Model Citizens: 7 Comprehensive Amp and Effects Modeling Software Packages - EMusician

Model Citizens: 7 Comprehensive Amp and Effects Modeling Software Packages

Looking for effects to take your guitar or bass tone to the next level? Check out our guide to virtual amp collections.
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When you listen to music produced in the past several years, you may be hard pressed to tell if the electric guitar and bass parts you’re hearing were recorded through actual amps and effects, or modeled ones. Between the strides in quality and accuracy that modeling has made over the past few years, and the flexibility and convenience that recording parts DI—and adding modeled sounds during mixdown—provides, it’s small wonder that amp-and-effects modeling software has become so popular among recording musicians.

The increasing demand for such software has fueled the competition among developers, and the guitarist, bassist, or producer has more choices than ever. These days you can find products ranging from those that offer a model of a single amp and cabinet, to large collections that give you multiple amps, and cabinets and multiple effects. In order to compare apples to apples, we’re going to focus on the latter in this roundup.

The products we’ll cover include IK Multimedia AmpliTube 4, Positive Grid Bias FX, Waves GTR3, Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5, Line 6 Pod Farm 2.5, Peavey ReValver 4, and Overloud TH3. All the products come both as standalone versions and as plug-ins for Mac and PC. All support the major plug-in formats, with one notable exception: Pod Farm 2.5 doesn’t support AAX, Avid’s current Pro Tools plug-in format.

In many ways, these products are quite similar. They give you large collections of rig choices for guitar, and some for bass. Components can generally be mixed and matched. All the programs offer emulations of “classic” amps from the major manufacturers like Fender, Marshall, Mesa/Boogie and others, but vary more in terms of boutique amps models and more obscure brands, and a similar dynamic is at work with effects.

For the most part, the developers of these products don’t have official licensing deals with the amp and effects manufacturers, but they make their virtual amps and effects look very similar to the actual ones modeled and give them names that clearly hint at what they are.

All of the products covered in this roundup give you the option to set up dual rigs, each with its own amp, cab, and effects that are then combined at the output with a mixer of some type. They also all include choices of virtual “mics” that can be placed on the modeled cabinets, and, in most cases, moved around to some degree. They all also offer such basic necessities as tuners and noise gates, and many give you loopers. All let you save and recall your own setups, and control parameters via MIDI.

With some of these applications, you can choose from different tiered versions, all of which have the same basic architecture and most of the same features, but offer more or less modeled gear, depending on the price. All either offer a free version with a token set of models or a free demo of the full version. Either way, you can get a flavor for the software before plunking down any money.

IK MULTIMEDIA AMPLITUBE 4

AmpliTube is one of the perennial leaders in the amp-and-effects modeling category, and with Version 4, it adds more models and features. In addition to a nice selection of amp, cabinet, stompbox, rack effect, and microphone models (the size of the library you get varies depending on whether you buy the standard, Deluxe, or Max edition of AmpliTube 4), all versions of AmpliTube 4 include the new British Collection, comprising five new matching amp and cabinet models based on classic Marshalls.

AmpliTube 4’s cabinet management has been updated with the new Cabinet Room section. In addition to featuring stunning 3D graphics, it lets you choose a cabinet, whether to use one or two mics, your mic models, positioning, and room type. Then you can mix and pan the various mics, and dial in separate room mics and a DI signal. AmpliTube 4 is the only modeler in this article that lets you swap out speaker types within a given cabinet (12" speakers only), giving you a choice of 29 speakers.

Also new to AmpliTube 4, in the standalone version, is an 8-track recorder section, where you can record, overdub, edit, and mix audio tracks, using AmpliTube’s effects. The new 4-track loop-er has a cool spinning graphics reminiscent of the iOS app Loopy HD. Version 4 also brings a second tuner option called UltraTuner, which IK touts it as being accurate down to 1/100th of a cent.

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Supplement your library of models by purchasing additional “gear”—including officially certified Orange, Mesa/Boogie, Fender, and Ampeg collections or even individual models—through the free AmpliTube Custom Shop software (which is not the same as AmpliTube Custom Shop, the free version of the amp modeler), a separate standalone “store” application.

AMPLITUBE 4 (Mac/Win, VST, AAX Native, AU, Standalone)

AMPLITUBE 4 ($149.99): 9 amps, 10 cabinets, 29 speakers, 12 effects, 4 mics

AMPLITUBE 4 Deluxe ($299.99): 25 amps, 29 cabinets, 29 speakers, 48 effects, 12 mics

AMPLITUBE 4 Max ($499.99, download; $529.99, USB drive boxed version): 80 amps, 92 cabinets, 29 speakers, 112 effects, 19 mics

AMPLITUBE Custom Shop (free): 4 amps, 5 cabinets, 11 effects, and 3 mics

KEY FEATURE: 29 speaker models that can be swapped inside cabinet models

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POSITIVE GRID BIAS FX

If you’re looking to get great sounds quickly, with little or no tweaking necessary, you’ll like Bias FX. Not only does it come in two Mac/Windows versions, Bias FX Desktop and Bias FX Professional, it’s also available for iPad, in a version containing the same features and models as in Bias FX Desktop.

