AMPLITUBE 5 REVIEW (INCLUDING MAX COLLECTION)

New from IK Multimedia is version 5 of their popular AmpliTube application, stand alone and VST/AAX plugins.

An in-depth look at IK Multimedia's AmpliTube 5 software.  Tested reviewed by Howard Worf, for us here at Guitarist Guild.

I stress that the opinions following are mine alone and based upon my personal experiences in a home studio and running the PA in my basement.

CONCLUSION:
The more I use it the more I like AmpliTube 5. The MAX version is absolutely awesome.
If you want to have a whole universe of sounds at your whim, think about getting an iRig Stomp controller, AmpliTube 5 MAX (or AmpliTube 5 which can be bundled with a iRig controller - €349.99 plus tax and save money), your laptop and a full range combo like a Harley Benton* G212AFR - €285 including VAmplitube . Realistically for what you would pay for a decent 100w mono combo you can have it all. Quite tempting?

For Reaper (which has no amp simulation built in) and Studio One (where the built in simulations are very limited) AmpliTube 5 it is an obvious top of the range add-on for recording. In Cubase the decision is a little less clear cut, but if you want stunning accuracy in your emulations and extremely fine and sophisticated control over your sounds the it is the thing to go for.

I do not think MAX is for everyone. The SE or 5 versions seem to me to be the ones that would be the optimal choice for most users. Any additional gear models you fancy can be tried before buying in the new version of Custom Shop. Better value unless you simply must have everything.


MAX PACKAGE BREAKDOWN:
107 amplifier models, 107 stomp models, 101 speaker cabinet models, 331 speaker driver models, 18 different microphone models, 44 rack effects, 8 different room layouts. And 600 impulse response models.

INITIAL THOUGHTS AND TEETHING TROUBLES:
I suspect this had been released to meet a deadline before it was entirely ready. There are reports of incompatibility issues, particularly with laptops where it seems many users can’t get it to start.*
I have not had that issue with my laptop installation, perhaps because my laptop has a 1080p display. I have, however, had other issues.
    • The download size is 2.4gb – this is everything available within AmpliTube 5, so even if you just want to try the free to AmpliTube 4 owners ‘Custom Shop’ version you have to download the whole lot (MAX)
    • The Product Manager repeatedly crashed on my desktop, and stopped frequently during downloads on my laptop – requiring manual restarts
    • Cubase 10.5 didn’t recognise the VST3 plugin at all. Cubase is my main DAW.**
    • Quite large variations in the apparent volumes of the presets
    • Slow to load on both my older desktop PC and new Ryzen 7 laptop, although the latter is obviously noticeably faster than the desktop
    • There have been complaints that previously purchased gear from AmpliTube 4 is not available in Amplitube 5. I had this issue, only to find that my Engl Powerball, in AmpliTube 4 called ‘Engl Powerball’ is labelled ‘Powerball’ in AmpliTube 5, so searching for Engl, which is what I did, produces no results. I had almost completed my support request when I found it by accident.
    • Can be resized within a DAW. Click and drag the small triangle symbol on the bottom right hand corner – very useful
    • T-Rack derived studio effects added - excellent

*Fixed in release 5.0.1 for laptops with 1400 px screens. Now opens beyond full screen size on my 1080p laptop.
**Fixed in release 5.0.1 – Cubase Pro 11 now running the VST3

WHAT HAVE WE GOT?

4 versions:
    • Custom Shop – free – 39 models
    • SE - €149.99 plus VAT  – 77 models
    • 5 - €199.99 plus VAT  – 177 models
    • MAX - €399.99 plus VAT  - more than 400 models including with 11 artist signature packs – the version provided for this review and the best bang for your buck if you simply must have everything
    • Various packs with AmpliTube 5 and bundled hardware
    • At the time of writing there are substantial launch discounts available – check IK Multimedia’s site for details.

A completely redesigned interface, both stand alone and as a plugin – a more modern look
Drag and drop gear and edit signal paths
4 different signal path designs
New mixer section – which I think is a really worthwhile addition
Much improved looper (stand alone implementation)
Transfer of models purchased in AmpliTube 3/4 to AmpliTube 5
Studio effects units based upon T-Racks – really very good indeed
It could be my old ears, but the modelling sounds smoother and more accurate, especially the effects.


LET’S GET STARTED – STAND ALONE IMPLEMENTATION


Opening up give us the default screen

startup

Opens with a default British 8000 amplifier model. No effects, just a matched cabinet. Which sounds great, by the way.


startupl1


startupl2

With a more powerful and modern processor lower buffer sizes will be possible, but the latency at 256 is not causing me any issues.


