REVIEW: IK Multimedia Amplitube 2

Way back in 2007 I reviewed IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix program for Mixdown Magazine. This plugin exactingly models all sorts of gadgets and amps used by Jimi during his illustrious career, and includes carefully tweaked presets designed to emulate specific tones across his entire discography. I enjoyed the program’s interface and sound quality enough to take the plunge and spring for AmpliTube 2, which features the same basic operation but with its own set of amp, effect and cabinet models. So I’ve lived with the program for quite a while now and used it for everything from simply jamming in the living room, to songwriting, to completed recordings.

AmpliTube 2’s interface is divided into five separate modules: Tuner, Stomp, Amp Head, Miked Cabinet, and Rack Effects. There are two series/parallel guitar rigs available with all sorts of routing options, so you can have a single amp through two cabinets, two complete amps through different cabinets, and a whole stack of other possibilities including two amps and cabs through separate effects racks; two amps and cabs through a single effect rack, or one ‘virtual pedalboard’ feeding two totally different setups. There are 14 Preamps and EQs, 7 Power Amps, 16 Cabinets, 6 Microphones, 21 Stomp Effects, and 11 Rack Effects.

The stomp models include emulations based on classic pedals such as the Arbiter FuzzFace, Ibanez Tube Screamer, MXR Dynacomp, MXR Phase100, Electro Harmonix Memory Man, Boss CE-1 chorus, Fender Opto-Tremolo, plus some very cool pitch shifter, analog octave and harmonizer effects. There’s also wah, volume and filter, controllable by pedal if you have the appropriate outboard gear. Depending on the seris/parallel rig option you select you can use between 6 and 12 stomp models per amp.

The amp models are pretty comprehensive, including digital models based on the Fender SuperReverb, Fender Bassman, Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, Supro, Vox AC30, Marshall JCM800 and JCM900, and an officially licensed and approved THD BiValve. There’s also a bass amp and some IK Multimedia-designed models including Modern High Gain, Solid State Fuzz, Solid State Lead and Solid State Clean. You can mix and match the gain, preamp and power amp sections of each model, so, for instance, you can have a Marshall JCM900 front end, the tone controls of a Vox AC30 and the THD’s single ended Class A power amp. You’re given the same flexibility with the speaker cabinets: there are 16 including 1X6, 1X8, 1X12, 2X12, 4X10 (the last three in open and closed back versions) and several 4X12 models (both vintage and modern), and three bass cabs (vintage 1X15, 4X10 plus tweeter, and 1X12).

Mic options include Condenser 84, Condenser 87, Condenser 414, Dynamic 57, Dynamic 421 and Dynamic 441. There are switches for Off/On Axis as well as Far/Near, and an ambience slider which adds increasing levels of room sound. Finally the comprehensive effects rack includes a very versatile Digital Delay, studio-quality digital chorus and reverbs, an analog chorus simulation, a natural-sounding Tube Compressor, harmonizer, parametric EQ, stereo enhancer, and a rotating speaker simulator. Again you can use between 4 and 8 rack effects on an amp depending on what routing option you choose – for some options you can use 4 for each of two simultaneous models or speaker cabinets.

There’s also a metronome for when you want to practice your John Petrucci licks, and a phrase trainer which lets you import an audio file and slow it down (while maintaining pitch) for easy transcribing – or take a downtuned track and play it back in standard tuning – great for rocking along with those Van Halen and Hendrix tracks that are tuned down a half step. Just tweak the recording back up to standard tuning and off you go. As a dude who uses a lot of floating Floyd Rose-equipped guitars, this is a very very good thing for me. Anyone who’s ever tried to tune a Floyd-toting axe down a half step for an afternoon’s Yngwie noodling will agree.

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN AMP

So after all that, how does AmpliTube 2 sound? Well first you need to mess around with your input level – if you hit the computer with too high a signal you’ll get some audio weirdness which will confuse the program. But once the signal is in AmpliTube you can boost it with an input control which you can use to achieve a flat signal, turn it down to tame some of the heavier models, or use it as a clean boost to get some authentic overdriven growl out of the THD and AC30 models. Once you’ve got your level set, you may be tempted to crank the power amp all the way up to try and get that full overdriven-amp vibe. Don’t. There’s a magic spot somewhere around two thirds of the way up where you get the perfect blend of articulation and punch, and if you just turn up the master volume control from the start you’ll miss out on this very cool sound.

My favourite models are British Tube Lead 2 (which you can hear on all the guitar parts in the YouTube video at the end of this review, boosted by the Tube Screamer-inspired stompbox model), Tube Vintage Combo (the Supro), British Tube 30TB (the AC30) and the THD. The Rectifier model (Modern Tube Lead) sounds quite authentic and is especially great with active humbuckers, and British Tube Lead 1 (the JCM800 model) has a growl and punch that are faithful to the original amp, allowing you to unleash your inner Zakk Wylde with the help of a little chorus. The stomp effects are very cool, especially Fuzz Age (the Fuzz Face) and Crusher, which adds some Nine Inch Nails-style digital grit and grizzle to your sound. I’ve also found that you can use the graphic EQ to simulate some of the characteristics of various pickups.

