|To qualify this review, I must first inform you:
I have no affiliation with Pro Tools or Avid, so if I say something positive you can trust it.
As a professional studio musician ( since the 1970's) I have had experience using every original amp and effect this ( or any other) modeling preamp claims to emulate. If you ever listened to the radio in the 80's and 90's, you have heard me playing most of these real amps on real records. There's a good chance you might have seen me on TV with some of these amps too.
Good features: KNOBS
The front panel has large rotary encoders with smooth-operating silent knobs. That's great, because they lay these out to provide tone and volume adjustments in real time... "On-the-fly" as they say. This feature is not new or unique, but it demonstrates that they consulted with real players during the design. This means you can use it like the front panel of whatever amp you are modeling and that the controls operate very much like the real thing. A+ !
TONE: very good for a modeling amp... one of the best. Because I have owned and toured with all the famous amps, I know not only how they sound, but how they react to different guitars / pickups... how they "Feel" to the player. "Feel" is a subjective term because it includes so many variables. One of the most important variables that most reviewers forget is VOLUME. It is impossible to describe the experience of playing to 17,000 people at full volume on a large stage. The whole point of using modeling amps is to recreate all the nuances of of tone and response that a REAL amp has at REAL stage volumes, yet do that at low volumes for smaller gigs, sessions or home recording. In that area, this is one of the best sounding and feeling preamps I have used.
It is designed to work either as a recording front-end, a direct out to a mixer / PA... AND a front end to any professional amp you currently have. I'll explain all three of those briefly:
If you already have a good amp, (or two for stereo) you hook this up for live playing easily. Three button presses get you to the cab-sim defeat function, so you can turn OFF the internal cabinet simulation. That is also not new or unique, (Much less expensive modelers have that) but it is absolutely necessary for any professional with a REAL amp. You don't want the artificial simulations in addition to the natural variables of your amp and speakers. Once you learn how to navigate this machine, it only takes a few seconds to set that function ON or OFF. So, that's a A grade in this sub-category, but not A+. Why? Because they should have made it possible with a single press of a dedicated button.
Interface with a live PA or mixer to power-amp: Many working guitarists love the sound of their real amps, but have discovered that for amplifying modeled sounds, nothing beats a professional power amp. I won't discuss the relative merits between Class A, AB, or class-D topologies here. The bottom line is you get more clean raw power in a smaller, lighter package with professional power amps. They do not "color" the sound as much, which is desirable when you have a modeling preamp. Also, professional solid state power amps are far more reliable and require far less maintenance.
This thing works perfect well with either powered speakers or your own power-amp / passive speaker combo. (my preferred rig). Not only that, but you can operate it in two modes at once. That is: you can use a real amp for your stage-monitors and simultaneously run a direct out to the FOH mixer. That makes a sound-tech's job easier. That's especially important if YOU are the sound-tech. I just wish they used dedicated outs for each "mode" and had balanced lines for everything. This has balanced-outs for the direct out and buffered un-balanced outs for everything else. You'd think for the price their asking, they could include two-extra balancing transformers!
Recording and re-amping. Many hobbyists and home recording studio owners will want this because it excels here; especially if you already use any version of pro-tools on a MAC. If you use any other recording software environment it still works, and you can still use its internal processing to relieve your computer form all the heavy number-crunching. That's great. This also allows you to "re-amp." That is when you devote a separate track to recording a dry, unprocessed guitar signal. That way you are not "locked-in" to a preamp sound during mix-down. You can choose a different amp-model, effects, EQ... anything, AFTER the recording is done. This feature is of no use to me, however tweaky amateurs love to play with tones without having to perform. Producer-types like to stamp their talentless imprimatur on other people's labor. So this feature is a big hit among inexperienced geeks and pretentious producers too. This category therefore deserves a special two-pole rating: for Tweaky geeks who can't play and have endless time to play with toys, or for egotistical yet talentless engineering nerds, this is an A+ feature. For any professional with decades of hard-won experience the rating is "who cares?" Well, sorry... I take some of that back. I suppose an up-and-coming studio cat MIGHT get more calls if the producers knows he can screw with the player's tones AFTER the session. Producers universally enjoy wrecking decent tracks with their imbecilic post-prod voodoo. This thing allows them to do that in spades!
