Why I sold my Fractal AXE FX and I’m going back to Analog

I just recently sold my Fractal Audio Systems AXE FX II XL on Reverb.com

I had been an all-digital guitar player for 3 years after switching from the analog world.
In the past, i owned A LOT of tube amps: Marshall, Mesa, VOX, ENGL, Fender…you name it.

For me, the AXE FX has been a major step forward in the world of digital guitar, because of its super high quality audio, sound card functionalities, amazing effects, almost endless possibilities and super – free routing.

I used to have a Kemper Profiler before the AXE FX, and that is an incredible machine too, but in my opinion it had two annoying “problems”:

  • The profiling thing is perfect when you leave the profile “as is”, as taken originally. Modifying ia profile on the kemper creates a totally different tonal palette from what the original amplifier is capable of doing. Not better or worse – just different. The AXE FX instead perfectly mimics the behaviour of every single knob in the original amplifier.
  • When profiling your own amps, the profile is very true to the original sound unless you switch pickups on your guitar. Then, the sound from the Kemper and the one from the original amplifier are different. Again, nothing serious, the Kemper is fantastic anyway, but that made me make the jump to the state of the art modelling (rather than profiling) technology.

The Axe FX is great.

Really, it’s a fantastic thing. So fantastic that it became the center of my studio. I used it for processing electric guitars (of course), acoustic guitars, vocals, synths, the OP-1 … anything. I used it as my main sound card most of the times. Endless possibilities. Super pristine sounds, fantastic guitar amp modelling.

But.

Too many options. The device is so powerful and contains so many amps, cab models and effects that you get lost in it – not in a good way for me. You dive into menus upon menus of options and knobs, wondering how this amp would sound with this cab or the other, wondering what difference an obscure parameter would bring if cranked, or what type of sound this filter could create, or….

Basically, you can get lost very easily, and your focus diverges from making music to “listening to the machine”. Or at least, my focus did. 

The more I was using the Axe Fx, the more I felt the need for a very simple, no frills, focus-on-music thing what would allow me to just plug in and play.

I purchased the Nux Cerberus – a portable analog-meets-digital no frills guitar device, and the whole experience with it – though not entirely frictionless – felt so refreshing.

What made me pull the trigger

When I started looking around for tube guitar amplifiers again, I became more familiar with a technique called “silent recording”. It involves your guitar amp, a “load box” (preferably reactive) and some IRs (impulse responses).

You will find a lot of articles and videos about silent recording around, and I personally recommend this one:

Using this technique, you can basically use a tube amp like a modern recording device – you connect it to a load box which takes care of the electric power coming from the amp as if it was a speaker, and outputs a Direct Recording output which you can process with a High-Quality IR to make it sound just like a real cabinet.

Your “in the room” cabinet remains silent but your sound card gets the sound from the amp so you can even record “quietly” at night with all the benefits of using a real tube amplifier.

The hardware you need are an amp (of course) and a Reactive Load Box (or dummy load) such as the Suhr Reactive Load or the Rivera RockCrusher Recording

the Suhr Reactive Load
the Suhr Reactive Load

 

Rivera Rock Crusher Recording
Rivera Rock Crusher Recording

The third element is an IR loader – which can easily be a plug in on your computer.

Pete Thorn explains it all very extensively in the video above.

I personally recommend the FREE LeCab IR loader by LePou for great results at no cost.

My Analog Choices

As soon as I sold the AXE FX I started re-building my analog rig.

Amp: Friedman Mini Dirty Shirley 

Friedman Mini Dirty Shirley

 

At only 20W the Friedman Dirty Shirley is a handwired boutique amp that is as simple as it gets: one single channel of big, vintage Marshall inspired fat tone that gets from breakup cleans to huge overdriven, open sound … that stills clears up very easily as you roll off the volume knob on your guitar.

I needed some very STRAIGHTFORWARD thing. And the Shirley is just what it takes.

Check this review out:

 

I also purchased the Rivera RockCrush Recording because it matches two functions in one device:

  • It works as a dummy load and Line Out / Speaker emulation 
  • It doubles as a very transparent attenuator, which is useful to drive your amp hard for maximum efficiency and sounds while still retaining “house” loudness. One of the best things of the AXE FX was, in fact, the ability to emulate the sound of cranked amps at TV volumes.

Rivera Rock Crusher Recording

The Suhr Reactive load, as opposed, is only a dummy load and Line out device.

Cabinet…. well, I still need to purchase a cabinet.
I have the opportunity to check out a US made VHT 1×12 with a PE100 speaker.. I will update this post when my choice is made!

 

12 thoughts on “Why I sold my Fractal AXE FX and I’m going back to Analog

  1. Yeah the tube amp with an attenuator is nice but you still gotta have a speaker too. Even if it’s a single 12 you can’t mimic the sustain of a speaker just sending your guitar into feedback. That touch sensitivity as you control that note is something you wanna have.

  2. I’m looking at that nux Cerberus unit as a handy multi fx unit.. Does it feel analog unlike line 6 or tc nova or G stuff? Or what was the friction you felt?

    1. It is analog at least in the overdrives. TC Nova system is very pristine in the effects , this is more vintage oriented. I’d say try it and see if it’s for you. It’s a very straightforward unit, the only friction lies in the software editor that is basically the way you load 3rd party impulse response into the unit.

  3. Thanks for your reply! Is the analog dry units I’m drawn to. The simple TC flashback or simple Boss delays keep the dry signal of the guitar in tact and I like that.. Some AD/DA conversion in the line 6 units feels wrong and fake to me! Hoping the NUX might not be like that?

    1. The Nux keeps the overdrive path different from the effects and you can use the 4 cables method to run the drives in front of the amp and the effects in the loop
      Or you can go direct with speaker simulation. Conversion is not bad at all and to me the unit sounds very good especially for the price. Your mileage may vary of course.

      1. So you’d be comfortable gigging the nux fx unit with your glorious Friedman amp or similar tonal nugget.. No major tone degradation? Many thanks!

          1. Probably into the front of whatever amp, Fender, Vox or my nice boogie.. the od and distortion seem good. Thank you again!

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  5. I hear your dilemma. I had the same many years back after a year, and a half of tweaking my AXE FX Ultra. I had in previous months put my name on the list for version two, but as the time to decide on getting it came to fruition, I saw a H@K Coreblade, on ebay one morning. I already own a Switchblade so I decided what the heck put a bid in 1300 ish dollars, one morning, and wound up winning it via auto bid while I was at work. I then went on two buy a Two Notes Torpedo Live, and later got the Reload.

    Recently I decided to go back and do the one thing I never did with my Ultra, and see what sort of sounds I could get by just using it as a preamp into a real amp effects return and cab, which I tried only one time, and wasn’t very inspired by it. I wanted to see if it was still something I wanted to keep or sell basically.

    I found out that if I turned off, or down the master, lag, and making sure the preamps tonestack was on passive made it definitely made things better. I was trying to dial down the over the top reverb in the Ultra which helps, and I did manage to do such. I still think that the real preamp for the coreblade has something the Ultra lacks. Sure it is not perfect, but there is a richness to the distortion,

    I’m still not sure, but moving back into the AXE FX world did get me back into tweaking mode, but limiting it with getting rid of the amp, and cab tweaking did reduce that problem a bit.

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