Digital recording into a
computer or tablet is cool, but plug-ins can
make the process even cooler. Whether
you want to re-create a vintage sound, or
hear something that can exist only in a virtual
world, there’s a plug-in for that. Amp
sims are the one plug-in type designed
specifically for guitar players. While initially
dissed, manufacturers keep coming
up with better algorithms. Like physical
amps, each sim has its own vibe and design
philosophy, so here are some subjective
thumbnail evaluations (note that some
DAWs come with their own amp sims).
|Four amp sims—(clockwise from upper left) Softube Metal Amp Room, Peavey ReValver 3.5, IK Multimedia AmpilTube 3, Line 6 POD Farm 2.5.
Avid. Eleven Rack is a hardware interface
designed specifically for Pro Tools,
but it also functions in a somewhat more
limited way with other recording software.
Use it as a hardware plug-in for
Pro Tools, or take it onstage as a multieffects
IK Multimedia. AmpliTube gives realistic,
warm sounds with a user interface
that resembles real-world guitar setups.
IK also entered the mobile world early,
and that iPad a guitarist uses for processing
is likely running AmpliTube.
Isotope. Trash isn’t a traditional
amp simulator, but a multiband processor
(with amps and cabs) dedicated to
distortion that also includes fairly esoteric—
as well as standard—effects based
on filtering and delay.
Line 6. POD Farm 2.5 has a rich collection
of modules—including ones for
vocals and bass. The distortion presets
seem designed for a lighter touch, so
lower the Drive if you pick hard or use
McDSP. Chrome Tone works only
with Pro Tools. It doesn’t emulate any
specific amp, but is a more generalized
simulator with a high degree of control.
It provided the basis for the Firebird X
Native Instruments. Guitar Rig is
packed with modules, and is super-flexible—
you can do splits within splits, and
fold in synthesizer-type components. It’s
also designed to work as a general-purpose
Peavey. ReValver is the most customizable
of any amp sim—tweak down to
the component level, and swap virtual
output tubes, change resistor values, etc.
If you’re patient, the range of sounds you
can obtain is huge.
Scuffham Amps. S-Gear is from the
brain behind the Marshall JMP-1, and
it features a warm, organic sound at a
righteous price. The latest version adds
an effects rack in addition to the three
amp models and delay.
Softube. Metal Amp Room and Vintage
Amp Room give the basics—amps,
mics, rooms—and don’t include a virtual
effects pedalboard. The sound is clean and
very accurate, but they’re fairly costly—
think “boutique” amp sims.
Waves. G|T|R has a highly “detailed”
sound, and great bass amps/cabinets.
The pedalboard/amp paradigm is very
flexible, and the sound quality evinces
Waves’ experience in creating plug-ins
for studio and stage.
More FX. You’ll also want effects such
as reverb, vocal compressors, and the
like. Universal Audio’s powered plugins
depend on a hardware DSP card—
which takes a load off your CPU—and
they nail the analog vibe. Eventide has
resurrected the best of their costly hardware
studio gear in plug-in form, as has
Lexicon. Toontrack’s EZmix 2 is a software
DSP engine with a ton of presets
for “EZ” mixing, and, finally, don’t overlook
PSP Audioware. This small Polish
company makes cost-effective, wonderful-
sounding plug-ins designed for general-
purpose recording applications.