Comparing Modeling Plug-ins’ Routing and Effects Capabilities

On the forums where I began my reviewing, I was asked to compare Amplitube, Guitar Rig 3, and ReValver MkIII on their routing and effects possibilities. My response follows.

I’ve been very impressed by amplitube 2 and its expansions, and it has a distinct dual signal chain feature which might be what you’re looking for. However, both Guitar Rig 3 and Revalver Mk3 have a rack-style user interface and signal splitters which let you use dual chains. Guitar Rig 3’s signal splitting is quite advanced, and can be nested for individual parallel or series effects chains arranged however you like. Not only can it be split, but there is an additional splitter insert which actually allows you to split the signal at a certain frequency crossover, so you can send the bass one way and the mids and treble another, or any other variance you like. And it can also be nested, so you can have low bass going one way, midbass going another; mid-treble going one way, high treble going another. Guitar Rig 3 is made by Native Instruments and they are synth guys – if you’re familiar with synth software, this is going to be as close to that kind of working environment as you can get. You even get synth-like MDF controls.

Amplitube 2/JH/Metal with the dual signal chains feature is quite intuitive and easy to work with from a traditional guitarist standpoint. It doesn’t offer the same kind of control over your signal splitting and integration as Guitar Rig 3, but they both have good effects… The “module” and rack-like interface of Guitar Rig 3 and in ReValver MkIII means you have more freedom in where you assign effects, compared to Amplitube where you have “pedal” and “rack” effects which only go before the amp or after the cab, respectively. That is one real disadvantage with Amplitube’s approach, which I can only imagine they’ll fix for the next generation of the software – the other way just makes sense. But the actual layout of the software and signal chain in Amplitube is quite intuitive.

Still, if I were most concerned about effects, parameter control options, and signal management, Guitar Rig 3 seems like the obvious choice. ReValver shows a lot of potential in that regard, but it is basically in its first real release and the effects and routing options are still more basic than the ones in Guitar Rig 3. It seems the focus of this first major release was to get extremely high quality amp models, a great IR cabinet sim module with adjustable speaker distortion and cabinet involvement, and the “usual” necessary accouterments like dirt boxes, delay, chorus, reverb, and EQ; I imagine a fuller effects complement and more advanced routing options will come later.

As far as adjustment goes, well, all three of the programs/program families that I use allow you to adjust any parameter you’d see on the actual effect itself (turn the knobs for different sounds). ReValver MkIII has some neat additional parameter adjustments that are sometimes out of the ordinary, like being able to adjust the individual EQ filter on every tap of its 4-tap delay. Guitar Rig 3 takes the basic effects controls and gives you a lot of neat options that make sense and seem like they should have been included with the original pedal – for example, on their take on the Whammy, it flawlessly bends whole chords instead of just tracking a single note, and you get an additional control over the delay of the harmony and a feedback control which lets you get some really insane, neat sounding stuff – set it for an octave and give it some feedback and your notes or chords sound absurdly huge and “high.” Hard to explain, but Guitar Rig 3 makes it easy to do.

To recap: Amplitube 2 provides a very natural and intuitive way to manage dual signal paths, with selectable series/parallel configurations, but the way that it manages effects is less modular than the competition. ReValver MkIII uses the module&rack system and has a signal splitter, but it is still fairly early in the program’s life and so their focus has been (importantly, I think, and rightly) on nailing the actual modeling of the amps and cabs – there are some good and useful effects provided, but I expect much more in the future now that the program’s feet are on the ground. Guitar Rig 3’s signal routing, control options, and effects are in my opinion its strongest foundation – if you’re looking for the best effects around and the ability to do with them pretty much whatever you want, you’re looking for Guitar Rig 3. I only wish that its amp and especially cabinet models were as good as its effects (some are fantastic, some are less impressive).

Since this question was asked, I’ve added a number of other programs to my reviewing. I wouldn’t want to short change them by limiting this discussion to only the three above, so here are some brief thoughts on the more newly added programs:

Overloud TH1 has an interface which reminds me a lot of Amplitube’s, except that it’s visually more modular and allows for greater routing flexibility. Of course, Overloud has had the advantage of a few years of Amplitube 2 already existing, and the critiques offered of Amplitube often mention its static routing chain, lack of drag and drop, etc., alongside the very positive aspects of its intuitiveness and smart layout. Well, Overloud TH1 is remarkably like Amplitube in its general ideas; the series/parallel routing scheme is one that IK Multimedia implemented statically with Amplitube 2, but Overloud goes an extra step and makes everything routable dynamically, so that you can put anything in the “parallel” section of the signal chain, or anything in the “series” section. You can also drag and drop as you please, and there isn’t any limit to the routing methods. You can have multiple amps and effects in series or in parallel, as well. The routing and GUI are very well done in Overloud. I find the similarities to Amplitube’s routing scheme very interesting, one wonders if there is something in the water in Italy for this Italian company to have drawn clear inspiration from IK, another Modina-based Italian software company! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and improvement on existing ideas is what drives the world’s technology forward – and TH1’s interface can definitely be said to improve on the formulae that came before it. Like the rack-style GUI, you can put any module anywhere in the signal chain; like IK’s clever series/parallel routing scheme, you can intuitively grasp and control how your signal is routed through the various effects, amplifiers, and cabs. It doesn’t offer the same kind of nested, complex routing paths that Guitar Rig 3 does, but it is very easy to quickly establish a signal path even when you want to do some less traditional stuff. The TH1 method is one the industry will be thinking about when the next round of GUIs come out, I imagine.

Waves GTR Solo does not have that honor, unfortunately. It has a sensible but unexciting routing scheme that combines some aspects of the Guitar Rig/ReValver rack-style routing with the “discrete” signal paths of Amplitube. In GTR Solo, flexibility is accomplished by having an “Amp” marker on the effects/pedals section of the program’s interface. You can drag the “Amp” icon anywhere in the pedalboard, which lets you use its effects either before or after the amplifier. There’s nothing more advanced than that, so you’re stuck with strict series routing, but at least you do get to choose whether you want your reverb and delay before or after the amp. It lacks the total placement flexibility of the rack approach, and it also lacks the intuitive series/parallel schemes of Amplitube and now TH1. But it can be said to get the job done, and it doesn’t get in your way.

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