Guitar Amplifier and Stomp Box Simulators

One of the great inventions of modern recording is that of guitar amp simulators. Early designs by Line 6 were OK but sounded very “fake”. Fine for live gigs but for serious studio recording NOT A CHANCE!

Fast forward to 2017. Computer processors are much faster and digital signal processing programmers have become much better. Simply plug your guitar into a direct box (or audio interface instrument input) and start playing! Even if you live in an apartment, you can record electric guitar with ease without getting the cops called on you.

First, the freebies. Don’t be put off by their price. Many of these can compete right alongside the paid plugins. If you like them a donation is much appreciated!

Acme Bar Gig
LePou
Ignite Amps
Simuanalog (with skins)

No doubt I missed many others but those are the ones I could think of off the top of my head. When I think of more I’ll update this article.

As for the paid simulators, I’ll break it down into three categories. Cleans, crunches and high gain distortion (heavy).

Most amp simulator plugins have nice clean sounds, but just a few of them react like the real thing. These are my purchase suggestions:

Kuassa Amplifikation Vermilion
IK Multimedia Fender Collection 2
Waves PRS SuperModels

For lighter classic rock distortion and blues crunches I love the sound of Scuffham S-Gear. Cleans also sound excellent! PRS SuperModels sounds great with crunch tone as well. Overloud TH3 is a great all-around guitar amp/cab/stomp box plugin. The Rock 64 amp in particular is just stellar. Another alternative if you love Marshall amps is Mercurial Spark.

Speaking of Mercurial, their ReAxis plugin is a great all-arounder. It’s an emulation of the Mesa Boogie Triaxis rackmount preamp which itself is very nice. ReAxis also includes a few stomp pedals and cabinets as well.

For you hard rock/heavy metal players I’m a big fan of
Joey Sturgis Toneforge
Positive Grid BIAS Amp Desktop
Mercurial Tube Amp Ultra 530

For bass players, I recommend the freebie TSE BOD or the affordable but top notch Kuassa Cerberus. A new contender for “king of in the box bass tone” is Ampeg SVX2.

If you can only buy a handful of these due to a tight budget, I would  get Scuffham S-Gear (covers crunches and cleans), Mercuriall ReAxis, Bluecat Audio Axiom (good all-arounder including Bass), Joey Sturgis Toneforge for heavy distortion and Kuassa Cerberus for bass.

One plugin type you’ll run into is something called cabinet impulse responses (IRs). A lot of plugins can emulate guitar amps well but fail at speaker cabinet emulation. This is where the third party solutions come in.

Two of my favorites are the Rosen Digital Audio collection and Kazrog Recabinet. Others swear by Sigma Audio IRs. The speaker company Celestion has their own official IRs as well. Any of these would be excellent choices.

Many guitar amp plugins have built in IR loaders. If they don’t, you’ll need to disable (bypass) the built-in cabinet emulator and then put something like Rosen Digital Audio’s Pulse after it.

If you have deep pockets and want a hardware solution then the Kemper Profiler Amp is the one to turn to. It has a large community and third party profile support base around it. Many famous guitar players use it while touring and to my ears it sounds fantastic.

As for stomp box effects, Positive Grid Bias FX makes the top of my list. For quality and variety, it is hard to beat. Kuassa’s recent offering called Efektor is very nice but the variety isn’t quite there yet. Want free effects? TSE has a few to check out.

Honorable mention:

Kazrog Thermionik
Brainworx bx_rockrack

This article was updated on September 30, 2017 to add Ampeg SVX2.
This article was updated on February 2, 2018 to add Sigma Audio IRs and Mercuriall ReAxis.
This article was updated on May 4, 2018 to add Waves PRS SuperModels and Bluecat Audio Axiom.

 

Avid Pro Tools 12 Setup and Recording Basics

While I use and recommend Cockos REAPER above other DAWs, Avid Pro Tools remains the industry standard. If you don’t know how to use PT or offer it as an option to your clients then you aren’t considered to be a professional audio engineer by many. So, it is good to know Pro Tools.

I posted all of my own Pro Tools video tutorials here already but I figured it was important to put the recording and setup basics video in its own article.

