IK Multimedia Amplitube 4 – The Total Package
When launched back in 2002, Amplitube was one of the few pioneering amp simulators on the market at the time with a good selection of rigs that actually sounded passable, but time hasn’t been kind and with many rivals on the market now can the venerable platform still compete?
(UPDATED MARCH 2018)
We conducted a shootout with Amplitube 3 a few years back and the results were far from favourable, mostly due to it’s under par feel and response. With their latest incarnation, IK Multimedia has pushed the amp count to a whopping 300+ including a brand new range of modelled ‘British’ rigs that look quite exciting.
Being somewhat of a convert to amp sims, it has been some time since I recorded a real guitar amp with multiple mics and all that stuff. But like many guitarists, there are the go-to software amps I use on every recording thanks to a somewhat signature sound I have created long ago. Having unlimited choices is not a benefit for me, having a single amazing sounding amp is. The thought of wading through hundreds of combinations doesn’t enthral me, but the tasty new ‘British’ amps (errr….Marshall to everyone not under threat of lawsuits) look very nice, so I’ll be defiantly scoping those out first.
So, with guitar in hand, I jumped into Amplitube 4 with a fresh perspective and open mind – let’s see what I can come up with.
Amplitude 4 is a virtual amplifier simulator with multiple cabinets, microphones and effect options – as well as a few handy built-in tools like a looper and multitrack recorder for creating song sketches.
Amplitube’s workflow follows a simple signal chain from stompbox through amp head, cabinets and rack effects. It’s not hard to replicate your live amp rig setup, possibly saving you the hassle of micing up and recording everything, even if you had all the mics and great sounding room environments available.
Amplitube 4 includes a bunch of new elements, such as the 5 new Marshall heads, including a silver Jubilee amp I used to own about 20 years ago, something I can’t wait to muck around with. Also, the excellent new cabinet room features 5 recording zones you can modify, including cabinet choice, speaker selection, mic and placement, mixer and the room environment. I always found amp sim room emulators pretty average in the past, but wow IK Multimedia have really picked their game up with this incarnation – it sounds amazing.
A surprisingly convincing Acoustic Simulator converts from electric to acoustic guitar via a cool looking wood foot pedal. You’re not going to get a Martin D5 from your Squire clone, but its ok and works well enough.
Also new for version 4 you can now place stop box pedals directly in the rack mode, and rack modules in the stompbox section. This has been something I’ve wanted to see for some time, and it brings so much more creative freedom to really mess up your sound
Here is the complete gear list for the default Amplitube 4
- 10 Stompbox Models – Acoustic Sim, Chorus, Flanger, Opto Tremolo, Delay, Wah Pedal, Diode Overdrive, Compressor, Graphic EQ, Volume Pedal (can be controlled by external controller)
- 9 Amplifiers – 5 Classic British Amps: Brit 8000, Brit 9000, Red Pig, Brit Silver and Brit Valve Pre, plus American Tube Clean 1, American Tube Clean 2, British Tube Lead 1, Solid State Bass Preamp
- 10 Cabinets – 4×12 Brit 8000, 4×12 Brit 9000, 4×12 Red Pig, 4×12 Brit Silver, 4×12 Brit 30, 4×10 Open Vintage, 1×12 Open Vintage, 2×12 Closed Vintage, 4×12 Closed Vintage 1, 1×15 Bass Vintage
- 29 vintage and modern individual speaker models
- 4 Microphones – Double Dynamic 57, Dynamic 57, Condenser 414, Condenser 87
- 2 Rack Effects Units – Digital Delay & Parametric EQ
- 2 Tuners – UltraTuner plus a Fully chromatic rack tuner
The Delux version gets you the following:
- 33 Stompbox models including: Acoustic Sim, Chorus, Flanger, Opto Tremolo, Delay, Wah Pedal, Diode Overdrive, Compressor, Graphic EQ and more
- 25 Amplifiers including: American Tube Clean 1, British Tube Lead 1, Solid State Bass Preamp, Jazz Amp 120 plus 5 all new classic British amps and more
- 29 Cabinets including: 4×12 Brit 8000, 4×12 Brit 9000, 4×12 Red Pig, 4×12 Brit Silver, 4×10 Open Vintage, 2×12 Closed Vintage, 4×12 Closed Vintage 1 and more
- 29 Vintage and modern individual speaker models
- 12 Microphones including: Double Dynamic 57, Dynamic 57, Condenser 414, Condenser 87 and more
- 15 Rack effects units including: Digital Delay, Parametric EQ, Rotary Speaker and more
- 2 Tuners: UltraTuner plus a fully chromatic rack tuner
I had all sorts of issues getting Amplitube to work in standalone mode using ASIO drivers, even though in DAW mode there were no problems. After an hour or so of trial and error I cracked it by totally uninstalling my USB interface (Focusrite Scarlet) including the propriety Windows 10 drivers, then reinstalling from scratch – and wham, it works. Not a great way to start the review, but onwards we go.