All the incarnations of Bias FX give you models based on amps by major manufacturers like Fender, Marshall, Vox and Mesa/Boogie, Roland, Peavey, and Orange, but once you get into the Professional version, you’ll also find boutique amps from Bogner, Dr. Z Amplification, ENGL, and Matchless, among others. Although the model GUIs are designed to look like the amps they’re modeling, the controls are uniform from amp to amp. The model collection can be expanded with The Metal Signature Pack ($49), which adds 6 signature amps/cabs and 6 effects.

The effects collection is expansive, even in the Desktop version, with models based on famous pedals like the Ibanez TR-808, the Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress, and the MXR Dyna Comp, to name just a few. The Professional version adds such classics as the Klon Centaur and DigiTech Whammy Pedal, among many others. Bias FX also features emulations of well-known studio rack gear including the Manley Massive Passive, Teletronix LA-2A, and UREI 1176.

All the versions of Bias FX have the same GUI, which defaults to a view of the signal path. Alternately, you can switch on Pedal Board view which depicts the effects on a pedalboard, with cool 3D graphics, with the amps pictured above them. Mixing and matching amps and cabs is easy, and creating dual signal paths is a snap. Components can be moved around by dragging and dropping.

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Bias FX lets you download and upload setups via its ToneCloud web site. There you can find patches created by well-known guitarists like Neil Zaza, Marty Friedman, and others, plus patches from users, arranged in genre-specific categories.

Another cool feature is the ability to load amps created in Bias Amp, a separately purchased application (also for Mac, Windows, and iPad), which allows you to construct your own amps by choosing internal components such as tubes, and transformers. Bias Amp also has a feature called Amp Match that creates an amp model based on the sound of a recorded guitar track.

POSITIVE GRID BIAS FX (Mac/Windows—VST, RTAS , AAX Native, AU; Standalone—iPad version also available)

BIAS FX DESKTOP ($79): 12 amps, 12 cabinets, 32 effects, 2 mic models

BIAS FX PROFESSIONAL ($179), 32 amps, 32 cabinets, 62 effects, 2 mic models

Demo versions available

KEY FEATURE: ToneCloud website lets you share patches with other users

WAVES GTR3

When you open Waves GTR3 in your DAW, you’ll notice more than just mono, stereo, and mono-to-stereo plug-ins. Besides the full version, called Waves Tool Rack, you have the option of opening modular plug-ins containing only amps or effects (in 2-, 4-, or 6-slot pedalboards). This modular approach lets you open only the models you want on a track, without the CPU load of the full plug-in. You can even open the tuner separately.

The Tool Rack plug-in (the same interface that opens in standalone mode) is extremely easy to use, putting everything right at your fingertips. It has two amp slots above a six-slot effects pedalboard. The two amps can be linked, in which case changing one changes the same parameters on the other; or unlinked, where you can adjust them separately. Phase and Delay controls are part of the interface, with the latter making it easy to dial up wide stereo sounds very quickly.

Although many of the models in GTR3 are based on classic amps, there’s no attempt to emulate their look or specific control sets. Instead, the amps have a unified look (although some models have different color GUIs) and the same control knobs.

The amps have descriptive generic names like Warm, Overdrive, Scream, Crush, and Inferno. The only way to find out what these processors were actually modeled from is to look in the manual. There you’ll discover that Waves used amps like a 1966 Ampeg Gemini II, a 1964 blackface Fender Super Reverb, a 1980 Marshall JMP, and a Koch combo, among others.

Several models are just listed in the manual as being from “a boutique amp in Paul Reed Smith’s collection.” Also included is a bank of amp models from guitarist Neil Citron, which features models from a customized Carvin Legacy, an Ibanez TN120 Thermion, and a modified ’60s-era 100W Marshall Plexi.

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While some might find fault with Waves’ generic approach to naming and depicting the amps, it can be an advantage, because it makes you focus more on what you’re hearing, rather than on what you expect a certain type of amp to sound like.

A nice selection of Global presets are also available for Tool Rack and the Amp and Stomp plug-ins.

