Saturday, February 13, 2010

Revisiting Virtual Amps

Since last time I reviewed a bunch of virtual amps and virutal amp demos (back in Oct/Nov 2009) I've purchased add-ons for my Line 6 Pod Farm and have downloaded the demo for Guitar Rig 4 to compare to the GR3 demo I already have. I picked up the Metal Shop, Collector Classics, and FX Junkie Model packs in mid-December sometime and just downloaded the new Guitar Rig demo this week, so my opinion of the model packs is much more developed than my impression of the new Guitar Rig.

The Model packs are a complete blast. The Metal Shop and Collector Classics add a bunch of new amp models into your virtual studio that add all manner of options and nuance to your sound. Between them there aren't many sounds I couldn't go for within the limits of what one can pull out of a stop tail, dual humbucker guitar. As far as bread-and-butter additions go, though, I most appreciated the addition of the Killer Z distortion box into the mix. The Cat stompbox in the original software was good, but it was a little bright and thin for a modern metal sound. The Killer Z is more modern sounding -- thicker and warmer with some contour control to shape your mids for the right amount of cut. The FX Junkie pack adds in a lot of fun effects that range from classic and subtle to outrageous. They would be awesome for any time one wanted to step away from your guitar god pose and do some postrock experimentation or write some soundtrack stuff for a video game. It extends your tonality into decidedly unguitarlike places and gets you playing things you normally would not. I don't know that I would pay full price for these packs unless I needed them for some project and could not do it with the standard set of sounds that comes with the Pod Farm setup, but they were well worth the package special price that put them all in the same price range as a budget stompbox.

Switching from the Pod Farm to the Guitar Rig 4 demo, the first thing I noticed was how clean and spatial the sound was. The Line 6 sims are good, but they always sound just a little less articulate and more compressed than the Native Instruments sims. This does not imply that the Line 6 sounds aren't as good or as accurate. I'm always surprised when I plug into a normal amp to hear how muddy they sound and how much more string noise they pick up from the guitar, and I'm always a little disappointed that I can't tweak the size of the room in which I am playing it without dropping a lot of money on a good quality reverb unit. The Line 6 may actually be more accurate than the Native Instruments in this regard (much as the ReValver was more like an RL amp in its output than the rest), I just really appreciate the way that the NI software sounds when almost everything I play is just my guitar through headphones. It gives my playing added musicality and dimension and really pulls out the expressiveness of fingers on strings while cutting all the odd, non-musical artifacts down to a minimum.

There's no buyer's remorse here. I saw that the online retailers have been clearancing out the GR3 hardware and while I was tempted to pick it up I really can't justify the cost when I'm not doing anything with my music other than entertaining myself and annoying the cats. I will say, however, that if I had no sunk cost in the Line 6 hardware and were looking at either a full price Line 6 Pod Studio vs. a clearance GR3 package with the direct box hardware and had a chance to play with both ahead of time I would definitely go with the NI over the Line 6. At full price, however, I still think the Line 6 is still the best value of all the virtual guitar studio packages and good enough for most applications.

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