E09 - Sims vs Amps


First up I want to address one point in the Amps vs Sims debate. I don’t think one is better than the other. There is no right answer in audio, and we are spoiled by the amount of tools at our disposal these days. So for certain things, amps may be more suitable, and in other situations it may be sims.


To start off, I would like to draw a line between hardware, and software sims. Mainly the Axe FX, Kemper and Helix, and anything that is downloaded and installed on a computer. Each of these hardware devices cost more than £1000, with the Axe FX costing around £2000! A solid audio computer, if self built, will run you between £1400 and £1600, and has to run your OS, Audio, Plugins, Samples and more. A purpose built, guitar processor with as much DSP as they cram into one of those boxes will in general do a better job of producing ‘realistic’ guitar tones with less artefacts and nasty stuff. I’m not comparing hardware sims in this video, and as you can see in tonnes of comparison videos, experienced guitarists and producers can’t tell the difference between real amps and the hardware sims, so its fair to say they’re damn close!


So for this comparison we’ll look at the rhythm parts, the leads and the cleans. All of the amp sim tones come curtesy of the STL Howard Benson Suite. The real amps are from PRS, Egnater, Orange and EVH. To keep the comparison to just the amps, I have used the same cabs between each part from the STL plugin. Something to point out though, is that the amp models inside of STL are not the same as the amps I have used, and in most cases don’t even have the same type of valves in them. So the comparison is less about how similar they sound, and more about if they both sound good.


As we can hear through each of the examples, it isn’t so much the case that one sounds bad or good, more just that they can sound different whilst both being usable. A consistent trait though between the sims and amps, is that the Amp tones have been directly influenced by the Sim tones, helping to build a tonal palette that is more complimentary between parts due to the fact things could be adjusted on the sims first.


To me, when writing and recording it makes sense to use sims. They are now good enough, and affordable enough to get great sounds without slowing the creative process down and can help direct the sound of everything else in the mix. I can open up this project in a week, or a year and change my settings if they aren’t quite right. I can take my DIs anywhere in the world and change the tone on just a laptop and thats amazing. I think Amps still have a certain edge when it comes to realism and fullness, however the difference is small enough that there are times where I would gladly use sims without thinking twice…but what do you think?