Softube Amp Room Bundle

Monday, September 14, 2009| by Jeff Baker

What do users expect from amp modeling software? Some are “going virtual,” seeking a one-stop-shop with a warehouse full of amps and effects. Others need a quick fix, a way to get ideas down fast before they're lost sparing the hassle of recording equipment. Then there are those who are concerned first and foremost with getting an authentic amplifier experience: studio hands, professional or project, who want to be able to treat their virtual amplifier plugin as though it were a real amp in more or less every way. Softube's Amp Room series is aimed squarely at those users.

For the sake of amp “experience” realism, there are few effects packaged with any of the Amp Room software. Bass Amp Room has a limiter, Metal Amp Room has a noise gate, and Vintage Amp Room's amps only have whatever effect would be found on the original. Bass Amp Room comes with three cabinets and Metal Amp Room with two, and both the amps and cabs can be turned off for use with other plugins. Vintage Amp Room has the matched or attached cabs, but the same functionality is planned in the near future. Only Metal Amp Room has two microphones per cab. Bass and Metal Amp Room both have one amplifier, while Vintage Amp Room collects three.

I imagine some of you might be scratching your heads at the relative simplicity of these plugins, but Softube's philosophy involves giving the end user the ideal tool set for getting the amplifier sound just right. Their products offer someone who knows what sort of sound they're after the exact means to get that sound. It's no coincidence that though they are fully cross-platform compatible, they strongly service the ProTools market; their plugins end up in hands that have been on the amplifiers they digitally recreate, lending a sense of familiarity to those who have worked with the real hardware before.

There are a number of user-friendly touches that make dialing in your sound fast and painless. First, the cabinet modeling on all three programs is extremely well done. In each case, microphones (usually just one, except for Metal Amp Room's two) move only along a pre-determined path which takes them from the room, up to the amp right at the speaker cap, and then changing to a steep angle as the user drags it toward the edge of the cone. There are no apparent intermediate “steps” in the microphone's path of adjustment, and every point along the line has a good sound. Every microphone configuration possible is there for a reason, and I imagine users will find themselves using the full range of adjustment at different times. The neat thing about the microphone simulation is just how sophisticated it must be under the hood to give such an approachable, deceptively simple experience to the user.

The quality of hidden sophistication goes for the sound generally; I find it hard to fault Softube's sound quality in any of these programs. The Vintage Amp Room models are loaded with immediately recognizable character and depth. I found myself thinking of them as the actual amp being modeled rather than amp models in a program, which I believe is really Softube's goal. Metal Amp room brings modern, aggressive tones to the table, with the options – including easy dual-microphone control – needed to get a range of high-gain sounds appropriate for albums where the guitar parts might be tracked four at a time or greater. Bass Amp Room fills in the low end nicely, with a DI output that can be blended with the selected cabinet tone as needed for best results. Everything is simple, direct, and easy. Softube tells the truth when they say their software is intended to get great tones quickly “from a plug-in you don't need a degree in computer science to handle.”

Even so, having used the Softube Effects Bundle it is clear to me that Softube are very capable effects programmers as well. While I do understand the logic behind their choice to give the bare necessities for good tone, I still can't help but wish for some of the bells and whistles that they argue get in the way of dialing in real amp sounds. That just hasn't been my experience with software, and since I doubt the argument, I find myself wanting them to flex their effects muscles more than they have. I can see this being a point of contention among some users, especially given the market-relative price tier of the Amp Room software. Then again, some users will agree with Softube that the more you pack into a program, the more diluted becomes the focus of getting it to do its most important function best.

Effects or no effects won't matter to some, and Softube isn't alone in offering amplifier-focused modeling products. A more likely barrier to entry for many will be the price of their software. $300 for three amps in Vintage Amp Room and $199 for one amp in Metal and Bass Amp Room is steep, though with the Amp Room Bundle there are some savings to be had if you want the whole shebang. Again it will come down to whether you side with Softube on the question of what a user expects from modeling software. If you expect a warehouse of amps with a truckload of effects, you won't be satisfied with Softube's Amp Room products. If you just need something to jot down ideas, these plugins are not what you're looking for. But if you need a virtual amp that you can treat in nearly every sense as a real amp, which recreates the hands-on experience of turning some knobs and miking a cab for “that” sound, then you might be thinking about just the right product.

Price: $499 bundle; VintageAR $299, MetalAR $179, BassAR $179 Direct
Pros: Exceptionally realistic sound and response, user-friendly interface
Cons: Market-relative high price for few amps and next to no effects, Requires iLok.

Filed Under: Reviews, Softube