Review: Must-Have Plug-ins — Guitar Amp Simulation feat. Audio Ease, Avid & Brainworx

Author:
Publish date:

PAR’s Software Editor details his top three choices in axe-sharpening software.

1. Avid Eleven

Avid’s Eleven is a handy guitar amplifier plug-in that delivers a lot of flexibility. It’s currently available as TDM, RTAS and AU, with the AAX version being delivered shortly. Since Eleven has been available for a while, I’ll skip the basics and focus on a useful technique that can help deliver a bigger sound for most every production.

One of the things I like best about this plug-in is its ability to separate the cabinet from the amp/head. By pressing the Amp Bypass switch and selecting Bypass, it will leave the cabinet and mic settings on, as well as the Master section. With that done, try the Cabinet Bypass switch, which lets you bypass the cabinet and mic processing.

Image placeholder title

This useful setup lets you create a cool stereo multi-cabinet/mic setup blend. Simply place a mono Eleven instance on your guitar track. Select your choice of head/amp and dial in the basics. Next, turn the cabinet/mic off with the associated Cabinet Bypass switch. Then create two mono Aux tracks, and assign the mono output of the Amp/head track to the Aux inputs. For example, set the guitar channel Output to Bus 1, and assign Bus 1 to the two new Aux tracks Inputs. 

On the two Aux tracks, place a mono Eleven instance on each of them. Then navigate to the Amp Bypass switch and turn the amp/head off on each of them (select Bypass). On the Aux tracks, select from the 1X12 Black Panel Lux, 1X12 Tweed Lux, 2X12 AC Blue, 2X12 Black Panel Duo, 4X10 Tweed Bass, 4X12 Classic 30, or 4X12 Green 25W (the latter of which is my personal favorite of the bunch). Next, select your mic choice from Dynamic 7, Dynamic 57, Dynamic 409, Dynamic 421, Condenser 67, Condenser 87, Condenser 414 or Ribbon 12. You can also choose Off/On Axis for the mics, each of which delivers a different character.

Pan each of the Cabinet/Amp Eleven’s to opposite sides for a full stereo spread. At this point, you can experiment with mixing and matching of the mics, cabinets and Off/On Axis positioning. Since a wide variety of sounds can be achieved by this mixing and matching, it can be tailored to fit the needs of the song. 

Taking it a step further, you could even create a third cabinet and pan its settings up the middle. Or make it like a multi-mic setup, panning the tracks in the same positioning. You can then use the channel’s fader to create a custom amp/mic/head blend. This type of flexibility truly takes this plug-in to a new level when it comes to guitar amp tones.

Price: $1,259 list

Contact: Avid | http://www.avid.com

2. Brainworx bx_rockrack

Sometimes with guitar parts, you need to “rip.” That’s exactly where the Brainworx bx_rockrack fits in. What they have done is focus on five basic guitar amp tones in this plug in: clean Marshall JCM800, lead Marshall JCM800, clean ENGL 530, lead ENGL 530 and a Mesa Boogie Rect-O-Verb. To compliment the heads/amps, a Marshall 1960TV, MesaBoogie 4X12, Orange 2X12 and Diezel 4X12 are available as speaker cabinets. As the cliché goes, it sounds nice on paper but how do they translate into a real session?

I’m very picky about my software guitar amps. That said, I’m very picky about my real amps too, and I’m blessed to have a nice collection; the only way to know good tone is to have something to compare. I’m lucky enough to have recorded literally hundreds of amps over the years, which helped develop my reference. Immediately upon testing out the first few guitar hits, I realized the bx_rockrack gets the tone!

Image placeholder title

Dirk Ulrich and Ben Grosse worked in Germany and California, respectively, to capture the essence of these amps through Neve VXS72 and SSL 9000 K consoles, Neve 1073 and TAB V76 preamps, and Neumann CMV-563, Royer R-121 and Shure SM57 microphones. These hardware-based efforts translated well to Brainworx’s quality software product. 

The interface displays a drop-down window for Amp Model and Recording Chain. Depending on which amp is selected, the associated knobs will appear: Gain, Volume, Bass, Treble, Presence, etc. I appreciate that the ‘Lead 530’ amp has extra knobs - Lo Mid and Hi Mid - giving users a wider spectrum to shape their tone. I used the Lo and Hi Mid quite a bit, and it would be nice to have that on all the amps (although I realize they are not on the actual amps).

There’s also a five-band EQ on the GUI, in the Mesa Boogie style (I have this on my Mesa Boogie MK IV head). I tend to set it in the traditional ‘V’ pattern and tweak from there. Like the extra EQ knobs above, I used it a lot to help quickly get tone settings.

The toolbar atop the plug-in features a 32 step Undo/Redo, A, B, C, D settings (to build and access your own subsets of sounds), Copy, Paste (for inserting and changing settings), Oversampling (2X, 4X, 8X) for calculation quality, Manual (to open the manual), and the FX Rack. 

