The old art-school adage “Less is more” has had its day, but it's clearly out-of-date when the topic of guitar processors comes up. For today's guitar slinger and home recordist, more is more; the more amplifier types, cabinet configurations, and effects, the better, especially when a virtual truckload of vintage amps can be packed into a device the size of a paperback book. DigiTech's contribution to the maximalist trend is the Genesis3 GeNetX guitar processor, a cool blue studio tool packed with enough power to keep plectrists drooling for months.
IN THE BEGINNING
The Digitech Genesis3 guitar processor's case is pleasantly sculpted into a rounded rectangle 10.5 inches wide by 6.5 inches high (see Fig. 1). Although the housing and knobs are made of plastic, it seems rugged enough to take at least a few bounces or kicks. Some of the knobs are a bit too close together for my comfort, but they're all easy to grasp and large enough for fat-fingered fretters.
Input and output connections of this guitar processor are on the rear panel, just above the front control panel when viewed from overhead (see Fig. 2). Because the jacks are out of sight during normal use, DigiTech has thoughtfully indicated their functions and locations on the front panel. Both analog audio outputs are unbalanced ¼-inch TS jacks. The Digital Out is coaxial S/PDIF, and the CD in and headphone out are ⅛-inch TRS minijacks. The power cable uses a standard ungrounded AC connector with a 9V in-line transformer instead of a wall wart.
The Digitech Genesis3's front panel is organized around three horizontal groups of knobs. The bottom row of five pots should be familiar to any guitarist, because it duplicates common amplifier features: Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble, and Amp Level. As on most amps, the initial Gain knob controls the preamp; you can turn it down for clean tones or crank it up for overdrive effects. Amp Level governs the output of the emulated amp combinations, with a final output stage control located on the back panel. A numerical readout (0 to 99 for gain and -12 to +12 for EQ) appears on the easily visible main LED display when you turn any knob, providing repeatable settings.
The Genesis3's middle row of controls — marked Amp Model, Warp, and Cabinet — is where the real fun is. The Genesis3 emulates 14 amp types, including sought-after Fender, Mesa/Boogie, and Marshall models, as well as less common amps and generic tube-amp rigs. Settings for vintage fuzz, acoustic-guitar simulation, and Direct (amp-emulation bypass) are included on the Amp Model knob.
One slightly confusing Amp-Model-knob setting, More, accesses three additional preset amplifier types and nine user-programmable HyperModels (which combine the characteristics of two different amp-and-speaker combinations); all other amp models have their own click positions. The User setting selects storage locations for user-designed custom presets. The Cabinet knob offers a similar bounty with 14 flavors of 1×12, 1×15, 2×12, 4×10, and 4×12 emulated speaker configurations. Knob settings for Direct (cabinet bypass) and User (custom cabinet models) are additional options.
The Warp knob, which I haven't seen on any other guitar processor, presents two exciting processes in one. The first process toggles between a green and a red processing channel when you press down on the knob, enabling instantaneous A/B comparison of two amp, cabinet, gain, and EQ combinations. When comparing two channels, green or red LEDs encircling the Warp knob clearly indicate channel status, as do single LEDs above the bottom knob row and next to the amp and cabinet selections. A yellow LED at the amp or cabinet control indicates that the same amp or cabinet type has been selected for the green and red channels. When you press the Warp knob, the main LED display also momentarily indicates the selected channel.
When you rotate the Genesis3's Warp knob, a third Warped channel mode is created, in which you can blend the green and red channels in any proportion to create a HyperModel. A numerical readout of the percentage of red channel in the mix (from 1 to 99) appears on the main screen. For guitarists who don't do well with numbers, a more intuitive combination of green and red LEDs around the Warp knob changes as more or less of one channel is dialed in.
The upper portion of the Genesis3 faceplate is a recessed black area in which you access the unit's “brains.” All of the Genesis3's controls do double duty, with one function for real-time (Performance mode) adjustments and an alternate function for editing operations. Data/Preset, the largest knob in that segment, selects one of 48 presets; the preset name and number are shown prominently on the central LED display. During editing operations, you use the main Data/Preset knob to turn effects on or off and to control other simple toggling functions.
Below the main screen are five knobs: P1 Speed/Amount, P2 Depth, P3 Modulation Level, P4 Delay Level, and P5 Reverb Level. You can use each for real-time manipulation of applicable effects (as on most stompbox pedals) or for changing parameters in the Edit menu. Six red LEDs to the left of the main display show which of the available effects (Pickup/Wah, Compressor/Gate, Whammy/Intelligent Pitch Shifter, Chorus/Modulation, Delay, or Reverb) are active in the current preset.
To enter Edit mode, press the Edit button once and then press it again to scroll through a list of effects. The status lights blink to indicate which effect you're adjusting. As you edit, the main display prompts you by identifying the available parameters and their associated P1 through P5 knobs.
