SOFTUBE VINTAGE AMP ROOM

Small studios everywhere wrestle with volume issues and temperamental gear to achieve the same guitar and other instrument tones day after day, always
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(re)MIXED MEDIA

Remix contributor Asher Fulero recorded these guitar licks through guitar using a Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 guitar played by Dr. Dan and a custom-made Alembic electric guitar played by Scott Law.
Listen to the custom audio clips of Vintage Amp Room here

Small studios everywhere wrestle with volume issues and temperamental gear to achieve the same guitar and other instrument tones day after day, always looking for the right combination of performance and tone to fit into recordings. Although Softube Vintage Amp Room (VAR) won't make you perform better, it can definitely make good performances sound better with much less hassle than miking up the real thing. Taking the concept of re-amping to the computer realm, VAR allows you to feed your guitar output (or any other output for that matter) into a complete recording “room” in which three detailed amplifier models await your sounds. Each amp is a down-to-the-circuits digital replica that provides nuanced emulation of a classic amp type, complete with a movable microphone model that can be positioned manually along a path from near-field off-axis to far-field and back for all sorts of amp-miking techniques.

I tested the latest version, the native Audio Units/RTAS/VST version, on a MacBook Pro 2.33 GHz Dual Core with 2 GB of RAM using Ableton Live 6 at 24-bit/96 kHz resolution and had no problems installing or authenticating via my iLok USB key. A few friends laid down basic guitar tracks for me, including collector Dr. Dan using a 1974 Rickenbacker 36012 12-string electric for some classic tones and a 1995 through-neck Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 for some more modern tones. In another session, guitarist Scott Law played some great licks on his ultraclean custom Alembic electric guitar that put these models to the test. All three were run direct into an M-Audio NRV-10 mixer and recorded clean for later amp manipulation.

There are three amplifiers in the VAR, and while Softube doesn't say exactly which amps they emulate, the manual provides some “buying options” that give it away with a wink. On the left-hand side is the White amp, which models a classic Marshall amplifier (JCM800 2203 with a 1960A 4-by-12 cabinet). This classic stripped-down, all-tube design provides preamp and/or power-amp distortion, allowing a balance of the two for detailed distortion control in full Marshall glory. With all three guitars, the Marshall sound really came through in a recognizable way from the grossly stringy clean tone to the aggressively heavy settings. We were all impressed with the tangibly specific quality of the amp's tone.

In the center sits the Brown amp, an instantly recognizable Fender sound modeled from a 1966 Fender Twin Reverb Combo 2-by-12. Once again, the characteristic amp tones shone through on all three guitars, delivering an identifiably Fender sound at all sorts of amp settings. The Bright switch added an expected shimmer, and the Vibrato channel worked and sounded just like the real thing. I definitely missed the spring reverb on the Fender, although I can understand why Softube would skip modeling it. Overall, I felt that the Brown amp was the most true-sounding of the trio, but Scott thought it lacked a bit of top-end shimmer compared to the real thing. However, VAR doesn't just model amps; it also models the mic and its placement in the room, so you hear the sound “virtually post-mixer.”

Lastly, the Green amp on the right-hand side models the classic British sounds of the Vox amplifier (AC30/6 Treble from the mid-'60s with Celestion Blue drivers). We were the least familiar with vintage Vox amps. However, when running guitars through it, that classic British tone was instantly audible — a sort of spongy, squishy distortion with a tight release and a unique-sounding vibrato/tremolo effect. Being able to balance three types of drive (via the Master, Brilliant and the noisy Vib-Trem knobs) really opens up a wealth of tonal options. I can see why guitarists or keyboardists would love this amp.

I'm impressed overall with VAR's ability to faithfully re-create identifiable amp tones, and moving the microphone around to find just the right placement is a lot of fun. Both Scott and Dan agreed that at lower “clean” settings, the plug-in had less of a sonic fingerprint, but as the gain/distortion level increased, the signature tones stood out increasingly. And with the built-in Supernormalize feature, VAR will never clip its output no matter how far you push the amps. Softube did a great job creating a usable tool that will save a lot of time and effort for computer-based producers working with re-amping and songwriters looking for classic tones.

For some custom audio clips of Vintage Amp Room, go towww.remixmag.com.

SOFTUBE (DIST. BY TC ELECTRONIC)

VINTAGE AMP ROOM > $429 (NATIVE); $489 (POWERCORE); $799 (TDM)

Pros: Consistently accurate simulation of classic amp sounds. Mic modeling and mic positioning add many sonic possibilities. Anti-clipping Supernormalize feature.

Cons: Less identifiable signature sounds at lower “clean” settings.

Contact:www.softube.se

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Mac: PowerPC G3 or Intel; 512 MB RAM; OS 10.4.x; VST or Audio Units host; Pro Tools 7 or later for RTAS/TDM; iLok USB key

PC: PIII or later; 512 MB RAM; Windows XP or later; VST host or Pro Tools 7 or later for RTAS/TDM; iLok USB key