Vintage Amp Room is a guitar emulator plug-in that takes a different approach from much of its competitor. First of all, it doesn’t attempt to be all things to all people. While Amplitube 2, Guitar Rig 3, and Waves GTR 3.5 all pretty much make attempts to be 100% comprehensive and handle anything you can demand out of it, Vintage Amp Room couldn’t care less about all that. In fact, they’ve kept their system extremely stripped down. In the case of Vintage Amp Room you get exactly what the name implies. You get a room full of vintage amps.
An Argument For Simplicity
The idea of having a room full of old school Marshalls, Fenders, and Vox should sound like a dream come true to most. There’s something about this modern world of guitar emulators that attempt to do everything that makes Vintage Amp Room seem decidedly lacking when you first fire it up. I was sucked into this thinking for just a second. “All you get is amps????” was my first inclination. Last time I checked, none of the amps I paid the big time bucks for came with tuners, 40 pedals, 10,000 presets, or anything of the sort. To take it further, with the exception of my trusty MXR EQ pedals, I probably use pedals when tracking guitar 5% of the time max. 95% of the guitar work I do is a guitar and an amp. So why do we really need all this stuff?
After playing around I started to look for more gadgets. I noticed that while I could change mic placements (in the most brilliant way I’ve seen yet on an emulator…we’ll get to that) I didn’t have 10 mics to choose from. In fact, Vintage Amp Room gives you one single mic to play with. That’s it! Again, at first I scrunched up my eyes as if I was being fed a line of baloney. Then it occurred to me that while all the different mics included in the emulators do have their tonal variations, the tone changes so drastically when using them that my nose scrunches up. (There’s a lot of scrunching going on in this review!) I end up just leaving whatever mic I’m on unless I exhaust all the various amp models and am starting to get a bit desperate. So, when I think about it, having multiple mics seems to be something I never really use anyway. There may be those that do, but when it comes to guitar emulators I could get by with one mic that sounded good (whatever that may be).
Of course, the cabinets follow the same line of thinking. Vintage Amp Room doesn’t allow you to choose between cabinets either. My feeling on cabinets in guitar emulators is exactly in line with my views on mics. Switching between cabinets seems to always sound weird to me and I always avoid doing it until I’ve exhausted all further options. In an ideal world I would have to mess with it.
The long story short: Do we really need a damn 747 cockpit just to record some guitar noise? While I do like the pedal collections found in other amp emulators, I can do entirely without the other stuff. While I’m a guy who has a very high tolerance for the complicated, when I put my guitar on I’ve already got my hands full. In short, I’m liking this simple approach.
What Can You Do?
So what can we do with Vintage Amp Room?
In the good old days, you took your guitar and you plug it into your amp. You had tone controls. You had a mic. You could mic it at a variety of angles up close or you could pull the mic back to get more of a room sound.
Guess what Vintage Amp Room does.
It allows you to plug your guitar into a variety of amps. You get the tone controls that come with the amp and you get the described mic placement options.
Actually, let’s talk about this mic placement business. Generally speaking, in real life there are handfuls of mic placements we generally use. The most standard is the mic on the edge of the cone, but there are times when I’ve mic’d the speaker dead center, pointed at the cone at a 45 degree angle, pointed at the edge of the speaker, or pulled the mic back for more of a room sound. While all the emulators I’ve seen so far let you move the mic around and they let you adjust the “distance” slider, none of them feel like the real thing to me. What the Vintage Amp Room guys have done is quite brilliantly. With one mouse motion the mic moves from distant to close dead center to the edge of the cone to a 45-degree angle to full blown 90 degrees on the edge of the speaker. At first I wasn’t sure about this. After using Vintage Amp Room 10 minutes it’s clear that this is the way to go. I’d expect to see this on every guitar emulator out there in the next few years.
Where It Gets Ugly: The Sound
All right humans who resist change. Hang on. It’s about to get ugly for you.
We’ve discussed how Vintage Amp Room emulates amps and that’s about it. You plug-in in, you play with tones, and you get a few mic placements. There is no bell. There is no whistle. You play guitar. So how is it that Vintage Amp Room can justify charging for this thing?
Easy. It sounds bad ass!
You heard me. For the first time in my life I’ve publicly declared that a guitar emulator sounds bad ass. It doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t sound pretty good. It doesn’t sound bad ass for an emulator. It sounds completely bad ass. PERIOD. End of story.
The Real AC30
A quick background.