A Tap-It button lets you set the Genesis3's delay time by tapping a tempo in real time. Along with the Edit button, you also use the Tap-It button to name user presets, as well as for utility and expression-pedal-assignment features. Use the Amp Save and Store buttons to save custom presets and HyperModels; press them simultaneously to access the Utility menu.
If you have a computer with a MIDI interface, DigiTech's GenEdit editor/librarian software, which is included, lets you control all parameters and presets in real time as well as perform dumps and backups to a SysEx librarian or MIDI recorder (see Fig. 3). The optional Control X remote foot controller ($229.95) makes it possible to use the Genesis3 as a volume, wah-wah, or Whammy pedal. According to DigiTech, you can also use the pedal to control amp-channel switching, effects bypass, and numerous effects parameters in real time. Because it plugs in to the MIDI In port, however, you can't use it at the same time as external MIDI controllers. I did not receive the Control X for this review.
There's no need to set the Genesis3 unit on the floor, because it's not a footpedal device. The print around the smaller knobs and indicator lights is too small to read at a distance of three feet or greater. When I set the box on a tabletop, I was also frustrated that the height of the P1 through P5 knobs blocked my view of the labels above them. Through trial and error, I found that the best position was angled and at eye level on a sturdy music stand.
Even without cracking open the manual, I was able to scroll through the Genesis3's 48 basic presets and quickly find the appropriate real-time adjustments for each sound. One nifty aspect of the Genesis3 is that it eliminates the need for many single-effect stompboxes by providing chorus, echo, delay looping, harmonization, phase shifting, and a high-fidelity envelope follower in addition to built-in gating. It was definitely a blast to combine effects, amps, and cabinets, and I was immediately impressed by the variety of tones available.
Some straightforward emulations, such as Fender Bassman and Vox top boost, are right on the money. A multitude of thrilling distortion settings also caught my ear, including Carlos, 2Chunk, and Bigduk. A tuned-down preset named Kobb has a grungy vibe to it, although the latency in its pitch-shifted sound became disorienting when I played at faster tempos. I have yet to hear an acoustic-guitar simulation that does anything for me, and unfortunately, DigiTech's take on that is no exception.
As far as the cabinet selections go, I didn't gravitate to any particular favorites, but I could probably find a use for most of the selections eventually. As a fan of lo-fi and twisted sounds, I would like to have heard a single 6- or 8-inch speaker option, as well.
During my getting-acquainted period, I noticed that many presets are more rocked out or effects laden than anything I'd ever use. DigiTech's presets seem tailored more to the tastes of twenty-something shredders than to forty-somethings like me. I yearn for a single effects-balance control or some easy way to reduce the wash of effects programmed into many of the sounds. Combinations of knob twisting and editing can turn individual effects down or off one by one, but there's no way to globally bypass preset effects without the expression-pedal foot controller.
I knew that more control lurked beneath the surface, so I dove into the 41-page manual to unlock the Genesis3's secrets. The well-written and comprehensive manual patiently guides the reader through the signal processor's basic functions step-by-step before covering the advanced features in depth. A foolproof tutorial for first-time users adds to the document's usefulness. All that's missing from the manual is a clear warning for beginners that because the Genesis3 is a line-level recording device, it can deliver extremely high and potentially damaging output levels when connected to a guitar amp.
Target System Setup mode, under the Utilities menu, is particularly intriguing. It lets you tweak the Genesis3's output characteristics to match the real-world amplifier and speaker cabinet you're using with optional settings for instrument input level, effects-loop input level, or a line-level connection.
Scrolling through the various target systems makes an audible, although subtle, difference in tonal characteristics through an amp, enhancing the unit's effectiveness for recording. While perusing the manual, I discovered many other useful Utilities modes, including a highly sensitive tuner with an A 440 pitch reference that's adjustable from 427 to 453 Hz, stereo or mono output, expression-pedal settings, preset naming, and MIDI operations.
During performance or recording, the benefits of the green/red channel switching are obvious. For example, it was impossible to resist switching between blackface and tweed Fender amps mated with various Fender cabinet combinations. I appreciated the ease with which I could compare subtler aspects of tone and gain settings in real time without having to deal with memory locations or complicated editing. The ability to emulate the tone (though not the noise-canceling properties) of single-coil or humbucking pickups using the Edit menu is another nice touch.
Once I had spent some time devising new sounds, naming and saving them was a snap. You can easily overwrite edited presets to the same number in the separate user bank, which is helpful for remembering the locations of 48 factory and 48 user presets. Warped amp-and-cabinet HyperModels offer increased options for creativity and saving as part of a new preset.
When I plugged the Genesis3 directly in to a mixer and through studio monitors, I was bothered at first by a consistent buzzing sound as I scrolled through the presets. Then I remembered the Target System Setup, which I had previously adjusted for a 1×12 cabinet. Changing that control to the direct setting made a world of difference in the tones I heard, and the results caught my ear as no direct guitar processor has ever done before.
