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2018 - Real amps vs Axe-Fx III vs Kemper Profiler

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
I've been on a guitar gear journey for a couple of years and essentially I've been collecting a bunch of rare and cool stuff to make sounds with and maybe even packs at some point. I was thinking about this stuff a lot today and thought I'd post a 2018 update on where I think we're at. I think this will be interesting for you guys as you probably know I'm as Fractal as it gets. :)

I love real tube amps. I always have and there's no way around it. There's never been a point in my life where I didn't have a couple of tube amps around and right now I think I have found some of the best tube amps ever created. 1) Mesa Mark V and 2) Marshall DSL. The Mark V can nail all of my favorite Mesa sounds while the DSL is kind of like "the original Friedman HBE" or something like that. It can do the JCM800 thing but also the higher gain Recto type stuff if you want it to but obviously it's not as tight or pointy as the Mark V.

Axe-Fx III vs real tube amps:

I'm pretty convinced that you can get every tone out there with the Axe-Fx III. You don't "need" a tube amp but they're fun to play with. With tube amps you only have a couple of knobs you can fiddle with and this obviously leads to you playing more and not diving into deeper parameters where you question "does this make the Axe-Fx sound more real or not". My advice for Axe-Fx users: stop tweaking so much. Treat the amp sim like a real amp and you will be equally happy. Use your ears and don't search google for amp settings. But damn I love driving real cabs with real tube amps. That Mesa Mark V lead channel palm mute oomph.. I'm sure everyone who's ever played one will agree. Also the Marshall is the darn loudest thing I've ever witnessed. Just puts a smile on your face. Tube smell!

The friggin Kemper Toaster Profiler:

So yes. I've got one of these around these days. How do I even write about this subject without offending someone in this overly politically correct world. I'll just say what I think at the moment. It's all just gear. No need to get mad. I think I've been around and worked with enough people in the industry to have a good balance of a subjective/objective opinion so here it comes: The Kemper is a good piece of gear that can sound like real tube amps... but some of the philosophy behind the unit makes me feel like it was not designed by a guitar gear nerd like me and I don't just mean the looks.

The EQ section is the furthest thing from a tube amp EQ section. For example lowering the bass leaves you with a clanky whimpy sound. Also the gain knob doesn't in my opinion capture the gain structure of real amps nor does it do a good job of capturing the type of palm mutes/pick transients these real amps have. But my main complaint is the "Pure Cabinet". What the Flula Borg is that?! So for those who don't know what it is, it's essentially what the Axe-Fx Cab Block has called "smoothing" (yes that function that was added on the same day it was added on the Kemper but us Fractal users never fell in love with it) and the Kemper comes stock with this setting way up high so even if you have a bad IR it will not sting your ears but it will also make your Kemper sound like a Boss GT-6 with those overly smoothed IR's with zero definition.

As an IR producer I felt like "Pure Cabinet" is to IR's, what pavement is to the sculpture of David.
I spend hours and hours fine tuning every little character aspect of multiple mic positions and something like Pure Cabinet will make every IR in an IR pack sound exacty the same. Let me repeat, the unit comes default with a global setting of having it on so I'm thinking most Kempers out there have it on. It's exactly the same thing as taking a bad photograph and then using a blur effect to cover up the bad photo. All the details are lost in this process.

But there's a happy ending, it's not all bad. I do like the concept of having profiles even if they're not 100% accurate I'm sure they're close enough to trick the majority of people. If you disable Pure Cabinet and really do a good job profiling you should profile all your friend's amps and you can have a personal unique amp collection all to yourself.

