I’ve come quite late to the IOS amp party – when I first found that you could get a version of Amplitube, a desktop ampsim that I’ve always admired, on my shiny new Iphone 4s, I was utterly amazed. Of course it had limited functionality compared to its big brother and frankly did not sound very good, but I did not care; I was just so delighted that you could play something that at least sounded halfway good on a mobile device.
Then Positive Grid released Jamup, and that really changed everything. Here was an amp app that looked great, had all the classic amp and effect models that I wanted and above all sounded utterly, utterly fantastic. I no longer went back to my PC for my Amplitube or Revalver hit – here was the tone I wanted, on my Iphone. The introduction of Audiobus allowed me to integrate Jamup with all my other music apps, did I really need a desktop DAW at all?
Then Positive Grid released BIAS. This was a huge step into the unknown, not an all-in-one amp and effect package but a dedicated amp sim, with incredibly, a powerful amp designer built in. As a piece of design, it is pretty close to a masterpiece. Even on an Iphone, the signal chain is crystal clear and even the complex eq and valve manipulation the package allows are intuitive and joyfully easy to use. And of course it sounded magnificent.
But in someways, it was a dead-end. It is designed for seamless integration into Jamup to allow the use of its effects, but Bias’ magnificent room simulator, responsible for so much of the weight of its sound, seems to translate poorly into Jamup, leaving your lovingly crafted amps curiously flat. Bias can be used in Audiobus, but it seem unsatisfactory somehow.
So when rumours began of a desktop version of Bias, it really made sense. Freed from the comparative restraint of IOS, Bias could surely really exploit its potential as a VST effect in a DAW.
And so after several false alarms and delays, we finally have it – lets see what we’ve got.
Well, first of all, Bias Desktop comes in two flavours, the vanilla Bias Desktop, which has the equivalent functionality of the base Bias IOS app and Bias Professional, which has the added model packs and most intriguingly, the Amp Match feature, of which much more later.
These versions cost $99 and $199 respectively. This pricing has raised the ire of much of the IOS community – so used to paying pocket money prices – but frankly, these are very reasonable prices when seen in the context of professional desktop ampsims. Hey I remember Waves charging over $300 for GTR, and that was a pile of crap.
After downloading I installed Bias Professional into Reaper. At first this was not a smooth experience and I suffered many hangs and crashes before being able to play a note. But customer support from Positive Grid was superb. My slightly whingy emails were replied to swiftly and very fully and I quickly had an updated version to try out which loaded without further problems.
On opening as a VST effect you are presented with a screen that should be very familiar to anyone who had used the iOS app, especially if it was on the Ipad. The interface is beautiful and looks so much more crafted than the rather homespun appearance of Revalver 4. You have the same selection of basic amp models ranging from clean and glassy to full on mental-metal. You also get the same beautifully streamlined component level editing that you got in iOS, with a selection of different tonestacks, preamps, poweramps, valves, transformers, etc, etc.
The elegance of this system is still remarkable – each stage in the signal processing has a huge role to play in the final tone you get out of it. The preamp gives you a range of tubes to choose from, various gain settings and bias adjustments and a choice of tube stages. The tonestack has a range of models and tone controls, the power amp also gives a selection of valves to choose from as well as options to change the very nature of the power amp from solid-state to push-pull. And every stage gives you this range of options. Add to this there are also very powerful eq sections that have a profound effect on your tone as well as a range of modeled cabs, speakers and microphones. There is also the very subtle and effective Room Control that had such an effect on the iOS app sound.
This is a vast array of options, each of which works with the others to produce an almost infinite variety of tone colours and yet it is never really intimidating and everything just makes sense, even if this is the first time you’ve handled Bias. As a piece of visual design it is quite brilliant. Compare this to Revalver 4, this gives you control over components to the valve and capacitor level, but is so complex to use and so visually intimidating that it is practically useless unless you have some background in electronic engineering.
Though peerless on a touchscreen, the whole process works very well with a mouse with control feeling rather smoother than it does on either Amplitube or Revalver 4.
So it looks simply wonderful and is intuitive to use. In Part 2 of this review, I’ll see how it all handles.
See you then….