So Marc was nice enough to provide a copy of AMP for review and addition to the comparison, and I’ve been putting it through the paces. I have some preliminary thoughts and I figured I would share them with y’all since I haven’t been able to record much to update lately (computer issues, should have everything lined out soon… moving comes with hidden treasures.)
Amp Modeler Pro is a product which builds on what Marc did with Virtual Guitar Amp, with more sophisticated adjustments possible on the amp models themselves, an added effects suite, an IR loader with “sizzle” control (and a lot of tuned-for-the-amps IRs to go with it, including many new IRs for the amp models in AMP, all IRs from previous Studio Devil products and some IRs from Recabinet), an EQ section with a 7-band graphic EQ with multiple operation modes and a sweepable midrange control, a multi-mode compressor, multi-functional delay, three kinds of reverb and a more advanced noise reduction component. Oh, there’s also a wah. And a master volume. I think he was considering a kitchen sink, but decided that there was no way to adequately model porcelain at this time and so gave it a miss.
Virtual Guitar Amp comes in at $79, while Amp Modeler Pro costs $149. The difference in price gets you the difference between a bare-bones but versatile pure amp modeler with no added features (apart from a noise gate) in VGA, or a comprehensive amp modeling suite with a lot of bells and whistles that we’ve come to expect from modern amp modeling software. Coming in at a good $100 lower than any of the big guys’ flagship products, as a new option it certainly deserves consideration when choosing where you want to put your money. It’s available in VST or AU, so not currently for the Protools faction, though the way that it’s worded on the site seems to suggest that RTAS is in the future for the product.
On the topic of presets: I think it’s funny that so many of the harder-edged presets have the midrange scooped out. I hate the way that sounds, personally, and I think it could contribute to people thinking the modeling itself sounds poor when that isn’t the case. I recommend that if you try this out, ignore the presets completely. Make sure to give the manual a good read, as he’s done a lot to try to explain everything and how it all works… Some of it’s not so intuitive. The presets can give you an idea of where to start, but frankly it’s not too hard to figure this modeler out, and I would personally rather the presets not be your introduction to some of the quality models in this program because they might give you a bad impression. Studio Devil is not alone in having presets which don’t represent the best that their software can do, far from it! That’s pretty much the norm in amp modelers. Granted it’s difficult to tune presets when everyone’s guitar and DI (not to mention speakers or monitors) are going to make whatever you create sound different for them, but mid scoops are not my friend 😀
I’m not sure how I feel about the one-screen GUI. It definitely works, just like Virtual Guitar Amp and Virtual Bass Amp’s GUIs work fine, but I am personally not afraid of more than one screen and as it is, it can be a little bit daunting because of how much functionality has been packed into one screen. It is a bit cluttered. It’s an intentional choice on Marc Gallo’s part (the Studio Devil guy, I guess I should have said that earlier since I’ve been referring to him for a couple posts now) to devote his limited resources to doing the best DSP programming he can, and let the graphical considerations remain secondary… It doesn’t get in the way of how the software sounds, but I understand if people who are used to flashier GUIs on major commercial software are given pause by the sparse appearance. Try to understand that Studio Devil is a small operation, and Marc has to make choices as to how he’s going to spend his time… Bigger companies can have the software guys, the graphic design guys, the marketing guys, etc., but Marc has to wear all those hats. If the GUI is something you have to look past in order to enjoy the sounds, do so. I don’t find it offensive, personally, but it definitely isn’t flashy. Function over form, for sure.
There are a number of amp models to work with which are, as usual for the industry, “suggestively named” to give you a pretty good idea of what they’re modeling, but if you can’t figure it out there’s a list in the manual too. All of them will get you substantially in the ballpark of the sound you’re after if you’re familiar with the gear being modeled, but you’ll want to avail yourself of the many tonal adjustment options available to dial it in… more on that later. The amp models are neat… They’re little XML files which define all of the parameters of the modeling engine. Presumably you could make your own amp models if you took the time to figure out what all the stuff does, or edit the existing ones. I won’t be fooling with that because it seems like I’d more likely screw something up than make the next greatest amp model, but the fact that it’s out in the open there for you to see and, if you so desire, alter is interesting.
I especially like the power amp section which allows you to select between a FET power amp or class A/B or A tube power amps. Each does reflect the characteristics of the real hardware, and it allows you to do a bit of mix-and-matching to dial things in just so. It’s a nice feature considering the price point; we expect customization options to some degree out of (many of) the big boys, but here it is a thoughtful addition which adds value to the proposition.
The Boost switch is important. On Virtual Guitar Amp, it changes the circuit of the amp being modeled, sometimes switching to a different amp entirely. I don’t think it does that in AMP – I think he’s decided instead to make all of the amps available from the pulldown menu as-is instead – but it still has a really prominent effect on the sound. Kicking in the Boost doesn’t do the same thing as just increasing the gain or even goosing the input volume in your DAW, so it can be the key to a different take on the same sound if you need that (say, for multi-tracking something; the little distinctions can thicken the overall sound and give it a lot of guts).
Learning to work with all the little switches is important for that matter… The low-cut switch and its different positions, the bright button, and the deep button all have a profound impact on the overall contours of the sound. Then you’ve got the standard 4-band EQ, plus the graphical EQ and parametric midrange; and that’s not even getting into the IR loader and its “sizzle” control, another big impact on the sound. There’s a LOT of sound shaping here, making this a tweaker’s dream, but it also means there’s a learning curve to getting “your” sounds. Honestly it seems to me Marc Gallo and Ken McLaren (AcmeBarGig) must have some similar thoughts, because the adjustments that you can make here remind me a lot of the stuff Ken decided early on with DIG 2.0, and they have a big effect on the outcome.
There’s a lot to dig into here and I still haven’t spent enough time with it to write a review, but my initial impression of it is overall favorable. There are some things which I think Marc could consider for future revisions, but he has done good work here. He is offering a lot for the money at $149. For sound quality and versatility it is competitive with the established higher-end companies’ products, and that alone is praiseworthy at the price point, but I think there’s something special about the software, too. In my reviewing I try to find the element of a product that makes it unique and I am still thinking about what exactly that is with Studio Devil AMP… Maybe it is just the value proposition, but I’m still considering whether it might be something more. It seems to fit well in a mix without too much tweaking, something I quite liked about Waves GTR products, but I’m still working on exactly what I think AMP is fundamentally about. You’ll probably have to wait for my review to find that out.
Sorry for going on and on, but it’s an interesting product and I enjoy trying new things and talking about them (or else I wouldn’t be in reviews, eh?)