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Axe Fx Standard Review And The End Of Guitar Amps

Brandon Drury —  October 5, 2012 — 4 Comments

AxeFxStandard

It’s official.  The world has changed.  I’m finished with real guitar amps and I want the world to know it.  There was a time not long ago when I laughed at guitar emulators.  Now I’m laughing that I didn’t change to this mode of working sooner.

Comparison Shop For Axe FX Standard

I’m generally against the idea of “emulating” anyway.  I prefer the role of creator.  Slowly these “fake” gadgets  started to improve.  For many projects, the tone is fine in emulator plugins like Amplitube or Guitar Rig and the twisting and turning to get them to sound pretty good isn’t too far removed from what it takes with a real amp if you’ve done the due diligence to make them stand out.  (This extra effort is required with practically any guitar venture and is rarely automatic.  I’d imagine the lack of extra effort is probably a major reason we sometimes hear not-so-ideal demonstrations of the technology.)

The notion that plugging into a real amp is instant bliss is total bs anyway.  We all know that.  To get a tone that really screams, it is definitely work and a lot of trial and error.  I imagine most guys with their hand-selected Fender Twins, AC30s, etc have forgotten how many miles they’ve driven to test out such tools.  I’ve got tone junkie friends who wind their own pickups.  If they were already in heaven, no one would go through the hell of THAT.  Guitar tone takes work!

While the Axe FX Standard  has been around for well over five years, it’s taken awhile for the world to come around to them.  I suspect most of this has to do with dogma.

There’s some kind of faith in tube electronics (no matter how hard my Lee Jackson tried to destroy it) that made it take a while for the idea of a processor to marinade deep enough.  You have to be a bit of a fruit cake by 2008 standards to buy into this processor business for anything serious.  I’m cool with that.  I also know that once-laughable tools like electronic drums, drum sample layering/replacing, autotune, and even quantize features have come to a point where living without them would be a hindrance to the  work I’m cranking out particularly with any band on a budget.  (Know of any that AREN’T?)  I’ve kicked myself for not taking the plunge and trying out these new gadgets that are all the rave with these “damn kids”.  Now that I’m 32 I kinda like the demise of video rentals and the milk man just to see if it can benefit my work in any way.

So with that in mind, I realize I’m deviating from the old school on this one.  As always, your view of the olden days will vary.  Some of you spent ‘69 in a Hanoi POW camp.  Others spent it in acid-trip orgies in a college dorm.  I was only written about in prophecy at that time. ;)   Since this is a guitar review, I expect to get suicide recommendations over this one.  It comes with the territory of lowering the common denominator.  Few remember that this is supposed to be fun.

So How Good Does It Sound?

In my opinion and experience it sounds about 5% better than a real amp 95% of the time.  This is working within the limitations of my rooms, skills, equipment, and TIME.

I’m constantly fighting either mud or harshness any time I need a new tone.  (Those of you with YOUR tone have spent years dialing it in.  I usually need a new one almost every day.)

There is only one way to  decipher whether a real amp was used or if the Axe FX was used on a given recording I’ve done.  If the tone stands out as not needing any help in mix time, there’s a good chance it’s the Axe FX.  “Too good for home recording” or “too good for the drums” is not a valid test, really.

How Fast Is It?

On my guitar project I finished up yesterday, radically different tones were needed for each track.  I fired up Axe Edit with a few patches I had made with a couple Redwirez patches.  In most cases it took me about 90 seconds to tweak those to fit the tone the song called for.  Sometimes these were radical shifts in tone where we maybe switched from a “Rectifier Red” or “Energyball” high gain tone to a Brownface Fender-type tone.  With a good template of a few good cab impulses (one with a R121, one with a 57, and maybe a U87 or KM184 on standby) the process of switching is VERY fast.

The concept isn’t much different from a real amp.  If the vintage Greenbacks are getting muddy or harsh switching to Vintage 30s or G12hH30s can be just the ticket.  However, physically moving the cabinets, turning off the amps, moving the mic, etc all take time.  It’s easy to underestimate the time involved, actually, particularly when the project runs out of budget in an hour and 10 minutes.  With the Axe FX we just select a different cab.  It takes about as long as turning up the lows on the guitar amp using Axe Edit.

We needed to revisit a certain part three songs ago.  The band boss said, “Too bad we lost that tone.”  I said, “Welcome….to the future.”  The tone was about two clicks away.  I saved all of our tones as we went along as presets using Axe Edit.

Axe Edit

This is where things have gotten VERY fun for me.  Axe Edit is free software that allows you to control the Axe FX via MIDI.  I can alter any parameters: tone, pedals, gain, impulses, and do so with a much more logical GUI than the Axe FX employs from its front panel.  Saving a preset takes two seconds and you can type preset named with a standard computer keyboard.  This kind of power makes the Axe FX 50x more usable and 600x more fun.

Who Doesn’t Need The Axe FX?

I know certain players who want one sound and have NAILED it.  They plug their Vintage Strat into maybe a ’68 50 watt Marshall and call it a day.  These are usually guys playing blues rock or metal.  They need nothing else than that one tone.  A guy like that probably isn’t going to benefit heavily from the Axe FX.  He may be used to a certain magic thingy and it’s likely that this extra little thingy may not be in the Axe FX Standard.  (This is along the lines of guys paying $3,000 for a La2a compressor because of its “extra thing” that the $99 plugin does not have.)

