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Vintage Amp Room – Guitar Emulator Plug-in Review

Brandon Drury —  July 18, 2009 — 27 Comments

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.

Limitations
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.

Conclusion
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)
www.mvproaudio.com
sales@mvproaudio.com
877.784.7383

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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27 responses to Vintage Amp Room – Guitar Emulator Plug-in Review

  1. You had me there up until “I’m seriously debating if I should sell all of my guitar amps because I sense they will be completely worthless in 3 years.”
    I just can’t believe this.
    I do want to try out this emulator tho. Is there a demo available?

  2. Believe it, dude!

    I listened back to some “goof around tracks” with a real Vox AC30 recorded with a SM57 through a Great River > Distress > Mytek AD96. I liked Virtual Amp Room better.

    I don’t know if everyone will feel the same as I do, but I’m convinced that Vintage Amp Room has “it”.

    Brandon

  3. I tried Vintage Amp Room awhile back and had the exact same reaction. It’s the best money can buy if you want sheer quality over quantity — which is what I’m after. Sadly, I had already bought Amplitube 2 when I discovered VAR and had no dough left. Someday…

    By the way, here’s my amp modeler comparison, which pits Amplitube against VAR against Eleven.

    http://cerebellumblues.squarespace.com/archive-old/2007/10/22/virtual-guitar-amp-roundup-intro-amplitube-2-vs-digidesieven.html

    Jeff

  4. Daniel Compton July 18, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Our band recorded our first album with these and they sounded good. I would however disagree with Brandon about the touch sensitivity of the amps. We recorded all the guitar tracks DI into the computer and then compared the Vintage Amp Room with a DI back out into a real valve amp. The difference was marked in terms of touch sensitivity to the variations. This is just one persons opinion but I do think that while they have a good tone as far as emulators go, there is still a lot of room to go before they will replace even a basic micing setup in a good room. IMHO :)

  5. First thing, the amp sensitivity is enough for me. I’m not sure if every blues guy in the world will be happy with this setup.

    The fact that we have moved down the list to touch sensitivity is a HUGE first step. I’ve never gotten past lack of tone on most of these emulators. So even if Vintage Amp Room isn’t all things to all people, it’s clearly a sign that we are moving in the right direction.

    I also think that some music is more guitar tone driven in ways that are a bit tougher for emulators. Blues and blues rock come to mind although there are others. For the kind of music I do (pop, rock, metal) this is the emulator that had real tone and I personally would have to work my ass off to get the same tones. I’m not saying it isn’t possible. I’m simply saying that the bar is set high.

    Brandon

  6. So how much does VAR cost? Can it cure me of the amp searching/buying grip of insanity I seem to caught in at the moment?

  7. i’ve got GuitarRig3 so i won’t spend more bucks on amp sims but I’m very interested in their feedback simulator… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojyA0I6EnBw

  8. One more thing: I bought IK Multimedia’s Amplitube, and while the tones are fine, the company is awful. Nothing but auth problems since buying the product.

    Jeff

    http://cerebellumblues.squarespace.com/blog/2009/7/21/a-public-service-announcement-for-musicians-do-not-buy-anyth.html

  9. Hey Jeff,

    In my experience there are no good authorization systems. Some are worse than others and less reliable than others, but it’s the nature of the world we live in. We are going to need them as long as we utilize money. Maybe in 100 or 200 years we won’t anymore.

    With that said, your situation doesn’t seem that sensational to me. (Maybe I’m used this sort of thing.) It sounds like you experienced a bug, support took over a day to get back to you, and then you had another bug. That’s about as common to me as taking out the trash, unfortunately.

    Did you, by chance, have to enter your serial number to simply request a password? http://www.recordingreview.com/blog/recording-software/friends-close-serial-numbers-closer/

    I guess I’m saying that if we all quit buying products because of the experience you outlined in your blog, there would be no companies left.

    Brandon

  10. Hey Brandon, not tested this emulator yet but I’m actually testing the Amplitube and it sounds damn good…
    I remember that you said the same thing (thinking about selling your Amps) in the Amplitube review, and in a comparison of both, Amplitube and Vintage Amp Room, what are your impressions?

  11. Ah. Straight to the big question.

    This emulator mess is a BIG mess. This is going to be long winded, so work with me.

    1) I tried Amplitube 2 and thought it was very, very good. Deep down I know the core tone it is not 100% there, but there is something about it that sounds finished. It sounds like it would translate well. It sounds like it was “tracked” well.

    2) I tried Vintage Amp Room. It’s core tone is much, much, much closer to the real thing. It’s close enough that I wrote this review. It also sound like it would translate well and was “tracked” well.

    3) I tried Vintage Metal Room. (Review coming in a few weeks). I thought it sounded absolutely spectacular on the super high gain stuff. My jaw hit the floor and I began playing guitar on a regular basis (I haven’t done that in years.)