When selecting the FX Rack, the GUI features a well-appointed Noise Gate, Tuner, Filters, and fully adjustable Delay. These can be turned On/Off and I like the inclusion of Tight and Smooth (Hi and Lo) filters, which help clean up and de-sizzle the tone when necessary. Also, the extensive Noise Gate controls come in handy when tracking, as it clamps down on the hum you tend to get tracking DI guitars through a computer, especially on heavily distorted settings. 

The plug-in defaults to the Lead 530 setting with the Green 4X12 cab and a Condenser 563A mic. I was immediately into the tone, and it made me think good things were ahead. Sure enough, they were. This amp modeler does rip, and I like the simplicity of it (not too many choices). Clicking through the cabinets and mics (which are preset with the cabs), you realize there’s a nice variety of sounds in here. It would be nice to have a button (or assignable fast key) under the Amp Model and Recording Chain to make clicking through them easier.

There are also some nice presets, like the 1960 800 Blues, 1960 530 Metal B, Jazz Crunchy, and Heavy Rock 3 that are a great place to start. Calling up the 800 Blues sound, I realize this is not just for aggressive distortion, as it can get some nice light crunch and even clean, funky sounds. It doesn’t really tread into Fender-ish territory, but if that’s what you want, there are other plug-ins for that. 

Bx_rockrack is a well-done, focused, highly-useable guitar amp plug-in. It has the fundamentals of good tone, and you can build some great sounding guitar tracks with it. If nasty, heavy sounds are desired, this is the place to start. It will run as AAX, AU, RTAS and VST and costs $199 (direct from Plugin Alliance’s website, plugin-alliance.com). That’s less than I spend on tubes for just one of my amps. bx_rockrack is well worth the money.

Price: $249 list

Contact: Brainworx | http://www.brainworx-music.de

3. Audio Ease Cabinet 

Audio Ease, well-known for their Altiverb Impulse Response reverb, have another product called Cabinet. With the same convolution-based techniques that capture real spaces and gear, they have used them to deliver miked up speaker cabinets, a live room and a spring reverb. 

This is a clean and simple plug-in, offering up only five different cabinets and a few sonic options. Each cabinet will light up when chosen — an Orange cab, a Boogie, a Marshall, a Rotary Cab or a Fender. The Boogie cab has a nice low-end beef to it, with the Orange cab having more midrange presence. The Rotary cab sounds almost boxy to me (note that there is no rotation — it’s fixed), and the Fender cab has the crispness and brightness we have come to expect and love. The Marshall cab is the most in-your-face, with a nice immediate sound to it. It’s my personal favorite of the bunch, but of course, each cab will have a different application depending on your sonic needs. 

Image placeholder title

Note that there are 28 more cabinets available in their Speakerphone offering, so this just pairs down the choices. There are a few extra touches in here that take it beyond a straight-ahead cabinet plug-in. There’s the choice of two different mics, which are blended with the associated Mic 1/Mic 2 knob. Mic 1 has a thicker sound than Mic 2, which is more mid-rangey. It sounds like Mic 1 is a Ribbon and Mic 2 is a ‘57. But that’s a generalization (we are not informed of the choices), as they sound slightly different with each amp, so simply use your ears. However, the ability to blend between them gives you the best of both worlds. If you wanted to use both together, you could use two instances of Cabinet and create a blend with faders. 

The Spring Reverb is nice, and a little bit goes a long way. Watch it, though: get past the 11-o’clock position, and things get washy. But that also can sound cool with long, slow parts, especially with a slide or pedal steel. 

Nice depth is possible with the Room Mic, which, of course, sounds like a miked amp in a very nice room. Note there is no visual representation of where the mics are in the room: simply use your ears (it is quite refreshing); if it sounds right, itisright. Dampen the room with the Room Damp knob, too, if needed. 

Narrow/Wide is available when inserting the plug-in as a mono/stereo instance. I like the sound of Cabinet in stereo (which is how I use it); stereo delivers a nice, wide soundstage that is quite realistic. I’m usually a fan of adding depth to plug-in guitar amps, and this does a nice job of it.

There’s also Bass knob, used for extra beef. It would be great to have a Treble and/or Mid knob as well; maybe in the next version, Audio Ease? Of course, you can do that with EQ, post-Cabinet ... just augmenting the wish list here. 

Overall, Cabinet is clean, simple and efficient. It not only works on guitar amp plug-ins (if you can turn the cabinet off), but sounds cool on keyboard and synths, too. For under $60, it makes good sense to have this in your plug-in collection. Its limited choice of cabinets is actually a positive, in my view; you will quickly know whether or not Cabinet is working for you. And more often than not, Cabinet gives me just what I need.

Price: $59.95 direct

Contact: Audio Ease | http://www.audioease.com

Rich Tozzoli is a Grammy-nominated engineer, mixer and composer as well as PAR’s software editor. http://www.richtozzoli.com