Overloud TH1.1

Monday, May 11, 2009| by Jeff Baker

Almateq Overloud TH1 1.1 is a very interesting entry into what has become a very crowded field of guitar amplifier modeling and multi-effects software. Among the considerations that the modern musician or audio engineer has when selecting a modeling software is whether the software is flexible enough to meet their needs; whether the effects are useful or simply for show; whether the program is both stable and gentle enough on the processor to be used across multiple tracks in a session; whether they have sufficient control over the software to use it live; whether the user interface is intuitive and workable; and just as importantly, whether the company can be counted on to listen to its users and respond to their needs moving forward. For a program to make waves rather than just a ripple, those factors and more have to be well in order. The leading modeling software companies have learned how to achieve the above goals through years of experience; it would be remarkable if Overloud TH1, a new product, could take a legitimate seat among the elders. However, after spending some time with TH1 1.1, in my judgment it is indeed a worthy competitor.

To understand TH1’s successes, it is important to understand that Overloud TH1 1.1 did not spring up overnight. The concepts that eventually grew into TH1’s modeling started as the well known and much loved freeware SimulAnalog Suite of VST plugins which provided a one-stop freeware modeling setup with sound quality comparable to commercial amp and effects modelers at the time, though without any sort of graphical user interface at all. Fast-forward some years and those roots have grown into a much larger, well-funded effort to develop a product that can go head-to-head with modern modeling programs which offer the kind of authenticity and flexibility that was only imagined then.

Of course, there are advantages to being the new guy. Coming when it does, Overloud TH1 benefits from having observed many experiments in how best to make an amp modeler accessible and user-friendly, and that shows in the user interface which combines elements that other programs have used singly with some real innovations. The GUI can seem derivative, at first, with recognizable visualization and routing schemes, but that immediate impression does not last once you begin to explore below the surface. Global controls for signal input, noise reduction, and even a unique global treble, bass, delay and reverb control sit up top behind a clickable tuner: by default, it is an LED-style tuner, but click it and a “compartment” opens up to display the universal adjustments.

The real guts of any amp modeler and multieffects plugin are, of course, the amps and effects. Overloud TH1 takes a comprehensive approach to its amp modeling, modeling every channel on the amps that it offers.

The main interface is a two-paneled display, each showing a different view of a virtual “pedal board.” In one panel, your overall signal chain is displayed in miniature with a view box that you can reposition to quickly move the lower display. That lower display is a zoomed-in view which allows you to directly access the controls of the gear in your patch. The patch bank section is easy to browse as well, with “Banks,” “Sounds” and “Variations.” Banks store up to thirteen Sounds. A Sound should be considered an overall tone, e.g. a Twin set up for single-coils or a Soldano for humbuckers. In each Sound there are eight slots for Variations, allowing you to configure different takes on that given Sound to suit your needs. The user is by no means limited to only these uses, but that is the way they are presented in the manual and in my testing the method has proved effective at both reducing patch clutter and ensuring that I can get to the desired tone I have previously created without delay. As you would expect, all of the patch switching can be done via MIDI for uninterrupted live use.

Thanks to the two-paneled system you are free to easily visualize your signal chain in terms that make sense for a guitarist or a studio hand. TH1's addition to past pedal board GUIs is in allowing you to place any module anywhere in the signal path without limitation, as well as allowing easy resizing of the GUI itself and free dragging of the detailed view window in a well-visualized manner. The signal chain in general is quite adaptive to your needs, and anything can be placed anywhere on the visualized pedal board, with full drag-and-drop movement without disturbing your settings.

Among other enhancements, the free 1.1 update to TH1 improved the routing system within the fully flexible signal chain itself through the addition of a sophisticated and adjustable signal splitter and mixer. The two have many uses, including simple parallel processing, frequency-dependent crossover splitting which can be blended back in any ratio you please, and a bandpass splitting mode which allows you to send one “chunk” of the signal one way and the other, another way; imagine sending the midrange to a Marshall but the lows and highs to a Fender to get a combination of Marshall roar and Fender twang. The splitter/mixer system is a creativity-enabling tool which will keep your mind busy and your ears happy as you find new ways to use it.