These same purists are often the kind of the guys that aren’t happy when you toss a mic on their cabinet.  They say, “No man, I’m not hearing the tone like I hear it out in the room.”  These kinds of guys are very hard to please in my experience.  I have a feeling if I secretly recorded him through a well-honed Axe FX and made up some BS story like, “Oh, I left  the Repressor on standby.  Here’s what it sounds like with it engaged” and played him the Axe FX track, I bet I could make him happy.  At least I’d feel more equipped to do so with an Axe FX than I would with tip top microphones, preamps, compressors, and converters.

Can I Tell It’s “Fake”?

In a blind test there’s absolutely no way for me to tell anymore if a well-executed Axe FX track was done with real amps or not.  While poorly done examples of emulated guitars aren’t hard to come by, I’d argue that the problem is even worse with real amps.  The amount of bad recordings made with good amps is staggering.

Does The Axe FX Sound “Thin”?

I have heard many times from people who insist on real amps that real amps sound “fuller”, “thicker”, and “have more meat”.

First off, these people have clearly never owned one of the bad series of Lee Jackson tube amps.  Nothing kills the tube romance like a Lee Jackson VLA-100.  So from here on out we’ll have to refer to GOOD, real amps.

I have to say that if I had to count the number of times I have thought my starting points when getting a guitar tone were muddy or boomy, it would be HUGE.  I can’t remember ever saying, “If only we could get a little more low end or a little more “fullness”.  That’s never ever ever been a problem for me in any room I’ve ever worked either in recording or in live shows.

So maybe there are just different kinds of people and ears out there.  I tend to have to fight through mud way too often.  It’s a hassle to say the least and one of those things that makes guitar recording less fun.

Many of my clients just LOVE all the low end in their guitar amps even if it craps all over kick drums, much less bass.  Adhering to the band context is clearly an afterthought in many cases if the thought comes up at all.  Maybe that’s my job.  Whatever.  Either way, the point is I’m happy to have a tool like the Axe FX that naturally has less mud or has a high pass filter just one click away on the master, on the Tubescreamer-like pedal, and just about any other place I’d want it.

What’s Wrong With Old School?

So what about the people who are 100% happy with their real amps?
a)  I’m skeptical of anyone who believes their recordings are perfect, but I also know that a person has 600 fish to fry.  If they can be content with one facet, there’s no need to over think it when there are other issues that draw your attention.
b)  If it works for you don’t change.  Steve Albini and many others still insist on analog tape.  Their results speak for themselves.  There’s no need to call them “wrong”.  They aren’t.  This doesn’t mean a DAW isn’t a better choice for you.
c)  This compete-with-Jones business inspired by clever ad men is for insecure people with small brains.  Use tools that make your life “better”.  The end.  It’s up to you to figure out what better means.

In short if your guitar is awesome, you don’t need to buy anything new.

Axe FX vs Emulator Plugins

Emulators are constantly improving.  Right now there are 50 companies all working through the night to make the next quantum leap in plugin tones.  Many genres work quite well with the emulators.  I’ve done projects with them (mostly to save time) and no one has ever complained (either clients or people buying the music).  When you get to the tone junkies and approach the pursuit of a given tone with either plugins or Axe FX, in my experience the Axe FX is packing way more punch.  I haven’t decided if this difference exists outside the vacuum of the tone junky with his microscope.  I’m not sure if music is any better with an Axe FX just yet, but I do know that the recording process is more fun and I like the results.  I’ve heard some pretty damn impressive recordings done with emulators.  YMMV

Axe FX vs Line6 HD500

Neither is “better” from a pure tone perspective.  They have a handful of feature differences that weigh in favor of the Axe FX but at considerably higher costs.  The Line6 HD500 is a hell of a tool for guitar recording in my opinion.  (It’s the first Line6 product I’ve ever used and liked in my entire life.)  There are probably other hardware guitar emulators that are highly useful.

Downsides To The Axe FX

Feedback
You must get creative for feedback.  You don’t have to be THAT clever, but you do need some loud sound vibrating that guitar to get feedback.

Cost / Resale Value
The Axe FX Standard, while half the cost of the newer Axe FX II is still over $1k as of this writing.  Because it is computer technology, it’s safe to say that the price will go down.  In 5 years I bet they’ll go for $200.  I look at this investment about like I look at the electric bill.  I don’t expect to ever get my money back on this one, but I’m not sure how long real guitar amps will be a safe investment.

Upsides To The Axe FX

It sounds freakin’ awesome on recordings.

It’s fast as hell to get sounds.

I only have to get the tone right once.  There is no amp in the room and so whatever I hear on my studio monitors IS the tone.

I no longer have to tell bands that loud stuff has to end at 10pm because of neighbors.  This increases billable hours and never kills a session when we have momentum.  This alone makes the Axe FX interesting to anyone recording for money.

Saving presets is a dream come true.

The Axe Edit software is absolutely outstanding.  It’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a miracle.

There are few features that they haven’t thought of on the Axe FX.  My Rivera Knucklehead has a lot of tones in it, but it has no high pass filter, parametric EQ, or chorus.  These could all be added, I guess, but that’s the point.

The Axe FX Standard Is OLD – Why The Review?

I’m sure some people are curious why I’d review an ancient gadget.  People in 3rd world countries are tossing cell phones made from this period into the scrap heap.  The answer is fairly straightforward.  The Axe FX Standard is still a highly relevant tool.  I bought it because it cost half the price of the Axe FX II and expected it to sound about the same.   I expect I’ll be ridiculed for recommending a 5 year old amp emulator, but praised for owning a 1971 Marshall Super Lead.

