Amp Simulators: Software and Hardware

Amplifier modelers have come a long way on both

the hardware and software fronts.

Alright, today we’re going to start where we left off yesterday talking all about amplifier modeling, also known as amp simulation or amp emulation. Essentially, it is the process in which the tone of a “real” amplifier is emulated to sound like the real thing – or as close to it – through digital means. While the first crop of amp sims were known for not be as true to life as some had hoped for (they sounded too digital was a common complaint and actually still is), technology in that field has come a very long way to the point where the biggest drawbacks of these emulators are almost a non-issue. I say almost because there are still plenty of amp sims out there that still fail to hit the same tonal realness they aim for but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a bevy of completely capable digital sims that can give even the classic tube amps of the sixties a run for their money. You should definitely check out yesterday’s article – right here by the way – in case you missed it.

Today, we will be delving deeper into the world of amp sims by giving you guys some specific examples of both hardware and software based modelers along with their inherent advantages and disadvantages. While there plenty of purists out there who would rather figuratively die before they give up their analog amps and the tone they give there is really no reason with today’s technological leaps to give the digital realm the blind eye any longer. So with that said, let’s take a look at some of today’s most popular software and hardware amplifier modelers.


Software Based Amp Modelers

You know, it seems like every single day that a brand new phone or computer gets released that claims to be five times more powerful than what we had the day before. Yeah, I know, I’m exaggerating a little but the point remains the same – computer based software sims are growing faster than ever before! And this, my friend, is definitely a good thing. Software based sims tend to offer outstanding flexibility in terms of sound design along with an user friendly interface (compared to hardware sims at least) but that doesn’t mean that some aren’t better than others. So, how can you distinguish between the seemingly hundreds of different programs and plug ins that offer amp sims as far as quality goes? Well, one of the best things about software based sims is that most software manufacturers offer free demos of their plug ins through their website. Most of these demos aren’t restricted as far as features go but are usually subjected to a time limit before they expire in which case you have the option to either buy or toss away.

Just like trying to decide on a brand new guitar or amplifier, it’s always a good idea to try out as many sims as you can. And just like a guitar or an amp, they will each have their own set of strengths and weaknesses so keep that in mind when you test each of them out. It’s also a good idea to have something specific in your mind that you are going for as far as your desired style, sound and technique goes – not to mention any specific amp or rig you’d like to have in your sim collection. 


Alright, now let's take a look at some software based amp modelers:



IK MULTIMEDIA Total Guitar & Bass

IK Multimedia's Total Guitar & Bass Gear Bundle provides guitarists and bassists with an amazingly varied collection of amp and effects models that are perfect for studio or laptop-based live music situations. Included in the Total Guitar & Bass Gear Bundle is the hugely popular AmpliTube 2, which offers "meat-and-potato" guitar and bass tones, along with AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix and AmpliTube Metal. For the baddest bass tones around, there's Ampeg SVX that re-creates the sonic magic of the legendary SVT amps. Rounding out the Total Guitar & Bass Gear Bundle is AmpliTube X-Gear.

IK Multimedia Total Guitar & Bass Gear Bundle Features:

* Over 150 ultra-realistic models: 51 stompboxes, 26 amps, 33 cabinets, 11 mics and 23 rack effects

* All software can be opened together in AmpliTube X-GEAR for unlimited mixing and matching, along with MIDI & StompIO control for live usage or easy automation inside your DAW

* Can be controlled live via StompIO (IK's revolutionary new USB floor controller/audio interface), immediately and with no specific set up, for the ultimate live multi-FX system



AVID BF Tech 21 Sans Amp (TDM + RTAS + AS)

The SansAmp PSA-1 is a tube amp simulator plug-in that provides a wide range of amplifier, harmonic generation, cabinet simulation and equalization tone shaping options. Although originally designed for processing guitar tracks, the plug-in has found its way on everything from drums and bass to vocals and harmonica.

For recording guitar tracks, the SansAmp PSA-1 allows one to capture a source free of muddy sound degradation or excess noise and then dial up any tone imaginable. Perfect for those musicians who cannot record a guitar cabinet at full throttle due to noise restrictions.


* Virtual recreation of the Tech 21 Sans Amp PSA hardware rack

* Add warmth and punch to existing tracks

* Full automation of all parameters



IK MULTIMEDIA Amplitude Fender

AmpliTube Fender is the first and only official guitar/bass Amp and FX software suite made by IK Multimedia in cooperation with legendary music icon Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. With a collection of 45 pieces of gear collected from the most sought after classic and modern Fender amps (including the '65 Twin Reverb, '57 Deluxe, 59 Bassman LTD, '64 Vibroverb Custom, Super-Sonic, Metalhead and many more), cabinets, stomp boxes and rack effects, AmpliTube Fender sets a new standard for software amplifiers.

From guitar to bass, from Country to Blues and Rock, Punk to Metal, whatever style you play, AmpliTube Fender is the only amp suite that gives you the world’s most influential guitar and bass tones right on your desktop!



Hardware Based Amp Modelers

Not too keen on computers? A little too old school for the DAW and plug-ins crowd? No problem! If you prefer the feel of the physical over the glaring shine of the monitor screen than you will be glad to know that there are plenty of standalone hardware based devices that can give you many of the same benefits of their software counterparts without the need to ever touch a keyboard. Much like with software based simulators – or any other product not just including music gear – the best thing to do is to try out as many as you can. Unlike the soft sims, won’t be able to actually download the product and test it out any way you see fit. No big deal though as you will probably just have to do it old school and visit a brick and mortar store like you would with any guitar or amp. The reason I stress trying these products out is that although some of these sims will nail a few tones expertly, they might totally drop the ball on others. Like most anything else, it’s a give and take so it’s your job to not only study which of these modelers can give you the functionality of the tones you’re looking for but to also to check out the versatility in settings for each simulation offered. I’m pretty much talking quality here.

