I remember the first time I heard Amplitube, latency so bad it could not be played live, modelling that today seems laughably crude, but it just seemed like……the future.
In the past 15 years so much has changed, marriage, children, less hair and more stomach, My big amps have gone and I totally embraced the modelling route. Amplitube, GTR, Guitar Rig, Pod Farm, I had them all.
Then I got an iPhone, and now there was a world of amps and effects in my pocket (that, after all is what inspired this blog).
But the gold standard was always Amplitube, and the successive versions have introduced new and better effects and amps and greater usability.
So a brand, spanking new version of Amplitube is a big thing, and the signs were good…..IK’s latest modelling package, the Mesa Boogie collection was expensive but very, very good (see review here) and really was as good a package as I’ve heard.
And what we were hearing about Amplitube 4 sounded good as well. New Marshall models ( or at least Marshall inspired), new cab modelling, indeed new speaker modelling , which sounded very exciting. New cab rooms, fx loops, acoustic simulators….it all sounded very good.
And it has to be, for since Amplitube 3, there has been a lot of exciting developments in modelling. Traditional desktop modelling packages such as Amp Farm, GTR or the lovely Guitar Rig are either dead as a dodo or in a zombie state of non-development. But Positive grid have their amazingly innovative Bias package, and there are incredible hardware units such as the Kemper and the Axe-fx. Expensive of course but incredibly good.
Can Amplitube still hack it? That is what we are going to find out……
Installing was a doddle, compared to Rectifier’s awful updating system, IK’s Custom Shop is a much neater solution and Amplitube 4 was up and running in a few minutes-it also integrated neatly with my version of Amplitube 3 so all my additional packages, such as the sublime Mesa Boogie collectionI was ready to use. This was useful as the base package for Amplitube 4 is not over burdened with amp and effect models. I do like the new look, it is instantly familiar to anyone who has used Amplitude before but does look more streamlined and elegant.
The big selling points of 4 are a range of amp models with brand spanking new algorithms, based on a range of classic Marshalls and a new speaker/room emulation model. Now any older packages that you port over to 4 will not benefit from the new amp algorithms but they do benefit from the new room and speaker emulations. This is important, as we’Ll see shortly.
I plugged in my 1986 Ibanez Roadster, great neck, good humbucker and wonderful single coils and selected the American Custom model, the IK’s bog standard fender Twin model. I’ve alwYs liked this model, simple and utterly unpretentious, I prefer it to the Twin in IK’s own Fender Package and in Amplitube 3 it sounded pretty damned good. but in Amplitube 4, it sounds astonishing. Now remember that this is not a fancy new model wheeled out for the new version, this is an algorithm that has been hanging about for years. But it sounds detailed, precise. This was the first indication that it might be the new room simulator and speaker emulations that may be the main interest here. There is enormous flexibility with mic placings and an innovative feature is to allow a choice of speakers as well as cabs. Frankly the amount of tonal choice this allows is pretty overwhelming, but that would not count for match if the core tone was not top notch, and it is here that the room and speaker emulate really shines.
Every old model seemed to benefit, and some of these emulations are now nearly 10 years old. But everything sounded more immediate and much more live and fresh. Even those old Metal amps brought something new to the party and it was not just amps, but effects to seemed to have a whole new level of fidelity. On something pretty new like the Mesa Boogie amps, the improvements are more muted, but then those models are pretty much state of the art and would be difficult to improve too much. (I was quite taken by the Mesa collection, you can read my review of it here)
So the new room and speaker modelling is by no means a gimmick, but something that gives an immediate audible benefit, even to the creakiest amp model in the package. Though there has been a lot of Internet grumbling about the lack of core models in Amplitube 4, if you area updating from Amplitube 3, then it is like having a whole new package.
Audio recording has Been improved and there is now an 8 track recorder to play with that is perfectly adequate as a powerful sketch pad.
But what you want to know about are the new models. Now there are no licensing deals involved here so they are no names, but one glance at the photo shopped Rolex tells you that we are in a world of Marshall here. You get models of the Major, Jcm 800, 900, JMP and Jubilee. So some classic stuff here but a Bluesbreaker would have been nice.
Now, I’ve played a lot of amp sims and Marshalls have often been a problem, never quite having the depth of tone that I would expect (to be honest, Marshalls have never been my favourite Amps anyway).
But these mock-Marshalls are the best I’ve heard in an amp sim. They do all the super saturated stuff beautifully but also clean up very nicely for that supercharged Bassman feel. The JMP felt a little thin but I’ve never really liked the original anyway. But the Others are absolutely outstanding, a/b them against the old Marshall model in Amplitube and see what I mean. I still think that the Mesa Boogies are the acme of modelled amps at the moment but the Marshalls here justify the cost of the package all by themselves.
What else? An acoustic simulator that is not silly but actually sounds satisfyingly piezo like. It’s not a Lowden, but it does fill a mock-acoustic size hole nicely. There is not a lot else here that is brand new, but everything feels polished. Controls and connections are more intuitive, it looks prettier and Custom Shop still works as beautifully as it always did. Custom shop is still the most elegant way of auditioning and buying new gear – so much better than the mess that is the Revalver equivalent. IK, allow the iOS Amplitube access to Custom Shop, iOS is so obnoxious in its unending attempts to flog stuff that even someone as sweet natured as me are reduced to thought of violence.
Amplitube 3 was still the best desktop package out here (sorry Bias, but you are very close). Amplitube 4 is better in every way. It is easier to use, and everything sounds better, often much, much better.
There may not be a shed load of new gear, but this is a big step forward in fidelity, and at €179 is not bad value at all (there is currently a deal with Amplitube 4 and the Mesa Boogie Collection for €199 which is approaching a bargain).
After so many years, Amplitube is still the one to beat.
Thanks to IK for the review copy – I had lots of fun.