A good buddy of mine is a guitar tone freak. He owns or has owned just about every vintage amp in the world. He can dial in practically any tone in seconds that will make you drool. These tones work for everything from Skynard to Zeppelin to Napalm Death. He can get them all. He gave me a hardcore lesson on the powers of the Vox AC30 (head through various cabinets). It seems to be the single greatest amp circuit of all time. It has a sparkle to it on low and medium gain settings that few amps have. When you want it to get mean, it’ll take on a Marshall character. With proper gain gadgets in front of the amp (I was never a pedal guy before this showing) the amp can get nuclear in a way the Recto kids would flip their lid over.
The Vintage Amp Room model that is clearly emulating an AC30 does the EXACT thing. It nails the sparkle thing the AC30 does at low and medium gains. Try doing this with any other emulator on the market. I’ve not heard one that can do it. They all sound a bit fake or a bit boring when going for the AC30 sound. None of them get it quite right. (Not until Vintage Amp Room.) While I do like many of the emulators out there and use many of them happily on the mostly high gain records I make, the simple truth is none of them as of 2009 have the real deal tone in them.
The Fender thingy is damn good too. I’m more of a Silverface kind of guy and this is one of the brown ones. (Aptly titled “Brownface” in Guitar Land.) It doesn’t do the robo sparkle. It does something else. It’s more along the lines of a jazzy kind of deal but some smooth growl underneath it (if that makes any sense). That’s the real ones. The Vintage Amp Room is pretty much dead on.
The Vintage Amp Room has the real deal tone in it. End of story. The medium gain settings are the real test and Vintage Amp Room passes it with flying colors.
When it comes to these vintage amp sounds, the other emulators haven’t been able to get this right. They don’t get the sparkle right. They don’t get the clarity. Some of them seem to be better than others at various sounds, but generally speaking you run into that problem where you add brightness to make up for clarity and you end up with something harsh that doesn’t have any tone. You don’t have to do that with the really good Fenders, Vox’s, Marshalls, etc. You don’t have to do it with Vintage Amp Room either.
Another biggie especially for blues guys is the ability for an amp to react to your playing. This is where most emulators fall short. When you dial in a crunch Fender sound, when you play soft, the amp cleans up nicely. When you dig in, the amp crunches up exactly the way you’d expect. It’s impressive!
Vintage Amp Non-Believers
Quite a few young people believe that the old school amps are like late 60s GTOs. They are fun for the baby boomers, but kids these days will take their modern Subaru STI’s and such. The problem with this is modern cars are of superior technology than the 60s cars, but guitar amps haven’t improved one damn bit in terms of tone. They’ve got more features and the Recto family came along, but that’s it.
When you start hanging around enough big boy engineers it’s obvious that they are still using vintage amps constantly on records that do not sound vintage in any way.
My favorite example of this is with the white Marshall emulation in Vintage Amp Room. It’s a Marshall. There is no mistaking that. It’s old so if you want the gain to sound cranked, you have to physically crank it up. It has a master volume so I’m assuming this is of the JCM 800 variety (Zakk Wylde, Slayer, The Used, Story of The Year, etc). When I cranked this bad boy up to get the modern rock gain I was looking for, I got excited. For the first time in my life I got adrenaline pumping from an emulator. I have to work hard to get this out of my real amps most of the time.
I’d have absolute no problem running the two modern rock band projects I’ll be producing in the upcoming months through this sound. We are talking full blown gain, multi-layered, modern rock. I’ll put this Vintage Amp Room up against pretty much everything out there. It will kick some major ass and I know the bands will be happy.
Note: If you are like for molten metal tones, Softube has you covered with Metal Amp Room, which we’ll be reviewing and including in Killer Home Recording.
Vintage Amp Room is still an amp emulator. While the emulators have enormous advantages (especially in terms of workflow and price) you are stuck in a fixed environment. An SM57 and a Royer R121 sound totally different. In real life I can switch to from bright and bitey to thick and dark easily. If I could switch between these two possibilities I’d be extremely happy….assuming they worked better than the mics in other emulators.
A tuner wouldn’t hurt either just as a matter of convenience.
Pedals would be nice. Maybe in the future they can come out with a pedals collection or something. I’d expect the quality to be fair and above the rest of the pack.
Other than that, the outrageous, real deal tones in this thing speak for themselves. I’ve used the real thing many, many times. Vintage Amp Room is the first emulator to have the real life of these old school amps. End of story.
The world has officially changed. I’m seriously debating if I should sell all of my guitar amps because I sense they will be completely worthless in 3 years. The future is here. Vintage Amp Room has nailed the old school sounds. It’s a miracle. When I began playing on Vintage Amp Room, I immediately new the world of guitar recording had changed. I said, “Holy Hell! This is the real thing!”.
MV Pro Audio, LLC (official distributor for the Americas)