From my perspective in a working studio where time is money, comparing my ‘71 Marshall Superlead to my Axe FX is like comparing a wheel barrow to Netflix.  They are so different in how they work and what they do that I’m not sure I can make the distinction.  I do know that getting the mud out of the Axe FX takes me 6 seconds on a good day.  I’ve owned the Marshall Superlead for 6 years and still haven’t figured out how to get the mud out exactly.

What About Conformity Problem?

This was brought up by Garageband on the forum.  He’s concerned about all the tool bags with self-confidence issues playing copy cat on an unprecedented scale.  I have to admit the ability to share presets could be abused.  Frankly, I don’t know what to do with the people who have no interest in creating something their own when making  their own music.  The issue does happen with drum samples and it’s probably happening with guitars, too.

The difference here is in a good/terrible Bruce Willis movie he has a ton of black stuff on his face at the end.  He had to fight through 600 German special forces units to get that blacks stuff on his nose in his eyes much like most of us have to fight through 600 factors when nailing our guitar tones with real amps.  When the dust settles and we are yanking shards of glass from our toes,  tones often come out unique because of those trials and tribulations we went through to get them..  Now you can simply download the Bruce Willis black-stuff-preset mostly.  That’s a bummer, I guess.

I may not sound great, but I ALWAYS sound like me.  PERIOD.  The conformity issue is per-person issue and I refuse to blame the technology.

The Real Amp Wasn’t Even Fun

My assistant, Ruprect, and I are working on a cheap little product designed to take all the guesswork out of reamping, helps a person chose a reamp box, etc.  We fired up my Rivera Knucklehead in high gain mode for this with my Strat with a JB Jr. humbucker bridge. (Damn it! Bolt on guitars through my Rivera.  Bla!)  Anyway, I’m so damn used to the fun of using an Axe FX that I had forgotten how NOT FUN using a real amp is for me, the audio engineer.  (I’m sure the guitar players love a cranked 4×12 cabinet.  So what.  I’m not in the massage business.)

The amp was noisy as hell.  It was loud as hell. Even in my primitive isolation room it still shakes the house  That makes me nervous.

What really summed it up was Ruprect says, “Dude, it’s like we have to get the tone right twice.”  (I actually bothered getting the amp to sound cool in the room for some reason.  This is a tactic I gave up on years ago, actually.)  I usually just mic a cab and then change the amp head in the control room until I have something good.  I don’t even bother with the lie of real life as its about like trusting the government or a teenage girl.

Anyway, the whole damn experience took forever.  It wasn’t fun.  It was just a stressful headache mostly induced by a time deadline.  BTW, I’ve got a sleeping baby in the other room.  Max doesn’t seem to mind the noise, but his mom’s eyes are turning red again.  (Damn Satanic women!)

Conclusion

I’m an “old timer” who grew up in an era where anything other than a real amp is a total joke.  I own some top of the line amps and there are few big time amps I haven’t recorded.  I’ve recorded guitars a zillion times.

The Axe FX is a game changer that can not be competed with in terms of workflow and I think it sounds bad ass.  Very few of you will disagree about the tone and you’d need a hell of a facility to beat its workflow.

My goal is not to preach to any of you.  If you have great tones you shouldn’t have even read this far.  You don’t need my help.

My aim is simply to say that the Axe FX Standard is a prime time tool that makes my amps obsolete for what I do.  I’m 100% content with the tone and I’m a picky mofo when it comes to tone.

Good luck!

A Few Quick Examples

I had Ruprect make things for me on a regular basis which I use for the upcoming Audio Hyperguides and such.  These were all “Ruprect, make something in 15 minutes and mix ‘em in 5 minutes”.  He’s not in love with the work, but that’s not my problem.  It needs to be noted that Rupect wouldn’t have the amps even plugged in yet if I asked him to record through my 5150 or whatever.

The clips are meant to be quick n dirty, real life examples.  I wouldn’t read too far into ‘em but I wouldn’t discount ‘em either.

Brandon

Clean Guitar

Modern Rock

Modern Metal


Saved Comments


Stan_Halen – 10-01-2012, 04:17 PM
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Keinen Zugang!
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garageband – 10-01-2012, 07:26 PM
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Wouldn’t it be “Kein Eingang”? Just guessing. I don’t know. I could look it up, I suppose.

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Stan_Halen – 10-01-2012, 07:40 PM
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“Kein Eingang” = no input. “Keinen Zugang” = no access. At least according to my handy translator tool. I can see yelling Kein Eingang when the preamp seems to be cratered.

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garageband – 10-01-2012, 08:31 PM
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So pleased my high school German hasn’t failed over the last thirty years. I googled mine and got stuff like this:

Attachment 25158

The opposite being “ausgang”, I believe.

Stan_Halen’s Avatar
Stan_Halen – 10-01-2012, 10:48 PM
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Yes, Eingang does have a context as “entrance”, and Ausgang as “exit”. I found this out while in Germany, the hotel next to mine had no sign – with a hotel name … except “Eingang”. So for 3 days I went around calling it the Hotel Eingang. I finally discovered the error after seeing the 3rd or 4th Hotel Eingang. Oh. [facepalm]

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Jeronimo Mora – 10-01-2012, 11:54 PM
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I’m telling you this little box is truly something fantastic. The stock IR cabs suck ass in my opinion. The only one worth its salt is the V30 cab. However, with the VOLUMES of great, cheap (and sometimes free) IRs out there that you can load onto it, there are only minor setbacks.

Another big one is the fact band’s can live out their fantasies. I feel like Santa sometimes. “Hello children. Which amp would you like to use? *clicks to unveil massive list of amps*” Making a decent tone takes all of 3 minutes and refining it another 2. The tone I STILL use today only took me about 3 days of tinkering while figuring out how the box works.