Pro Tools is tough to wrap your head around at first because many controls aren’t labeled well and functions require multiple button presses. So, to QUICKLY get started with using Pro Tools (either the paid full version or the free First version) watch this:

Cockos REAPER 5 Basics

In my humble opinion, Cockos REAPER is the best digital audio workstation software out there for recording and mixing. It’s not the best for editing (use Audacity or Adobe Audition for that) nor is it the best for virtual instrument recording.

What I love most about it is that it rarely crashes, you can throw nearly any file format at it and export a wide variety of formats and it barely takes up any hard drive space. It’s low price tag is another great thing but that is secondary to its stability.

I started using REAPER back in 2009 after frustrations with Adobe Audition and Pro Tools LE. Cockos REAPER simply worked. I liked the default look of version 3.0 but if I didn’t there are a lot of custom themes that fellow REAPER users have created. It’s a VERY customizable DAW!

Enough of that, if you want to dive into REAPER for the first time then I recommend watching this video:

For more REAPER tutorials, I recommend the REAPER Blog and REAPER Mania YouTube channels.

Which Audio Sample Rate and Bit Depth to Use?

This is a topic I covered more than once on Real Home Recording. It’s an important one and one that even experienced engineers may not fully understand. First, bit depth:

Bit depth is resolution…but that does not mean you can always hear it. The difference between 8-bit and 16-bit audio is very audible. That’s because the digital noise floor (which consists of digital quantization noise) sits at around -48 dBFS (decibels full scale). That is worse than the noise floor of a vinyl record!

Every bit of data is equal to around 6 decibels (abbreviated dB) of resolution. So, a 16 bit audio file has a a digital quantization noise floor at approximately -96 dBFS. This is much better than the best vinyl records and more than adequate for dynamic orchestral recordings. It is also below the noise floor of tape.

So, why did 24-bit audio (and 20 bit audio before it) enter the picture? Production. When you combine a bunch of 16-bit tracks, the digital noise floor can cumulatively cause audible noise. This forced engineers to “record to the top” of 16-bit recording devices to avoid that problem. This introduced further problems with nasty digital distortion AKA clipping and (transient killing) analog saturation.

When 20 bit recorders were released, the noise floor sat at -120 dBFS. This allowed recording engineers to set input signals at around -20 dBFS which gave them more headroom. Transients were preserved without clipping and with a lower digital noise floor.

Truth be told, 20 bit audio would be the ideal recording format (since it uses less storage space) if not for computers being able to calculate 24-bits of audio better. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told.

Some DAWs may give you a 32-bit option. Don’t bother. It’s a waste of space and has zero benefit. Only use the 32-bit floating point (FP) format as an intermediate format. Uses include track/buss bounces, mixdowns and master files.

24-bit audio when it comes to delivery formats is a waste of space. 16-bit audio more than does the job but some audiophiles insist on it. So if they are willing to spend more money on 24-bit files I say go for it. I went into depth on these topics in the following videos, in case you want to learn more:

Now as for sample rate, this one is a bit more complicated and controversial.

The too long didn’t read version is capture audio at 96 kHz because it is supported by the most amount of plugins and interfaces. Its benefits lie in digital signal processing, not in audible frequencies. Latency is also reduced between 44.1 kHz and 96 kHz recordings. Above 96 kHz is a waste of space.

The more in depth explanation is that recording at 44.1 kHz usually isn’t good enough, especially on cheaper audio interfaces. The transition band (the area where the signal gradually rolls off at the top frequencies) is too close to Nyquist and many plugins require oversampling to function properly. It is best to use 88.2 kHz or 96 kHz for more overhead. There won’t be a direct audio difference upon capture but once plugins begin crunching the ones and zeros they will have more data to work with.

To me, mixing with 96 kHz simply sounds “sweeter” or more “analog”. Plugins that make use of pitch/time stretch (Auto Tune/Melodyne), time domain variables such as compressors (including de-essers and dynamic equalizers), guitar amp simulators and certain equalizers (particularly in the upper frequency ranges) benefit the most. If you use Acustica Audio plugins, they are natively sampled at 96 kHz.

It’s the year 2017. Processors are very fast (Intel’s i7 7700K is a beast at just $325) and hard drive space is cheap. There is little reason to NOT use 96 kHz while recording. It’s a shame that more virtual instrument libraries aren’t 96 kHz.