One of the most common problems in terms of hardware based amp modelers can be found when trying to adjust the rate of delay while a note is playing through it. A well-constructed high quality modeler should allow the signal to shift and change in a natural sounding way while a low quality modeler will change your signal into a muddled kind of digital noise. It’s actually not nearly as hard as it sounds to distinguish between a high quality modeler and a bad one. They’re simulators so their main job is to simulate – the closer these modelers sound to the actual gear they are trying to recreate, the better. By the time you check out a few of these you should be able to tell the difference in no time. Trust me – it becomes very apparent when you hear something that just doesn’t sound “real.”

Another very important thing to look out for is the flexibility of the effects routing the modeler can offer. Some units pretty much lock you into a set configuration such as effects > modulation > compression > reverb which really limits you on the number of possible sounds that can be created. This undermines one of the biggest – if not the biggest – benefits that modelers offer; the ability to create sounds that just aren’t easily created in the real world. Luckily for us, most of today’s modelers give the user the ability to define their own signal path any way they see fit but just be aware that those without any leeway do exist.

And one more thing; make sure you find a modeler that lets you back up your custom sculpted tones to an external memory card or device. Remember Murphy’s Law – if it can go wrong it will go wrong – and the last thing you want is for your device’s memory to crash on you and taking with it all of your hard work. And with so many worthy amp modelers out there that do give you the option of exporting your data, there’s really no reason why you should ever settle for one that doesn’t.

Alright, now here are a few hardware amp modelers that are definitely worth a closer look:



Line 6 Floor POD Plus

The Line 6 Floor POD Plus gives you all the great features of the studio-standard POD 2.0 along with additional premium effects in a floor pedal with real time foot controls. Inside this road-ready package you get 32 amp models that you can mix and match with 16 cab models, 6 delay models, full-time compressor, and 20 other effects (including choruses, flangers, reverbs, sub-octave, and synth). Ideal for live performance or in the studio, Floor POD Plus is easy to use and ready to rock at a moment's notice. Just plug in front of any guitar amp and crank it up, or plug directly into the board to instantly access famous POD direct tone.

Floor POD Plus makes it easy to tweak all the settings for your amp and effect models, save them to a user bank, and instantly recall them at any time with its 7 onboard footswitches and the built in wah/volume pedal. Features include 120 killer presets, onboard tuner, stereo 1/4" outs, Tap Tempo, CD/MP3 input, headphone out, MIDI in/out, and much more. You also get access to Line 6's Custom Tone online patch library, which includes thousands of tones matched to the greatest guitarists and songs of all time.



LINE 6 M5 Stompbox Modeler Guitar Multi Effects Pedal

Supercharge your pedal board with a single stompbox! M5 Stompbox Modeler delivers 100+ incredible effects, one at a time – just like the originals. Get gain-defying distortions, lush choruses, scintillating reverbs and other expressive effects in a single-pedal-size stompbox. Step through your favorite 24 presets on the fly.

Owning an M5 Stompbox Modeler is like having a garage filled with half a century’s worth of modern and vintage effects. From the classic and timeless to the bold and esoteric, M5 has got you covered. This instant stockpile is robust, easily switchable and well known – it’s the same effect line-up as M9 and M13 Stompbox Modelers, and even includes the famous green DL4™ Delay Modeler. Dedicate one space on your pedal board to be whatever effect you need in the moment.

Add an expression pedal to open up endless sonic possibilities. Control up to five parameters per effect. Now you can dedicate one space on your board to be anything you want it to be. Save up to 24 customized effects as presets for easy access while playing. Scroll through your presets on the fly with your foot. M5 Stompbox Modeler is stompbox simple. There are no menus, saving or hassles. Tweak your tones using the dedicated knobs. When you power down your settings remain, just like a classic stompbox.

M5 costs less than a good, single effect pedal and delivers many times the firepower. It's stocked with an accurate tuner and plenty of inputs and outputs to integrate seamlessly into your pedal board, MIDI setup and your live, studio and rehearsal scenarios. Tough as nails, easy to use and ready to go, toss M5 Stompbox Modeler into your gig bag to take advantage of the single pedal stompbox solution. Save the world one effect at a time.



ZOOM B9.1UT Bass Guitar Effects Console

The Zoom B9.1ut bass effects console combines the most technically advanced audio engine with the warmth of a classic 12AU7 tube to produce the richest tones imaginable. Its ultra-fast ZFX-3 processor means all the world’s most famous amplifiers, cabinets and effects are modeled with stunning accuracy. For the discerning bassist, the B9.1ut represents an impressive and powerful solution for creating rich, detailed bass tone.

Delivering high-resolution, 96kHz sampling processing with 24-bit A-to-D and D-to-A conversion, the B9.1ut rivals the processing equipment found in the finest studios. This means that the wide pitch, timbre and dynamic ranges created by modern bass styles are handled without degradation, ensuring clear, transparent sound.

With the world’s most famous bass amplifiers and stomp boxes at your disposal, you have all the low end drive and sonic transparency of timeless classics. From Ampeg, Fender, and Marshall as well as more recent models such as Hartke, SWR, and Aguilar, a whole world of bass tone comes complete on the B9.1ut!

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