IK Multimedia AmpliTube 3

Sunday, February 28, 2010| by Jeff Baker

AmpliTube 3 is the newest product in the venerable lineage of developer IK Multimedia's bass and guitar amp and effects modeling software. Every release in the history of the AmpliTube line has brought improvements, and AmpliTube 3 continues that tradition quite substantially, implementing a number of user requested features. They have definitely gone very far in their effort to make AmpliTube 3 the electric guitar and bass headquarters of your virtual studio, with more included gear than can be found in any other single AmpliTube-family release. Substantial usability improvements will make this a friendlier program for musicians of all stripes to break into, while simultaneously offering studio gurus more control over every aspect of the software.

Loading up AmpliTube 3, the first striking thing is just how much modeled gear there is at your fingertips. Fifty-one stomps, thirty-one amps, forty-six cabs, 17 rack effects, fifteen microphones, and, of course, a tuner, though it too seems to have been improved from the AmpliTube 2 family of products. It locks down quickly on the note without much jitter up and down. AmpliTube 3 includes all of the gear that came with AmpliTube 2, AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix, and AmpliTube Metal, plus some brand new models. For AmpliTube Fender and Ampeg SVX owners, don’t worry, the gear models from those programs show up and can be intermixed as usual with the AmpliTube 3 gear as long as you have the respective software installed and authorized. Amplitube 3 has, in a way, replaced X-Gear. There is no need for an external software shell when the program itself can handle add-ons as needed.

Don't think that the inclusion of the previous models is a lazy move on IK's part; they've all been practically reinvented, updated with IK's latest modeling technology to match the quality of their most modern models. It really shows, too; going from the new Orange model to the first-in-AmpliTube-2 THD Bivalve model, there's no drop off in quality in Amplitube 3. Comparing the AmpliTube 3 models directly to their AmpliTube 2 counterparts on the other hand is an eye-opener. If you've got a respectable audio interface, I feel comfortable saying you'll be as impressed as I am with the quality of the amp sounds in AmpliTube 3. It definitely earns the appellation “next-generation.”

Amp sounds don't work in a vacuum, though; there has to be a speaker there or else you've just got a fizzy mess. AmpliTube 3 has a brand new speaker module that has the most realistic full microphone spatial adjustment that I've yet encountered. Other companies have tried it, but with only limited success. Controlling the phase relationship between the two microphones has traditionally been the biggest problem, next to “just being a lame filter.” Well, IK Multimedia seem to have solved the former, and certainly aren't falling victim to the latter. Of course it's still possible (as it should be, realistically) to end up with an out-of-phase dual mic setup, but there are plenty of sweet spots, and they do sound sweet. Compared even to the great cabinet simulation in AmpliTube Fender, this is miles ahead. We're musicians, not mathematicians, but 41 cabinets, two mikes each, and 15 microphones with no limits on their placement makes for a lot of tonal options.

Given how successful the dirt pedal industry is, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there are a ton of dirt pedals to be found in the software (after all, just combining the huge selection of overdrive and distortion pedals from AmpliTube 2 and AmpliTube Metal, and all the vintage fuzz from AmpliTube: Jimi Hendrix gets you a lot). They've definitely received the treatment that the amp models got, too; the Tubescreamer model in AmpliTube 2 had a tendency to cause some undue fizz and hiss in the high end, but that's no longer the case, nor is it with any of the dirt pedals. I've got a box of physical dirt pedals, but I don't think that I can honestly say that my real distortion pedals sound better than these emulations. In cases where I was able to directly compare the emulation to the real deal, the differences were minor enough that they could be chalked up to normal part differences in a production run. Of course I don't own all or even a majority of the pedals modeled, but my experience with the ones that I do own was – if I may say again – impressive.

There are some really interesting effects in this go-around, including some synth-like effects which will bring new possibilities to AmpliTube users. For instance, there's a “Step Slicer” module which is essentially a user-controlled volume sequencer, good for making any sort of choppy sound that you can't get with a normal Tremolo. I particularly liked the Rezo filter, which can go before or after the amp, and which can be used to achieve some very interesting, highly layered sounds. With its combination of sympathetic resonance and post-filtering, plus a healthy dose of the rack Tube Compressor to catch swells before they got out of hand, I was able to get some very cello-like sounds out of a highly distorted amp. Combined with the Swell module, I'd imagine you could get pretty close to simulating a bowed instrument. Those new rack effects can be found in the Pedal section, as well, service to users who have requested interoperability between the two modules for years. There are new pedal effects this time, too, including some emulations of well-loved modulation pedals whose physical inspirations are made by companies like EHX, Marshall, Ibanez and others.

Considering how much you get with AmpliTube 3, and considering the uniformly high quality of the amps and effects this go-around...if I had the decision before me to stick with AmpliTube 2 and X-Gear or to go ahead and upgrade, the limiting factor would be how fast I could get out my wallet.

Something that everyone will appreciate about the new pedals and rack units is that they can be dragged-and-dropped, a feature that has been absent from the AmpliTube family of software until now. No longer will it be necessary to plan everything in advance or risk having to load all of your pedals or racks all over again one slot over. In addition to drag-and-drop editing, you can now also save and recall individual presets for pedals and rack modules – again, a feature that users have been wanting for a long time, and which IK is now glad to deliver. The Noise Gate has been substantially improved, as well, with a Depth control; previously I found it best to use an external noise gate, but now there's no need for that. Other small usability improvements and conveniences are present, as well, including three easily accessible quality buttons so you can choose the power:performance ratio that's right for your setup without having to understand what oversampling at various stages does for you and why you would want it. As usual the software fully integrates with IK Multimedia's StompIO and StealthPedal interfaces, and will also work well with any MIDI controller that you own.

While I don’t think I’ll be using it much in my own studio (where I prefer to run my modeling software as plugins inside my DAW), the standalone AmpliTube 3 does include a neat little 4-track recorder which makes it very easy to jot down ideas and put together quick jam tracks. It’s more fun to play when you’ve got a backing track, and this lets you quickly make your own. I can see it being a useful creative tool for users who like to run their software as a stand-alone application, and perhaps even as a live performance tool as well. Another new feature I will be getting quite a lot of use out of is the new preset manager. Previously, manipulating presets was a little bit clunky. Now, they’re stored with full meta-data that you can fill out, with easy folder management. That takes the trouble out of recalling the right sound for the job.

Considering how much you get with AmpliTube 3, and considering the uniformly high quality of the amps and effects this go-around, I don't hesitate to recommend the software. For new customers, the price is reasonable considering the vast and powerful array of options available. For those who already have any non-AmpliTube IK product, a crossgrade discount is available, and a steep upgrade discount down to $199.99 benefits those with an AmpliTube product most of all. If I had the decision before me to stick with AmpliTube 2 and X-Gear or to go ahead and upgrade, the limiting factor would be how fast I could get out my wallet.

Price: $349.99 new, $269.99 crossgrade from any IK product, $199.99 upgrade from AmpliTube 2 family products

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Filed Under: Reviews, IK Multimedia