This is probably one of the most contentious subjects. With purists siting the incapability of modelers to accurately reproduce the tone of an amp. However, as with anything, the technology evolves.
I think it safe to say that today there have been huge strides in amp modeling. With the leaders being Kemper, Fractal, Line 6 and Positive Grid. What we are hearing is the technology actually being able to reproduce the tones and reactiveness of tube amps. In most cases it has become hard to tell the modeled amp from the real amp.
However….. Let me put a caveat around this. Modeled amps only sound as good as the attention to detail you put into it. What does that mean?
It means that even though the modeled amp is a likeness of an actual amp, the reality is that you still have to do some tweaking to get a tone that you will like. The tones in modeling amp systems just aren’t going to sound right coming out of the gate. You will need to take some time and attention making adjustments.
Personally, I use Positive Grid’s Bias Amp 2. Granted I was an early adopter of their system. Prior to using Bias Amp (original incarnation on iPad) I had been using amp modeling starting with Line 6’s Gear Box in 2007 and a KB37 which ran along side my Focusrite Pro40. Since then I had used Line 6 Pod Farm thru to version 2.5 and a Line 6 Pod HD500. Long since retired and sold to someone I hope who is enjoying it now.
With Positive Grid’s Bias Amp 2, I think I can finally say that modeling is getting to where it actually sounds right. Not to say Bias Amp, the original wasn’t far off. It’s just taken that little step forward to being excellent at representing the real thing.
Meaning, that the top four systems (mentioned above) are reactive to touch as well as the guitars volume control. The break up of the amp sounds accurate. Saturation sounds accurate. for other amps head room is accurate. And with a little tweaking and a real time analyzer (RTA) you can get spot on to what the real McCoy sounds like, reacts like and feels like without the excessive volume involved in micing a screaming Boogie, Fender, Marshall, Orange, Vox or what ever your favorite is.
Will modeling replace a tube amp in live performance? Well with the increased cost of transporting big bulky amps for tours, it is becoming a norm for a lot of bands. For session musicians requiring a large pallet of sound, most definitely. And even for the gigging musician it is becoming the preferred method of amplification.
Honestly, with Celestion now making a speaker for FRFR (Full Range Flat Response) use it is becoming more apparent that this may be the way to go in the future. Would I still play thru my Marshall stacks? Yes I would. But there is a time and a place for that. I’m thinking more like local gigs where I know I will have a roadie/guitar tech to help me haul my rig in, set it up and tear it down.
Would I use modeling elsewhere other than recording? You bet I would. I recently acquired a Bias Mini Bass Amp. (Same internal electronics as the Bias Mini Guitar Amp, except has a Speakon/¼” combo jack on the back which I thought is far more useful than just having a ¼” jack). I’ll be getting me a couple of the Celestion F12-X200 speakers and building a set of 1×12 cabs for use live and in studio. I currently have the balanced out on the amp routed to my Focusrite gear for easy zero latency recording.
The lighter overall weight just makes more sense. And the reality is that I can get pretty close to the tone I need to hear. And I don’t have to cart a fleet of amps with me. Since I like the high headroom of Roland JC120s, Dr. Z Amps and the like. But also like the heavy high gain sounds of Marshalls and Boogies. And I definitely would rather spend the money on the things I need in the Studio.
If you’re on the fence about modeling vs. tube amp or solid state or hybrid, take a good hard look at Profilers (Kemper), Amp Matchers (Positive Grid) or Modelers (Fractal and Line 6). What there is on offer from these developers/manufacturers is way beyond the amp modelers of a mere 10 years ago.
By the way, try it before you allow purists to sway you. If you can record a real amp into a DAW using an SM57 and/or a MD421. Then compare that with the same amp modeled, profiled or matched. Use a RTA (Bluecat audio has a free one if your DAW doesn’t come equipped with one already) and compare the signals. You might be surprised at the accuracy and tonality.
Disclaimer: Company & Product names are the sole property of their respective owners and are used here only for reference.