The pitch shifting block is also AMAZING for the guitarist who doesn’t want to tune his guitar down. You can pitch shift the DI signal by half step intervals. Extremely useful for casual practice/riffing around.

Extremely pleased with this box.

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feegs – 10-02-2012, 03:13 AM
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I like that Modern Rock tone for what i would do.. I dont have the Axe FX 2 but have been using Guitar Rig 5 with foot controller heavily, and now using it live, played a gig the other night where the band before us had 2 x Quads and 2 x Heads for 1 guitar , (anyone can pull a crap tone x 2) thought for a moment hmmm maybe i should have brought the JCM 800. Anyhow plugged in Guitar Rig thru my new Macbook Pro Retina through “ONE” K 12 QSC stage monitor… (Mixers review of guitar sound) your guitar sound blew away everyone tonight…How the hell did you do that! ha ha.. Showed him and he was very impressed!.. The more im using GR5 live and in the studio the more the JCM is gathering dust.. I also have the PODHD500 , to be honest i prefer GR5 with REDWIREZ. But if you muck around with it long enough you an get a reasonable sound out of it…(Im happy to post a GR5 clip) 2 x AMPS is great fun too…and after the gig the lug out was so dam easy!

Love those AXEFX tones Brandon!

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paintballnsk – 10-02-2012, 08:09 AM
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I have been through a 6505, 5 Mesa Boogies, 2 Marshalls, and a Fender Twin over the last 4 years or so (I know, I say that a lot buy I’m so proud of my little collection ). I now have an Axe FX Ultra and I haven’t used much of my pretty tube amps since. That says a lot. (and the Ultra offers little above the Standard that you won’t miss for $200 less).

However I play the Axe FX as a preamp through a Mesa 2:50. I do feel it sounds and feels better through a tube power amp. That’s back to back with some other decent solid state power amps with the power section on vs through a tube PA with the power section of on the Axe FX.

Can you tell the difference? Ya, but only if you’re doing a back to back shoot out. If you left it in context alone with any other mix, you wouldn’t know it was a modeling amp. You might not jump out and say “THAT’S A RECTIFIER!!”, but it’s going to sound “good”.

That being said, I still use it primarily live to save me from hauling a $5k amp switching rig that takes 3 people to lift into the truck. And when I record with it, I still put it through the 2:50 and mic it up. I don’t know if it’s the cab I’m using, or the tube PA, or using a real mic that makes a difference. It just sounds more alive to me, and it does record very well. But there’s still something just a little missing. You really have to plug into a Mesa Mark IV or a Roaster to appreciate what that is. I can’t describe it. It’s almost the difference between 2 week old strings and one hour old strings, the same feeling. Will you be able to tell in a recorded mix? No. But when you’re playing it, you’ll understand. The Axe FX is the greatest piece of guitar gear I’ve ever bought, and if I had to do it all over again I would have started there first and called it a day. But I’m not selling my other amps any time soon either, and I am still checking out the Kemper Profiler soon

I am starting an 8 song project for guitar this week and I was planning on running the Axe FX direct to give it a fair shot. 90% of the samples I’ve found online with it sounded sterile. So hopefully I can overcome that.

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fHumble fHingaz – 10-02-2012, 08:17 AM
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Sweet sounds, Brandon! I love the modern rock tone…
I’m doing all my guitar tones ITB now – Since I discovered Scuffam Amps Scuffham Amps – Home , I’ve pretty much reached tonal Nirvana. Sounds like an ad, I know, but for 70 bucks, it was an absolutely killer deal. Between GR4, Amplitude & Pod Farm, I’ve got more guitar firepower than I can handle. Not all of them do everything well, but it surely beats melting my eardrums trying to find the sweet spot in front of a blazing 4×12.

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james rock – 10-02-2012, 08:22 AM
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From all I have heard the clean and distorted tones are awesome on these and surpass a lot of recordings. That said specific tones like VOX AC30 just on the edge with heaps of chime or a Marshall Plexi just before it distorts are alot harder on emulators. For studio guys these are great tools as they can get you out of a fix for guitarists who want a specific tone and dont need the complication of rack gear then an amp might suit better. Other thing is not all amps are the same for example maybe there is a really nice VOX emulation on there but its an emulation of a particular VOX and maybe not the one thats right for you (this is being very picky). A product Im really interested in is the Kempler Profiling amp as you can take a snapshop of specific gear in specific rooms and then use them endlessly. Of course for people that want versatility and FX emulations and particularly the AXE-FX are awesome

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Mackanov – 10-02-2012, 08:46 AM
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I gotta say, the more I look into the Axe FX, the more I want to buy a Kemper.

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Dahla – 10-02-2012, 08:51 AM
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For the feedback thing; try an eBow. Works like a charm.

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js1978 – 10-02-2012, 08:57 AM
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I’m with you–I don’t use tubes anymore. I sold my Bogner Shiva when the first-generation Axe-FX firmware got the Shiva model update. There was just no reason to have it anymore–the model sounded every bit as good, and it even had all the Shiva’s weird tonal quirks. And it no longer took me hours to find the sweet spot to mic the damn thing. Besides that, for the gigging musician, the Axe-FX doesn’t weigh eighty pounds, you don’t need a huge pedalboard with a snake’s nest of noisy patch cables that will go bad, you never have to replace !@#$ing tubes… I could go on.

