IK Multimedia AmpliTube 3 (Mac/Win) Review

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FIG 1: AmpliTube 3 features numerous improvements in a variety of areas. The most significant may be the revamped cabinet section, which lets you use two virtual mics, position them horizontally and back and forth from the cabinet, and pan their signals if desired.

AmpliTube is one of the perennial leaders in the competitive world of amp-and-effects-modeling software, and its latest incarnation, AmpliTube 3 (see Fig. 1), represents a lot more than just an incremental upgrade. It''s a huge overhaul that takes a successful product and improves upon it in almost every way. That''s a good thing for IK Multimedia, because the competition in the modeling software category has increased both in quality and quantity during the past couple of years. In AmpliTube 3, IK has not only significantly beefed up its model set, it has also revamped some of the fundamental aspects of how the plug-in (which also runs standalone) functions.

In this review, I will focus on what''s new, of which there is plenty. If you want to read about legacy features, check out EM''s review of AmpliTube 2 in the October 2006 issue.

I installed AmpliTube 3 on my 8-core, 3GHz Mac Pro. The installation process was smooth, and authorization was easy using IK''s serial-number-and-digital-ID (the identifier of the host computer) system, which generates an authorization code that you then enter into the program''s interface.

One of the first things I noticed when opening the plug-in was that it now lets you choose between three different levels of audio quality with correspondingly different CPU drain. If you are running on a slow computer, or you''re planning on opening a lot of instances of AmpliTube or a lot of plug-ins in general in your session, this could be a handy feature. AmpliTube 3, like its competitors, eats up a lot of CPU on its high settings. For many situations, you won''t notice much of a difference in sound quality when using the lower settings.

As with any amp-modeling software, the focal point of AmpliTube 3 is its amp models. IK has upgraded an already solid collection with a combination of new models, models imported from other Powered-by-AmpliTube products, and upgraded versions of its existing model set.

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FIG. 2: Three new bass amp models are provided, including this emulation of a Trace Elliot AH250.

To my ears, highlights of the new models include the British Copper 30TB, which emulates an early ''60s copper-top Vox AC30 (a nice supplement to AmpliTube''s existing AC30 model); and British OR, which is based on an Orange OR-120, and gives you some massively fat tube-like tone, especially when you turn the gain up. You also get three additional Fender models (to go with the two existing ones) ported over from AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix. My favorite of the three is American Vintage D, which emulates a Dual Showman (see Web Clip 1).

Other new amps include American Clean MKIII, an emulation of a Mesa/Boogie MKIII combo''s clean channel, and American Lead MKIII, which covers the lead channel. Also new is Jazz Amp 120, which does a nice job of emulating the classic Roland JC-120 sound (replete with chorus, vibrato, and distortion). From AmpliTube Metal, you get five models, including emulations of a Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier lead channel, a Randall Warhead, a Marshall JMP100, and a Peavey 5150 100W head.

The new models supplement the existing collection brought forward from AmpliTube 2, which includes Fenders, Marshalls, a Vox, and a Supro—all of which have been reworked to offer a more realistic feel. I compared some of those AmpliTube 2 models against their revamped counterparts in AmpliTube 3, using the same amps and settings, and found that the differences were subtle, but the revised models did sound a bit fuller and felt a tad more realistic in the way they responded.

Three additional bass amp models were also added, including a Gallien-Krueger MB150, an Acoustic 360 preamp, and a Trace Elliot AH250 emulation (see Fig. 2). All three sound good, but I particularly liked the GK and the Trace Elliot, which made my DI-recorded bass parts come alive.

From an amp-model standpoint, everything in AmpliTube 3 is either new or upgraded. I was extremely impressed with the quality and variety of sounds. What''s more, AmpliTube 3''s clean sounds are convincing, which is no small feat for an amp modeler. Usually, the distorted sounds are easier to make sound realistic. AmpliTube''s models are also flexible because many of them give you the ability to swap out preamps, EQ sections, and power amp sections so that you can make your own hybrid custom rigs.

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FIG 3: Several new beat-synched effects are part of AmpliTube 3''s significantly upgraded effects collection, including Step Filter Step Slicer, and Tap Delay.

