Now that the hype and email/youtube/social media hoopla of new gear announcements from NAMM has settled down, it’s time to step back and look at the big picture of where I think guitar gear is heading.
Impulse Response Loaded Amplifiers
The past few years have seen a bunch of excitement and widespread acceptance of Impulse Response (IR) cabinet simulation. Most of this has been done via DAW software plugins, which would require a computer. For recording, this isn’t that big of a deal since most people are recording in laptop based DAWs anyways.
But, using IR’s in a live setting has had somewhat limited and expensive options. There’s the Two Notes Torpedo Cab, Universal Audio OX, and Fractal Audio Axe-FX, amongst others. Some of the devices on the market can go between your amp and speaker cab, others require an additional piece of equipment in the form of a load box to safely use with your tube amps. There have been some affordable additions to the market in the form of the Mooer Radar, Hotone Binary CAB, and Digitech CabDryVR, but these fall under the category of IR that you need a load box for your amp if you want to capture that power tube distortion.
This year at NAMM there were several pieces of gear that are taking IRs to the next level. The Boss Waza Tube Amp Expander, which is really a competitor to the Universal Audio Ox with plenty of additional features. There are also more budget-friendly digital modeling units that have incorporated IR cab simulation.
What caught my eye the most were two amps in particular that I think (at least hope) are the future. Suhr Pete Thorn PT15 IR Amp and the Revv D20 Amp. These are both small tube heads that have IRs incorporated into them instead of the typical “emulated out.” As I was tracking the news coming out of NAMM, these are the amps that just had me absolutely floored. Except, they’re very expensive amps. Great sounding amps and I’m sure worth every penny, but I don’t do expensive gear.
Sure, most amps have some sort of “speaker emulated” line out of them these days, but let’s be honest, it’s very rare to have one that doesn’t just sound like a can of bees flatulating after taco tuesday. So I think the amp manufacturers realize that a direct-line out of an amp is something that people want, but prior to the prevalence of IRs, the technology just hasn’t been there. These line-outs are typically just an EQ curve added to the signal, which is not the same as “speaker emulation.” The great thing about any technology, especially now that IRs have become more readily available, is that it will get cheaper.
Why I Want A Proliferation Of IR Loaded Amps
As I’ve explained in a previous blog post, I think the speaker has a HUGE impact on your final tone. It’s also the single biggest change you can make to a rig. IR’s give you a convenient, affordable, and very realistic representation of a whole slew of speaker cabinets with all sorts of great mics. Mic placement is also a very delicate balance, a millimeter in any direction can have a big change on the tone coming out of the recording or to the PA.
Like I said above, IR’s are relatively readily available in the computer based digital DAW realm, but not so much in the live sphere (at least not without a hefty pricetag on the Universal Audio OX or a Two Notes Torpedo Cab. Using one of these devices also requires carrying extra gear to the gig, which I view as one more thing I have to set up that could break.
Having an amp with a good sounding DI is a great method to have a consistent sound from gig to gig. I’ve tried and have been disapointed by so many DI’s over the years trying to just have a consistent direct sound to come out of front of house. Going direct can also cut down on mic bleed and help create a much cleaner mix out front.
I foresee manufacturers like Joyo or Mooer being the first to offer IRs on affordable amps, since they have other devices with IRs already. Mooer and Joyo already have IRs in a very compact pedal forms, it probably wouldn’t be much to put the guts of one of those pedals where they already have a headphone out.
Other amp manufacturers might have to either license an IR interface from an existing manufacturer or develope the physical interface to replace the which will probably be a deterrent for a little while, but I think the software is relatively easy, it’s just the hardware aspect of it.
The bottom line is the amp manufacturers will sell what the consumers are demanding, hopefully I’ve convinced you the reader that this is something you want. Now let’s let the companies know we want it.