The Axe-FX II is even better, and if you’ve got the scratch, I highly recommend it. For clean and low-gain work, it goes that last tenth of a mile that the Axe-FX Standard couldn’t quite go.

I’ve never understood people worrying about having the same tones as somebody else–nobody every worries that plugging a Les Paul into a Marshall Superlead is going to make them sound just like everybody else. It’s in the fingers, man.

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Revson – 10-02-2012, 09:00 AM
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I use emulators a lot in the tracking process, mostly just to save some time, and then I’ll reamp later. I try to get a solid tone up using the emulators and frequently get something that we all agree is badass. Then I reamp through a Mesa or Peavey or Marshall and every time the tone is so much more alive than the emulators. A/B-ing the two tones, it sounds like the emulator is rigid and not dynamic. Occasionally I’ll keep and emulator track on the final product, but those typically wind up being clean tones or short leads.

This happens with every emulator I’ve tried (LePou, TSE, Revalver, Guitar Rig, Digi 11 Rack, RedWirez impulses) and none of them can come close to the real thing, especially for distorted guitars. I will say that once a mix is done with the emulators most listeners won’t be able to tell a difference if it’s real or fake, but the amount of work I have to do to get the guitars right is so less work when using real amps.

I haven’t been able to try the AxeFx, so it might really be a game changer. But as it stands I can still track at all hours of the day and night without worrying about keeping anyone up or losing guitar tones and then I can go and get the real amp sound that’s full and alive.

Bass, on the other hand, gets the full ITB treatment every time.

*EDIT*
In a live environment I would love to have the AxeFx, though. Rack it with a poweramp and a 1×12 or 2×12 cab for stage volume and I’d be stupidly happy. If only I played live anymore…..

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Joe Jaeger – 10-02-2012, 09:14 AM
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I’ve owned both the Axe Ultra and the Axe II. I sold my Axe Ultra two months after purchasing the Axe II and MFC 101, because it sat there not being touched as the II is much better in terms of feel, easy of use, tone and options.

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cporro – 10-02-2012, 09:51 AM
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hey brandon. i came to the exact same conclusion after having my axe fx for a few months. i now have one amp which i use to prop open the door. seriously. i bought my axe fx second hand from a guy who was buying the II. after having the II for a while he told me he didn’t think the basic tone was any better. sure it has more horses and more fancy arpeggios and such. but i don’t use that stuff. like most people i simply want decent tone.

i did my own comparison with the axe and vandal (magix’s high end sim) here: Fractal Axe FX and Magix Vandal: Tone Compared | BlueDustStudio / Chris Porro

i had a 1,000 fender twin for a clean bell tone. a 2k marshall for the marshall tone. then add a few other amps for common tones….+4k. imo most amps get 1…maybe 2 killer tones. but you are really buying the particular manufactures tone. so the axe is cheap by those standards. i payed $1,100. then replaced the LOUD fan.

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dp373 – 10-02-2012, 10:29 AM
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Brandon, I have an axe-fx ultra and a Mesa recording pre. I love the ultra for all the reasons you outline. However I find myself tracking through the recording pre to get a clean take without effects and of course takes without effects are easier for punch in, which is important for me. So my question – do you go Axe-fx to DAW or record clean then use the Axe fx as an insert? If you insert it, please describe how.

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garageband – 10-02-2012, 11:07 AM
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i had a 1,000 fender twin for a clean bell tone.
I’ve found running my simulator through one of these sounds really really good.

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urban – 10-02-2012, 12:17 PM
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I like this article mostly for the point it makes that we should all use what works for us. I use emulators to do demo work all the time for their convenience and for the fact that they do sound great. However, I’ve gone through every digital phase you can go through, going completely digital for live and studio work, but my ears always tire of it and it is always such a relief to plug back into a great pedal board filled with beautiful sounding analogue devices feeding glorious tone into a great tube amp. It’s a similar feeling I get when I set down my electric guitar after hours of playing loud rock and roll and sit down and finger pick a nice acoustic. Perhaps it is the difference between listening to an amazingly accurate recording of the ocean versus standing on the beach. The recording is beautiful and impressive, but I still want to be on the beach.

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aditejada – 10-02-2012, 12:37 PM
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Great article, I like how you addressed the “fun” issue. I use an older pod a lot at home but I still love playing loud through an amp at practice… besides quick demoing with the pod I don’t record a lot, but when I do I actually like the challenges of micing up an amp… at least for now, I’m sure if I did it more often I’d get sick of it really fast. Thanks for the review.

TapeDeck – 10-02-2012, 12:42 PM
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You are late to this game, but better late than never.

That said, however, I assure you: You’ll be back.

I’ve heard this story so many times in the last 6 or so years on the AxeFX.
I’ve even heard it from some of the die hards and the well knowns.

No doubt a mega useful tool. But you’ll be back when you can no longer deny the tone difference.

I want to stop carrying heavy gear, too.
And I like the Axe and use modelers every day for work.

But nope.

And the Kemper does sound better to me, as someone else noted. But I think eventually I’d hear that missing “something” again.

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dudermn – 10-02-2012, 02:01 PM
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Glad to be a pioneer, kids. Back when people used to give me bad looks for showing up to a live gig with a laptop and a guitar instead of an amp….

Now than.
The question is…

Are young folk (like me) looking to pick up custom gear and vintage amps.
While.
Older folk (like GB and Brandy) are looking for the next techni-logical achievements to lavishly flourish into there studios?

The main argument would be that the young are looking to learn from the old ways of recording and learn the engineering bit behind keeping those old relics working while the old dudes are just looking for something fun to do the next time they record (and a quicker way to get out of the studio and go read a book or drink some tea…or make another baby).