The real guts of any amp modeler and multieffects plugin are, of course, the amps and effects. Overloud TH1 takes a comprehensive approach to its amp modeling, modeling every channel on the amps that it offers. If that isn't enough, one genuinely innovative feature of TH1 is the “SLR” slider, which allows you to create hybrid amplifiers with characteristics of each amp by dragging the slider from left to right between the two amps selected. This feature works just as well for bringing out subtleties as it does for creating radically new sounds; combining a Recto model's Vintage channel with a Recto model's Modern channel is fun, and so is combining the Soldano model's lead channel with TH1's AC30 model. I should note that I am not sure that TH1 1.1's amp models are, across the board, the best available. Some of the channels modeled are duller than the originals with which I have had experience. However, that is in comparison to the real amps, not with other modelers where TH1 is quite competitive in quality on the whole, with some real stand-outs (Overloud Custom is a superb high-gain amp, and the AC30 sounds great to my ears as well) and some not-so-exciting models (the JCM900 is rather bland without the crisp, raspy quality of the real thing, and the 5150 simulation does not really capture the qualities of the original). To their credit, even the less impressive models show surprising utility when combined with other amplifiers via the SLR slider, but if you're after absolute authenticity in modeling, not every model will fully satisfy.

TH1 1.1 added an additional “VariFire” parameter to the amps which dials in some extra dirt and bite dynamically (for example, even maxed it won't make a Twin into a fire-breathing monster, and clean playing will still be clean, but dig into the strings and it's more like an Evil Twin). The cabinet modeling in TH1 is effective with a number of cabinets and microphones available and the ability to blend between the two microphones seamlessly. I did not find the range of adjustment for the microphones quite as infinitely variable as advertised; there's no microphone tilt feature, for one thing, and different microphone elevations tend to create phase problems that are not resolved by the phase switch on the cabinet sim module. One interesting feature of the cabinet sim module is the “ReSPIRe” button, which kicks in some added thump and punch for a more authentic, lively in-the-room feel.

The pedal and effects compliment in TH1 is really astounding for a single program...the reverbs are among the best of their type in any amp simulator...

For those who prefer impulse responses, TH1's update to version 1.1 added a valuable IR loader module, and Kazrog Software (whose product, Recabinet Modern, I reviewed last issue) has worked with Almateq Overloud to package some Recabinet IRs with TH1 1.1. You can load your own IRs as well. I should note that I have never felt that I had to load an IR due to some inadequacy of the cabinet sim, but the option was a user-requested feature and it's impressive that they added it on that basis.

The pedal and effects compliment in TH1 is really astounding for a single program. There are 12 dirt pedals, 8 choruses, 8 delays, 3 compressors, 6 flangers, 4 phasers, 2 pitch effects, 5 reverbs (four drawn from Overloud's commercial reverb plugin, Breverb), 2 tremolos, 4 wah effects, 3 equalizers, a noise reducer, a volume pedal, and an acoustic guitar simulator that sounds pretty darned good. A substantial number of the effects were added in the 1.1 patch. The only effects that I did not find truly impressive are the dirt pedals. It sounds to my ears too much like the fuzzes, the overdrives, and the distortions all have a basically similar sound with only minor variances, not the bigger variances that you would expect going from, for example, a Big Muff Pi to a Metalzone. None of that is to say that they sound bad, mind you, only that they share a similar character with less pronounced differences than you might expect. The modulations are extremely good, the delays are very useful (the ducking delay is a personal favorite), the reverbs are among the best of their type in any amp simulator – certainly Overloud TH1 1.1 wins some due praise for its prodigious and high-quality effects compliment.

Overall, Overloud TH1 1.1 is an impressive program which declares its candidacy for your modeler of choice quite loudly. I have listed its features, both positive and negative, but I have only referenced one very important factor without making it explicit; count how many times I remark on something added in the 1.1 update, and you will begin to understand that Overloud is clearly a company that shows concern for what their users want. In many regards it is impressive, and in very few is it weak. I predict that among you, our readers, who try the software, there will be a fair number of converts who appreciate the merger of the old and the new with an eye always towards keeping the user creatively empowered and in full control.

Price: $349
Pros: Excellent interface, flexible aritechture
Cons: Dirt pedals are not as differentiated as they could be

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Filed Under: Reviews, Almateq