Perhaps the most dramatic change in AmpliTube 3 is its revamped cabinet section. As with the amps and effects, the number of models available has been greatly increased. What''s more, unlike in previous versions where you had only one mic model that could be used on a cabinet and only a couple of choices for placement, AmpliTube 3 offers two virtual mics that you can freely move around, both forward and back and left and right; you can''t move them vertically. This really opens up a lot more sonic possibilities. One cool application for the dual mics is to spread the two on the cabinet and pan them, which lets you get some really wide sounds that are great for rock rhythm guitar, among other things (see Web Clip 2). Each of the two mic slots has Solo, Mute, and Phase buttons. If you only want one mic, you can turn off the second one. Another new parameter is the Size control, which lets you vary the virtual cabinet size, and has a pretty dramatic effect from one extreme to the other.

The number of mic models has been increased significantly from six to 15. In addition to an enhanced selection of classic dynamic and condenser models (including several more Neumann emulations), you also now get ribbon mics (including a modeled Royer 121). Without A/B''ing them, it''s hard to completely judge the accuracy of the mic models, but they do seem to capture the essence of the mic types they''re emulating and certainly give you lots of additional sonic options.

IK has also changed the room-mic scheme in AmpliTube 3. In AmpliTube 2, you just had an Ambience slider with which you could dial in room sound. The new version offers you two virtual room mics that can be moved from a close to a wide alignment, and everything in between. You also get to choose from five different types of rooms, with the smallest being Amp Closet and the largest Hall. What''s more, you can control the pan of the room mics.

My favorite additions to the cabinet section are the two Rotary models, which provide excellent-sounding Leslie simulations. Each has Width and Balance controls, and a three-way speed control. The reproduction from these models is crisp, clean, and stunning. They are some of the best Leslie emulations I''ve ever heard.

A huge amount of new effects have been put into AmpliTube 3. Nearly every category in the Stomp effects section has been substantially beefed up, and there are also additions in the Rack effects. Some of the Stomp highlights include a new group of beat-synched effects including Step Filter, Step Slicer, and Tap Delay. All are capable of yielding excellent, contemporary-sounding effects (see Fig. 3 and Web Clip 3).

Also new are several wahs; distortion pedals, including models of the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi and Boss Metal Zone, among many others; a bunch of flangers and phasers, including an MXR Phase 90 model; a Uni-Vibe emulation; and a resonant filter. Space doesn''t allow me to detail all the new processors, but suffice it to say the effects selection is much bigger and more varied than before. Plus, all of the effects parameters can now be automated by your DAW, which is a huge improvement.

Another significant upgrade is that AmpliTube 3 gives you the choice of mono or stereo input, whereas the previous versions only had the former. Adding stereo means that you can use AmpliTube 3''s significant processing on stereo sources, which opens the program to being a processor for non-guitar tracks and loops. I actually tried it out on drums, and while it wouldn''t be my first choice for standard drum processing, it was great for off-the-wall, sound-design kind of stuff. You can get some pretty savage sounds when you put a fuzz box on a drum loop (see Web Clip 4).

An additional benefit of the stereo input capability is that you can have parallel mono amp-and-effects chains, which can each be addressed by a different input. (AmpliTube 3 offers a variety of signal-chain routing alternatives.) Now, two people can plug into AmpliTube and each have his/her own amp, cabinet, and effects chain.

Also new is the 4-track audio player/recorder, which is a completely revamped and tricked-out version of AmpliTube 2''s Speed Trainer. The recorder (which is only available when AmpliTube 3 is in standalone mode) lets you either import an audio file (from a wide selection of formats) or record your own. It has tempo (speed) and pitch controls, which let you slow things down or speed them up. (A Link feature lets you choose to have all four tracks follow the tempo control if you want.) There are also pan and volume controls for each track, and you can use a separate instance of AmpliTube 3 on each track if desired. You can also export your finished recording in several different audio file formats.

I was not overly impressed with the algorithms used in the recorder''s tempo and pitch controls, although they''re fine for just slowing down a track to learn a part. Overall, the 4-track recorder is pretty feature-rich, but if you already have a DAW installed on your computer (and what person who owns AmpliTube wouldn''t?), why would you choose AmpliTube''s recorder over your DAW, which has way more features? So for my money, IK would have been better off just leaving the Speed Trainer from AmpliTube 2 and beefing up the pitch and time algorithms.

Some of the other improvements in AmpliTube 3 include plug-and-play integration with IK''s interfaces (StompIO, StealthBoard, and StealthPedal) and a new and improved preset-management scheme.

From the models to the cabinet section to the signal routing and automation, IK has taken an already strong program and made it substantially better. Now that is the definition of an upgrade.

Mike Levine is EM''s editor and senior media producer.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the IK Multimedia AmpliTube 3 product page.