets buried in a mix with synths and vocals, you can't tell the difference.
Just a keep on a goin' a forward, without a single ounce of fear

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

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Mon Oct 07, 2019 9:30 am

I wonder if he knows that running amp sims at really high sample rates can get rid of a lot of the artifacts.

Then again, suppose only amp sims existed, and someone introduced a tube amp at NAMM. "Too heavy," "not enough different sounds," "onboard effects are really lame, you're lucky if you just get a tremolo and crappy-sounding reverb," "inconsistent tone as the tubes wear out," "too expensive," "only one cabinet"...

Then again, there would be those who say "but they do have a different kind of response that's really pretty cool. Might be worth picking up an amp for that reason alone." :)
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
Blue Cat Audio
KVRAF
4033 posts since 8 Sep, 2004 from Paris (France)

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Mon Oct 07, 2019 11:22 pm

Anderton wrote:
Mon Oct 07, 2019 9:30 am
I wonder if he knows that running amp sims at really high sample rates can get rid of a lot of the artifacts.

Then again, suppose only amp sims existed, and someone introduced a tube amp at NAMM. "Too heavy," "not enough different sounds," "onboard effects are really lame, you're lucky if you just get a tremolo and crappy-sounding reverb," "inconsistent tone as the tubes wear out," "too expensive," "only one cabinet"...
Also I cannot believe he has tried them all. Each simulation has its own character and behavior, so it does not make much sense to put them all in the same basket.

User avatar
audiojunkie
KVRAF
2896 posts since 19 Apr, 2002 from Utah

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:20 am

Anderton wrote:
Fri Oct 04, 2019 10:34 pm
All right...again, sorry for the delay. It was a bear to rebuild my C: drive, but it's great to have a functional studio computer again, and it now has several improvements as well. So, let's get back into the swing of things with STL Tones' Tonality - Howard Benson Guitar Plug-In Suite.

Several months ago, I was urged to try this sim out because it was supposed to be the be-all and end-all of amp sims. As I started evaluating it, I wasn’t impressed. It was okay, but came out around the same time as the PRS SuperModels, which I felt were just plain better overall. The STL Tones sim lay pretty much dormant on my hard drive, until I felt I should probably include it in this review.

For some background, this sim was done in conjunction with Howard Benson and Mike Plotnikoff, who certainly know rock and metal guitar production—and that’s what this plug-in is all about. Don’t expect step sequencers, a pedalboard, being able to swap out mics, place mics, use a splitter, or anything beyond the basics. You get five amps, five cabs (you can load your own impulses, which is welcome of course, but I wanted to evaluate these based on what came with the package), and three pedals—overdrive, delay, and reverb. The package goes for $129.

Image

Out of the five amps, Amp #3 really does it for me with leads.

As I re-visited Tonality, though, I started warming up to it. I realized that my biggest problem was that I really didn’t like the cabs, which have that characteristic, digital “fizz” I dislike in many amp sims. So I tried my usual solution of notching out the fizz—what a difference. If anyone has the STL Tones Howard Benson plug-ins, I’d be curious what you think about the sound when you add a high-Q (e.g., 8 or so) cut, around 5.3 kHz, after the cabs. I then added a light, gentle high-end shelf to compensate for the slight loss of highs from the notch—and that solved the cab piece of the puzzle. Once that was squared away, everything magically fell into place.

Image

You’ve heard of mic cabinets...this is kind of like a cab cabinet.

Because I now liked the tones I was hearing, it was time for a deeper dive. I found amps #2 and #3 to be unusually responsive to playing dynamics. You can really dig into a note and bear down on the distortion, or pull back for a cleaner sound. The high-gain amp #1 was great for sustaining leads, especially if you put a little limiting in front of the sim. The sims also seemed to benefit from putting my transient control circuit in front of an audio interface. Overall I feel the amps are at their best when driven fairly hard, although the Fenderish amp #4 is a responsive, pleasing clean amp.

The more I played with the amps, the more I found “sweet spots” that really appealed to me. And this is where the philosophy of the set also started to fall into place. By limiting your choices, and not trying to be all things to all people, you can dial in genre-specific sounds you like pretty quickly. When you find something you like, save it as a preset—done. I do wish there had been a stage of parametric EQ at the output to deal with the cab issue (like what Eleven did with its expansion pack, for the same reason), but with a DAW, it’s easy enough to add EQ afterward.

As to the pedal effects, you don’t get a lot but what you get makes sense. The overdrive adds the right amount of crunch—not enough to overwhelm, but enough to make a difference, without impacting articulation. The delay has an “analogish” sound, and the reverb is well-suited to the tones. It’s not a spring reverb, nor a conventional chamber; at short decays it has a somewhat metallic/plate room timbre. When you increase decay, the sound seems to “bloom” and cascade. It’s different from the average reverb, and an excellent complement.

