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.
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 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
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.
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!