Anyways… Congratulations on making it through birth!

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bubingaisgod – 10-02-2012, 02:42 PM
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Don’t dooooo it Brandon! Yes, the AXE FX is a great tool for the studio. Yes it’s quiet. Yes it takes the guesswork out of tracking, and minimizes the mixing required. Yes it’s stupid easy to work with, and has controls like bias and sag(at least the Ultra II does). As far as conformity, you can always tweek stolen presets to not be like everybody else.

But there are some situations where you still might want(or a client might want) a real or specific amp. Sometimes the Axe sounds great by itself, most of the time I find myself layering in some real room mic’d guitars with the “Axe Track”. I’m telling you man, I’ve owned this unit for years, when I first bought it, I almost sold my vintage fenders and I did sell my Mesa Triple Rec, Mesa Mark IV Long Chassis, a 1968 Brown Tolex Acoustic 4×12, a Mesa 4×12, and many pedals.

I regretted it. The space is nice, and maybe some people can live with 100% emulation, especially when it’s good as the Axe, but I can’t, and many people I’ve recorded with can’t. It’s the best emulator ever made(You should review the Axe FX Ultra II), but it’s not a high voltage, tube driven brutal amplifier with ruthless harmonic overtones and that unreproducible sound you get when ringing out a palm mute on the lower strings. That said, mixing sucks, bad acoustics suck, and the two of those combined REALLY SUCK. So the Axe in the end is a huge part of the arsenal RAGHHAHAHAHAHA!

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Chalo – 10-02-2012, 03:23 PM
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Where I live, AXE FX dealers or any kind of representation for them is non existing, son I really can’t say something against or in favor, but Line6′s tentacles did have reached, and the concept of amp emulators is genius in my opinion. I work in recording music for advertising most of the time in the studio, and even the ancient “bean” PODs proved to be time-saving money-making tools. What about the sound?. Well, that’s really subjective, the newer HD’s sound “as good” as the ElevenRack (the other option I had here) which appears comparable to the AXE in the reviews. I don’t even recorded the real amps of many of the amp models it contains to see if they respond exactly as the originals. They just sound good, in seconds, are quiet, and when a $500 jingle need guitars, it’s not good to spend three hours of studio time “tweaking” amps, mics and pedals. Seems like the AXE is superior, but if you’re stuck with Line6 for dealership or budget, do some homework knowing the machine before, and get nice tones from it, (or get the POD farm software, and build your own “rigs” with it). Really, your client would never know that it’s not a real amp in a final mix.

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deep thought – 10-02-2012, 03:34 PM
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For the most part I agree with your article, Brandon.. but don’t be too quick to sell the hardware amp/cab(s).

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Chalo – 10-02-2012, 04:07 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by Chalo View Post
Where I live, AXE FX dealers or any kind of representation for them is non existing, son I really can’t say something against or in favor, but Line6′s tentacles did have reached, and the concept of amp emulators is genius in my opinion. I work in recording music for advertising most of the time in the studio, and even the ancient “bean” PODs proved to be time-saving money-making tools. What about the sound?. Well, that’s really subjective, the newer HD’s sound “as good” as the ElevenRack (the other option I had here) which appears comparable to the AXE in the reviews. I don’t even recorded the real amps of many of the amp models it contains to see if they respond exactly as the originals. They just sound good, in seconds, are quiet, and when a $500 jingle need guitars, it’s not good to spend three hours of studio time “tweaking” amps, mics and pedals. Seems like the AXE is superior, but if you’re stuck with Line6 for dealership or budget, do some homework knowing the machine before, and get nice tones from it, (or get the POD farm software, and build your own “rigs” with it). Really, your client would never know that it’s not a real amp in a final mix.
Addition and correction: I’m not a really good guitar player, and my needs for guitar are purely from an orchestration point of view. I’m sure that, having the right (analog) dream rig at your fingertips will give some nicer tones if well miked on a good room, providing a very good guitar player behind it.

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garageband – 10-02-2012, 04:40 PM
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While I love new awesome stuff and this is certainly it, I have always been cautious concerning prognostications over various technologies’ obsolescence. Just because I think this is a cool-sounding deal doesn’t mean that the next day all other analogous equipment is useless and should be set on the curb.
with a poweramp and a 1×12 or 2×12 cab
Sounds like you still need an amp with this thing. Just sayin’ about that business of how it “makes all amps obsolete”.

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dp373 – 10-02-2012, 04:50 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by cporro View Post
hey brandon. i came to the exact same conclusion after having my axe fx for a few months. i now have one amp which i use to prop open the door. seriously. i bought my axe fx second hand from a guy who was buying the II. after having the II for a while he told me he didn’t think the basic tone was any better. sure it has more horses and more fancy arpeggios and such. but i don’t use that stuff. like most people i simply want decent tone.

i did my own comparison with the axe and vandal (magix’s high end sim) here: Fractal Axe FX and Magix Vandal: Tone Compared | BlueDustStudio / Chris Porro

i had a 1,000 fender twin for a clean bell tone. a 2k marshall for the marshall tone. then add a few other amps for common tones….+4k. imo most amps get 1…maybe 2 killer tones. but you are really buying the particular manufactures tone. so the axe is cheap by those standards. i payed $1,100. then replaced the LOUD fan.

How did you replace the fan and with what?