After another lengthy period of gleeful tweaking, I bowed in the direction of DigiTech's modeling wizards and admitted to myself that it is indeed possible to get great guitar sounds without an amp. Through my studio monitors (Dynaudio BM 15s), I was particularly enamored of the GeNetX Hot Rod (simulating a Mesa/Boogie Mark II-C), Crunch (an overdriven tube amp), Bassman (a '59 Fender Bassman), and Blues amp settings. Similar devices I've tried have quickly turned me off because of a uniformity of tone or harshness that I couldn't dial out.
I am extremely impressed by the transparency and diversity of convincing amp sounds the Genesis3 has to offer. Turning the bass control up one or two notches often makes the tones even better. The ability to adjust the center frequencies of the bass, mid, and treble knobs is also a big plus. While playing with the Gain and EQ, I noticed that those controls don't always respond immediately to subtle movement, and often a hard twist is needed to “wake up” the Gain and EQ pots.
The Genesis3's output level is sufficient to comfortably drive +4 dBu line-level inputs; noise, though slightly audible, was negligible. Taking the 24-bit digital output and converting it to analog with an Apogee PSX-100 adds noticeable punch and high-end clarity to the tone. The Genesis3 has an adjustable digital-output level in the Utilities menu, which is a big plus in today's studio environment. Creative engineers probably don't need to be reminded that the unit also holds tremendous potential for direct bass and keyboard recording, as well as reprocessing prerecorded tracks. For studio bass tracks, the DigiTech's Bassman emulation is a winner once again, especially with the 1×15 speaker option.
One aspect of DigiTech's guitar processor that does not thrill me is the choice of reverb algorithms. With the exception of the over-the-top coloration provided by the Plate and Church settings, the onboard ambience choices sound generic, metallic, thin, and unconvincing. The spring-reverb emulation is especially disappointing given the status of that sound in the history of electric guitar. I'll just have to hold on to my vintage Fender Pro Reverb for the time being.
To supplement my findings, I enlisted the help of a fellow guitarist with keen ears for the subtleties of tone. John Finkbeiner, a gifted former student and home recordist, was impressed with the sonic qualities of the Genesis3 through guitar amps and headphones and volunteered that he preferred the sound of the unit to that of the Line 6 Pod and the Tech 21 SansAmp GT2.
To Finkbeiner's discriminating ears, “Cranking the gain and amp level on the Bassman setting yielded the correct progression and type of breakup distortion.” That's a hearty thumbs-up coming from the owner of an authentic '50s Fender Bassman amp. He also noted that the unit was a little noisy, but not so much that he was compelled to adjust the onboard noise gate.
Finkbeiner also appreciated the wealth of processing options. He was particularly intrigued by the cabinet-tuning feature, which lets you adjust the resonance of selected cabinets one octave up or down. Like me, though, he thought many of the reverb and echo presets were excessive and was quickly annoyed that he couldn't bypass the Genesis3 circuitry without the Control X expression pedal.
Though it offers a complex roster of features, the DigiTech Genesis3 is remarkably easy to use, thanks to an instructive display, intuitive controls, and a clear manual. As a busy studio professional, I certainly value the rich variety of credible guitar sounds that you can access immediately, not to mention that the unit's deeper editing capabilities can be mastered in an afternoon.
As a guitarist and bassist with a few decades of experience under my belt, I have to hand it to DigiTech for making a box that's simply a heck of a lot of fun to play around with. The Genesis3 definitely raises the bar for quality and value in modeling devices. At just over two pounds, it sure beats hauling a truckload of old amps to the gig!
GuitaristMyles Boisenb (firstname.lastname@example.org) has worked with David Lynch, Tom Waits, John Zorn, Fred Frith, Nina Hagen, and many others. He is also head engineer at Guerrilla Recording and the Headless Buddha Mastering Lab in Oakland, California.
Genesis3 GeNetX Specifications
A/D and D/A Resolution24-bitSampling Rate44.1 kHzPreset Locations(48) ROM; (48) RAMGuitar I/O(1) hi-Z ¼" TS in; (2) unbalanced ¼" TS outDigital Output(1) coaxial S/PDIFMIDIIn, Out/ThruAdditional I/O(1) stereo ⅛" TRS audio in; (1) stereo ⅛" TRS headphones outFrequency Response25 Hz-20 kHz (+1, -3 dB)Signal-to-Noise Ratio>101 dBATotal Harmonic Distortion<0.009% @ 1 kHzDimensions10.5" (W) × 2.0" (H) × 6.6" (D)Weight2.24 lb.
guitar effects processor
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.5QUALITY OF SOUNDS4.5VALUE5.0RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Easy to use. Excellent sound quality. Many convincing amp emulations and exciting presets. Powerful channel-switching option. High-quality effects. S/PDIF output. Onboard tuner. Good manual. MIDI control software included.
CONS: Disappointing reverb. Too many effects-heavy presets. Sometimes unresponsive Gain and EQ pots. No global effects bypass without the optional foot controller. Labels are hard to read at an angle or from a distance.