IK Multimedia Amplitube 5 by Sound-Guy
AmpliTube 5 from IK Multimedia
IK Multimedia are still on a roll this year with both hardware and software introductions popping up regularly. The new AmpliTube 5, announced a short while ago, just hit the streets (well, actually, your IK Product Manager), so I logged on and found out that the new Product Manager knew which of my products needed updates (MixBox for one) and showed AmpliTube 5 as a new product. I clicked the Download buttons and was happy to see that both the updates and AmpliTube 5 downloaded and installed all on their own. Much improved over the old IKM system and a pleasure to use.
What is it?
AmpliTube 5 (AT5) is the latest version of IKM’s studio collection of stomp boxes, amps, cabs, speakers, rack FX, mics and rooms for guitar and bass (and actually about any instrument). It comes in a range of “bundles” – from AmpliTube 5 CS, a free, fully working system with 39 pieces of gear (up from 24 last year) – to AmpliTube 5 MAX with an awful lot more, including over 400 pieces of gear – see the link at the end of this review for all the details.
As always you can sample any of the full set of gear free for 72 hours, buy it if it meets your needs or try something else. With over 400 gear models there will likely be something you want! And the automated link to the Custom Shop makes popping an amp, FX, or cab into a rig a “snap”, or more accurately, a “click”. You can also purchase special collections of gear such as AmpliTube Brian May and Amplitube Joe Satriani that add unique rigs used and approved by the artist.
AT5 also provides integration with IK’s range of audio interfaces such as the iRig 2, iRig HD2, iRig Pro, iRig Pro Duo and Axe I/O’s for playing live and easy recordings in studio, home, or on stage. And it includes an 8-track recorder and a multi-track looper in the standalone version, so no DAW is required for basic recording, layering and editing. There is a metronome and built-in global speed & pitch controls for learning material and practicing. The standalone version, along with an iRig is all many singer-songwriters might need.
A lot is new including the new re-sizable interface (from 1150 x 760 pixels to full screen) and a redesigned signal chain that provides extremely flexible and easy routing with up to 57 FX, amps and cab models in a rig, a new audio emulation system using IKM’s “Volumetric Impulse Response” to make all 100-plus cabinets more real than ever, 2 new stomp boxes, 5 new amps, 2 new rooms, and 19 new rack FX (in the MAX version, of course, not in the free one!).
There is also a new mixer to blend multiple cabs (up to three of them with up to six mics!), a DI path, and a new Studio Section mixer with FX derived from T-RackS 5. And if you want to “roll your own” cabs, you can load and edit your own impulse response functions in place of a cabinet! Now that’s flexible!
The rig starts with a new tuner, then stomp FX followed by an amp which can use loop FX before sending the signal to a cab. The cab is in one of eight rooms and has both close mics and stereo room mics. The mics feed more possible FX called cabinet rack FX which then feed a mixer for the cab, room mics, and DI signal. The new DI path can also have FX, and the signals hit the final master rack FX before heading on to your DAW track or to your speakers in the standalone mode.
But that is not the whole story. There are several main signal chain paths you can chose: single, two-way splitter, three-way splitter, and parallel (stereo). With the single mono path you can drive one or two cabinets from a single amp, and have up to 12 effects before the amplifier, 4 effects in the loop FX section of the amplifier, 4 effects after the cabinet (two for each cabinet), 2 effects in the DI section and 6 effects in the master bus section.
For the two-way splitter you still start with a mono signal and can have 6 effects before the splitter, 3 stereo effects after the splitter, 12 effects before the amplifier (6 for each amp), 2 amplifiers (each driving a cab), 8 effects in the loop FX section of the amps (4 for each amp), 2 cabinets, 4 effects after the cabinets (2 for each cabinet), 2 effects in the DI section, and 6 effects in the master bus section.
The three-way splitter also starts with a mono input and enables 6 effects before the splitter, 3 effects after the splitter, 18 effects before the amplifiers (6 for each amp), 3 amplifiers, 12 effects in the loop FX section of the amps (4 for each amp), 3 cabinets, 6 effects after the cabinets (2 for each cabinet), and 6 effects in the master bus section.