Going to the gear selection menu, the first icon is for stomps, the second for amplifiers, the third for the speaker cabinet, the last for post effects.

startupl2


startupl2


Please note the main mixer icon is in the signal path.
Self explanatory and a very useful addition.


Let’s have a look at the modules:

The Recorder:
IK says this is an 8 track DAW. This, in my opinion is rather stretching the truth. It does have 8 tracks, some basic EQ and cut/paste/loop/playback speed functions. There is no VST support, so you cannot add a drum VST. To get a drum track you have to have an audio file you can import.* It is also possible to import a music track to jam along to.

startupl2


My advice is to get a free DAW if you want to do any recording, there are many to choose from including Studio One Prime (the one I would choose), Audacity, LMMS. If you have an audio interface the likelihood is that a free DAW came with it, so use that instead.
*Unless I have completely misread the manual – but I could not see any way to have anything but audio tracks.

The Looper: This looks like it could be a lot of fun, but realistically requires a MIDI floor  controller, something I do not possess, so I cannot comment any further.

startupl2


Live: Store your favourite presets for instant recall during live performance or rehearsal. Again requires a MIDI floor controller, so no further comment.

startupl2


Before we move on, I’m sure by now you will have noticed how dark and, well, gloomy, the new UI can appear at times. As I mentioned in the preface there have been comments criticising the dark hues of the UI and in particular the difficulty of actually seeing some on the sub menu items. I know that there have been requests for a lighter theme as an option, and I am sure that would be most helpful for a lot of users.

GUITAR:

The sheer number of pieces of gear available in the MAX version! As well as four different signal path templates that allow you to place almost everything in any place or combination you desire, there are far too many stomps, amps, cabs, and studio effects to mention individually. More than 400 all together, and when you add in the speaker driver, microphone, and room mixing choices the better part of your life could be taken up with refining your patches.

So I am not even going to try to list them all. Suffice it to state that every eventuality I can imagine is covered.

What I have done I go through many of the preset patches - all of the AmpliTube 5 and AmpliTube 5 CS ones.
As you can guess there are some outstanding tones in there, to use as they are are, or more likely to use as a starting point for your own tweaks.

I did notice that using some of the high gain presets with coils split or single coil were spectacularly noisy*– a few presets have a signal to noise ratio of approaching zero – seriously the amp noise is louder than the guitar signal. In these cases the Epiphone performed the best with coils split (although I understand that technically the Epiphone coil splitting isn’t using one coil completely separated from the opposite winding), followed by the Schecter and the Harley Benton Fusion which were each drowned out by the amp noise in single coil configuration.

*They’re not needed, there is plenty of capacity for very high gain amplification without using these.

I have been able to make some comparisons with Positive Grid’s Bias FX2 and also, of course, with  Cubase’s VST Amp rack and Studio One’s Ampire. It’s very obvious that AmpliTube 5 is more sophisticated than any of these, in particular the Studio One offering. These other three do, of course, have some good useable tones in their presets.

Bias FX2 - while Bias FX is another quite expensive plugin/standalone emulator it is roughly half the price for an equivalent AmpliTube 5 package (even less when on frequent sale) although the expansion packs seem to me to be a little pricey as well as not really necessary. It is nowhere near as complex or flexible as AmpliTube 5 though, for instance having only two potential signal paths, a more pedestrian UI that can only be resized to 125% or 175% of default, and four cab microphones to choose from among many other specification shortfalls. I do not think that there is a huge difference in practical terms to how good either of them sound, each have their strengths and weaknesses but overall I would say AmpliTube 5 sounds somehow smoother. As a plugin BIAS is always outputting a lower volume than it’s peers unless the microphones are adjusted, and the amplifier gain and master controls seem a bit on/off at times. AmpliTube 5 is streets ahead in terms of sophistication and tweakability; there is a lot more to play with and it is far more attractively packaged.

VST Amp Rack – I mention this only because I do have Cubase Pro 11. Only comes with Cubase and can only be used in that DAW, so not portable and no use at all if you haven’t got either Artist or Pro Cubase and they are quite expensive. The next to least sophisticated of the emulators, but it nevertheless sounds good, and because it is simpler it is less demanding to customise if limited compared to AmpliTube 5. Very useful if you have no other amplifier modelling, has some very useful presets and the bass amp emulations are IMO excellent. Good enough in the absence of anything more realistic and flexible.

Ampire in Studio One. Only OK if you have nothing else. The base version of AmpliTube 5 is infinitely  better.

BASS GUITAR:

As you would expect far fewer amplifier models for bass guitar, 15 in AmpliTube 5 MAX. 8 of these, however, are various Ampeg simulations. Only one of them is a simulation of a make of head I actually use – Trace Elliot. Unsurprisingly neither my my Ampeg Portaflex 500 or Laney R500H are included. It is a pity there are no offerings from Markbass, Eden, Darkglass or Ashdown.