    4) Yesterday I had to finish some shootouts for Killer Home Recording. I did all the usual setup work (which takes longer than you think) and fired up the 5150 and Rivera for real deal metal guitar tracking.

    On my monitors, I flat out nailed it. It was the most badass metal guitar sound I’ve ever gotten. I flat out nailed it! I was still excited when I went to mix down the shootout tracks.

    I said, “There is no way I can sell these amps! This is WAY better than the emulators!” In fact, when I rendered down the mixes I didn’t even both tossing in Metal Amp Room because it sounded so silly in comparison.

    5) When I took my mixes to my computer speakers, the guitars were dramatically different in a not-so-good way. I was 100% confident that I had major label guitars. I did! My monitors have always jerked me around on electric guitars in a way that I don’t experience with any other instrument. I don’t get it.

    6) I listened to some mixes I had done for a band I produced where we chose to use Amplitube 2. They sound good to me on my monitors and my computer speakers.

    So, it seems that I am, once again, fighting my studio monitoring system. I seem to make radical changes that make big improvements in my monitoring each year. I can’t figure out why it’s only electric guitars that suffer this fate.

    Regardless, the emulators sound finished and sound good enough where you don’t need to fix stuff via EQ (like synths and samples) and therefore your studio monitoring is less of a factor. That alone seems to be killing me and killing real electric guitars that are definitely superior if I could get them to translate.

    Brandon

  12. Oh yes, it’s a BIG mess.
    I really agree with your point that the real thing is real better if you get them to translate well.
    For me, the simulators are good for the variety as I’m currently recording various different styles and need different tones.

    For now, do not allow those things kill you, at least until you complete the Killer Home Recording books and release it as well, haha.

    Big thanks,
    Osnildo

  13. Ha!! I’ll be sure to hang in there just long enough to finish Killer Home Recording!! Then I’ll drop dead! :-)

  14. I did an essay on this recently, whether guitar emulation could potentially replace the traditional recording setup.

    A point I made there and I think is worth mentioning here is that we keep viewing these emulators as a way of mimicing existing guitar rigs.

    I think that’s the wrong way to approach guitar emulation.

    Purely opinion but the sound produced by guitar emulation is different to that of a real setup and in a lot of ways is more flexible and certainly more portable.
    You can generate strange and unusual sounds that would take you hundreds of pounds worth of hardware to replicate.

    Perhaps Guitar emulation should be seen as an alternative to traditional recording methods.

    Perhaps Guitar Emulation is to traditional amps what the Electric Guitar is to the Acoustic.

    Not a replacement but a viable alternative.

    Once you start viewing this software in that light you’ll see that its capable of something far more. You can generate high screams and twisting tones that sound incredible with electronic music.

    Perhaps this is a brief glimpse of a different kind of music altogether.

    Something worth considering.

  15. The Gear Mall – Boutique & Vintage Amps September 7, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Wow this plugin looks really good. I have used amplitude and it’s pretty decent but I have to spend quite a bit of time dialing in the right sound and when I do it’s still not that hot. I play a lot of old blues and jazz and this is definitely a weak area for amplitude. This looks like a great new option.

  16. How exactly were you pumping your sound out of your computer? Did you just use an interface (such as Presonus) through your monitors? I’m wondering because everytime I try to run an emulator out of my computer through a monitor, it ends up sounding harsh. It sounds good through headphones, though.
    I use Guitar Rig quite a bit. I like to run it through Cubase and record that way since I don’t have any isolation in my home. The sounds are pretty good, but I’d like to try VA to see how it compares.
    Thanks for the review.

  17. oops. I didn’t read all the posts. Nevermind my previous post. You answered my question already. : )

  18. And I have the same problem as you, Brandon. I just can’t get studio (and computer) monitors to provide a good electric guitar translation. I’m thinking it’s probably in the makeup of the speakers voice coils being different from standard guitar speakers. However, I’ve tried running from my Presonus out straight into my guitar amp speakers, bypassing all circuitry, and it still sounds tinny/harsh/whatever you want to call it. It’s not pleasant at all. I’d give my left nut to hear an authentic sound out of my monitors.

  19. I’ve tried the demo of Vintage Amp Room and agree with Brandon. It is great and I’m going to buy it. I’m also going to get Acoustic Feedback which really adds a dimension of liveness to things (use it as first plug in). Also worth looking at is GR4 Pro, because of the new Control Room feature.

  20. I found that all the guitar plugins sound a bit flat.
    It could be that this is because of the monitor speakers, but i never got THE sound.Not even with guitar speakers.
    Then one day i asked and did get an ART studio preamp for my birthday.

    It is not the best thing in the world but it defenitely does do something with these plugins, they sound like they should sound, they come to life, at least to my ears.

    So maybe somebody else does have the same experience.
    Write it down and let me know.