Amplitube hasn’t changed much at all from previous versions when it comes to layout and workflow, unfortunately. There is a new insert section with allows you to place effect between the pre and power amp section, something many real-world amps include these days, but they’ve stuck with the same confusing routing matrix of old.
You need to choose from eight preset block configurations – which are all total guesswork as nothing is labelled, no visual indications as to what configuration you’re getting, leaving you having to click around aimlessly until you luck upon the right signal flow for your setup. Also, annoyingly, the signal chain shows zero indication of what is enabled or inserted – you just get ‘Stomp A’ or ‘ Amp B’ etc. You need to open each block one by one to see whats inserted, or as I found after some time, it’s much easier to open patch browser which oddly does include a visual layout indicator, showing you what pedals are connected to what amp, cab and rack units. Please, this system needs to go.
The new cabinet section is a massive improvement from previous versions and acts now more like a mini-mixing studio. You can choose from any available cabinet and speaker combination, single or dual mic, stereo outrigger recording environment and finally mix it all with a nifty mixer that includes the original DI signal as well, very neat setup. I found the dry DI signal particularly handy when using Amplitube with non-guitar signals, like synth or drums, in essence turning Amplitube into a huge saturation and distortion plugin. I’m a big fan of the six include room convolutions, they all sound excellent and are well suited to many guitar situations.
It’s a slight bummer you can’t rear mic a cabinet, one of my favourite recording tricks, and also I think the old effects rack might have been better put to use as insert effects on the mixer channels now we have amp inserts. I’m struggling to find a reason to apply post FX, yet would love to drop a compressor on the mixer room mics for some cool NY compression effects or even just a simple EQ.
Also, the cabinet section needs a filterable search function – there are so many cabinets to choose from, being able to filter by size, tone or model would make life easier.
The FX rack adds more sound sculpting tools for your to muck with. The options are impressive, however again the sheer amount of choice makes choosing something hard. The problem is the browser shows everything by the manufacturer, like in the stompbox area – which is fine there, because you look for stompboxes by the manufacturer. In the rack effects, you look for processors, like delays, or reverbs or whatever. Currently, you need to menu dive through any number of submenus to find what you’re after. Frustrating.
The main preset browser allows filtering to limit the literal thousands of presets you can collect over time with each amp model. It’s quite easy to miss at first, but you can scroll the preset window along and choose from many filter types, including sound character, pickup type, instrument and even solo, chorus or verse. Unbelievably, there are no favouriting or star voting options, so you just have to remember the ones you like, or resave them to your user collection.
The secondary patch browser is located at the top of the plugin UI and is just a huge list of all the available devices (whether you’ve bought them or not). It is separated out by IK Multimedia’s in-house bundles, making zero sense to anyone searching for a specific amp, with a sub-menu click-fest making it a pain in the ass to navigate. As mentioned, there is no indication whether you own the device or any part of the patch signal chain until you try to load it, then you’ll get an error warning screen and option to purchase (of course).
The best option for scratch building a rig is to select your amp directly from the amp interface. The global amp selection area is on the bottom left corner of the amp model and has a well laid out, alphabetical order of amps which automatically loads the corresponding cabinet to suit. You can also see at a glance any models you haven’t purchased, so you’re not endless clicking through warning messages. Changing an amp does not affect mic and studio setting either, so you’re free to create an environment and swap out the amps till you’re happy – and again, no nagging to buy more mics and effect racks.
The default amp rig is actually quite flexible, with options to swap out the preamp, EQ and main power amp models as you like. Amplitube 4 still only has stereo in and output, which is a slight bummer. Instrument plugins like Shreddage 2 with its 8 channel double tracking output would benefit from more inputs.
In the standalone version you get two new toys not present in the DAW plugin – the recorder and looper, and wow they are pretty cool actually. The recorder is a mini-DAW of sorts (well….more like a multitrack recorder, as there are virtually no traditional DAW tools, VST support, sequencing or MIDI implementation available) that features 8 channels, each with a three-band EQ, pan and level control. The FX button enables Amplitube amp, cab and FX processing, which is quite cool to apply to non-guitar tracks, like vocals, drums and in particular keyboard and synths.