Image

Three pedals? Well, they’re three good pedals.

So, here’s the verdict. There’s a 10-day trial, and that’s enough to find out if Tonality does what you want. Just remember it’s dedicated to a specific type of sound, in a specific genre. I don’t mean that to sound limiting, because there is a lot of flexibility. Also remember that if you want to compress going in, or add chorus, or whatever, you’ll need to look elsewhere. (This is a situation where if you have Waves GTR but don’t use the amps, the Waves stomp effects can serve you well.)

It’s interesting how I went from not liking this sim to liking it, once I tamed the cabs so I felt they sounded creamier and not so “digital.” Of course, tone is subjective, and I wouldn’t assume everyone would agree—the non-EQed sound has its own character, which you might prefer. But it does point out just how subjective amp sims are, and perhaps more importantly, how many times an amp sim can be just a slight tweak away from giving you the sound you want.
Great write-up! I had never even heard of this product. :-)

You stated, "Just remember it’s dedicated to a specific type of sound, in a specific genre." To be sure that I understand.... you're referring to rock and metal, right?
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.

User avatar
audiojunkie
KVRAF
2896 posts since 19 Apr, 2002 from Utah

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:25 am

telecode wrote:
Sun Oct 06, 2019 1:12 pm
Dewdman42 wrote:
Sun Oct 06, 2019 10:41 am
John Mayer on modeling:

https://www.musicradar.com/news/john-ma ... sicradarfb
Amp sims is a different tool than a real tube or SS amp. You chose to use amp sim because it's a lot more practical and efficient than trying to record a Marshall stack in a bedroom and you pretty much get about 80% of the results... And once that guitar part gets buried in a mix with synths and vocals, you can't tell the difference.
If I were trying to explain amp sims vs tube or SS amps, your example would be the way that I'd explain it. It's a different beat entirely from tube or SS amp, and offers an incredible amount of variety as well. Well said!
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.

User avatar
audiojunkie
KVRAF
2896 posts since 19 Apr, 2002 from Utah

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:26 am

Anderton wrote:
Mon Oct 07, 2019 9:30 am
I wonder if he knows that running amp sims at really high sample rates can get rid of a lot of the artifacts.

Then again, suppose only amp sims existed, and someone introduced a tube amp at NAMM. "Too heavy," "not enough different sounds," "onboard effects are really lame, you're lucky if you just get a tremolo and crappy-sounding reverb," "inconsistent tone as the tubes wear out," "too expensive," "only one cabinet"...

Then again, there would be those who say "but they do have a different kind of response that's really pretty cool. Might be worth picking up an amp for that reason alone." :)
Exactly! :-)
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.

mmann
KVRer
29 posts since 22 Nov, 2015

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:00 pm

First I want to thank Craig Anderton for his great review of the STL Tones Howard Benson and his recommendation of using a parametric EQ to get rid of the fizz. On a similar note, I'm now a lot happier with the Line 6 Helix. The solution (for me) was adding either the Kazrog Synth Warmer (LPF 24 dB, Drive 2.0 to 3.0 dB & Cutoff ~7000 Hz) or one of the Brainworx bx_console's (N, E, or G) with the "Lead Guitars A" preset to get my sound in the ballpark.

STL Tones Tonality - Howard Benson Guitar Plug-In Suite
The Interface:
A good layout but no window sizing options. The knobs numerical position is shown when clicking the knob.

The Amps:
Five amps named Amp 1 to Amp 5, selection is very easy but all the amps have an almost identical knob layout.
My picks; Amp 2 (based on the Wizard 50) and Amp 3 (based on the Marshall JTM50).

The Effects:
Only three pedals; though they are quite good I seldom use them. However, I'm impressed with both the tuner and the gate which seem to work great with my guitar.

In conclusion:
Great sounding amp sim (once you EQ the fizz out); I prefer it more for rock tones than clean ones.

lajosuti
KVRist
131 posts since 25 Jan, 2014

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Wed Oct 09, 2019 10:06 am

audiojunkie wrote:
Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:20 am
You stated, "Just remember it’s dedicated to a specific type of sound, in a specific genre." To be sure that I understand.... you're referring to rock and metal, right?
Well out of the 5 amp the first one is the "metal", and the second/third can be clean or crunchy (and metal if you hit them with the builtin OD), and the 4-5 amps are both Fenders (maybe a twin reverb and a bassman). I really like the clean tones there, though I use ownhammer cabs instead of the builtin ones. I think this package is very versatile.