WAVES GTR3 (Mac/Win—AAX Native, RTAS , AudioSuite, VST , AU , SoundGrid; $129)

37 amps, 23 cabinets, 26 effects, 12 mics

Demo version available

KEY FEATURE : Generic naming and look of models let you focus on the sounds

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NATIVE INSTRUMENTS GUITAR RIG 5

Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 Pro combines straight-ahead modeling of classic amps with some innovative effects, and even a looper.

One of the many appealing aspects of Guitar Rig 5 Pro is its super-convenient drag-and-drop interface. Drag components from the Component Pool on the left into the rack area on the right, and away you go. Although the company can’t use the actual names for trademark reasons, you’ll find accurate models of amps by Fender, Marshall, Orange, Mesa/Boogie, and Hi-Watt, among others in the collection. It’s easy to tell what the amps are from their suggestive names and look.

The Control Room Pro module is one of several options for miking cabinets. Choose a cabinet, a mic model, and one of three mic positions. Dial in the percentage of room mic sound and adjust the phase, if need be. Click on the mixer tab, pan the mic, and adjust its volume relative to other miked cabinets. A large choice of mic models, from dynamics to condensers to ribbons is provided.

Guitar Rig 5’s Tool modules add functionality. These include two Tape Deck modules, one before and one after the rig in the signal chain. You can load MP3s into the Pre tape deck. Tape deck audio can also be time stretched and pitch shifted, which is handy for learning licks and solos. The Loop Machine lets you record, overdub, and reverse loops.

On the effects side, Guitar Rig 5 Pro offers a huge amount of choices including expected guitar effects such as distortion, overdrive, reverb, and delay, plus modulation effects like chorus, flanger, tremolo, and phaser. In addition, you get five Modifier modules: Step Sequencer, Analog Sequencer, Input Level, and Envelope. These can be placed in the rack and assigned to control one or more parameters on effects, amps, cabinet modules, and so forth, adding rhythmic modulation to the audio and creating unusual effects.

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The Master FX module lets you place effects after your rig’s signal chain, so they aren’t affected when you switch to a different preset. The Container lets you set up macros so you can control multiple effects parameters at once.

Guitar Rig 5 Pro and the free version, Guitar Rig 5 Player, can host other “Powered by Guitar Rig” effects, such as Reflektor convolution reverb; Rammfire, an amp and cabinet model based on Rammstein guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe’s rig; and Tracktor’s 12, a group of 12 DJ effects from NI’s Tracktor software. The Powered by Guitar Rig effects are included if you’re a Komplete 10 owner; if not, you have to buy these add-on effects separately.

NATIVE INSTRUMENTS GUITAR RIG 5 (Mac/Win—VST , AU , ASI O, Core Audio, WASA PI, AAX Native, Standalone)

GUITAR RIG 5 PRO: ($199 or included with Komplete 10 and Komplete 10 Ultimate): 17 amps, 27 cabinets, 54 effects, 8 mics

GUITAR RIG 5 PLAYER (free): 1 amp, 17 cabinets, 13 effects, 2 mics

KEY FEATURE : Modifiers let you rhythmically sync parameters

LINE 6 POD FARM 2.5

Line 6 has been in the amp-modeling field since the beginning, and the models contained in Pod Farm 2.5 reflect the company’s skill in emulating amps and effects. Pod Farm comes in three versions—Platinum, Standard, and Free—each with a different-size model collection.

When you install Pod Farm 2.5, you not only get the full plug-in with all the features, but also 11 modular plug-ins that provide just one aspect of the collection such as guitar amps, bass amps, modulation effects, reverbs, tuner, and so forth. If you don’t need the full plug-in, you can use the targeted modules to save CPU.

Pod Farm’s GUI features the Signal Flow View Display, where you can drag in components from a rotating display above. Change the order by dragging components forward and back, and click the Dual button on the Control bar at the top to create a dual signal chain, which is controlled by the Mixer module.

One of Pod Farm 2.5’s strengths is its breadth of models, especially in the Platinum version, but also in Standard. You’ll find models of Fender, Marshall, Vox, Mesa/Boogie, and Matchless amps, among many others, as well as a collection of Line 6’s proprietary amp models. Mix and match amps and cabinets to create hybrid setups. If you have the Standard version, you can fill out your model collection using Line 6’s Model Packs, available online in the Line 6 store.

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The effects selection is impressive in Pod Farm 2.5 and even more so in the Platinum version. A large selection of dynamics processors, distortion and overdrive pedals, modulation effects, delays, reverbs, wahs, and filters are included. The Platinum version’s effects roster also features a selection of effects that imbue synth-like tones to your guitar or bass.

A cool feature of Pod Farm 2.5 (both Standard and Platinum) is its collection of six mic preamp models, which emulate outboard and console preamps, including Vintage U.K. (based on the Neve 1073), Modern (based on the Avalon VT-737), among others. These are not only useful in guitar and bass rigs, but can be inserted on other instruments and are quite effective on vocal tracks.

