We met the Kemper Profiling Amplifier a couple of NAMM shows ago. There had been much talk about some crazy, lunchbox-looking product that could listen to any amp and capture its sonic DNA right before your eyes in real time. The resulting model or “profile” could then be tweaked, refined, modified, and stored, then combined with any of the onboard effects for a ton of hip tones. I watched the demo where they played through a Boogie Road King, then profiled the Boogie, then A/B’ed the two. It was very impressive but I knew I needed to try it, hear it, and feel it for myself before I could believe it.
Well, we got a KPA a little while ago so we could do just that. After unboxing it, I started auditioning some of the profiles that it ships with. Some I wasn’t crazy about, but some—including the Fender Deluxe, Twin Reverb, Boogie Dual Rec, and Roland JC-120—were really cool. They sounded big and open and had a great feel. Some of the band-inspired profiles, such as “Sabbath” and “Lotta Love” were very accurate and a blast to play. You also get a bunch of effects, with the Hall Reverb, Vintage Chorus, Fuzz Face, and Rotary being particularly great. I felt the interface to be overwhelming initially, with its 38 buttons and 17 knobs on the front. Once I dug into it, I was able to get my moves down pretty easily, but it’s a good idea to keep the wellwritten manual handy.
So far none of this would really set the KPA apart from the myriad modelers available today. What makes the Kemper unique is obviously its ability to model real-world hardware amps, and we were anxious to see if it could do it. The way that process works is you plug into the KPA and send the 1/4" Direct Out/Send to the input of the hardware amp. Then you stick the mic of your choice in front of the amp and plug it into the XLR Return jack on the KPA. Switch the chicken-head knob on the front to Profiler and the Profiling Assistant walks you through the steps. When you hit the soft button labeled “Start Profiling,” the fun begins. The KPA then sends a series of test signals to the amp so it can analyze exactly how the amp’s circuit responds to various frequencies and levels in order to determine its breakup characteristics. The sounds range from spaceship laser beams to white noise to low, grindy sounds that were likened to the engine room on the Titanic. The whole process takes less than 60 seconds. We put a Rode condenser in front of a Dr. Z EZG 50 and let it rip. The resulting profile was quite good, although it was tough to reconcile the big, warm-sounding 12" speaker in the Dr. Z with the 4" speakers in the Fishman SA220 that we used to reference the profiles. Needing more info, I took a profile of the cute little Ibanez TSA5. This time, the KPA really nailed it, kicking out all the cool, boxy tones that the original is capable of. I moved on to a 1-watt Marshall JMP. I stuck an SM57 straight on the speaker and profiled away. This was a learning lesson in how much the mic can color the sound, because the profile had a more hollow, Randy Rhoads-ish quality than what we heard from the Marshall. I put the mic off axis and created a new profile. The new one sounded different from the first, but still different from the Marshall. So, the good news is that the sound of your favorite mics will absolutely translate into your profiles. The tricky part is getting the mic placement right, which is a real skill/ art form. Because of this, I got my best and most consistent results with a Radial JDX Amplifier DI box, which took the mic out of the equation and delivered a great tone.
The question on everyone’s mind is whether the KPA can create an exact duplicate of an amp’s tone. Monitoring through a P.A. system, I found the profiles to be slightly brighter and more distorted than what I heard through the amp. To be fair, though, the Kemper is intended to replicate the miked sound of an amp, and it does that beautifully. There is a Profile Refining function to help get the tones more similar to the original. You can further tweak the profiles with things like Power Sagging, Preamp Definition, Tube Shape, and so on. With the KPA’s great EQ and Gain controls I was able to get the profiles super close. The real question, of course, should not be whether the profiles sound identical but, “Do the profiles sound good?” That answer is easy: Yes, they do. They sound great and the process of creating them is fun and fascinating. The promise of being able to carry around a warehouse full of classic amps has been with us for a while, but Kemper has definitely put the power of modeling into the hands of the masses, and this is a very cool and exciting development. Wünderbar!
Contact Kemper; kemper-amps.com
Price $1,900/ $1,850 street
Analog Inputs 1/4" Instrument (front panel), 1/4" Alternative Input (back panel), FX Return (XLR and 1/4")
Analog Outputs Master Output (two XLR, two 1/4"), 1/4" Monitor out, Direct Output/FX Send, Headphone.
Digital I/O Coaxial S/PDIF, USB, Ethernet
Weight 11.73 lbs
Kudos Fascinating and groundbreaking profiling abilities. Super-flexible. Versatile routing options.
Concerns Interface somewhat confusing.