EASE of operation: Manufacturers are stupid. They want to create a hot product, but they forget they must sell to musicians, not computer geeks. True, some of us are actual engineers who can operate computers, graphing calculators, know math and how to use slide rules. ( I'm giving away my age here.) But as musicians, we do not enjoy tweaking when we are playing. We need the instantaneous adjustments of real knobs and dedicated buttons. So why do so many manufacturers, including this one, make the same mistake? Because they are cheap and stupid. They are so worried about making profit that they refuse to put simple buttons with clear labels like; Chorus, reverb, delay, boost, distortion, overdrive, leslie, etc.. Instead, they group effects under "categories" based on the type of processing algorithm that makes that effects. Reverbs are different than delays. Those are different from other time-based modulating effects like chorus or flanging. They are basically just putting their software into a metal box so that it LOOKS like a real machine.
OK... so I have exposed my prejudice here... I despise software driven commands, menus and scrolling. I prefer dedicated buttons for every function. Also, I know enough about engineering and product design that I see why they are ripping us off. They claim to give maximum flexibility, and they do, sort of. But it is at the expense of intuitive control.
NOTE TO ALL MODELING preamp DESIGNERS:
WE NEED BUTTONS. ANY PRODUCT YOU MAKE SHOULD BE SO SIMPLE THAT IT REQUIRES NO MANUAL.
Finally, the few amp models and effects this thing has are very good. Not the best for every guitarist or situation though, but certainly one of the best. The original GP100 by Roland is still as great today as it was before it was discontinued. Mine still works and sounds as good as this for the BIG THREE models: Marshalls, Twins and AC30's. In fact the GP100 is BETTER than this much newer device at the Marshall plexi tone. For that matter, the sansamp GT2 ($160) does that single thing as well as any preamp on the market. The ROCKTRON PROPHESY got the "buttons plus knobs" thing right. Why can't AVID?
EVEN CHEAP modelers (<$100) provide many more choices for effects and amps. This thing has four basic amps: Marshall, Twin, Vox, and "stuper-gain" which I suppose is their version of a Soldano or Boogie abomination.
(BTW: "STUPER-GAIN" is my coined term for "stupid" plus "Super-gain"
Stuper-gain: definition; A form of ridiculous preamp distortion that hides inferior technique and slop of weak amateur guitarists, especially teenagers or other cases of arrested development. Stuper-gain creates the illusion that power-chords are music and that infantile pentatonic noodling is "improvising.")
Sorry... this doesn't have one. Sure you can buy one. They recommend the Voodoo Valve model, which costs over $400 dollars, is heavy and large. That destroys any hope of a bargain, ease-of use or transportation-convenience. Can you use another midi-controller? Yes... but it ain't easy. The documentation on this feature is scant at best, and pro-tools support is non-existent until you buy their stuff. AFTER you plunk down your ducats, they give "support" in he form of boiler-plate replies, some copied and pasted from user FAQs and forums.
Put simply, Pro Tools support SUCKS. It's slow if it ever comes and it almost never helps. On top of that they sometimes make snide remarks to their customers, even though this customer has spent thousands of dollars with their company, was playing on Major Labels before most of them were born and has an engineering degree. It's NOT a good idea for a young software geek to make snide remarks to an old-school veteran who has fought his way out of many rough dives before that geek was even conceived. With the anonymity and distance of e-mail, they may remain safe. I doubt those talentless flabby dweebs would have the testicles to speak that way to my face.
For live performance, you need a midi foot-controller to get maximum utility from it, and they don't make one or support ANY other manufacturer's products. You are on your own there pal. If you decide you want this thing and you need a foot-controller, I suggest you examine, the ROLLS midi-buddy, or the Sansamp Midi-Moose. You WILL have to read the manual, because this is a primarily a software package disguised as hardware. The knobs are good, but it does not have enough buttons, does not have ALL balanced outs and only emulates a few popular effects, not the best effects.
Bottom line: If you want a recording interface with 4 famous amps and a paltry selection of popular effects, this is one of the best out there. This will be good for mid-level home studios or YouTube production houses. For a real professional guitarist who requires both tone and convenience, this is NOT an -all-in-one solution they advertise it to be.
It is good in some ways, but it ain't finished yet. For $900 bucks, they can afford some many better choices in effects, many more buttons, ALL BALANCED outs AND a simple foot-control. I'm sending mine back along with a "love letter" regarding their design choices and service policies. I might give them another chance when they GET IT RIGHT.