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Sleep-deprived: thanks, Fractal!

Oldschool59

New Member
Hi all,

A quick shout-out to the Fractal team for what is arguably the most impressive piece of music technology that I've had to opportunity to come across.

I have played guitar for the better part of 30 years. Guitar-wise, I grew up during the virtuoso/metal/hair metal period. I play classical guitar, rock, metal, fusion, blues, funk and a combination thereof. I've always had a thing for modded-M type amps, clean and dirty. Over the years, I've surrounded myself with stellar tube amps and rather nice boutique effects, in my quests to nail all these tones. I must say that I succeeded to do so, and that I'm extremely satisfied with the level of tonal fidelity I've been able to coax with classic equipment. So no qualms there.

With two teen-aged kids, a busy job, many other commitments in my extracurricular life, I've come to dread band practice. Loading/unloading, hauling HEAVY all-tube heads and 412 cabs (one of my ''classic'' combos, the Boogie Mark IV, weighs 1 pound for everyone of the 85 glorious watts it produces!), what a pain. With this in mind, I started looking out for a simpler, lighter, more portable solution, one that would absolutely not compromise on the stellar amp tones and effects that I've been accustomed to. Enter the usual suspects: Helix, Kemper, and of course, the mighty Axe FX III. I tested the first two in my local music store, and I must say that I was instantly floored by the level of precision and authenticity conferred by modern technology and clever programming. Of the two in-store try-outs, I preferred the Kemper tonally, but was disappointed with the interface, effects and above all, the unit's philosophy. I knew that I would have to buy the Axe sight-unseen and trust that all the hype was real.

And boy, is it ever!!! I must say, ever since this thing landed a week ago, I have not stopped playing with and exploring its MANY, MANY brilliant features. Fans of other systems will say that it is complex, and goes very deep. I can say, as a total novice (one week ago), that one can simply plug the Axe and play it without concerning oneself with the finer tweaking. The factory settings are amazing, and usable out-of-the-box. The foot controller (I bought the FC-12) is simply brilliant. Plug and play, and the master layout allows practical, no-nonsense use that confers so much flexibility without any additional configuration headaches.

I have said it on day one, and I will repeat it: The Axe III lives up to its reputation. It is an intelligently ENGINEERED solution to a plethora of musical applications, ranging from home playing, to jamming, to recording, and particularly to live use, at any professional level. The designer's attention to detail brings a bag of smiles at every use. Nothing is further than a simple tap, a press or a turn away. Most importantly, the Axe delivers TONE. Authoritative, authentic tones with no glitches. One can spend hours lost in a simple AC-20 preset, playing an LP and a Tele, and reveling in their glorious characteristics. I know I have, to say nothing about the simply breath-taking higher-gain, fire-breathing amps. All the tones I craved for, I needed (and a LOT I did not know I needed) are packed into the Axe, to be delivered anywhere, at any volume...

A quick word on software integration: in general, I simply hate it. No time to waste with it whatsoever. So, before purchase, I dreaded that instead of being providential life-changers, the many free upgrades that Cliff & team are constantly pushing out to improve an already great product would prove a royal PITA. Well, I must say this: I have never experienced a more transparent environment that the one Fractal puts forth. The AXE III Editor / Fractal Bot were a breeze to install, and from there on, everything proceeded to run on its own. Moving from F/W 9,01 to 10 beta? One click away, no hassles. Access the editor and start exploring the design of presets/scenes? A question of minutes, and it's all intuitive. Great software design, robust operation and the same level of attention to detail as in the hardware. Great job.

I love the warmth and glow of fat sizzling tubes. I'll always enjoy my tube amps. The Axe simply allows me to bring them with me and make them sing everywhere I go. Thanks to Cliff and Fractal for the most fun I've had in a while. But I do miss sleep...
 
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Oldschool59

New Member
Thank YOU for taking the time to write such a detailed review. I enjoyed reading it very much and will make sure my co-workers get to see it too.

PS: I'd encourage you to submit it here so we can share it in our store:
Thanks for the kind words, and for an awesome machine. I have already submitted this review to the product page, yesterday. Also, for your info, I will paste the 1-week-in review which I posted on TGP. Cheers!

TGP original text:

OK, last active post on this thread. One week in with the Axe III. A quick post to showcase the typical learning curve for a completely inexperienced modelling user.

One of the things I kept hearing prior to buying the AF3 is that it is a complex machine, and that one can really fall into the rabbit hole of over-tweaking. Before getting my hands on the unit, I generally understood that the AF3 was the most complex device, when compared with the main contenders.

While the sheer amount of parameters and modelling options is staggering, I can affirm with absolute certainty that the Axe is only as complex as one wants it to be. It can be used straight out of the box, with stellar results and no tweaking whatsoever. Moreover, the Axe is designed in such a way as to allow users to progressively grow into the system. To see what I mean, here are the first days of the my coexistence with the Axe:

Day 1: Unboxing and all that nice new system excitement. Whoa, there's the unit, the power cable, a quick starting guide. The FC-12, same. Gotta find a balanced XLR cable to hook everything together. Done. Plug Out 1 L and R into my Focusrite Clarett, turn the monitors on. Turn Axe on, the boot sequence is exciting, unit is set to preset 1, some kind of Bassman amp. Adjust volumes. Holy S**t, this sounds awesome!!! Ok, ok, chill, let's try to switch to some other scenes within this preset. How does the FC work? Hmmm, the footswitches work, but nothing happens. No matter, I can navigate using the front panel. I end up going through approximately 100 presets and their scenes. Sleep at 01:30.