AmpliTube 2 seems most at home with overdriven sounds, such as the THD and Vox AC30 models. I recorded one particular track using the former for the lead part and the latter for the rhythm, and it sounds natural and responsive like a real amp. In fact the lead part is played solely with the fingers, Knopfler-style, a technique which can easily reveal any little deficiencies in an amp sim’s ability to sound like a real valve amp and mic’ed speaker cabinet.

For me the real fun in AmpliTube 2 is the ability to mix and match the various components. I like to ‘virtually’ change the Mesa Dual Rectifier model from 6L6 to EL34 output valves and substitute its EQ section for that from the JCM900, while keeping the gain stage and speaker cabinet the same. This warms up the amp considerably while retaining much of its recognisable character – it’s surprising how much of each model’s sound is reliant on that first module. Another thing I really appreciate in AmpliTube is the microphone interface. Adding a little bit of distance and depth to the AC30 or JCM800 models (the latter at a low gain setting) brings out a distinctive Jimmy Page vibe, moreso than any other amp modelling programs I’ve used. While flipping the On/Off Axis and Near/Far controls does have an effect on the sound, it’s a little bit more subtle and with less control than actually placing a mic off axis or moving it further from or closer to a speaker in the real world, so this is best used as just part of your general tone-tweaking rather than agonizing about exactly where your ‘virtual mic’ is placed.
It’s also almost criminally addictive to combine two amp models, for instance pick any two of the Fender models, add tweak the individual reverb levels to taste and throw in your favourite Stevie Ray Vaughan licks. Or set up the Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier and the JCM800 with the Tube Screamer model, then throw on some digital chorus and tube compression for a thick modern FM rock type of rhythm guitar sound. Here’s another tip: mix together the bass amp model with a huge pile of compression, and roll off the treble. At the same time set up the JCM800 model, maybe with a little fuzz or overdrive, but definitely with some gritty preamp distortion grind, and zap out the bass frequencies. Mix the Marshall model down so it’s just low enough to add some growl and roar to your bass track, and it will sit much more comfortably with heavy rhythm guitars. This is especially great for Tool or Billy Sheehan bass sounds.

One very important point: all of AmpliTube’s amp models respond to changes to the guitar’s volume control in much the same way a real amp would – the valve amps respond like valve amps, and the solid state ones act like real solid state designs. As a chronic control-tweaker this point is particularly important for me when choosing an amp sim.I find that the key to getting the most out of AmpliTube though is to make sure you run it though a quality EQ at the mixing desk. There’s a bit of midrange poke which sounds great when you’re playing by yourself or along with CDs, but in a mix it can be a little too strident. I don’t see this as a particular problem though, as it’s completely reasonable to apply a little EQ attenuation to any recorded source, be it a ranging vintage Marshall stack or a digital simulation of one, to make it sit nicely in the mix. I use the EQ of IK’s T-Racks mastering software to do this and I’m consistently happy with the results.

If your appetite is whet by the Marshall and Mesa/Boogie models and you need more metal power, IK Multimedia offers AmpliTube Metal, which includes models based on the Peavey 5150, Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier, Randall Warhead and Marshall JMP1959 mkII, as well as a whole crate full of virtual pedals based on stompers pitched at the heavier side of the fence. Or if you need more of the vintage tones or just dig the whole Fender vibe there’s AmpliTube Fender, an officially licensed product which includes Fender-approved models of the ’65 Twin Reverb, ’57 Deluxe, ’59 Bassman LTD, ’64 Vibroverb Custom, Super-Sonic, Metalhead and many more, as well as models of Fender effects including the Blender fuzz/distortion, Phaser, Fuzz Wah, ’63 Reverb, the Tape Echo simulation from the Cybe-Twin amp, and a classic Fender volume pedal. Any of these programs also include, for free, X-Gear, a program which allows you to combine all of your AmpliTube programs into one huge amp sim. Want to combine the Fender Super-Sonic’s preamp section with the THD’s power amp from AmpliTube 2, a cab based on the Peavey 5150 and the Maestro FuzzTone-based model from the Jimi Hendrix program? You can do it within X-Gear.

TUBE BE OR NOT TUBE BE


AmpliTube 2 is the perfect option for the all-round guitarist who needs tones raging from the 50s to the present day. The user interface is logical if not downright intuitive, and while the mic positioning options aren’t particularly interactive and exhaustive, they are very musical. I would consider this to be AmpliTube 2’s only real limitation and I sometimes wish you could actually pick up, move and angle the virtual mic with the mouse. Otherwise it’s an extraordinarily useful program which is great as a practice tool, for jamming to your favourite tracks or, with a little careful EQ, as your main guitar tone on a recording.

SHOPPING LINKS:

IK Multimedia AmpliTube 2 Electric Guitar Amplifier and Effects Modeling Plug-in Software Standard


IK Multimedia AmpliTube Metal Studio Software/USB Audio Interface Package Standard


IK Multimedia AmpliTube Hendrix Studio Software/USB Audio Interface Package Standard


IK Multimedia StompIO Amplitube Stage Controller And Audio Interface Standard


IK Multimedia AmpliTube Fender Studio Software/Hardware Bundle Standard