Why did I post this? ... is what I'm thinking now. I suppose it was because I know we guitar players tend to question ourselves and our gear a lot and try different things is pursuit of tonal happiness. Having all the gear possible is godmode I must admit but if I would have to have just one of these it would definitely be the Axe-Fx III. Nothing else compares to the versatility and realism. When I say versatility, I mean that when I turn down the bass knob the amp model reacts just like the real amp does. It's not just lowering the bass in post and obviously this applies to all of the knobs: gain, bass, middle, treble, presence and master. Us Fractal people are spoiled but if there's one piece of criticism I'm not afraid to mention is the amount of tweakable possibilities sometimes takes over and I end up tweaking more than I would need. It's a psychological problem I'm aware of. So, keep it up guys! Try to tweak less and play more. :)
 
It’s a big misconception that the Kemper’s EQ and gain controls are designed to replicate a real amp — they aren’t. Think of the EQ as effect you can place either pre or post amp, much like an EQ block on the Axe-FX. The gain knob is really more of a clean boost, but it is effective at cleaning up a dirty profile by turning it down.

A Kemper profile is only a snapshot of an amp’s EQ and gain settings. It doesn’t know anything other than what you give it. That said, I’d suggest using the amp block’s definition and clarity parameters for brightening or darkening the tone. Those controls are actually part of the profile itself, unlike the EQ.

As far as pure cabinet is concerned, it only really applies to distorted profiles. It usually is best to disengage it globally, but it can sometimes be useful when monitoring through headphones or in certain live situations if the high end is spikey.

But yeah, the main issue with the Kemper is that unless you make your own profiles, you’re at the mercy of someone else’s ear, and what they think constitutes as good tone. There are some great user profiles out there, but otherwise you need to be prepared to drop some cash on professional ones.
 

Muad'zin

Forum Addict
IHow do I even write about this subject without offending someone in this overly politically correct world.
There is only one way to deal with political correctness, don't pander to it. The sooner we all do that, it dies, and we can have a normal society again.

As for your advice on not tweaking, I never understood why to most guitarists getting a modeler equaled endless tweaking. Yeah, maybe in the past with Line 6 gear you had to tweak it to have it sound good, but with the Axe FX I never bothered delving into any amp's deep parameters. I get the impression that nowadays guitarists have finally accepted that modeling can be good as the real thing, they're just stuck on the idea that you have to tweak it a lot to sound as good as the real thing. And that still scares many off, just like the thought of even touching a soldering iron scares off many from delving into DIY gear.
 

maxdown

Fractal Fanatic
We all love real tube amps ... why else would we buy something that promises to sound and behave just like them?

I still gig my old 25+ years old 4U tube based rack, 2 1x12 cabs and a Midimate (ok the Midimate is newer than the rest). I also can gig my 4U rack AxeFX2/Matrix, 2 1x12 cabs and MFC. The main difference in the 2 rigs is that the MFC is bigger and bulkier to transport so I tend to prefer the tube rig for the typical venues we play. The AxeFX however is indispensable to me because of what it can do in my man cave.

I never really got tempted to upgrade my AxeFX2 MK1 to a MK2 or XL but the new smaller footprint footswitches for the AxeFX III might have me interested in changing up to a III sometime in the future

Yes I have a KPA + foot controller too ... it's a toaster version with a third party stereo capable SS power amp fitted in it's little green backside - everything fits in a double kick drum pedal carry case. I bought it a long while back because I saw prices starting to rise due to currency conversion issues. One of these days I'll maybe actually learn how to use it properly! :) In theory it's my backup solution ...... the AxeFX is better IMO.

So yes, it's all just gear ..... play it or just look at it it's yours to do whatever you want with.
 

yek

Moderator
Moderator
My advice for Axe-Fx users: stop tweaking so much. Treat the amp sim like a real amp and you will be equally happy. Use your ears and don't search google for amp settings. But damn I love driving real cabs with real tube amps. That Mesa Mark V lead channel palm mute oomph.. I'm sure everyone who's ever played one will agree.
I agree. However, to able to treat the Axe as a real amp, the Axe + amplification must react as one.
So a little tweaking may be required to get that "oomph" from the Axe and either FRFR or a real cab.
I'm referring to "Low Resonance" and "Speaker Comp", those are the only advanced params I touch.
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
I agree. However, to able to treat the Axe as a real amp, the Axe + amplification must react as one.
So a little tweaking may be required to get that "oomph" from the Axe and either FRFR or a real cab.
I'm referring to "Low Resonance" and "Speaker Comp", those are the only advanced params I touch.
I'll experiment with the low resonance and speaker comp a bit to try and fine tune the Mark series oomph. I'm not getting it "perfect" with basic EQ settings and also it's not an EQ issue but rather something non-linear. :)

But to put thing to perspective. I feel like without touching advanced parameters I can get the real life amp sound by simply using the same settings on some of the amps in the Axe-Fx. I feel like I get like 95% there when using an IR shot from the mic up. At times that's closer than the KPA and it's profiling the exact signal chain.

