You probably may have heard someone saying that "the times of analogue guitar or bass amps are over". I mean, it is the same situation as discussed in one of my previous blog article about my favourite audio plugins and brands. Digital amp simulators, in the form of hardware or software, have their benefits and disadvantages like analogue amps and stomp boxes also have. But both gear categories are aiming at different types of users, working environments, needs, budgets, and last but not least, personal preferences. To be fair, I need to admit that those amp simulators were getting better and better every year and are useful tools in the live and studio environment.
In the following article, we will have a look at my current virtual amp simulator collection for electric guitar and bass guitar. This time, only software-based amp simulators are presented that are in a quite affordable price range of between approximately 60€ to 200€ for a single, originally branded, licenced and therefore approved emulation or even a collection of non-branded "replica" versions.
Universal Audio (UAD2 Plugin Platform)
Like the audio plugins of Universal Audio I am using, their amp simulations are one of my favourites and are often used for final recordings in my production environment if it fits the project and its requirements. To be able to use those, you need a Universal Audio Apollo interface, e.g. the Apollo Twin that is a perfect piece of gear for guitarists, songwriters and small project studios. Thanks to the perfectly-matched combination of hard- and software, the amp emulations of the UAD2 platform feel as real amps concerning their behaviour and sound characteristic. Especially with the Fender Tweed Deluxe, Ampeg SVT and Friedman BE-100, Universal Audio could achieve outstanding digital emulations of the legendary originals. Just take a few minutes to listen to their audio examples, and I guess you will quickly fall in love with those emulations.
ReValver 4 by Peavey Electronics is a collection of a bunch of different amps, stompboxes, speaker cabinets, microphones (including different microphone placements). Since 2014 when it was initially released, the software (usable as a plugin or standalone) provides guitarists with seemingly endless combinations of gear to fit any music genre and guitarists' needs. ReValver 4 was my entrance into the amp simulation world and is still one of my go-to software for quick songwriting, creating demo tapes and finding new tones and combinations of gear. In my working environment, it acts more like a "sound designing" tool than the perfect, true-to-original amp emulation although the sounds are still promising and playing with it makes a lot of fun. As you can see in the image above, the non-Peavy amp emulations are not officially licenced/approved and therefore are not labelled with the original brand.
Overloud Audio Tools
Mark Studio 2, developed by the Italian plugin brand Overloud, contains six Markbass heads, nine Markbass cabinets, a full pedalboard and a choice of six microphones that can be used as a plugin in your DAW or as a standalone application. Back in 2014 when Mark Studio 2 was released, bass amp simulators were a gap in the market that was exploited by Overloud to create good-sounding and easy-to-handle bass amp simulations of the Markbass product line. I was able to compare the emulations with the original hardware of those amp heads that are still available for purchase, and I can say that those are almost identical to its analogue paragon. If you are up for the Markbass sound, that piece of software is definitively a must-buy for you. I often use it in Soul, Funk, RnB or Hip-Hop productions and commonly will use the output of the plugin as the final bass track.
Brainworx did a broad range of high-quality branded emulations on behalf of Universal Audio. Recently, most of them are only exclusively available for the UAD2 platform, but others are also distributed on their distribution website Plugin Alliance. The ENGL bundle (including E646 VS and E765 RT) and the Chandler Limited GAV19T are available native or as UAD2 plugin. One of their first amp emulations were the bx_megasingle and bx_megadual that are unbranded software replicas of the MESA/Boogie Single and Dual Rectifier guitar amp. The sound can go from crystal cleans to raging metal with those monsters. The two simulations are the most accurately modelled MESA simulations I have tried until now and are one of my go-to amps for modern (heavy) rock productions.
All by Brainworx developed amp simulations offer you a full recording chain with perfectly matched cab mic that sometimes also comes along with an inserted EQ instead of choosing a cab and microphone like most of the competitors' plugins work. That workflow makes those emulations unique in sound and provides you with stunning record-ready sounds. Some of the above highlighted UAD2 amp simulators on my list are developed by Brainworx - you will see it taking a closer look at their interface because they follow all the same concept.
TSE Audio developed two very solid plugins that are also often seen in rock or heavier (e.g. metal) productions. I highly appreciate the IR browser and the versatile IR collection that already comes along with the TSE x50 for an unbeatable price of only 70$! The TXE x50 is an unbranded emulation of the Peacey 5150/6505 amp and also includes the X30 preamp that simulates the Engl E530. The plugin also includes a pedal board and delay and EQ rack effects. I am not a big fan of the quality of the last mentioned feature, but it can be a nice option for those who are not equipped with high-quality plugins for this particular usage. What I miss here is a standalone version of the TSE x50 because I prefer to have the choice between working in a complex DAW environment or just a "guitar playing" environment as a standalone version can offer me.
TSE Audio also developed a SansAmp bass plugin called TSE BOD that is a digital replica of the popular bass preamp/ DI box Tech 21 Bass Driver DI. I often used it in rock productions and was able to quickly find a nice-sounding bass sound to be placed as a final element in the tracks. I highly recommend to try this out especially because it is - surprisingly - a freebie.
Perhaps you also read my blog article about my (analogue) guitar setup and recognised my love for analogue gear and the with that associated sound. Nonetheless, I also enjoy all the benefits of a hybrid solution of using a combination of analogue and digital gear. From my point of view, it depends on the budget, the function of the guitar within the song, the wanted sound and the produced genre. Besides, I preordered a brand-new amp emulation by STLTones called STL Tonality Howard Benson Guitar Plug-In Suite in October and finally installed it a few weeks ago. I had the chance to play around with it a few hours, and I am just blown away by its sound. I will try it out more and will see how well it fits into my studio production routine. I am quite sure that I will write about the outstanding piece of emulation in the future ;)
Which amp simulator brands do you use and are they included on my presented list? Tell us in a comment!