If you want to use AT5 on a stereo source such as a keyboard, the parallel path is used and can have separate FX on each channel with 12 mono effects after the tuner (6 for each channel), 3 stereo effects, 12 mono effects before the amplifiers (6 for each amp), 2 amplifiers (one for each channel), 8 in the loop FX section of the amplifier (4 for each amp), 2 cabinets (one for each channel), 4 after the cabinets (2 for each cabinet), and 6 in the master bus section.
In short, if you need more FX than AT5 provides, I really wonder what the heck you are recording!
There is so much in AT5 that I’ll use a few screenshots in place of many more words to show some of what’s there. Take a look at the web site linked at the end of this review for more (much more) information.
Above is a “Leslie” cabinet with four mics, a DI path (blue) and the cabinet mixer panel on the right side of the room view. In this mixer panel when a DI signal is used, there is even a DI “phase” control that actually provides a time shift to minimize phase cancellation effects with the cab mics. The section on the far right is the “equipment cabinet”. In this rig there are no pedals in use but there two master rack FX are used (right end of the chain). Note you can drag any gear from the “equipment cabinet” to any location in the FX chain, and if it makes sense, it will be dropped right in place. If it’s nonsensical, like dropping a pedal into a cabinet space, it won’t happen. But you can use pedals and rack FX in any audio signal path rather than pedals only before amps, rack FX after amps, etc. Note that in this view you can use the Advanced button under the Leslie speed control to adjust high/low speed and acceleration of the horn and drum, adjust mic levels, etc. of the Leslie cab.
The Leslie 122 amp is shown above in a simple configuration with no DI routing and only a single master rack effect on the right of the signal path. Of course you can tweak any of the amp controls, even in this case the screwdriver EQ settings on the lower left amp panel.
Next is a more complex arrangement with three parallel amp-cabinet paths:
You can drop FX into any of the audio paths, both before the signal split on the left, after the split before any amp, as a FX loop in an amp as shown above for amps 2 and 3, after the miking of the cabs as shown for 2 and 3, and after (or in) the mixer. In addition, clicking an FX opens a larger view for adjustment and shows a pull-down menu that enables you to instantly change the effect to another. Flexible is the name of the game! Note that cab 1 is highlighted in the signal flow path above, and thus cab 1 is shown in the top left section with it’s associated cab mics and room mics. You can use any mics and any rooms in each of the signal paths, so you can have different cabs in different rooms, two or three of the same cabs in different rooms, different cabs in the same room, etc.
When you use two or three amps and cabs, you can view the mic/room/DI mixer for each by selecting the appropriate cab above the signal flow window, as the above view shows for Cab 1. These cab mixer channels feed the final master mixer.
And of course you can change out drivers in the 12-inch cabs as in previous versions, so the number of possible cab configurations alone is in the millions!
And if you put too many stomps and FX in series so that the signal chain doesn’t fit the window, you can use the mouse wheel to scroll the view right and left.
Along with the use of “Volumetric Impulse Response” (VIR) to better model the cabs and mics, IKM have provided some detailed access to adjustments using VIR Tech controls. These controls provide the same results as moving the mics in the cab view, but show some fascinating and useful data, as well as enabling very precise positioning which is difficult just dragging the mic and stand images. Since miking a real cabinet often finds one moving the mic just a few cm, this new feature is great to have. The VIR Tech image also shows relative pickup of sounds from adjacent speakers, shown as a varying gold/orange tint on those speakers. And of course you can perform these movements while sound is playing to instantly hear the results. In addition to guitar and keyboards for testing, I used pink noise which enables hearing very clearly how the tone changes.
