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AMPLITUBE 4 REVIEW

"Hyper Realistic Tone"

An in-depth look at IK Multimedia's Amplitube 4 software.  Tested reviewed by Howard Worf, for us here at Guitarist Guild.



Introduction

It seems like the world and his concubine are in the business of providing homo dawis with ever more complex and detailed digital processing options, both for live and studio use. Guitarists are one of the target audiences and there are a few front runners in the field, IK Multimedia’s (hereinafter IKM) Amplitube being well established and having a deserved good reputation. The competition includes Native Instruments Guitar Rig, Peavey Revalver (for obsessive fiddlers amongst other things), Line Pod Farm, to name just a few. Not to mention the more limited emulators often built in to the DAWs themselves.

VST


Amplitube is now in its fourth iteration (hereinafter APT4). On the off chance that you didn’t already know, it is stand alone, VST 2 and 3, and AAX ‘hyper realistic guitar amp and FX software’, now with a built in 4 track looper and basic 8 track audio only DAW in the stand alone version.

It is 64 bit only, so don’t be tempted if you are still using a 32 bit OS. With Windows (I am using Windows 10) you will need an ASIO interface. With a Mac a thunderbolt interface would seem to be the way to go, although I am not familiar with the current Mac range of options. I am using a Saffire Pro 14 through a motherboard firewire card. The firewire interface roughly halves the latency compared to my old USB interface, and at double the bit rate.

I also have some additional Fender models that were provided with a Fender custom version of Amplitube 3 accompanying my Mustang V2 combo. I shall be comparing some of the Amplitube modelled sounds with the DI output from the Mustang V2, Zoom G3, Cubase’s Amp Rack, and additionally for the bass (my first instrument) the DI sounds using Hartke and Trace Elliot amplification.

Although it is principally aimed at guitar players, there is a limited range of bass amplifier models available, skewed towards the Ampeg range, along with a classic Orange valve head. Amplitube 4 comes in a variety of flavours, so have a look at the IK Multimedia website HERE. I shall not list what is and what is not included in each version as this is likely to change over time as new modules become available.

The base price is €149.99 at the time of writing, and works its way up from there. The version tested is the Deluxe bundle, at €299.99 (both plus VAT for EU customers).

As a Plug-in:
As a plug in the interface and functionality is different to the stand alone version. The looper and the mini DAW are absent, but apart from that the rest of APT4 is the same. The first line of the window displays the name of the current preset, a click label to open the preset browser, file management tools and a tempo display - linked to the DAW project tempo by default. The second row shows the signal path (8 different preset paths are selectable from the left hand numbers box) starting with the tuner and working along through to a double bank of rack effects. New in this version is an effects loop between the pre and power amplifiers. Clicking on one of the signal path labels opens the graphical interface for the relevant item, stomp box, amplifier etc.

What controls are available is obviously dictated by the piece of gear (to use IKM’s nomenclature) is chosen. In order to access a list of the pieces of gear you can choose either left click on the menu boxes - in the image above there are three, identifiable by the arrows adjacent to the name boxes - or scroll through the choices with the up/down arrows. The amplifier and other gear controls are clearly labelled and you adjust them as you wish. OK, let’s go through the signal path and see what we can find.

Tuner:
APT4 has both the tuner from earlier versions and a new Ultra Tuner. Choosing ‘tuner’ opens the older tuner, which is bypassed by default. Two things here: why open the tuner bypassed? Who would open the tuner and not be intending to use it? Secondly, the ultra tuner is so much better than the old tuner I would rather the tuner button open with this by default. Once you have used the ultra tuner you won’t want to use the older version again, really it’s that good - fast and very accurate.

Stomp Boxes:
What you get depends upon the version you have, and, of course, the gear that you have bought from Custom Shop. There is quite a range of famous and IKM’s own effects available. There are two stomp insert chains, and each one can accommodate up to 6 effects. For me the effects are one of the highlights of APT4. To my ears they sound realistic - smooth where smooth is required, hard and edgy where more oomph is desired. But why no reverbs?

VST


Not recently having been a user of individual stomp pedals I cannot confirm the authenticity of the sounds, but the suite of stomps supplied with APT4 Deluxe is pretty comprehensive. The effects are all listed under the Amplitube sub menu. There are also 5 rack effects that can be inserted here¹. All the branded effects are listed but most only available after additional purchase from the Custom Shop. Some effects and their parameters can be controlled via MIDI controllers (ie wah, volume, bypass). Automation of all parameters is possible - right click the relevant control to access this².

¹ Not all rack effects can be used in the stomp arrays.
² Automation is only possible when APT4 is used as a plug-in within a DAW.

IKM feature the new Acoustic simulator in their advertising, so I thought it appropriate to have a quick look at that.

Like the other acoustic simulators I have used it has body and top voicings, but these are stepped and not inifinitely variable as with other acoustic emulators for example. You do have the bass and treble controls, as well as mix, for fine tuning.

The question is, does it work?
The answer is yes, like all acoustics sims, up to a point. It will definitely sound convincing in a mix.

I have added a couple of sound clips so that you can hear for yourselves.






Amplifiers:
As with the stomp boxes automation of all parameters is possible - right click the relevant control to access this¹
.
1. Guitar: APT4 Deluxe comes with 25 guitar amplifier models. This premium version has a selection of branded models and most of the IKM in-house models. It comes with the ‘Classic Brit’ collection of Marshall tops (as does the basic version, and if you are a rock player maybe that will be all you ever want), one Orange and one THD. Visit the Custom Shop to enable any additional gear.

The complexity and fidelity of APT4 is both its strength and weakness, as it can take a while a quite a lot of knob twiddling to get exactly the sound you want. With the guitar amplifier emulations the sound quality is most definitely there and like the better modelling ‘real’ amplifiers (Fender’s Mustang V2s for example) the amplifier tones are varied according to playing style, just like the real thing. It sounds to me as if the gain amplitude between quiet and loud playing has a greater gain range than the Fender modelling with the crunch and driven sounds, ie JCM800, a major plus as you have real control over dynamics.

Just about every tone you can imagine can be configured from the options in APT4, and they all sound professional. The basic modelling engine in APT4 is simply excellent. There is so much flexibility with the amplifier and effects available that it is pointless trying to describe what you can do - try it for yourselves.

2. Bass Guitar. That APT4 is primarily for guitar is quite clear when we come to the bass guitar section. For bass there are just 4 models (1 in the case of the base version). A house model, and, in this Deluxe version, additionally one each from Gallien Krueger, Trace Elliot and Ampeg. Nothing, from other iconic bass amplifier manufacturers like Ashdown, Eden, Fender, Hartke, Markbass, Peavey, or Warwick. There are a fair few bass guitar presets, but many of them rely upon the purchase of additional pieces of gear, notably a range of Ampeg head emulators. The Trace is very close, but it is just not quite right and just slightly pipped by the ‘Green’ bass amplifier model in Cubase’s Amp Rack which really grinds. Listen to the samples and see what you think. In a blind test I think you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. On the other hand the house solid state bass amplifier is very good, flexible with a wide tonal range, so unless you are a dedicated bassist this should be more than enough. The ‘free’ Bass Amp Rack in Cubase Artist and upwards, however, offers far more for the bass player than APT4 does, with what sound like