With the advent of computer recording and DAW's one expects to do more and more "in the box" as opposed to hauling gear around. This applies to guitar gear as well, with guitar software modelers offering unprecedented amounts of options to the home and studio recordist. This brings us to IK Multimedia's award winning guitar plugin software, AmpliTube 2.
AmpliTube 2 requires the user to register on their website for authentication, so I had to create a username and password, wait for an email from IK and validate the software. Fairly easy and straightforward process, I was done in about 5 minutes. The website also keeps you informed of downloadable updates to the software, you can browse the forums for help and swap preset patches with other users. Since the software installed painlessly on my 32-bit Windows XP system and was recognized straight away by my applications (Cubase LE4, Sony Acid 7, Sonar Producer 7, Riffworks 2) I was good to go.
AmpliTube has several options - it can run as standalone app, providing some phrase training and functions to help the guitar player get better at a riff. You can load in a song file and then work on it with the included learning options. There is a pitch changer for transposing the file, metronome and the ability to slow down the file without changing the pitch. For the rest of the application the standalone mode is pretty much identical to the vst plugin mode where AmpliTube loads as a vst plugin in your DAW. When you load it as a vst plugin it is missing the phrase training options seen in the standalone. The software comes in a comprehensive manual and getting started guide, which was very well written and shouldn't be a problem for beginners to get started.
Here is a list of Amplitube 2's features:
- 5 separate modules: tuner, configurable Stomp pedal board, Amp head, Cabinet + Mic, and Rack Effects
- 21 Stomp effects
- 14 Amp models
- 7 Power Amp models
- 16 cabinet and 6 microphone models
- 11 post-amp FX Racks
- 2 fully configurable rigs
- Digital tuner
- Stand-alone and VST/AU/RTAS plug-in for all popular DAWs
- Includes SpeedTrainer™ for playing along with your favorite recordings
- Includes AmpliTube X-GEAR for seamless integration with all the other “Powered by AmpliTube” products, MIDI control and StompIO/StealthPedal integration
- Powered by AmpliTube® with exclusive DSM™ (Dynamic Saturation Modeling) technology for award-winning sound & realistic feel
- Mac OS X (including Leopard) and XP/Vista compatible
In order to go in depth on this product I loaded it on my recording computer and tested AmpliTube on several mixing and recording sessions.
The default install of the application had almost indiscernible latency with very little lag. The more tracks I kept adding up in Cubase, the more I had to increase the latency and real time playing through Amplitube became too slow during tracking, but this is common fare for any amp simulation software and other plugins. There is an option in the "Preferences" on the program to go to lower quality by turning off "High Resolution" and "Oversampling", and I had to do that while tracking a DI guitar part during a song that was about 48 tracks strong, with a heavy load of midi and virtual insturments and external samples so I needed to conserve resources. No problem there as during mixing I put the "High Resolution" settings back on since I didn't have to worry about latency. Overall I had latency between 2ms to 6ms during tracking so that was nothing to worry about.
My first use of AmpliTube was as a reamp device. I had recorded a budget demo for a friend's band. There wasn't much time to work on the guitar sounds and the amps we used were lacking, so we decided to take a safety DI signal of each tracked guitar for reamping it later. During mixing I discovered that the original tracks didn't sit well in the mix and I used AmpliTube as one of the replacement options. It essentially became the left channel of a dual rhythm guitar recording, with the right channel being a tube preamp via H&K's Redbox speaker emulation DI. Both tracks sat very well together and the one created by AmpliTube wasn't inferior to the other chain by any means. As far as I am concerned AmpliTube passed the reamping test with flying colors - I managed to get excellent high gain sounds. The noise gate was excellent as well as it was clamping down on the noise. What I ended up using essentially was an "Overscream" stompbox (emulation of a vintage Tubescreamer) in the "Stomp A" section, and a "Modern Hi Gain" amp which is essentially modeled after a Mesa Boogie Rectifier. I also picked in "Cab A" a closed modern 4x12 cab, condenser 87 mic and dialed in a little room ambience. The sound was reminiscent of a well recorded Mesa Rectifier and it was exactly what the client was after. On the same project I also used the plugin for most of the lead sounds - this time "British Tube Lead 2" (reminiscent of Marshall JCM900) for the amp and some delay from the rack effects. I felt that I wanted to modify that sound a bit, thus I opted to separate the amp from its matching power section and chose to choose 50watt 6L6 configuration instead. Again - easy to dial in and in this case I ended up with a configuration that can't be done in real life.
I also ended up using the software for sounds on quite a few of my own collaborations when I didn't have amps handy and/or didn't want to use what was on site. AmpliTube 2 worked admirably on everything, from jazz to death metal, both for guitars and bass. There were enough sounds on tap and with the right amount of tweaking and I was able to create a convincing tone. In some cases I felt that the layout was too rigid - for example I wanted to use some of the rack effects in the chain before the preamp and in other cases I wanted to use some of the stomp boxes after the amp (as in fx loop) but the software didn't allow me to do that. I felt that I'd like to have more than one noise gate, or at least the option to place them in different locations as it is in real life. I managed to use some external fx pedals such as overdrive, eq and compressor in the same manner you would in front of a real amp. The results worked out great! I also built some more complex rigs by using a dual chanel parallel mode. These worked especially well for some bigger sounds reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Steve Vai. I wasn't afraid to leave these sound on record as they felt very organic and realistic, something that I didn't always associate with this type of software.
I did have some trouble dialing in a gutsy blues sound, clean amp on the verge of breakup as these are usually the hardest to do when it comes to amp sims. I managed to get around this by using a Fender sim with an external overdrive pedal in the chain.
Some of the effect plugins on tap were so good that I ended up using them on other sound sources, such as piano and vocals. Any part of the chain can be bypassed so in the case of vocals I only used the rack effects' delay and reverb.
As far as operation - the software is very easy to use and if you are familiar with amps and stompboxes, which as a guitar player you should be, it is very intuitive to dial in the right sound for you. AmpliTube 2 offers presets based on some famous performers, which could be further tweaked to your liking and again saved as an user preset.There are plenty of options when it comes to amps, effects and even cab and mic options, that with the right amount of care you should be able to just plug in the guitar in your interface and go.
While I might not be ready to quite give up my tube amps just yet, I feel that AmpliTube 2 is a very well built software and has a huge array of useful sounds for both bass and guitar. Whether you're trying to go fully in the box or add some extra color to your guitar and bass sounds - AmpliTube 2 delivers!