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How I Maintain Sounds Across Many Firmware Revisions


Note: With minor variations, this process works just as well for an FM3.

This comes up often enough so I thought I'd put my method down in the forum in case it helps others. As a beta tester and someone who just likes shiny, new things, staying on the current firmware is something I can't avoid. For the most part I don't sweat it too much if sounds change. Evolution is part of the process and I'm pretty comfortable with that process after over a decade of playing the Fractal world.

But when I really, really need to make sure something is staying pretty consistent between firmware upgrades I'll do two things: (1) I'll take some comprehensive backups; and (2) I'll make a recording in Logic of the reference sound and then A/B things after I've upgraded using a reamp track so I've got a consistent performance I can use to compare the before and after upgrade situation against.

For backups, I'll back up everything in the unit (system settings, every bank and every cab bank). And I'll save the backup along side an archive of the firmware that the unit was running when I made the backup. Saving the firmware is just as important as saving a copy of my system's settings. I can only trust that me and me alone will keep things that are important to me.

If I'm unhappy with a change post-upgrade or need to get back to precisely the sound I had I'll restore the firmware, reboot, restore the system settings, reboot, and then restore the the cabinet and preset banks and reboot one final time. Now I'm back to my pre-upgrade state.

If I'm worried new firmware will change sounds for me in some monumental way, but want to press ahead with an upgrade, before I update I'll record some sample takes in Logic. I'll capture a reamp track when I do this. The takes don't have to be perfect performances, but I will make a point of capturing all the presets, scenes and combinations of effects blocks off/on and that I want to be able to A/B post-upgrade.

I'll use the release notes to focus on what I need to make clips of to compare release-over-release. If I didn't narrow it down like that, it'd be overwhelming. If the release notes only mention changes to the AMP block, I'll only focus on capturing representative clips of the AMP block for my reference clip before upgrading. For 12.14 --> 13.00, for example, I'll go through my three, global drive blocks and do a quick recording of each block's channel running through a simple AMP-CAB setup. I'll make a preset specifically for this so, post-upgrade, I can just pull that same preset back up and re-amp and compare.

Here's a Logic project I've had running for a few releases now to keep an eye on a Princeton sound:

Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 11.59.53 AM.png

You can see the accumulated re-amp tracks as time has passed. I'll add one more today for 13.00. For re-amping with the III I've setup the project so the reamp track's output is 5-6:

Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 11.44.48 AM.png

It's quick and easy to unmute the reamp track, set the loop region and then arm a new empty track to capture a retake this way. I can even skip the arm/capture part and just let a section of the reamp track loop indefinitely while I tweak settings in the preset.

If I need to get really indepth with what changed, I'll pull up Logic's Match EQ to study the differences between two tracks. This doesn't tell the entire story, but it's a helpful part of the tale to guide what I might need to tweak in the preset post-upgrade to make it sound close to what it sounded like pre-upgrade.

Match EQ does one complicated job really well. It “listens” to different pieces of audio, and figures out how they’re different EQ-wise.

I keep a stereo Match EQ on the Stereo Out buss of the project and in the Off mode until I need it for this purpose.

When I use the Match EQ I play back sections of the new clip first, and then use the old clip as the reference signal in Match EQ. For comparing 12.14 to 12.09 in that project above, I'd playback 12.14 first and then I'd play back the 12.09 clip as the "Reference" tone for Match EQ:

Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 12.02.03 PM.png

Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 12.03.09 PM.png

And then generating the match after learning the current and reference...drum roll please....

Screen Shot 2020-08-09 at 12.04.16 PM.png

No matching needed! I have high confidence there's been zero changes to the sound of this preset across firmware revisions now. If there had been a difference, I'd use the EQ presented to adjust the AMP block to get them closer. I'd re-record the current track and re-run the process to check my work.

Using a reamp track is important here. It removes the human element from the performance that introduces too much variation to really make any comparisons accurate. And keeping a copy of old sounds from old firmware in your DAW let's you quickly flip between old and new sounds so you don't have to deal with aural permanence issues trying to remember what one firmware sounded like before you loaded the new version to compare.

When you're done, don't forget to set your unit's Input 1 back to ANALOG as the source -- I've forgotten a few times and am left scratching my head the next time I turn it on and wonder why when I play my guitar I'm getting no input signal lights lighting up as I'd expect.

Update: what if you don't have a DAW like Logic X that has a Match EQ in it? Fear not! The unit has a matching EQ block built into it the form the Tone Match block! As long as you can record in a multi-track DAW that lets you assign outputs to two different tracks, you can feed a reference and a re-amped current signal into a Tone Match block in the Axe-Fx II and view the resulting difference. That's maybe a post for another day though...
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If I may, here’s how to fully back up and restore, including making folders with the firmware files:

Great suggestions and method. I always remember that a change means things will change. If I change firmware, sounds may change. If I don’t want a change at the time, I don’t make any changes. This thought has made it pretty straightforward for me.


I like the method! In regards to holding off on/rolling back to previous firmwares, I keep on stumbling on the issue of when, if ever, to upgrade. So if I decide I don't like 12.14 (random example), I will inevitably have to deal with the changes if I find something interesting (particularly effects updates) in a much later firmwares. So I've accepted that I might as well just update and deal with the changes. But that doesn't seem entirely satisfactory either. This isn't a criticism of Cliff or updates, more of a reflection of software oriented design (I'm equally frustrated by iOS and Windows updates).


Oh yes, that‘s a truly fine and reliable method.
Thank you for your very inspiring suggestion, iaresee.
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