Also after playing the units side by side I notice a feel difference. The Kemper has a different fast and easy to play feel to it. It's forgiving. The Axe-Fx is not so forgiving just like real tube amps. Also the crunch and rumble is very different on the units. I feel like on the Kemper it's not a growly crunch but more of a very saturated type sound while the Axe-Fx is very true to something like a Mesa Mark series angry growl. Once again I feel like both do a great job imitating a tube amp but there are differences.
 
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nicolasrivera

Fractal Fanatic
I have tried to match a my Friedman Runt 50 and a friends Small Box with the models in the Axe Fx and with this particular amp the real deal sounds better and not just a bit. The Fractal SB simulation is particularly bad compared to the real deal.
 

BBN

Fractal Fanatic
I'll join in here and take a beating.
I have spent hours with the AX8, Axe III and Kemper.

The AX8 is the perfect gig rig. One pedal, one cable snake...done. I love it. It's perfect for that need.

Kemper - I am very new to, but can get to a true amp tone quicker than I can with the Axe. All the above is correct, the Eq and Gain do not react like an amp....which keeps me from doing endless dialing. The Kemper forces you to find a profile you like first, then tweak very minor things about it. Done. I do find it really easy to find good profiles (MBritt ones are excellent). I can dial in the Kemper in 5 minutes and I think the low end response more like a tube amp (spongy and tight at the same time).

Axe III - I am just starting to scratch the surface. Copper's demo of all the amps contained in the magic box are a great snapshot of how amazing it is already. I bought this because I believe Cliff and team will take this unit far beyond any of my expectations and this will be the future for all guitar modeling nerds like myself. This was an investment for me as I believe in FAS.
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
BNN I love your signature! :D

I think we're past the fanboyism and can look at all this gear with honest opinions like this. And that's exactly what it is: opinions, and we all have different opinions which is fine. It's hard to find a scientific fact when we're talking about things like "tube amp feel". Personally I think the Axe-Fx low end response is more accurate since the amp sims have different types of low end characteristics while I feel like the Kemper kind of always has the same type of palm mute character no matter which amp you use. Once again, an opinion. :)

I'm someone who used the Axe-Fx II pretty much every day. (I now have the III) Even when I knew all the functions I still used under 5% of the functionality and that's the magic. I'm sure most people use under 5% of the functionalities as well but they use different amp sims and effects than I do. Fractal simply covers so much ground that it can do ANYTHING. That being said it does require you to know a lot of stuff about how gear works and therefore isn't as plug and play as the Kemper is. Not being able to realistically tweak the presets is kind of a curse and a blessing I suppose.

In a blindfold test I believe a well done Axe-Fx preset can be impossible to tell apart from a tube amp. I do recognize some Kemper artifacts that I think I might be able to pick up. Sometimes the palm mutes do kind of this squishy whip like sound and it's usually a bit looser than some of these super tight amps. If you let a chord ring out it's fades away kind of differently than a real amps and this is a weird one... I honestly think that the Kemper has no problem with guitars that have really old strings on them. One of my PRS's has dead strings on it and it sounds just fine with the Kemper while on my amps and the Axe-Fx it's almost unplayable.

