MOTU Digital Performer 7.2.2’s Guitar Goodies

July 12, 2011

imgLast year’s version change from DP6 to DP7 ($499 retail/$195 upgrade from previous versions of DP) added several cool new features such as the Channel Strip, inline EQ and dynamics processing on each Mixing Board channel, expanded automation via Range modes, and an Info Bar that appears in every window. More importantly for guitarists, however, it included MOTU’s first foray into amplifier, speaker cabinet, and effects pedal modeling.

The Custom ’59 amp modeler, Live Room | G speaker cabinet modeler, and nine stompbox models function as individual plug-ins rather than as parts of an integrated unit, which makes it easier to use a single plug-in without navigating them all. If you do want to create complete guitar rigs for repeated use, however, you can do so using the Channel Strip, and save your signal-chain settings as Channel Strip presets.

While testing the plug-ins in DP7, I played Gibson and PRS guitars into a MOTU ZBox impedance-matching box, routed to a MOTU 828MkII audio interface, connected to a fully loaded six-core 3.33GHz Apple Mac Pro.

imgThe Custom ’59 amp modeler

Custom ’59

Instead of going for a huge range of options like many other ampmodeling plug-ins, the Custom ’59 focuses on just three: the Fender Bassman (’59 Tweed), the Marshall JTM45 (’65 Breaker), and the Marshall JCM800 (’81 Brit STD). But it allows you to mix and match the Preamp Tube type, Preamp Circuit, Tone Stack, and Power Amp types from the three amp models—along with a few additional options—and there’s a choice of Hi and Lo impedance inputs with separate Volume controls.

The focus here is the critical transition zone from clean to crunch sounds, along with overall dynamic response, so to get heavily overdriven sounds you need to push the input hard with lots of level and/or goose it with the Trim or Diamond Drive (see below) plug-ins, even when the Volume and Master Volume controls are cranked. The clean sounds are excellent, the crunch sounds have a nice ragged edge, and the models respond to playing dynamics and changes in guitar volume much like the real thing—but don’t expect to get classic dimed JCM800 metal tones. Switching the various components around alters the sound in useful ways, but the changes are relatively subtle in most cases. Personally, I was most impressed with the cleaner sounds, and I particularly liked the way in which they interacted with the stompbox models.

imgThe virtual mics may be positioned visually as well as aurally within the Live Room | G user interface.

Live Room | G

This speaker cabinet emulator features five cab types: 4x12 Modern, 4x12 Vintage, 2x12 Combo, 4x10 Combo, and 1x8 Junior. There are two mono microphones (with a selection of dynamic on axis, dynamic off axis, dynamic rear, condenser near, or omni condenser far) and a stereo pair (with a choice of X/Y, ORTF, Blumlein pair, or wide omni placement), which may be equalized with individual 3-band EQs, panned, and blended using the Microphone Mixer. Additional controls include Cabinet Drive for introducing distortion, Solo and Mute, high-frequency Damping, Pre-Delay, and Side Chain Outputs for discrete control over individual mixer channels.

Although the controllable parameters and mic and cabinet selections are relatively limited compared to other products of this type, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I found the choices be adequate for most applications. The models sound very good, and there are enough options to dial in plenty of great tones. Serious tweakers may balk, but the average home studio user might actually appreciate the reduced option anxiety.

Guitar Pedals

The choice of stompboxes is limited to six distortion-type pedals, chorus, wah, and a noise gate. The good news is that they more-or-less nail the sounds of their hardware counterparts, right down to the response of the controls, making them all quite useful for crafting high-quality tones. And the ability to automate those controls opens up lots of creative possibilities— such as altering the tone or amount of overdrive when transitioning between verses and choruses—as does being able to sync the wah sweep and/or chorus modulation speed with your DAW’s tempo. Each effect also comes with a selection of well-crafted presets.

imgThe MOTU stompbox emulations look as familiar as they sound.

The Delta Fuzz (Electro-Harmonix Big Muff) sounded very realistic, with lots of raspy fatness and sustain. The Diamond Drive (Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive) possessed much of the crispy crunch and bite of the real thing, and cleaned up nicely when the guitar’s volume control was rolled back. The RXT (Pro Co Sound Rat) displayed the distortion-verging-on-fuzz characteristics of the real thing. The D Plus (MXR Distortion+) was slightly less convincing in terms of fidelity to the original, though it still sounded good, and two controls let you adjust the Source impedance of the guitar and the Load impedances of the amp or other device following it in the signal chain, affecting how it responds. The Tube Wailer (Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer) captures the essential vibe of the real thing, and lets you switch between the stock silicon clipper diodes and germanium diodes, which adds a bit more bottom-end. The Uber Tube (Ibanez Super Tube) is a variation on the Tube Screamer, featuring a Bite control that boosts mids much like a cocked wah, and a silicon/ germanium diode switch. It is a great-sounding overdrive that is quite versatile and has lots of personality.

The Analog Chorus (Boss CE-2/CE-3 Chorus Ensemble) is a nice-sounding chorus effect that replicates much of the Boss pedals’ classic sound, though it doesn’t have quite the same magical high-end sparkle as the original. The Wah Pedal is a sophisticated plug-in that provides a host of tone-shaping tools such as Sweep Start and Sweep range, Sweep Exponent for defining the feel of the pedal’s response, Character, which introduces distortion, and Voicing, which selects between V846 (’70s Vox 846) and WhineBaby (Dunlop Cry Baby). The Wah Pedal may be automated and synched to tempo, or controlled with an expression pedal via MIDI continuous controller messages. The Intelligent Noise Gate is designed to reduce tube hum and power supply buzz, rather than function as an overall audio noise gate, and it performed well in both capacities when cleaning up tracks recorded using an actual tube amplifier.

The addition of this suite of plug-ins to DP7 demonstrates MOTU’s commitment to making Digital Performer of greater use to guitarists, and makes one wonder what the future may bring.

KUDOS Great-sounding emulations overall.
CONCERNS Amp models require hot input signal to get overdriven tones.
CONTACT MOTU, (617) 576-2760; motu.com

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