Day 2: Ok, gotta make that FC thing happen. Back to the manual. Oh ok, FC set-up, one button push away. Select FC-12. Bam! Lights are on. Master Layout Menu, it lets me choose whatever type of layout I want... Can I select Presets? Yup. Scenes? Yup. Can I get to the effects? Yup. I am the master of the universe!!!! I start navigating the presets, scenes and individual effects without my hands. Explore another 100 presets. Man, the tones are just awesome! OK, how about the software stuff? There's an editor, and some data utility to help me back-up, etc. Nevermind, I'm having too much fun playing, I'll deal with it tomorrow. EDIT: OK, I'll play my real tube amp (EH3), though the OX, along-side the Axe. Man, I recognize my familiar PWE tone (I'm playing it vs an Axe BE-100), and I prefer it to the BE-100, by far. But not because it's the real thing, but because the natural PWE tone is awesome. The dynamics between the real and modeled amps are the same!!! How can this be? The Axe's high-gain monsters behave the same way, they feel sharp, juicy and ''bouncy'' at the same time, just like my real amp. This is seriously FUN. End up sleeping at 01:30 again...

Day 3: Ok, let's do the long and tedious software thingy... I usually hate the SW upkeep stuff. Go to the fractal website, find the AXE III Editor and Fractal-Bot DLs. Oh, that was fast (and uneventful)... less than 5 minutes in, everything is installed. Can I hook up the Axe and access the editor? Drum roll... just plug in the USB cable. Bam! I'm on line! SUPER EASY! OK, pick a nice preset, let's see how it's built. The Axe is synced in real-time with the editor. Whatever happens at one end happens at the other. Oh, I made a change (turned on an effect), a yellow SAVE light turns on. I can save my changes in real-time, or I can configure the machine to automatically retain my changes if I change presets. Easy. Hmmm, Cliff pushed the 10.0 FW version. Do I need to deal with this right now? Nah... more presets to explore. Slept late again.

Day 4: Recorded a few tracks in Reaper, to see how easy it was. I started exploring blocks and preset configuration. Easy. Amp block, default menu is Authentic, with a tone stack and a few of the regular knobs that I use in real time. What's that? Ohhhh, ok...more menus, in different tabs. Hundreds of parameters, to select anything from tubes, to their respective bias points, to amp layout, and a million things that only amp designers were accustomed to. I'm gonna have some fun. But not yet, I'll just play for now...

Day 5: Nothing. Not quite nothing, actually. I had about 20 minutes of available time, and really wanted to see how to integrate an expression pedal to control a wah. I used 2 minutes to make that happen, completely intuitive and easy. Plug the exp pedal into Pedal 1 slot of the FC, assign the wah control to the pedal, and away we go! 18 minutes of intense wahwah-ing with a huge grim on my face. Now, If I could only figure out haw to map an on/off switch on the current layout, to take the wah in and out of the circuit (that is still unclear to me, but I haven't really looked into it...).

Day 6: I have to tackle the back-up/FW thing. Dread it. Start Fractal-Bot. It tells me a new FW is ready. Do I want to install it? Mhh, sure, I guess... But let's back-up first. The Fractal-Bot interface is uber-simple: two tabs (send and receive) I guess I'll have to send. Yup. Where? Pick a directory (aptly named & created). One click, done. That was simple... Allright, let's update the FW. Pick other tab (receive). One click. The Axe needs to be turned off for 5 seconds. Turn it back on. Done. That's a relief, I dreaded this whole process. But wait, there's more. I've seen some cool YT demos of a few nice patches (presets). Axe-Exchange is apparently where it's at. Go online, pick a few presets to try (thanks, Burgs and TL, you guys rock!). Presets are free. Literally hundreds at my fingertips... But ten will suffice for now. Copy, paste, done. Although... there's got to be a better way. In the editor, can I access the Exchange platform directly? Oh, sure enough, I can. Soo easy. That John Sykes preset is KILLER, end up playing Bad Boys well into the night.

Etc... If there is a general idea here, it is that the Axe AND its SW suite are extremely well-designed. The AXE can be as simple or as detailed as one wishes, but it is never complicated. I guess the design point was simplicity of workflow, coherence of use and reliability. And, let's not forget, the tones are sublime. Through headphones an studio monitors, I simply cannot tell that I'm not playing (a whole bag of) amazing tube amps, sag, dynamics, harmonics and all. At the end of the day, the Axe is the right tool for me, and I'll grow into it as I need, at my own pace. There is no barrier to using it out of the box, with amazing results. Quick set-up pic below.

Cheers!
 

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Knaggster

Inspired
As a relatively new Axe FX III user myself, I have to agree 100% with your review. Fantastic tones with minimal effort while knowing very little about what I was doing (and having watched about half of Cooper Carter’s class, I realize just how little I know . . . ). You correctly highlighted the ease of firmware upgrades, and as a convert from the Helix, I couldn’t agree more. Kudos to both hardware and software engineers.
 
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