I have had my current guitar recording setup for a number of years now and while it has worked great (It is how I recorded my first EP), it is starting to show its age and is missing some features I now realize I want. What I want to do here is use a bit of my programming/analyst skills to create a requirements list to describe what I want in a replacement and see what current gear might fit the bill. Hopefully, my research will help others too. I am setting an arbitrary $300 budget because if I had the $1500 for a Mesa Boogie Mark 5:25, I would be buying that and running it into an interface! On to my requirements.
Keep in mind I am not looking to do a complete studio setup. This does not factor in the cost for guitar(s), MIDI instruments, studio monitors, or DAW software (I am using Reaper). I already have that and am not looking to replace for this exercise. It boils down to these factors:
- Can I quickly capture an idea?
- Am I able to get the sound I hear in my head?
- Can I get a dry track at the same time?
- Can I get the dynamics I want?
- Can I get back to previous settings quickly?
- Does it limit noise from my home studio environment (computer, family, dogs)?
- Can I record whenever I want (in other words do I need a mic to capture and wake people up at 2am)?
- Can I use that tone away from my studio?
- Does a device need to be attached to run the software?
I currently use a Line 6 Toneport UX1 with the “live” Gear Box software and then just record that wet sound directly, changing tones manually for each track I want. Unfortunately, the interface has to be plugged in for either of those to authorize making it difficult to use other plug-ins for guitar tone. The interface provides an instrument jack and a pre-amp for a dynamic mic (no phantom power). It also has two line inputs so I can use a stand alone pre-amp, which is what I do when I do want to use a condenser mic. Together this cost me about $200, $90 for the interface and another $99 to get the PODFarm plug-in which also got me a few more amp models. So how does my current setup fit with my requirements? One and two are great. The interface is my sound card so it is always plugged into the PC and my guitar is pretty much always plugged into the interface. The Gear Box/POD Farm software is great and gets me a ton of different tones that I can do a fair amount of tweaking with, including a number of pedals. It also ticks the boxes for five, six, and seven. But it does fall short on three, four, and eight. It does features a USB 1.0 connection so for me that is something I would like to upgrade.
The question then becomes what would be some possible replacements, ideally staying around that price point? Unfortunately, it seems that there is not a lot of choice. Either the hardware is expensive, or it is necessary to get many software add-ons. But here is what I found to meet my requirements.
Eleven Rack – $250 used
With this setup I would use the Eleven Rack as my audio interface as well as the amp. I’ve seen these used on Craigslist for between $200-$300 some coming with the expansion pack (a $100 value). Connected to my PC this gets me everything on my list, including the ability to not have the interface connected since I am using Reaper as my DAW. Though obviously I have to have it attached to record, it isn’t necessary during the mixing process. I already have a Tech21 Power Engine 60 (which is a small cheat for being mobile) that would connect straight in for playing live.
Positive Grid BIAS FX with Interface $200/$40
Positive Grid has been making waves with their plug-ins and and BIAS FX looks promising. At $200 (on sale at time of writing for $180) this would give me access to a bunch of amps and pedals. I could then spring for a USB 2.0 interface like a Behringer U-Phoria UMC22 which would get me a mic pre-amp and instrument in for $40. Roughly the same as the Eleven Rack. This setup gets me almost everything on my list, with the one glaring exception of being able to use the tone away from my studio. Based on my non-ability to find anyone to jam with, this may not be that big of a showstopper. They are teasing BIAS Head, which appears to be some type of amp, but whether or not I would be able to use my tones with that remain to be seen. If it wasn’t too expensive it could tick of that live mode.
I did find a several very cool items that did also meet the requirements, but bust the budget by a wide margin. Again, at those prices I would just by a real amp! But I will list them so I can keep an eye on them and you can check out the information. At some point one would think the prices will be begin to come down.
–Line6 Helix – $1,500
–Fractal Audio Axe-FX -$ 2,250
–Kemper Profiling Amp – $1,900
Let me know if I have missed anything that would be a good match. I have a feeling many people would be interested in the information and the marketing materials do not help make this easy.