I remember hearing about amp sims from Craig Anderton back in the 20th century. I felt threatened by them. I used real amps with real mics on them, and I rocked. Or so I thought. When I finally tried some of these software amps, I wasn’t crazy about them. They were clunky, my computers were slow and lame, and they just didn’t feel or sound right.
Said the old man who was 20 years behind the times shaking his fist at the kids on his lawn.
Fast forward to today, and this old dog has learned a few new tricks. I’ve experienced great-sounding digital amps, I have a fire-breathing computer that can handle whatever digital demands I throw at it, and I know a little bit more about getting a good sound in the studio (or live) than I did when I thought I knew everything back in my 20s. Into this perfect storm of self-reflection and personal betterment dropped the amazing BIAS FX 2 from Positive Grid, a hip, great-sounding, easy-to-use plug-in suite.
I downloaded the software and launched Cakewalk by Bandlab. (BIAS FX 2 is also compatible with most popular recording formats.) Installation requires several steps, but it worked the first time with no glitches. With a new song loaded, I armed a track and called up BIAS. The interface is really cool, with great graphics for every amp, effect, cab and mixer. I know every amp sim product does this, but BIAS FX does it really well.
I started with the factory presets, which are very good, for the most part. They’re grouped by style, and that’s a great starting point, although it’s only a starting point. I browsed through the Pop list and found some awesome clean and not-so-clean tones. I called up Glassy Clean, a sparkly sound that would be great for country, pop or Metallica-style intros. Looking at the patch was a perfect way to learn how BIAS FX ticks. I could clearly see the signal chain, which consisted of a gate, boost, drive pedal (in a suspiciously green package), amp, delay, cab and reverb. The initial tone was sweet and very clean. I instantly found that tweaking stuff is as easy as clicking on it, after which you can manipulate any parameter. I turned on the green overdrive and was very pleased with what it did to the tone. In fact, cranking it all the way truly brought out the best in the sound, so I saved my new patch, as well as a similar tone with less gain and more delay. Now I had three super-cool sounds off of one preset.
Right-clicking on any device lets you replace it seamlessly and easily. I swapped the Twin Reverb model for an AC30 sound and explored the differences, which were what you would expect — the AC tone was boxier, edgier and more focused. Positive Grid has really nailed the subtleties of how various amps react, and it’s fascinating to jump between them in real time. There are so many amps in this suite that I won’t try to go through them all now, but I will suggest that before you decide what you think about an amp model, check out how drastically the cabs can affect its tone. With the available cabs, plus optional impulse responses (IRs) from Celestion and others, there are lots of ways to round out your sound. You need to be patient enough to click through them, but auditioning them is easy. If you do, you’ll hear that for any given amp model, some sound noticeably better than others. Once you’ve created something you love, save it. It’s that easy, and it really works.
When I settled on a core tone that I liked, I started experimenting with the effects in BIAS FX 2, and there are a bunch of them — more than 100 in the Pro and Elite versions, with several in every category, including compression, boost, distortion, modulation, delay and reverb. It’s easy to add them and adjust, delete or change their order by clicking and dragging. They’re all very good, but standouts include the aforementioned 808 OD, Rotary, Dual Spring Reverb and Poly Octaver, a POG emulator that can get you close to that Kurt Rosenwinkel horn tone.
Another thing that sets BIAS FX 2 apart is its Guitar Match capability. This feature takes one guitar, and, after a profiling process, turns it into a totally different guitar, taking into account its disparate pickups, woods and construction. I went through the set-up, which takes about a minute. When it was completed, I clicked on the Guitar Match button on the interface and could choose from several target guitars. I wanted to hear the biggest change, so I clicked on the vintage Tele. What I heard was drastically different from my two-humbucker PRS — brighter, slightly lower output and undeniably twangier. Most importantly, it was usable and musical, and not at all cartoonish or overhyped. I checked out some of the other targets. I liked the Strat, but I’m not sure I need two different Strats, because they don’t sound that different. The Gretsch Country Gentleman and the Gibson ES-335 targets are very intriguing — they really do sound hollow — and I would definitely use them. Guitar Match is plenty impressive as you’re playing through it in real time, and maybe even more so when you audition the various choices on playback: Track a Strat, listen back to a Les Paul; record a humbucker and hear how a single-coil sounds instead. For the skeptics out there, I hear you. I am you. You might not need Guitar Match technology, especially if you already own the guitars that are modeled, but there is something cool going on here. I reviewed, and liked, the Sim-1 XT-1 pedal in GP’s January 2019 issue. This is the same idea, and it works. It’s an absolute value-added feature of this program and definitely worth a listen.
If you want to mic amps for your recordings, you’re probably going to mic amps, and that’s great. If you’re at all interested in recording direct and having a massive range of options all the way until final mix, check out BIAS FX 2. You can get into the entry-level but full-featured Standard package for $99, which is less than the price of a mediocre stompbox. These tones sound and feel good, and they sit in a mix exactly how you would want. I’m a fan.
BIAS FX 2
PRICE $299 street (Elite), $199 street (Professional), $99 street (Standard)
FACTORY PRESETS 200 (Elite), 120 (Professional), 60 (Standard)
AMP MODELS 100 (Elite), 60 (Professional), 30 (Standard)
EFFECT MODELS 100 (Elite), 100 (Professional), 45 (Standard)
RACK EFFECT MODELS 18 (Elite), 14 (Professional), 0 (Standard)
GUITAR MATCH TARGET GUITARS 18 (Elite), 6 (Professional), 2 (Standard)
KUDOS Realistic and dynamic amp sounds. Musical and believable Guitar Match function. Intuitive workflow