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Armageddon – 10-03-2012, 11:32 AM
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I never used an Axe-FX but I use emulations and IRs intensively.
I must say I do agree with you, but only for the studio work.
In the studio I mostly use emulators and, you are right, this is heaven : good tone instantly, lots of amps, cabs, presets, etc…
But what about rehearsal and live situations ? I still think real amps are the most convenient and reliable tools for these applications (when the amp and the tone dialed are good of course).
The situation is different and I must say emulation systems are not so convenient here. Some will not even take half the abuse the rock solid amps take on stage and on the road. Of course as this is computer technology and computer technology is more fragile !
So I can’t imagine something easier and more reliable than a good old amp to rock with my bands.
Yes I will switch to emulation whenever I step into the studio, for best results and time saving, but I won’t play an emulation live.
What is your opinion about that ?

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Nanowire – 10-03-2012, 02:22 PM
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It’s good to see a guy like you lifting the barriers here and not preach that same old purity bla over emulators. While I still enjoy my ENGL570 I will acknowledge it isn’t perfect. I actually contemplated getting a fast compact computer, like a laptop, but maybe not a laptop, and work with the likes of Amplitube in there. I could have almost any sound I can dream up from intro to solo for any song. Especially playing live in a coverband makes these things interesting. Plus you can skip all of the retubing.

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garageband – 10-03-2012, 03:33 PM
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It’s good to see a guy like you lifting the barriers here and not preach that same old purity bla over emulators.
Hey, I try. But I honestly haven’t really heard that argument here. I’m sure I haven’t heard the work “purity” once.

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bou1234 – 10-03-2012, 06:02 PM
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great read.. totally agree, but, with an unlimited budget, which would you choose as a guitar player( which, i assume you are)?

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philschon – 10-03-2012, 07:45 PM
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I was just having this discussion with a younger guitar player I just met. He’s playing through a newer Marshall (he’s not sure of the model ;-). And he’s “not gonna playing through any of that modeling stuff ’cause it doesn’t sound the same”. I’m not gonna try to change his opinion, I’ve been down that road. All I know is this; I started using modeling gear (primarily Line 6) 11 years ago. I sold my Marshall JCM800 half stack to a guy who really wanted one. Mine had been sitting in a corner in my practice room for about 5 years. I felt bad for it. What I’ve found is this; 1-the Only people who ‘might’ hear the difference in tone is you,’ the player’, and the sound guy telling you to turn the ‘f’ down. And 2- I get a more consistent Marshall tone with the Line 6 gear than I Ever got with the Marshall. Yeah, the Marshall got a great tone – sometimes, and Always when it was too loud. I can play at any volume and get a great tone now. When I record at home, forget about it-my tone is there all the time every time. And, if I want something different, I turn a knob and/or push a button and BAM, off I go! Nowadays, I can record whatever I’m working on until 4 in the morning, play a gig with my dance/rock band, that night, and maybe play at church the next morning – with ONE piece of gear! (which is a POD HD500 btw).So I am WAY agreeing with you Brandon. I’ve long since given up on trying to steer people in any direction, they have to make up their own mind. peace guys!

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cporro – 10-04-2012, 02:13 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by dp373 View Post
How did you replace the fan and with what?
oh man, there is way more then anyone wants to know here: Fractal Fan Mod | BlueDustStudio / Chris Porro

it’s a lot quieter.

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cporro – 10-04-2012, 02:20 AM
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one thing i’ll point about the fractal vs an amp. an amp is usually played LOUD! and that sounds better. perhaps the missing ingredient. often times i’m underwhelmed when i hear a loud amp played back on monitors.

fractal, or it’s sister company? makes amp/cabs for the fractal. so you can actually get the full gigging rig if you want. i like to hear things the way they will mix through my monitors. yawn.

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Jeronimo Mora – 10-04-2012, 04:30 AM
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The fan isn’t even that obnoxious. I don’t mind it at all.

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cporro – 10-04-2012, 10:54 AM
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it’s only loud by control room standards. in which case it’s very loud. if you’re recording anything quiet near it…it’s loud. by computer fan standards it’s loud. it’s a small fan with a very high rpm and a ball bearing.

but if you have it in a practice space it’s a non-issue. there is lots of back and forth on the fractal forum about this. context is everything. for me, i had to replace the fan. its was louder then all my hard drives, computer fans, and rack of gear combined! i got tired of hearing it while mixing. and i couldn’t make quiet recordings near it…like vox and acoustic guitar.

but don’t let that put you off from buying it. i consider it one of my best purchases.

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Impulse921 – 10-04-2012, 11:16 AM
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Excellent article; I think this was well needed around here. I originally learned about the Axe through your budget metal recording article and I thank you, Brandon for sharing that. Here’s my story: I just picked up the Axe FX II along with a Matrix GT1000FX Power amp because I wanted to replace my live rig that consisted of a Peavey Ultra Plus and a noise suppressor. I needed effects plus a cleaner live tone. The Peavey is just noisy, heavy and unreliable for studio and live performance. Tube cost = sucks.

After owning the Axe FX for a week, I’ve found that good high gain studio tone is very easy to achieve. Live sound is a little different especially with a solid state power amp but I’m under the impression that my Matrix power amp was designed to be very close to so called “tube sound”. Using the Axe FX+Matrix live is great but seems to require a little tweaking to get right. As Brandon stated, it’s like finding your tone on any rig, it just takes time. I’m confident I will not be using my tube amp anytime soon especially considering the axe+matrix+rack weighs half the Peavey. I’m also confident that I won’t be buying any other amps anytime soon considering Fractal Audio does an amazing job updating the firmware with new amp sims ,etc. I figure Axe FX II should be their flagship model for a long time. Thank you technology.