A handy feature is the loop control, where you can define a range and infinitely loop it – ideal for learning solos. You can slow down the track without losing pitch, or pitch it up without affecting tempo. pretty cool.
The looper is a 4-channel recorder that auto-loops the recorded material in time with the BPM. You simply hit the red circle to enable sampling, and in auto mode, it will step through each of the four channels letting you set up your loop easily. The recorded source cannot be undone after the fact, the samples are hard-recorded from whatever preset you have loaded.
It’s quite tricky getting the timing right with only mouse and keyboard, I think you’ll need either a decent MIDI controller or IK Multimedia’s BlueBoard wireless controller to get the best out of this. Since this live-looping thing is quite popular with gigging musicians, I can see this as a highly useful feature.
Finally, a new ‘UltraTuner’ is included, apparently the most precise digital tuner available. The mobile app guys have had this for some time now, so it great Amplitube users get access to the cool technology.
This is the meat of the review right here because really all the amp models and gadgets in the world mean nothing if you can’t get the tone you need. I have criticised Amplitube and Guitar Rig in the past for having all the features but none of the feel, and I’m happy to say Amplitube 4 really has stepped up in the main area it was lacking – responsiveness.
It’s difficult to judge amp sim tone, as you’re listening to studio monitors or headphones, not the physical amp cabinet. There’s no allowance for volume or air pressure, which can skew your impression of scale. Fortunately, we have a bunch of guitar amps we have recorded over the years here on file, so it’s not a problem to call up an old mix featuring some typical guitar setups and compare them. I used to favour a Marshall setup with 1960a 4×12 cabinet, plus I have a bunch of Mesa Boogie Mk4 recordings, Jet City, Engl and Soldano tracks to test. I pretty much always used a single SM57 and AKG C414 setup, sometimes with a condenser at the rear, and every now and again a stereo outrigger room mic, usually my CAD pencil mics.
So with that in mind, I’ve replicated 5 mixes as best I could using similar setup scenarios within Amplitube.
The Jet City recordings are always right on the money, mostly I couldn’t tell the difference. The Marshalls are a little off, but to be fair I can’t remember the precise models we were using, and there are many factors around the speakers and bias that can affect the outcome. The Mesa Boogie sounds pretty close, but the room has a lot of effect on this amp, and we were in a much larger studio for these recordings. The Engle and Soldano recordings sound totally different to the Amplitube versions, but again there are a lot of variables I can’t account for, like the cabinets we had, valves installed mic positions.
My tests weren’t overly scientific or conclusive to say if either source is good or bad, but I am confident you can achieve very similar results using Amplitube if you can recreate the specific details accurately.
What I was able to test more in-depth is the real world comparison with the Jet City 100 amp and cabinet we have right here in the studio, which is one of the exact ones emulated in Amplitube. Again, a quick mic up and recording resulted in very close results to the Amplitube version. What was most exciting is the guitar response is right on the money – that is, when you reduce the output gain on your guitar, the amp reacts differently, there are different distortion responses depending on how much gain you send from your guitar. We used the Gretsch with Filter’Trons, an Ibanez with factory humbuckers and a Yamaha RGX with EMG digital active pickups. All displayed the same gain response in both the real-world amp and modelled Amplitube versions. Happy days.
Amplitube 4 has such a vast array of devices included, it would be impractical to attempt comment on each one in depth. But I can generalise somewhat by separating the legacy devices from the new version 4 offerings.
While the original devices all sound great now, the brand new ones have much better-looking interfaces and, mostly, detailed sound sculpting controls. Going through some of the older legacy amp models included I found a lot of the older vintage amps have a very similar sounding tube breakup tone. I also found quite tricky to get the input gain set correctly, often requiring a lighter touch on the guitar else the output can redline. The newer version 4 British amps included are a lot more forgiving and react better to input gain.
I’d like to run through a few of the standout setups I found particularly noteworthy:
Three of the new Marshall ‘British’ amps included are really outstanding, particularly the silver Jubilee and Red Pig Major head. Both are very playable, but for me, the Red Pig out of the box with its default single SM57 mic’ed 4×12 sounds amazing, probably the setup I most favour off all.