I honestly feel like we're past the "which is more real" arguement. There are many units that are capable of sounding "real enough" for most guitar players.
 

deathbyguitar

Inspired
I love my Axe-FX II Mark I to death and someday I'll upgrade to a III but at this point it's such diminishing returns with the tone. Every other update since the Ultra days has been hailed as sounding "just like the real thing" and years later it's probably so close at this point that it doesn't matter. I hope that this new tech will make it's way into a new AX-8 or something smaller like that sooner or later.
 

plexi59

Forum Addict
I'm kind of over the love for real tube amps at this point. I still have a few, but they're just too temperamental, and I don't have the time for dialing them in. AxeFX is the same every time you fire it up. I find this liberating. It also both sounds and feels as good as any of my tube amps on their best day.
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
I'm kind of over the love for real tube amps at this point. I still have a few, but they're just too temperamental, and I don't have the time for dialing them in. AxeFX is the same every time you fire it up. I find this liberating. It also both sounds and feels as good as any of my tube amps on their best day.
I wish my GAS was this healthy. I'm just constantly collecting more and more gear. The Axe-Fx can sound just like tube amps but getting to compare real amps to it every week just makes it even more impressive. :)
 

Muad'zin

Forum Addict
I wish my GAS was this healthy. I'm just constantly collecting more and more gear. The Axe-Fx can sound just like tube amps but getting to compare real amps to it every week just makes it even more impressive. :)
I live in a two bedroom appartment, one of which I've converted to my music room. If I were to turn on a tube amp and turn it up to the level where it actually starts to sound good I'd have the rest of my building gathering at my front door with burning torches and pitch forks. So I am over tube amps by necessity. Also because of convenience, as hauling around a good tube amp for a band setting is a back breaker. So no volume war inside my building + no having to break my back lifting tube amps around = win-win in my book. And that is why I am over tube amps. And the only thing I GAS about these days is new parts for my guitar builds. And studio gear. I'm not even GAS'ing about pedals any more.
 
I live in a two bedroom appartment, one of which I've converted to my music room. If I were to turn on a tube amp and turn it up to the level where it actually starts to sound good I'd have the rest of my building gathering at my front door with burning torches and pitch forks. So I am over tube amps by necessity. Also because of convenience, as hauling around a good tube amp for a band setting is a back breaker. So no volume war inside my building + no having to break my back lifting tube amps around = win-win in my book. And that is why I am over tube amps. And the only thing I GAS about these days is new parts for my guitar builds. And studio gear. I'm not even GAS'ing about pedals any more.
Yeah - the only thing I sometimes GAS for are guitars - but even that's kind of fading... the axe literally has everything I need..
I have a house and use one of the bedrooms for my music room - houses are kind of close together these days - so I refrain from turning it up most of the time. But sometimes you have to remind your neighbors that you play guitar ;)
 

BBN

Fractal Fanatic
The Axe-Fx can sound just like tube amps but getting to compare real amps to it every week just makes it even more impressive. :)
I love this logic!

My current logic is - buy/borrow tube amps....profile (Kemper) and Tone Match (Axe) each of them.
Sell or return them.
 

Smilzo

Forum Addict
Also after playing the units side by side I notice a feel difference. The Kemper has a different fast and easy to play feel to it. It's forgiving. The Axe-Fx is not so forgiving just like real tube amps. Also the crunch and rumble is very different on the units. I feel like on the Kemper it's not a growly crunch but more of a very saturated type sound while the Axe-Fx is very true to something like a Mesa Mark series angry growl. Once again I feel like both do a great job imitating a tube amp but there are differences.
The quality is all in feel. There are real tube amps that suck... The axefx Quantum has amazing feel. The Kemper, or POD... not so good. IMHO. I can find good use for every device (ie, find useable sound), but if it come to play guitar a good boutique tube amp is my to-go-sound, then axefx or consumer tube amps. I prefer to leave other modelers in the bag as backup. ;)
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
The quality is all in feel. There are real tube amps that suck... The axefx Quantum has amazing feel. The Kemper, or POD... not so good. IMHO. I can find good use for every device (ie, find useable sound), but if it come to play guitar a good boutique tube amp is my to-go-sound, then axefx or consumer tube amps. I prefer to leave other modelers in the bag as backup. ;)
Sometimes I feel like I want to roll back to a super old firmware just to compare when the Axe-Fx sounded bad because I don't think it ever did. :D
 
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