Amplitube 3 Review

Brandon Drury —  June 2, 2010

Amplitube 3I’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!

To Who?

If you are robo real amp purist, you probably should check out last week’s blog:

Better Than Cell Phones – The State Of Guitar Emulators In 2010

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.

Tweaking Required

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.

Room Sounds

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.

CPU Usage

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.

Power Tubes

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.

Speaker Breakup

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.

Pedals

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.

Rackmount Stuff

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.

Flexibility

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.

Reliability

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.

Downsides

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.

Conclusion

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.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

17 responses to Amplitube 3 Review

  1. Great review. The modeling in this thing has reached another level!

    We are running HUGE savings on all Amplitube 3 products (crossgrade etc.) on our site.
    Simply click “add to cart”

    http://www.littlefishaudio.com/IK-Multimedia-Amplitube-3-p/at3retail.htm

  2. Great review, but I will stick with Softube Vintage Room for one reason: CPU usage.

    I have Amplitube 2 and it’s unusable on my Mac Book Pro with an Intel Core Duo and 3G of RAM. (IK, if you’re reading this, I want my money back!)

    Oh, and I think Vintage Amp Room sounds noticeably better. If you’re the kind of guitar player who needs a gazillion sounds, maybe Vintage Amp Room isn’t for you, but you’d be amazed at how moving the mic around in Vintage Amp Room changes things up.

  3. Brandon. This is not an attack, I like modelers for some things, I’d love another review after the “honeymoon period has worn off. I’ve found many pieces of gear to be lacking after the initial excitement has worn off. Maybe after some “real” mixdowns, whatever your method (I have a very meager home setup),drive around in the car listening to it for a few days etc., then some mixes with a real amp. This is when I find myself running back to my sm57 and putting up with the pain in the a#$ of loud amps. Again, I’ll be stoked if you say it sounds great, but in my experience, layering on-top of real amp sounds can be fantastic, but I have to have a simple good amp sound as the core track(s) for my guitars. I’ve heard several “modeler only” records from friends (and didn’t know this until later) and they all seem ok but there’s a certain girth and well, “realness” that gives it a “demo” sound if you know what I mean. maybe amp 3 changes this, I’ll grab the demo, but again, I’d love to hear your opinion in a month or 2 after putting the program through its paces. maybe call it “amplitube 3, after the honeymoon”.
    BTW, a definite exception to this in my opinion is non-guitar based music. funky pop, r&b, top 40 type-stuff. No amp needed for that.
    keep up the good work man! -m

  4. sorry, one more comment! How’s it with single-coil guitars?
    I’ve found amp-farm to struggle with those much more that buckers..

  5. I’ve been using it every day for about a month and a half, but most of that has been for every day playing or band practices. I haven’t done anything “real” with it. Yesterday I started something semi-real and after I got what I liked, I said to myself, “It would be a REAL pain in the ass to get this sound with any of my real toys.” I guess I could attempt to match the emulator, but it seems like that’s taking a step backwards.

    There are some purist tones that aren’t quite as good as I said in the review. However, this “purist” thing is insanely subjective.

    I don’t agree about the “demo” sound part. If I have 5 minutes to get a guitar sound from scratch, it WILL sound like a demo. I always need at good 30 minutes (sometimes much more) to get a mega real sound. I think Amplitube 3 has a finished quality to it right out of the box. That’s my view anyway.

    There is a certain “graininess” to it which I guess you could call it part of Amplitube’s character that I have no problem with at all, but totally recognize. Some guys may not care for that, but starts getting into Boogie vs Marshall territory. It’s certainly not an objective flaw.

    Brandon

  6. I don’t mean trying to get the same sound as amplitube. just similar (marshall on amptube, real marshall), then compare the whole mix. Looking more at the overall sound, how the guitars sit in the mix etc. not just the guitar tones themselves. hope this makes sense. Then see what sounds more “right” to you. Don’t even “match” anything as u go (except the basics, same guitar etc.). Just make the best recording you can with amplitube, don’t A/B as you do it, then using the same song, make the best sounding song you can with an amp. Then A/B after both are done. I’m not predicting the outcome, I’d just love to hear your input. Believe me, if its the same (or amptube is better), I’d be stoked! so would my neighbors.
    I will do this eventually, but life has my time quite limited. Just a thought man, either way, appreciate all the info and research ya do.