AmpliTube 5 (as did AmpliTube 4) knocks Studio One’s Ampire out of the park – there is simply no comparison. I’m more ambivalent about the comparison with Cubase’s VST Bass simulator. The latter is nowhere near as sophisticated, like the guitar offering, having only 7 bass head models (including Eden) as opposed to the 15 available in AmpliTube 5 MAX. There is a ‘but’ for me though. I still have 2 Trace Elliot heads; although the Amplitube 5 Trace simulation has the highs it is a little lacking in the low end with the RB414 passive bass to my ears without fiddling with it – not a fault the Cubase emulation has. With the active basses I would say AmpliTube 5 is perfect.

Although here we have the classic conundrum – AmpliTube 5 is so sophisticated that you can for all intents and purposes get whatever sound you want. Don’t forget, as mentioned in the guitar section, there is fully featured room and microphone mixing panel enabling almost unimaginable variation. So if you are the kind of person who will tweak a sound until it is just so, there is no arguing with the fact that Amplitube 5 is a dream come true. This, is, of course, especially useful for live performance.

My favourite amongst the bass emulations is the Gallien and Krueger MB150S, although the in house AmpliTube branded bass amps sound very good IMO. Some of the presets using the AmpliTube 5 basis solid state preamp are very satisfying. As a bass player, if I were going from the CS or free version of AmpliTube 5 I would purchase that Gallien Kreuger to go with it if I was looking for a larger variety of tones.

To conclude this section: as with the guitar emulations the bass amps just sound better than they did in AmpliTube 4, although, of course, that remains a perfectly good application.

 I have no hesitation is recommending AmpliTube 5 in one variant or another for bass players or recording bass guitars no matter which of the DAWs I have tested it with you might have.

Be in no doubt though, the bass guitarist is nowhere near as well served by AmpliTube 5 as the common or garden electric guitarist. :)

CONCLUSION:

The more I use it the more I like AmpliTube 5. The MAX version is absolutely awesome.
If you want to have a whole universe of sounds at your whim, think about getting an iRig Stomp controller, AmpliTube 5 MAX (or AmpliTube 5 which can be bundled with a iRig controller - €349.99 plus tax and save money), your laptop and a full range combo like a Harley Benton* G212AFR - €285 including VAmplitube . Realistically for what you would pay for a decent 100w mono combo you can have it all. Quite tempting?

For Reaper (which has no amp simulation built in) and Studio One (where the built in simulations are very limited) AmpliTube 5 it is an obvious top of the range add-on for recording. In Cubase the decision is a little less clear cut, but if you want stunning accuracy in your emulations and extremely fine and sophisticated control over your sounds the it is the thing to go for.

I do not think MAX is for everyone. The SE or 5 versions seem to me to be the ones that would be the optimal choice for most users. Any additional gear models you fancy can be tried before buying in the new version of Custom Shop. Better value unless you simply must have everything.

Things used in this review:
PCs: 8 year old desktop AMD FX8, 16gb ram, laptop ASUS VivoBook 15, 6gb ram
DAWs – Cubase Pro 11, Studio One 5 Professional, and Reaper 5.99
Monitoring – Behringer Truth B2031A near field, AKG K240 headphones
ASIO Interfaces – Steinberg UR22, Behringer UMC404HD
MIDI controllers – Akai MPC Element, Novation Impulse 61
OS – Windows 10 Home
Guitars - Epiphone Prophecy GX, Schecter Banshee Diamond Extreme, Harley Benton* Fusion Pro ll HH, Ibanez SG300EB, Harley Benton* RB414, and Marcus Miller M7 V2
PA – Mixer (run flat) Behringer Xenyx X2442, amp Behringer KM750, and the Box PA302s*.

*Yes, I do get a lot of stuff from Thomann, what can I tell you?

System Requirements
AmpliTube is a 64-bit application and requires a 64 bit CPU and Operating System.

Mac® (64-bits)
Minimal: Intel® Core™ 2 Duo (Intel Core i5 suggested), 4 GB of RAM (8 GB suggested), macOS 10.10 or later. 3 GB of hard drive space.

Requires an OpenGL 2 compatible graphics adapter.
Supported Plug-in formats (64-bit): Audio Units, VST 2, VST 3, AAX.

Windows® (64-bits)
Minimal: Intel® Core™ 2 Duo or AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 (Intel Core i5 suggested), 4 GB of RAM (8 GB suggested). Windows® 7 or later. 3 GB of hard drive space.

Requires an ASIO compatible sound card.
Requires an OpenGL 2 compatible graphics adapter.
Supported Plug-in formats (64-bit): VST 2, VST 3, AAX.

Internet connection is required as all of the Custom Shop operations are web based.
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