Amp Simulator Shootout (featuring Eleven Rack, ReValver, and more)
I’m a huge fan of amp simulators, both hardware and software. What was seen as cool technology but somewhat of a novelty 10 to 12 years ago (such as the original Line 6 POD) has now evolved to the point that it can be nearly indistinguishable from traditional amps recorded with microphones. I thought it would be interesting to make comparison clips of some of the amp simulators I have, as well as promote some of the free and inexpensive ones that I feel are high quality.
I should note that I did these very quickly, so the production quality is not the best. The drums are unmixed and the guitar tones were dialed in quite quickly. I do not feel that I am doing these amp simulators justice, especially since a multitude of tones can be achieved with each one and I only used one tone per simulator. Nonetheless, I think the results are interesting.
For amp simulator suites which feature multiple amp models, I chose to demonstrate a Marshall amp simulation from each one. I decided to go for a somewhat high gain tone, but not anything extreme. Most of the amp simulators I have that are modeling one particular amp are based on high-gain amps, so I pushed these into some what heavier tones.
These were recorded with a Gibson Les Paul Traditional Mahogany Satin into an Xotic EP Booster (which I feel adds pleasing harmonic depth to the gain structure of the signal) into an Avid Eleven Rack. I recorded an amp track from the Eleven Rack to include in the comparison, and I also recorded the unprocessed DI signals simultaneously in order to use them for the software amp simulators. I believe that using third-party impulse responses for cab simulations produces the best tones, so for any amp simulators that have their own cab simulators, I turned them off and used the RedWirez mixIR2 plugin to load impulse responses from OwnHammer’s Bogner 4×12 Celestion Vintage 30 Shure SM57 Public Beta Redux. These impulse responses were made with a 4×12 Bogner cabinet with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers miked with a Shure SM57. The free public beta will only be available shortly, but I highly recommend purchasing OwnHammer’s impulse responses. They sound superb and are fairly priced. Another great impulse loader is also available for free from LePou, called LeCab. The guitars in each clip were tracked twice and each take is panned hard left and right. Both takes have the same amp simulator settings and the same impulse response. I used the same impulse response with all of the amp simulators.
All of the plugins are VST format, and some are supported in other formats, as well.
My Gibson Les Paul Traditional Mahogany Satin (and my cat)
I’ll start off with the Marshall simulations.
Marshall Amp Simulations:
Avid Eleven Rack (Lead 800 model):
The Eleven Rack is a hardware amp modeler, which I also used as the audio interface. The Lead 800 model is based on the Marshall JCM 800. I am also getting a clean boost before the amp via the Eleven Rack’s Green JRC Overdrive pedal, which is based on the Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer. For those not familiar with clean boosting, it generally refers to using an overdrive pedal in front of an amp with the pedal’s gain all the way down and the pedal’s level all the way up. The signal boost results results in a bit more gain from the amp and a tighter bass response, which is beneficial for more modern tones (especially those used with low and fast palm muting). Some overdrive pedals impart an altered frequency response on the signal even with their tone controls set neutrally. Most versions of the Ibanez Tube Screamer have a bass cut and a slight mid boost, which aids in achieving a cutting tone with superb palm muting articulation, making them a favorite for clean boosts (especially among high gain metal players). Graphic EQ pedals are another favorite for this application because of their flexibility in shaping the frequency response of the signal before it hits the amp.
LePou HyBrit (MCJ model):
This is a free plugin that models two amps: the Marshall JCM 800 (MCJ mode) and the Marshall Super Lead Plexi (PLS mode). For this comparison, I am using MCJ mode.
Overloud TH2 (Rock ’75 (UK) model):
This plugin has a big collection of amp models. I used the Rock ’75 (UK) model. Although the Marshall JCM 800 wasn’t introduced until 1981, TH2’s website states that this amp model is “an early 1970’s model of the 800 classics”, so I believe it is based on the Plexi, which is similar to the JCM 800. It was also clean boosted with the plugin’s Tube Nine overdrive pedal, which is based on the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer.
Peavey ReValver MK III.V (ACM 900 model):
ReValver has long been one of my favorite amp simulation plugins and it offers a wide variety of amps. It doesn’t offer a Marshall JCM 800 model, but it does offer a JCM 900 model (called the ACM 900). I also used its Greener Overdrive pedal for a clean boost, which seems to be based on the Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer.
Next, Soldano SLO 100 and Peavey 5150/6505 simulations. I’ve grouped these together because the real amps are very similar in voicing.
Soldano SLO 100 and Peavey 5150/6505 Simulations:
This free plugin models both channels of the Soldano SLO 100. I used the overdrive channel with the bright switch engaged.
Nick Crow Lab 7170 Lead:
TSE Audio X50:
This plugin models both channels of the Peavey 5150. I used the red channel.
Nick Crow Lab 8505 Lead:
Now we’ll look at some amp simulations based on a few more real amps.
Other Amp Simulations:
This free plugin models all three channels of the Bogner XTC 101B. I used the red channel with the bright switch engaged.
This is a free plugin that models both channels of the ENGL Powerball. I used the red channel in the high gain mode.
This free plugin models both channels of the Mesa Dual Rectifier. I used the red channel in modern mode. I also used TSE Audio’s TSE808 as a clean boost. It’s a free plugin based on the Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer.
TSE Audio X30:
This is a free plugin that models the ENGL E530 preamp. I used the high gain mode.
Finally, we’ll go over plugins that are not based on widely known amps (or no particular ones at all), but still sound great.
Obscure and Fictional Amp Simulations:
Ignite Amps NRR-1:
This free plugin is based on a real three-channel amp that was built by Ignite Amps for a customer in 2009. I used the lead channel. I also used TSE Audio’s TSE808 as a clean boost. It’s a free plugin based on the Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer.
This is a free plugin that is not based on any real world amp. The plugin designer stated his intent was to create an amp simulator that did not need any type of boost in order to be tight. It’s a favorite for many metal producers.
That wraps up the amp shootout for now. I may be tempted to do another one in the future, since I’m always expanding my collection. Once again, these are definitely not wholly representative of the simulators listed, but it was fun to make and hopefully it serves as a somewhat useful comparison. I think, if anything, this proves how important the cabinet IR is in the equation since these all seem to pass as different flavors of the same overall tone. The real fun is mixing different simulators and different IRs as you overdub multiple tracks and layers! All the options afforded by amp simulations put the power to create a wall of sound right at your fingertips.