  7. hey brandon, i would love to hear what you think of guitar rig 4. i have been using both amplitube 3 and guitar rig 4 (and used th1 for a demo, its not bad either) and i always come back to gr4 feeling that amplitube is a little overrated. i have played the real versions of most of the amps modelled in gr4 and they feel/sound right to me and seem much more natural. the interface is MUCH better imo, more intuitive, neater, and easier to use. i will grant you i have spent more time on gr4 than amplitube but totally rate it above amplitube and th1. just thinking that if you maintain that the actual sound of amplitube is better than the others then i should spend more time with it and get better at using it.

    cheers mate!

  8. You mentioned something about not all DI’s are created equal, where can I read more about what’s necessary for good DI’s?

  9. Brandon YOU are the man,
    I just love the energy and excitment you put into your site….whether it’s the review of a 8.5 string size compared to 12kv cable or the feel of a digital modeling program! It’s good and fun! Keep up the good work!
    Mark

  10. I love the sound of a cranked marshall!

    As you mention, none of the simulators delivers a great marshall sound. Until that happens i use a mic and my jvm og plexi.

    In a mix simulators can sound great. But theres somthing lacking in mye ears. At least when you want a singel guitar bridge to stand out.

    Thats my experience at least.

    Good review by the way. And sorry about my English writiing;)

    Keep rockin:)

  11. I have A-3 and will say it is a blast to play through.
    As for the interace, I LOVE using an ART project studio tube mic pre into the paded input on my TonePort UX2 into my M-audio BX-5A Moniters. Though A3 sounds great just into the TonePort, It comes alive with the tube pre (and I’ve not untill now bought into the “tube pre to warm up your signal” thing. But in this case (and I’ve found it to give Guiter Rig-4 a sound and feel that is inspiring to say the least).
    As for the Plexi models: I usually make a beeline to these on any modeller because I LOVE that “KAAARRRRRAAAANNNNGGG! sound of those old Plexi amps.
    I find both A3 and GR4 to be great here with the tube pre.
    Especially with iether my SG with 490r-490t in it and My Strats with Duncan Hpt rails bridge pickups.
    It seems the A3 version is more “refined” ( I hate to use terms like this and greasy and dynamic but here I go) and the GR4 to be more rude and in your face.
    I am absolutely floored by the rack section in A3. It is esaier to tweak than GR4 is to me.
    Bottom line is that A3s a real good product.
    I will qualify this by saying I’ve been a fan boy of modelling for years and likes it a lot ever since the Pod 2.0.

  12. I’m with Matt.
    If you could find the time to A/B both it would go along way in helping me decide on laying out the “jack” for amplitude 3.
    I respect your hard work and the effort you put into sharing your knowledge with us.
    Thanks.

  13. Give my simple free amp VST’s a whirl… let me know what you think.

  14. bummer peppered! I tried to take you up on that but there’s nothing for us apple eaters. Hope to someday see a mac version!

  15. I have had Amplitube 2 for a while and I love it, for the huge range of sounds, and flexibility. Great on keys etc too. If had the studio space, and sound proofing, then I’d have a amp & cab running full tilt…. they just sound awesome. The FUN of recording! Modern digital tech has and will always give people more options, and the tech geeks just love designing the stuff! Year on year tech gets better sounding, faster, cheaper….. bring it on. I’ll still want the sound of a drummer beating the s**t out of a kit, and the sound of a Dual Mesa & Sunn Amp on full….. the thrills of recording. ENJOYMENT!!

  16. I like the review because it says what it is.
    I agree with the 5 percent missing.

    The best way to toggle that is by using a tube preamp, because that’s the missing part in some of the sounds.

    I use an ART srudio preamp, not the best in the world but it gives this plug a real boost.(45 euro’s here in Holland).
    Very, very nice plugin i have to say.

    Grtz. Girore.

  17. I am using Amplitube2 , it sounds pretty well for me. Probably new release is even better.