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

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Oct 10, 2019 10:01 pm

audiojunkie wrote:
Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:20 am
You stated, "Just remember it’s dedicated to a specific type of sound, in a specific genre." To be sure that I understand.... you're referring to rock and metal, right?
Yes...although as Seinfeld said, "not that there's anything wrong with that." :)
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
119 posts since 4 Mar, 2004
KVR Expert

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Oct 10, 2019 10:06 pm

lajosuti wrote:
Wed Oct 09, 2019 10:06 am
audiojunkie wrote:
Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:20 am
You stated, "Just remember it’s dedicated to a specific type of sound, in a specific genre." To be sure that I understand.... you're referring to rock and metal, right?
Well out of the 5 amp the first one is the "metal", and the second/third can be clean or crunchy (and metal if you hit them with the builtin OD), and the 4-5 amps are both Fenders (maybe a twin reverb and a bassman). I really like the clean tones there, though I use ownhammer cabs instead of the builtin ones. I think this package is very versatile.
The clean tones are good, but they're part of rock too. They're not, for example, Polytone jazz amps or a Roland Jazz Chorus. But, this also brings up the issue of the application for which an amp sim is optimized. In the next review of the Scuffham S-Gear 2, sure, it can make a lot of different sounds. But to my ears, what it does best is vintage, organic sounds.
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
119 posts since 4 Mar, 2004
KVR Expert

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Thu Oct 10, 2019 10:16 pm

Scuffham S-Gear

I reviewed S-Gear 1.0 when it first came out, and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting good sounds out of it. Frankly, I think the designer was upset with me because he kept telling me it was fine, and I kept telling him there was a problem. Eventually, I found what the issue was: S-Gear’s meters weren’t fast enough to register the transients, so I was feeding in too much level, which was causing unintended (and nasty!) distortion. To be fair, I don’t think that was S-Gear’s fault, but the fault of computers from several years ago that just couldn’t handle updating graphics fast enough.

Well, now I have a faster computer. And S-Gear 2.7.

It’s great.

Image

Scuffham’s Custom ‘57 amp, with three included effects and the Convolver module.

Now, like all amp sims, it’s not for everyone. S-Gear doesn’t dazzle with additional effects; there’s a delay, a room sound/reverb, and modulation (and yes, they’re all good). No compressors, no auto-wahs, no ring modulators. That’s okay. You can add up to two of each effect, and re-arrange them in a modular virtual rack. The Pro Convolver module loads a variety of impulses (included), with various mics and positions. However, what’s notable here is you don’t adjust the mic and position to try and get a good sound. The sound will already be good—but there’s always the chance you can find a better one.

In fact, this is one of the few amp sims where I’d say you can judge it by the presets. By and large they’re at least useful, and at best, inspiring. S-Gear used to have the rep of not being able to do high-gain, but I’m not totally convinced..I was able to dial up some solid metal tones. With several presets, I did prefer to dial back the Gain a bit. However, do remember I play 0.010s with a thumbpick, so there’s a lot of level emanating from the guitar.

My main collaborator, Brian Hardgroove from Public Enemy, is a hardcore S-Gear fan. I can see why. There’s an authenticity to the sound that provides a musical, general sonic palette. Also, I didn’t find myself reaching immediately for a parametric EQ to insert at the output. Instead, I dialed up preset after preset, and kept being greeted with organic-sounding guitar amps.

S-Gear 2 reminds me conceptually of the PRS SuperModels. They also have an authentic feel, and aim to do a limited number of sounds really well instead of trying to be all things to all people. Interestingly, I wasn’t quite as enamored of S-Gear 2’s clean sounds as the crunchy sounds, but that may be because the crunchy sounds are so good. This isn’t a diss on the clean sounds; they’re fine. It’s more like when you go to a restaurant and you like all the entrees, but you have a favorite.

With S-Gear 2, for me it’s the overdriven, crunchy sounds. They’re remarkably free of atonal components, have a certain smoothness that other amp sims often lack, and don’t demand additional processing. Also, although I like all the amps for various reasons, the Custom ‘57 is “tweedier” for me than most tweed models.

This is going to be a short review, because you can download a free 15-day trial. I suspect that quite a few guitar players will reach for the credit card within five minutes after flipping through the presets. Others will want more, and that’s okay too. But the bottom line is that Mike Scuffham has created amp sims with an organic, playable, responsive sound.

I’d write more, but I’m having too much fun playing :) I’d say the main strength here is vintage sounds, vintage tone, and an authentic vibe. Sure, S-Gear 2 can do more. But for these sounds, S-Gear 2 excels.
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
telecode
KVRian
1100 posts since 24 Mar, 2015 from Toronto, Canada

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Fri Oct 11, 2019 1:53 am

Thanks for the SGear review Craig. Really informative and a great read. I really liked the product when I demoed it a few months ago. I have them on my bookmarked waiting for a BF deal hopefully.
Just a keep on a goin' a forward, without a single ounce of fear

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The Noodlist
KVRian
1144 posts since 16 Aug, 2017 from UK

Re: The Big Guitar Amp Sim Roundup + Review

Post Fri Oct 11, 2019 4:46 am

An interesting video using Scuffham S-Gear.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1vFIFsF9Lc
Currently trying to turn noise into music. :neutral:

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