I’ve heard a lot of emulators. Maybe I haven’t heard ‘em all, but I’ve ALMOST heard ‘em all! Amplitube 3 feels right to me. As a late bloomer to this whole emulator thing, I’ve had a turn around. I think that Amplitube 3 is the first guitar emulator to be totally flexible and to FEEL right. (The Amp Room stuff is excellent too, but they bust up the packages and don’t offer any effects/pedals, etc).
What You Get
I don’t like listing features, as you probably know. So I’ll do this my way. You get all the necessary amps, pedals, and rack effects a person will need under typical guitar recording situations. You get the ability to push the amps into power tube distortion (which is FINALLY convincing!….and even has speaker breakup), you get to utilize room sounds in ways I’ve never heard from an emulator, and you have pretty much every tool you’ll ever need at your disposal. Basically, they’ve thrown in everything but the kitchen sink when it comes to guitar sounds.
So What! How Does It Sound?
If the top emulators from last year (minus the Amp Room stuff) were at 70% of real amps on a really good day, Amplitube 3 is running at about 92-94% of real amps on a really good day. It easily exceeds real amps on a bad day. What does this mean? It means if you have never gotten your real amp to sound awesome, the only reason to bother using it is for your own tinkering enjoyment. In terms of what the end listener is going to hear, Amplitube 3 is money!
If you are robo real amp purist, you probably should check out last week’s blog:
I think we are a year or two away before I recommend everyone toss their amps in the trash. In the mean time, I think 95% of us could kick ‘em to the curb without losing sleep and/or business.
When I’m recording any of my real amps (1971 Marshall Super Lead, 5150, Rivera Knucklehead, or Fender Bronco) it’s common for me to tweak about 45 minutes before I get what I’m looking for. Mostly, this is due to me needing something different every project I do. If a guy has “his sound” nailed we can usually get what we want with about 5-10 minutes of playing with mic placement, analog compression, etc. (I have no idea how much longer it’s going to take now that I bought a ‘Lil Freq analog EQ!) So, basically, it’s a given that I’ve got to make a long drive to get to where ever I’m going.
Now that we’ve established that some tweaking is required for real amps, some tweaking is required for Amplitube 3 as well. Many of their presets are money right out of the gate. There are some surprising winners when you bypass some of the pedals and such as well. However, generally speaking, I had to play around for a good 45 seconds on average to get what I wanted at any particular time.
A few things you must know before using emulators:
- Emulators still require you to find the right guitar for the right sound. Some guys expect a Strat to sound like a Les Paul. No emulator I’m aware of can do this.
- Not all DI’s are created equal. We established this in The Interrogator Sessions: Electric Guitar. I believe a Hi-Z input is absolutely required. Even those sound quite a bit different from box to box. The Waves Hi-Z input box is very good. I’ve found my Lil Freq’s DI input to be vastly superior to the DI on my M-Audio Octane and Presonus Firestudio, for example.
- For high gain sounds, a Tubescreamer type pedal is required in my opinion. I use the yellow Modtone pedal I don’t turn it off.
- For pretty much everything else, the Amplitube 3 guys have got it covered.
- Certain “Tweed-type” tones get a little boxy. I hate this, personally, but that’s not any different than the real thing. The graphic EQ in the rackmount portion of Amplitube 3 is an excellent way to tweak without using the Algebra side of your brain.
The room sound options are EXCELLENT in Amplitube 3. I can’t remember any other emulator getting this THIS right. It’s a very realistic room sound in a really good way. Not all guitars require such a room sound. I’d guess most of you would prefer the rackmount reverb thing to this, but for us guys who know and love using just the right amount of room in our guitars, this thing kills. You Iron Maiden kind of guys are going to love this.
In “high quality” mode this thing slaughters right through my Intel Q8200 Quad Core with latency at 192 samples. (I’ve been upping that lately…I used to be a die hard 128 sample guy…not anymore!) In “low quality”mode, the CPU usage is dramatically reduced. I did notice a hit in tone, but it wasn’t THAT big of deal. I’d say it lost 5% of it’s “quality”…whatever that means. In that mode I could use quite a bit more instances. I never counted them up, but the CPU usage seemed to be in line with pretty much all the other emulators I have used.