The old “avoid sample rate conversion at all costs” argument is null these days because converters are very good. I personally recommend Voxengo r8brain (free) or r8brain pro in minimum phase mode.  The SoX sample rate converter that can be found in Audacity or as a command line program (if you are good with old school software) is also very nice.

As for delivery sample rates though? My suggestion is to go to 48 kHz. I explain how I reached this conclusion in this video:

I go into more detail about production formats vs. delivery formats in this video:

So, the bottom line:

• Record at 24-bit integer and 96 kHz sample rate broadcast wave or AIFF.
• Mix at 24-bit/96 kHz.
• Mix down, bounce and master to 32-bit floating point 96 kHz.
• Deliver at 16-bit integer 48 kHz FLAC*. Sample rate convert with Voxengo r8brain or SoX. Then AFTER sample rate conversion use either iZotope MBit+ (built into their Ozone plugin) or Airwindows Not Just Another Dither/CD.

*The only exception is when creating MP3/AAC lossy codec files. In this case, changing bit depth isn’t necessary. For sample rate, use 44.1 kHz. For the Opus  codec (which hopefully becomes the standard one day) use 48 kHz because that is the only sample rate that it currently supports.

How to Use an Audio Mixer Board Tutorial

Back when I produced this video, there were already several YouTube videos on this subject. It almost wasn’t made for that reason but my goal starting around the end of 2015 was to complete the video library and this was an obvious one.

I honestly did not think many people would bother watching it. However, it has since become one of the most popular videos on Real Home Recording.

It’s packed with information that not only applies to the analog world but also digital as well. If you understand how a mixing board works then in the box mixing later on helps more. Terms like inserts, sends, busses and auxiliary  outputs play a role.

Is College for Idiots? Nicole Arbour’s New Video

In comedian/model Nicole Arbour’s new video, she talks about college. Let’s just say, she is on the side of DGTRS: https://www.facebook.com/NicoleArbourfans/videos/10156588526217907/

Back To Fool

Why Going Back To School, is ironically for idiots??!?

Nicole Arbour 发布于 2017年8月10日

College is great and necessary for lots of career fields. Audio production/engineering is not one of those fields. Preach it, Nicole!

Mix with the Masters is Proof of a Dying Studio Industry

This web site is all about teaching readers how to become an audio engineer and running a recording studio business. However, the first lesson of this site is that it is a VERY tough business.

I cannot stress enough how difficult it is to run a successful studio. There simply aren’t enough customers going around. Exhibit M: Mix with the Masters.

Here you have legendary audio recording and mixing engineers giving away their secrets for a few thousand dollars per student. Why do you think they are doing this? BECAUSE THEY HAVE BILLS TO PAY AND NOT ENOUGH INCOME FROM THEIR REGULAR BUSINESS TO PAY THOSE BILLS! THAT’S WHY!

I think MWTM is a great educational site. A lot better than this one, in fact. But…you have to read the subtext. If you are creating audio/music for a hobby, that’s fine. But if you are thinking about making a career in audio…look at the writing on the wall! If top pros with big credits to their names are struggling to make ends meet, that says it all right there.

No doubt, many big name engineers saw the writing on the wall as well. They saw how much money colleges and trade schools were making teaching people how to become audio engineers. And they wanted a piece of that pie.

The domain name mixwiththemasters.com is registered to

STUDIOSLAFABRIQUE
118 Route Des Jardins
SAINT REMY DE PROVENCE
13210 FR
maxime.leguil at gmail dot com (typed out so spam bots don’t pick up on that e-mail address)That information was obtained from public records at https://whois.icann.org

Studios La Fabrique is where MWTM seminars are held at. Make no mistake, they have a beautiful facility. At a membership cost of over $300 per year on top of the $3,000-4,000 cost of in person seminars (which they don’t disclose on their web site, you have to “apply” and get “accepted” to get pricing information but I obtained via https://www.gofundme.com/eueu8cy4) not including the price of the plane ticket. Size is limited to 13 people so $3,500 = $45,500. Even after room and board expenses are covered by La Fabrique, that’s still a pretty WEEKLY profit!

Again, I appreciate what Mix with the Masters does, but everyone must look at what’s going on here. Engineers who are very busy with work would not have the time to fly to France and teach other people their trade secrets.