  21. Guitar amp modeling has come a VERY long way. If you spent any quality time with AmpliTube Fender, Overloud TH1, Studio Devil Pro (the new version), and Guitar Rig 4 (with control room) you’ll realize that it’s so close now that for the time you’ll spend dialing in the “real” thing, you could get more milage with one of these. I’ve followed this topic in great detail over at the KVR forums and on guitarampmodeling.com. We are better than 90% of the way there. Recently, Computer Music magazine assembled a panel of working engineers who are used to hearing great guitar tones every day and asked them to do a blind test. In several cases they actually preferred the modeled tones and overall, the accuracy rate was not much better than 30%. So, there ya go! In a mix, guitar simulation is working and I bet it’s being used on A LOT more records than we would realize. Imo, real amps are useful in live situation or to get a really unique tone for a recording. The bread and butter tones have been modeled plenty well enough. The average listening audience doesn’t give two sh*ts anyway ;)

    Rich

  22. In a mix, guitar simulation is working

    I think this angle is the name of the game. Sometimes….in certain situations, the emulators have their limitations. However, when you actually go through the whole mess of mixing, you often find that these limitations are non-existent or at least non-apparent most of the time.

    For many beginners, especially those who love their guitar rigs, it’s a tricky business actually getting that tone to come through without boxiness, fizziness, or weirdness on the recording. Often the emulators have a “more there” sound even with their limitations.

    Brandon

  23. I agree with you Rich,

    In a couple of years everybody is using plugins to make their tone.
    It’s also a matter of time,economics and reliability.
    In a studio you don’t want to spend too much time on mic placement, cable wiring, acoustics etc.
    Plug in and record immediately that’s the deal we are going for and maybe in a lot of cases this is already true.
    Is this a bad thing?
    I don’t think so.
    Technics evolve and it should be that way or else we would still be flying in double decker airplanes!

    Al these plugins don’t say anything about your playing skills, that’s where the difference is and that’s where the new guitar hero’s will rise.

    I like amps, i like plugins, i prefer plugins when i’m recording, i prefer amps when i’m playing with a band.
    I can foresee the day that i will be playing with a “laptop” on stage, a bit weird (I’ve tried it)
    but it works.

    Girore

  24. In a studio you don’t want to spend too much time on mic placement, cable wiring, acoustics etc.

    I’m not sure how many people have attended a real “big boy” session. It’s SLOW SLOW SLOW. Everyone takes their sweet ass time getting there. They take their sweet ass time setting up. Etc. I can’t believe the total lack of sense of urgency. I have to force myself to calm down because I feel the need to get in their and kick butt….which you must absolutely do if you are making an album ep or even more than 2 song recording in a weekend.

    So for the big boys who’ve got a 3 weeks to get their guitar tracks done, they can take their time with the real amps and get them really smokin’. I’ve heard story after story of bands taking 3 days to get their guitar sounds before going to war. That’s great and all, but for those of us who don’t have such time to record a band, simply plugging into an emulator and going is infinitely more practical.

    I’m not saying that I always use emulators. I still prefer the real thing when I have the time and inclination, but I agree with you. The workflow side of the emulators makes them outstanding for guys who are relatively new to engineering or don’t have the time to deal with all the non-creative complications that amp recording can cause.

    Brandon

  25. “I’m not sure how many people have attended a real “big boy” session. It’s SLOW SLOW SLOW.”

    I know exactly what you mean, i’ve done that and i never liked it.
    I always got stuck for hours and hours creating the right sound, it’s a killer for your playing and it’s a killer for your time and money, even if you have the right attitude.
    Since i record myself i understand better now the time and effort it takes to do it right.

    Recording music has changed alot the past decade, nowadays it is possible to make a record at home without the need for the enormous studio’s and equipment that used to be there for a quality record.

    Still i like working in a studio environment because your not in your average home situation and it does have it’s magic if you are working with a band, or a singer for that matter.(much more fun!!!)

    In my case time is the big issue and therefore i use these plugins and everything else that helps me in my workflow.

    As for the record,
    My own equipment is an ART SGX2000 effects and preamp and two Gallien and Krueger backline 100 amps.
    Old , i know, but it works.

    For the plugins i use amplitube and guitarrig and, of coarse, the ART studio preamp ( only 45 euro’s here in Holland)

    grtz. Girore

  26. I am a true tube amp fanatic ! However the processessor simulation stuff has came a long way and sometimes convenience wins when it comes to practice , scratch tracks or whatever. But i haven’t ever heard anything that can replace a tube amp when used properly !

  27. When these sort of issues come up, I tend to dismiss them because at the end of the day, the quality of the song and performance are far more important…EXCEPT when a guitar amp is involved. For me, in guitar-driven rock and pop, the tone of the tone of the amp is integral to the quality of the song and performance.

    I agree with Brandon — the various emulators were always missing something and for me they were therefore unusable. Until I hear VAR — close enough to perfection to be negligible! I actually like its limitations — tells me the developers really concentrated on getting just a few critical things right, as opposed to getting a lot of things marginally acceptable.

    Great review, Brandon

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