The Jet City 100, 4×12 closed modern cab with 16a speakers and 414 mic has a brilliant Malcolm Young tone – my favourite guitarist. My Gretsch with the Filer’Trons helps a lot here, but it’s still a difficult tone to emulate even int he real world, so very impressed here. The trick, as this the physical amp, is to use the clean channel on about half drive, then turn the output volume to full. You control the volume (as best you can) with your playing. This is how you get that growl AC/DC is so well known for in the early days.
All of the Mesa Boogie stuff sounds excellent, but in particular, I love the Terrance Hobbs signature rig – very well designed, perfect blues tone. If you like your slightly modern Joe Bonamassa/Kenny Wayne Shepherd style, you will be in heaven right here. Of course, for metal, nothing is like a dual rectifier, pretty much anything with loads of gain sounds great, especially in twin amp stereo mode. Many of the Mesa amps allow you to flip them around to modify tubes, amp bias and transformer settings.
I’m very impressed with the signature collections, both Jimmy Hendrix and Slash showcase their most famous solo settings, and even me with my lacking abilities managed to pull off a rather convincing Sweet Child o Mine intro riff with ease.
You must pick up a set of the optional T-Rex foot pedals, all three sound amazing. The Moller is incredible, so creamy and smooth, and the Mudhoney for when you need to light a fire under it without introducing any frizzy breakup.
The bass collection is a bit of a mixed bag for me. They all sound good, but quite hyped in the bass frequencies, so I was always needing to roll off much of the low-sub range to control the signal. What I do really like, however, is with the cabinet mixer being able to dial in the mic and DI channels, something I love to record whenever possible in real life.
Amplitube features quite a lot of Ampeg bass gear, which is fine, but it’s very in your face sounding. There are a few Trace Elliot and GK offerings, and some Fender stuff (that sounds better used as guitar amps), but it would be nice to see IK Multimedia expand this section a little more, maybe some of the newer Markbass and Eden range, and Hartke aluminium cone cabinets would be amazing, for me the best sounding bass cabs.
As far as the rack FX units go I don’t have too much to say about them, they do whats advertised on the box, but there’s nothing too outstanding here. Again, this area could feature more creative applications like synthesis, loop arpeggiators and even some more signature precessors – oh, for a Moogerfooger!
I am so impressed by Amplitube 4, and also happy they have managed to address the problems of the past while introducing some really usable tools and not wrecking the basic vibe of the plugin. The new amp models have won me over, I am definitely a convert and proud flag-waver for the brand now.
I really like the Custom Shop application, though its quite naggy and is constantly prompting you to buy various bits and pieces need to complete rig setups – even though sometimes it only a foot pedal or microphone, you still get popup warning messages all the time. Fortunately, it’s a painless process to purchase if you’re tempted, and actually, quite good value – amps are 10 – 35 credits, pedals 5 or so, and total collection bundles around 100 (1 credit is approximately $1.75 NZD).
The only issue I have is bundle collections don’t credit you for any gear you already own, so shopping is a chore as you need to make sure you’re getting the optimum configuration so you don’t double up. With its base price of $125, you do get a mighty collection of factory devices, but you could easily spend another 300 credits in gear you simply ‘must’ have, so I would estimate Amplitube 4 is a $350 outlay by the time you buy all the toys you need.
The smorgasbord style shopping is unique to Amplitube, so though you’ll probably spend more than you should, I think its much better value in the long run as opposed to being given a set selection of amps and that’s it. Of course, it’s in IK Multimedia’s best interest to keep upselling you to purchasing more amps, and as long as they’re delivering great products, I have no issue with that.
But looking past the hard-sell DLC and interface grizzles, Amplitube 4 is a solid platform with some excellent songwriting tools and a rapidly growing selection of devices to add. I’m most happy about the playability and response of presets now, there are no complaints with any of the included devices quality or feel anymore, top notch stuff and on par with anything else in the market we’ve tried. I have to mark the review score down somewhat for installation issues, as even now two weeks later I still haven’t had a response from the service centre, and its a very well documented (or well-complained about) issue on the forums.
There are many alternatives out there, but where Amplitube really have an advantage is with the sheer number of fairly cheap add-ons you can buy to expand your collection. Thinking outside the box and using Amplitube as an effect processor for vocals, drums or other instruments opens a world of possibilities too. I think the Amplitube brand is finally delivering exactly what the marketing hype has been promising, and a few scuffs don’t distract from a brilliant platform that constantly expanding and improving. Exciting prospects for the future, I will be absolutely in for the long haul.
You can download Custom Shop which includes a free version of Amplitube with a bunch of included amps and cabs. For full details check IK Multimedia’s website right here www.ikmultimedia.com