AmpliTube 5 has raised the bar again, by a large margin. It provides a wide range of possible tone modifications with a huge range of gear and with a new, flexible, very easy to use interface which I found a great improvement over version 4. The free version is fun for experimentation and the paid versions provide an awful lot of gear for the money. And since amps, cabs, mics and FX that you don’t already have can be tested for free, and purchased as desired, one can assemble about any rig you could dream of, for a lot less than buying the real hardware. Just be sure your PayPal account has a good balance before you hit the Custom Shop!
Available as Audio Units, VST 2.4, VST 3, AAX for Mac OSX, and VST 2.4, VST 3, AAX for Windows – 64 bit only. I tested AT5 using a PC Audio Labs Rok Box with Intel Core i7-4770K CPU @ 3.5 GHz, 16 MB RAM running 64 bit Windows 7. RAM requirements varied depending on the FX loaded and are higher than AmpliTube 4 that I tested just one year ago. I found simple rigs used 700 MB to 800 MB of RAM and the most complex (three cabs and lots of FX) used about 925 MB. AT5 creates only 7 samples of latency and ran fine at my minimum buffer size of 32 samples so it's responsive enough for live play, which is recommended to get the feeling of using the real equivalent hardware. Total CPU use was low for this much modeling and processing – typically 1%-2% and never exceeded 4% according to REAPER’s performance meter and the Windows task Manager. Real Time CPU use was very low – I never saw more than 0.2%. Real-time processing is basically the amount of CPU time used by the audio thread servicing the sound device – it measures a single thread and indicates the CPU time used by one core, giving you an indication of how much leeway you have in processing. No problem using a few instances of AT5 if needed.
Very easy to use, easier and far more flexible than past versions.
Models of stompboxes, amps and cabs from top manufacturers have been approved by the manufacturers for their audio realism.
Any gear available on the IKM AmpliTube site can be downloaded free and used for 72 hours without restrictions, then purchased if you must have it, or you can try other gear.
Authentic sound processing with amps and cabs that interact dynamically like real hardware.
A large selection of cabs and mics are available with 3-D mic positioning in front of the cabs, with new VIR Tech control for precise adjustments.
For more flexibility you can even change speakers to your liking in any 12 inch cab.
New re-sizeable interface with very “clean” graphics.
Excellent sound quality at sample rates up to 96 kHz.
Both standalone and plug-in versions (64 bit only) are provided.
The standalone version includes an 8-track recorder and a multi-track looper, so no DAW is required for basic recording and editing.
AmpliTube 5 MAX version now includes many collections including the Fender Collections 1 & 2, AmpliTube SVX 1 & 2, AmpliTube Orange, AmpliTube Mesa/Boogie, AmpliTube Slash, AmpliTube Jimi Hendrix, AmpliTube Brian May, Dimebag Darrell CFH Collection, AmpliTube Joe Satriani, Fulltone Collection, and AmpliTube Leslie. A LOT of gear!
Massive database of presets with multiple guitar and bass settings and keywords with an advanced search function can be very handy, but see “Cons” below.
Excellent and thorough 99 page PDF user manual - well, the first ten pages are legal and procedural boilerplate, but remainder is excellent. I didn't have any problem just diving into the program, but did find some excellent pointers when I checked out the manual.
If you select a preset that uses gear you don’t have, a popup will appear telling you of the fact and inviting you to check it out from the Custom Shop – if you have only the free version this will affect most of the presets! However, if you really want to try a preset, you can go online and quickly audition any needed gear for 72 hours, free (though you will need to pay for it if you want to keep it!)
One minor thing I noticed when I tried to change from one very complex rig to another complex rig using the preset manager is that the switchover does not occur instantly - it sometimes took 20-30 seconds which is not surprising considering how complex the rigs were (and that's still a lot faster than swapping and wiring hardware). Most rigs switched in and out in just a few seconds.
The MAX version is not cheap, but if you want over 400 pieces of gear it’s an awful lot cheaper than buying even a single real amp and cab! And even the standard AmpliTube 5 SE version should keep many musicians happy for a long time. And if you catch a year-end sale, costs are even more modest.
Note that while the free Custom Shop version will host any of the 400-plus pieces of gear, it is a reduced feature version.