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b1daly – 10-07-2012, 02:59 PM
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Hey folks, are there sounds clips with this article? I’m not seeing them for some reason…

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acidfrost – 10-09-2012, 08:29 AM
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My issue with these samples, and all of those that I hear out there, is with the cleans. No one ever did a demo of clean tone WITHOUT chorus, delay, and reverb. With all those effects, how can you know it sounds good? Do you NEED to bury your tone in effects so it sounds good? The distortions are great, but I have yet to hear great cleans on those machines. If someone would ever do samples of cleans without any effects or with just a bit of reverb, not more, that would be great.

I’ve been seriously looking at the axe-fx ii but I’m still stuck on the cleans because there’s no good demos out there and you can’t just go to the music store and try them. It’s either buy it or buy it.

Impulse921 – 10-09-2012, 08:51 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by acidfrost View Post
I’ve been seriously looking at the axe-fx ii but I’m still stuck on the cleans because there’s no good demos out there and you can’t just go to the music store and try them. It’s either buy it or buy it.
Fractals solution to this is a 15 day trial. You can return if you’re not satisfied for a full refund minus shipping.

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acidfrost – 10-09-2012, 08:58 AM
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Shipping for me is 300$ so I won’t take the chance to lose that money.

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Impulse921 – 10-09-2012, 10:36 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by acidfrost View Post
Shipping for me is 300$ so I won’t take the chance to lose that money.
Ouch! I don’t blame you. It was about $30 for me.

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Jeronimo Mora – 10-10-2012, 01:27 AM
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$25 for me. textlimitafddhfgarglegargle

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throttle – 11-18-2012, 04:54 PM
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Brandon any chance you tested the DI capability of the Axe-Fx and compared it to other DIs for your up coming re-amping Hyper Guide? I am an Ultra owner and my standard for tracking is to set up a row of shunts and output that for my DI track panned left along with another row (and track) that has an amp panned right. That way I can re-amp the track later if I don’t like the tone I laid down while tracking. I use the SPDIF channels btw. Curious if you notice a difference in quality using the Axe-FX as a DI vs a real DI box. Also would be cool to know if you ever got your hands on Micheal Wageners MW1 box.

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Jeronimo Mora – 11-19-2012, 12:40 AM
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I’m not convinced it would make a significant difference. Use what you have. I would think that a $2000 box could manage to leave a clean DI.

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bubingaisgod – 11-19-2012, 10:25 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by cporro View Post
it’s only loud by control room standards. in which case it’s very loud. if you’re recording anything quiet near it…it’s loud. by computer fan standards it’s loud. it’s a small fan with a very high rpm and a ball bearing.

but if you have it in a practice space it’s a non-issue. there is lots of back and forth on the fractal forum about this. context is everything. for me, i had to replace the fan. its was louder then all my hard drives, computer fans, and rack of gear combined! i got tired of hearing it while mixing. and i couldn’t make quiet recordings near it…like vox and acoustic guitar.

but don’t let that put you off from buying it. i consider it one of my best purchases.

You could always put the Axe on a different electrical switch then the other gear, so you can turn it off during your “quiet” recordings. Sounds like a non-issue lol.

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Jeronimo Mora – 11-19-2012, 01:15 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by bubingaisgod View Post
You could always put the Axe on a different electrical switch then the other gear, so you can turn it off during your “quiet” recordings. Sounds like a non-issue lol.
Or, you know, just hit the off switch.

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Hoosierdaddy – 11-25-2012, 04:30 PM
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Axe FX or Kemper? What do you guys who actually play guitar (I’m a drummer who strums a little) think?

If I buy the Kemper, I can always profile my buddy’s tones from their Axe FX’s…not to mention all the other killer amp rigs that have been profiled.

 

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.
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4 responses to Axe Fx Standard Review And The End Of Guitar Amps

  1. Where would the axe fx be if it were not for tube amps. Nowhere! It would have nothing to model.

    NOTHING is as good as the real thing. PERIOD!

  2. Where would the axe fx be if it were not for tube amps. Nowhere! It would have nothing to model.

    NOTHING is as good as the real thing. PERIOD!

    It’s a more complicated argument. 3am recording isn’t possible for many with a 100 watt Marshall Superlead that has no gain knob. In that setting, I think the use of the Axe FX will win every time due to outside limitations. Acoustical considerations are another. The ability to recall sounds perfectly is a big deal to anyone who’s left for the night to find their real guitar amp tones change.

    Not everyone is in love with the Axe FX concept. I can respect that. However, not everyone can pick out the real amp vs the Axe FX in blind tests, either. The tones are good enough that convenience and practical considerations start to make sense IMO. YMMV.

    Brandon

  3. bro that modern metal clip is fucking bananas

  4. well you predicted the AXE FX might be $200 in 2 yrs….just saw a rare one on CL and its still at $1200 still in 2015…..looking to Ebay, they still are going for $1200…maybe $1190….this is 2015, Feb.

    in these times I dont think you can fake that many years for any product.

    I just got a PODX3 Pro for about $200 in a pile-of-stuff deal……they sell mostly for $399, and the HD came in after that. The real price for the X3Pro is $400 used, the HD Pro are Ebay for $550.

    Fractal vs Fractal? 2015…
    The newer Fractals are what $3500 and the new improved is the AXE FX II XL ,,,as of this writing. An older Fractal AXE FX is $1200..s.

    I have to admit, I would love to shootout a Fractal Axe FX against my X3Pro and find out for myself. $200 vs $1200? One is $200 as the article expected, it just wasnt the Fractal.

    great article…

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