The world of budget, portable audio interfaces is in great health. There are many options available today of very high quality. Preamps and converters in budget interfaces have reached a level that would have seemed impossible at such a low price point 10 or 15 years ago. If you don’t need to record a huge number of inputs simultaneously, there’s no reason you can’t make great recordings these days with a $200 interface (or even cheaper).
Even though it’s harder than ever to go wrong, I’m going to focus on one of my personal favorites: the Creative Labs E-MU 0404 USB 2.0. It’s been around for quite a few years and is actually discontinued now, so you may wonder why it’s even worth considering since I just mentioned how many great options there are these days, but these interfaces are pretty easy to find and I feel they’re still one of the best options out there. I even found a retailer selling one in a never-opened box less than 6 months ago. If you check eBay somewhat regularly, you shouldn’t have a problem finding one, and I believe it’s a worthy choice even if it has to be purchased used.
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)