Monday, August 27, 2018

Ik Multimedia Amplitube 4 Review

I'm definitely an old school guy. I love the feel of standing in front of a 4x12 cabinet and feeling the the vibrations, the interaction of the guitar and the amp AND the pedals AND the room. There is nothing like it and I have my doubts that modeling will ever replace that exact experience. That said we live in an incredible time and modeling has gotten 1000% better than the early days.

 I got Amplitube a few years ago and it was decent as far as modeling goes. A bit edgy and there was a digital crispiness that you had to dial out but it was great for jamming with headphones and getting scratch tracks down. Still it didn't sound like a real tube amp. It was better than my old Line 6 Flextone that I bought in 2001 but there is a learning curve. You can't push the inputs like you do on a real amp. And there are several gain stages that you have to find and make sure your guitar signal going into the "amp" is clean and let the program do the work. But you could definitely get a professional sounding recording from it once you figured out it works.

A few months ago they offered a deal on Amplitube 4 with Amplitube Slash. I had tried out the Slash amps before and was impressed and thought if a deal was offered I would add them. So I jumped on the chance to buy both at a huge discount (more on that later). The difference between Amplitube 3 and 4 is impressive. The digital crispiness is gone in the new amps and the "feel" of picking dynamics is fantastic. The new amps in Amplitube 4 are Marshall based and sound amazingly like their real counterparts. I've spent quite a bit of time with JCM800's and 900's and these models don't just remind me of them. I can't HEAR the difference. Now JCM800's all sound a bit different but they are all in the same seating section of the proverbial ball field. It's the same with the 900's an amp that some guitarist abhor but really if you turn the preamp gain down and crank them they can sound great. If your ears can hear the difference between the real versions these two amps in a well produced track I don't think you will be able to hear the difference between the modeled versions and the real versions in a well produced track. That's how good they are.

One of the things that sold me on Amplitbe was trying the Mesa Transatlantic model. I pulled up the Andy Timmons demo on youtube... dialed in the same settings on Amplitube and the tone was dead on, every time!

I'm not going over all the features of Amplitube in this review because there are a million tutorials on youtube and other places. But I will offer some advice to those who are curious or who tried it once and didn't find it appealing.

1) It takes a while to learn to dial it in. Dialing in gain staging correctly between the guitar, interface, asio driver, and input of the vst is tricky and of upmost importance to getting a great sound. But once you dial it in you shouldn't have to mess with it with the exception of the input of the vst.

2) The "legacy" amps, the models they made early on, still have that digital sheen. The trial version includes a JCM800 and a fender twin and they are not good. AT ALL. I wish they would replace those freebies with their JH Gold and one of the Fender models because those are fantastic. Most of the stuff they've put out the last few years sounds amazingly authentic.

3) Get to know the cab room. You can change the cabs and the speakers and rooms and mics and it makes a huge difference in your tone. This one thing makes Amplitube 4 worth it IMO. You can also turn off the cab room and use an impulse response for even more versatility.

4) You can try out anything for 3 days, for the most part. Once you have Amplitube and the Custom Shop installed you can try out any amp and cabinet for 3 days without buying. But the presets don't normally sound exactly right and often include effects or mics that you might not have. Still once you've messed around with it you'll get a pretty good idea if it's going to give you what your looking for.
Silver Jubilee

5) They do sales every couple of months. If your on a budget patience is your friend. They give you loyalty points every time you buy something and about once a year they give some points just for having it. I'm sure it spurs sales but if you save these and wait till they next time they do a sale you'll get a great deal on stuff. Earlier I mentioned the deal I got on the Slash/Amplitube 4 combo. They put it on sale for $50 and I was able to use points to get the price down to $35!!!! I'll never spend $2000+ on the Slash AFD amp to have the real thing. But to have it and the JCMSlash for $35 plus a few more effects. Deal! And I got all of Amplitube 4 for that as well. WHAT!! Incredible. Also watch their social media because last year I got their amazing Hiwatt amp because they gave it away for free one weekend.

6) The iPad/iPhone version is not as in depth as the desktop version. Also if you buy the amp in one you still have to pay for it on the other one. I don't think this is right. At the moment IK says it's because of an agreement with Apple but... Yeah that needs to be changed.

As with most complex software there is a learning curve. Be patient with yourself as your learning the ins and outs. Their forum is very responsive I've gotten and given a lot of help there. Just not always as fast as you might hope. Can you gig with it? I've seen people do it, changing between presets can get tricky but it's not difficult once you have it programmed. More than anything for me it's an amazing home studio tool for song writing, jamming, recording and even auditioning gear.

There is still a major cool factor in cranking up a half stack and feeling your jeans vibrate against your legs but amp modeling keeps getting better and better every couple of years. In the early days it was versatility that helped it grow but now the practicalities and sound quality of using modelers is starting to take over for live performance and studio work. Lots of giant touring bands are using Fractals and Helixs live and in the studio. While I know I'll always have a couple of amps sitting around to plug into the latest modeling software (and hardware) shouldn't be ignored anymore.

*I was in no way paid for this review. All opinions are my own.

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