15 Potent Amp & Effects Plug-Ins

Digital recording into a computer or tablet is cool, but plug-ins can make the process even cooler.
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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.

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).

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 processor.

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 heavier-gauge strings.

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 amp emulations.

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 signal-processing rig.

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.