Unlike most emulators out there, this thing feels really close to what you get with cranking the power section. It’s different with different amps, but the amp darkens, thickens, and gets more harmonic content going in a usually good way. (Of course, not all real amps like being worked this hard….Dual Rectifiers come to mind. Not all real amps do anything when turned all the way up….5150.) I’ve found this power tube feature to be entirely useful many times, particularly with the cleaner amps.
If you push the power tubes hard, you can also hear the speakers breaking up. This can be very, very useful for some sounds and not-so-desirable for others. However, the fact that they’ve got it and sounds good is the key. Very few home recorders really get to use this aspect of electric guitar recording.
I made a 3 page list of what I felt about each effect and ultimately decided not to include it in the interest of keeping this a review and not a book.
There a ton of pedals included. I think they all sound very good. I’m kinda hit or miss about random effects. For some effects, I want crappy sounds with plenty of lo-fi digital artifacts and such. On other effects, I definitely want the “boutique pedal” sound. If you find you need a $400 chorus pedal to be happy, you probably won’t be happy with the chorus pedal included. The same goes with just about all of the effects. I thought the swell pedal was better than I had ever heard. The flange and phaser pedals were usable, but not quite up to the real deal MXR pedals. The EQ was extremely useful.
So basically, if you are ultra picky about your pedals, the emulators only “emulate”. Purists will want more pure options, but for effects that aren’t ultra critical to you, the included effects definitely fit the bill.
They’ve included a rackmount section which allows for all kinds of cool toying around. There’s a 31-band graphic EQ, parametric EQ, tube compressor (that DOES have character!!!), fake ass reverb (in a great, Lexicon way….I get tired of room emulators sometimes!), digital delay, and this resonator thing.
The resonator alone is one of the coolest things ever. It reminds me of an old school version of the Native Instruments Spectral Delay….only better and worse. There is less control, but you can do some WICKED effects with this thing. If this was a $399 plugin and the only way to get it was to spend $400, I’d buy it in a second and use it all over every album I could. It would be awesome! I LOVE IT!
The rackmount thing was smart. Very smart! Some sounds simply need to be placed after the amp. A person could do this with their own plugins if they really wanted to, but there is something to having it all right here so you can save presets and such. Some sounds (particularly with delay and reverb) need to be placed after the distortion. You just can’t get these sounds in front of the amp or even in the effects loop.
As you can see, they’ve pretty much hit each and every angle. The dumb thing is jammed pack with all the stuff you need to rock. It’s obviously extremely well thought out by guys who play guitar, super easy to use, and the kind of thing that isn’t too bad to tinker with when you have a guitar in your hand.
I’ve been totally impressed by the consistent reliability of Amplitube 3. There were a few small issues with the original version that were completely solved by downloading the second version. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a newer update out now that is even better.
I am a believer in Amplitube 3. I think it’s the best thing out there, in my opinion. However, there are some downsides.
Opening the plugin takes about 3 seconds longer than any other plugins I toy with. In reality, this is nothing. However, I’m so “on edge” and in a hurry all the time, that I can feel the stress in my spine every time I have to open it. So it’s good to have it always on the screen, if you can. I expect them to eventually fix this one.
Some tones sound right to me right out of the box. The Ace Frehley preset with the effects turned off and the gain turned down sounds right to me right out of the box. (I’ve developed a new found tolerance for the Recto sound. I’m not sure why!) Sometimes when I start tweaking with amps, pedals, mics, mic placements, rooms, etc I get “lost”. It seems that nothing I do can get me back to the mega sound I may have had previously. If you get lost, I recommend you go through the presets and find a few that excite you and save them as your own presets. If you get “lost”, they can be invaluable for getting back to a good starting point.
The Marshall sounds didn’t excite me much. I’ve always been a Marshall fan, regardless of the trends that were going on. A good Marshall on a good day is my dream sound. However, none of these emulations got the “good” Marshall sound. None of the Amplitube 3 competitors has gotten it right either, for whatever that’s worth.
Amplitube 3 is the new standard in guitar emulation. It’s getting harder and harder for me to justify the time it takes to record a real amp. On many days, I simply do not bother. They’ve put together a very, very, very good sounding setup with about every possible option you could ever want in a very use-to-use, reliable package. I am impressed.