LINE 6 POD FARM (Mac/Win—AU, RTAS, VST )

POD FARM 2.5 STANDARD ($99): 23 amps, 29 cabinets, 35 effects, 4 mic models

POD FARM 2.5 PLATINUM ($299): 106 amps, 46 cabinets, 103 effects, mic collection

POD FARM FREE: 4 amps, 4 cabs, 13 effects, 2 mic preamps, mic collection

KEY FEATURE: Preamp models add the sonic signatures of consoles and outboard processors.

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PEAVEY REVALVER 4

When ReValver was first released, it broke the mold for modeling software by letting you go under the hood and tweak the modeled electrical components in an amp to change the sound. Now, in its fourth major version, ReValver continues to set itself apart by offering unique features.

ReValver 4 software is free, and comes with a token model collection. The idea is to populate it with models from Peavey’s “Amp Store.” The Producer Pack is the most comprehensive package Peavey offers, and gives you a nice selection of modeled amps, including classic amp models and a number of Peavey amp models, as well as cabinets and effects. You can also buy individual models and theme-based collections.

ReValver 4’s Input and Output Modules, which look like 500 Series racks, come before and after the main signal chain, but feature important processing. Chief among those are modules for Peavey’s Audio Cloning Technology (ACT). In the Input Module, ACT provides a form of guitar modeling. To use it, start by profiling your guitar by playing rapidly into ReValver. Once the soft-ware captures your guitar’s sonic imprint, ACT profiles can be applied to change, say, an electric into an acoustic, a hollowbody into a solidbody, and so forth. Available profiles depend on which ACT libraries are loaded in your version of ReValver. A small collection of Profiles comes with the Producer Pack, and you can get additional Libraries at the Amp Store for just $2.99 each.

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ACT is also present in the Output Module, where it processes your output with various rig profiles. On both the Input and Output ACT modules, an Effect Blend slider lets you dial in as little or as much of the ACT process as you want.

Also new in ReValver 4 is the RIR 2 Cabinet module, which makes it easy to swap cabinet and mic models, change mic placement, and dial in filters, delay, and ambience. GIG mode, only available when you run ReValver as a standalone, gives you eight slots at the top of the GUI where you can save your own rig setups and easily switch between them.

Another unique feature to Revalver is the ability to host third-party plug-ins from within the plug-in or standalone version.

PEAVEY REVALVER 4: (MAC/WIN—VST, AU, AAX)

BASIC FREE VERSION: 3 amps, 3 cabinets, 4 effects, 3 mic models

PRODUCER PACK ($99) 17 amps, 23 cabinets, 18 effects, 28 mics

KEY FEATURE: ACT guitar modeling

OVERLOUD TH3

TH3, the successor to Overloud’s TH2, offers an appealing mix of excellent design and sound quality, and a model library that provides both familiar and unique selections.

In addition to amps that were clearly modeled from Fender, Marshall, Orange, Roland, Mesa/Boogie, Dumble, and Peavey units, TH3 also offers authorized models from boutique brands that you don’t usually find in amp modeling software, including Brunetti, DVMark, and THD. Metal fans will be happy to discover authorized models of the Randall T2 and Lynchbox, and two complete banks of Randall presets.

The abundant supply of stompbox and rack effects cover just about every category you could want, from distortion to ambience to modulation and more. Some of the coolest effects in TH3 are the pitch-related ones, including the stunning (2-voice) Harmonizer.

TH3’s clean-looking GUI centers around the Sound Chain area in the middle, where you can drag and drop components to create your rig. Choose from a number of preset zoom levels to see larger or smaller versions of the Sound Chain. An overview image of the entire chain is shown below it, which is helpful when you zoom in close on a particular component. A pull-down menu of categorized components makes it easy to find what you’re looking for.

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Double-clicking or right-clicking on a speaker cabinet in the Sound Chain opens up the Cabinet Properties window, where you can activate and adjust up to four mics. Two are on the front of the cabinet, one on the rear, and one is at a 45-degree angle. Choose your front mics from 18 models, and position them by moving them back and forth and side to side. Mix in as much or as little of the other two mics as you want. The IR Cabinet is a speaker cabinet that can be loaded with two impulse responses from a provided library, or you can import your own.

TH3 also has a nicely featured Looper, with features like overdubbing, Reverse, Autostart, Metronome, and more.

OVERLOUD TH-3 (Mac/Win—AAX, RTAS, VST, AU; $249)

72 amps, 37 cabinets, 75 effects, 18 mics

Demo version available

KEY FEATURE: Authorized model collections from Brunetti, DVMark, and THD