Amped Review: AmpKit for Mac

Scott McGrath puts AmpKit through its paces   25-Nov-12

Amped Review: AmpKit for Mac

Amped blogger Scott McGrath puts AmpKit for Mac through its paces, and finds some very handy features underneath the hood. As always, if you have any questions about the product, leave a comment at the bottom of the page...

AgilePartners has made a few really handsome apps for the iOS platform, including Tab Toolkit, the Guitar World Lick of the Day subscription app, and AmpKit,  - all with graphically rich state of the art iOS interfaces and great functionality.

AmpKit is a amp simulator, in a fairly competitive field on iOS that includes strong competition on from IKMultimedia's Amplitube and the Line 6 Mobile Pod (which I have a special fondness for, by the way, though it's tied to a specific Line 6 hardware input dongle on iOS).

Amplitube, as you probably know, is supported by an entire product line on Mac and PC, where it competes with another heavy hitter, Native Instruments' Guitar Rig.

For amp simulation on laptops and desktop computers, these two programs have long been the standard bearers, with several years of iterations behind them, several different versions, and strong user communities for sharing patches and presets.

AmpKit for Mac is introduced for the Mac (and Mac only, sorry PC folks) to start a David-and-Goliath-like fight with this competition - but at a significantly lower price point of $49.00 on the Apple Mac App Store.

The iOS version has a lot of in-app purchases for different amps and effects, but the $49 version bundles all available amp models and effects pedals. AgilePartners has a relationship with Peavey, so many Peavey amps are featured, but the product has the usual range of American and British amp stalwarts, and the usual range of clean to filthy-dirty-metallic.

Endorsed models include Budda, Fargen, Trace Elliot, Rocktron, and Taos. Bass players rejoice, too: there are three interesting and varied bass amps and patches as well - quite a substantial collection of bass patches, branded versions of Ashdown Engineering amps - you are not forgotten.

A demo version can be downloaded directly from the Agile Partners website so you can try it out in detail. The demo version allows you unlimited access to the amps and presets for 30 minutes at a time, but does not allow saving of new presets or favorites. This is ample time to try it all out on your setup to validate you can make this work with your rig.

The interface is perfect for laptop practice type applications, in my opinion. I'll sometimes plug my guitar in with a guitar interface such as the Apogee Jam and use Garageband with its amp simulators.

But they are somewhat limited, and the interface is a bit involved if all you want to do is play guitar. Ampkit runs standalone and has some very nice straightforward features, ideal for those times when you just want to plug in and play.

You will need some method for capturing your guitar signal but the product does seem to be able to accommodate any standard core audio device.

You can switch among 137 presets quickly and easily, and there are 22 amps, 28 pedals, 28 cabinets, and 8 microphones to tweak within those and new ones you create.

If you've used the iOS version, you'll know that feedback is a constant trial as it is in many iOS simulators. I notice that every default setup in Ampkit for Mac starts with a noise gate pedal to help control runaway feedback on the high gain patches.

Most other expected features are there as well: tuner, metronome, a backing tracks feature, and a lightweight recording capability. There is a simple, prominent control set to tweak input gain and output gain specifically for each patch - which makes it easy to reach a balanced output sound when changing patches - as well as gain controls for the master output. Nicely done.

The backing tracks and recording options have some unique features. The backing tracks mix nicely with the guitar sounds, and you can record with or without the tracks simply and easily.

The recording has one very special feature - the ability to record a guitar part and then "re-amp" it in the software - so you can apply any of the presets against your own recorded part, and if you like the results, write out the file with the new patch applied.

This is simple, handy and flexible - if you download the demo, be sure to try this out. When you're done, you can export  files by email or via AirDrop.

So how's it sound? Well, as with any collection of simulations there are ups and downs. The Peavey amps and "Amercian" amps provide several paths to a solid, Fender-ish clean sound. The "King of Cleans" patch is the first I favorited within the app.

I don't do much metal, but the range of metal patch options seems rich and should satisfy the serious shredder. Marshall models are called "Colonel" (nudge nudge) and seem quite serviceable. The one place I feel AmpKit disappoints (both on the Mac and on iOS) is in Vox sounds.

All the "British" patches have too much tinniness and not enough of the kind of full-bodied richness I like in a Vox patch for pop sounds. These patches sound cheesy and inauthentic to my ears, but a little tweaking (usually removing overly aggressive gain settings) can doctor things up a bit.  Mesa-like American sounds are a mixed bag, but there are some very serviceable options.

The effects are also a bit up and down. Overdrives are strong, but some of the delays are a bit odd. The Octapuss fuzz can be fun. Rabid Rodent is a Rat clone that seems up to the task.

I didn't discover the limit on pedals-per-patch - you can stack them up 10 deep if you can stomach the sonic mush. You can also order and reorder the entire signal chain with typical ease.

Effect, amp and cabinet parameters expand in right column with usable slider controls for each option, a generally effective way to manage these.

Drawing Conclusions

If you already own a Mac version of Amplitube 3 or Guitar Rig 5, you may find this app a bit rudimentary.  Those products both offer a much wider range of obsessive compulsive tweakability, many more resources, and entire sets of features not included in AmpKit, such as AU and VST plug-in capability, dedicated hardware pairings, and more, though at a much higher price point.

On the other hand, the big selling point here is simplicity and ease of use - plug in and play.  The $49 price tag may be seen as a lot for an app from one point of view, but somewhat reasonable in this case given the range of features, name brand simulations, and the context of competing products.

If you've been using Garageband largely for its amp simulations with guitar, AmpKit for Mac provides an easier alternative.

There are some limitations. One feature missing from AmpKit is multitrack recording. The re-amping features are terrific, but it's all a single track (with or without backing track).

AU component support would be a useful feature. You can export files and import in a DAW environment, but that's going to require a bit of fussiness. The supplied backing tracks are a bit limited, and there's no way to adjust playback speed.

Presets can be instanced and customized in "Setups" but it would be nice to have some additional organizational capabilities, for example storing setups in folders. Additional exporting options would also be helpful.

Input setup is meant to be easy, but you will need some method for getting a signal into your computer - audio interface with a high-z input, core audio device, etc. On my desktop machine, with multiple input devices, the user interface for selecting inputs displayed several option with the same name from my audio interface channels and looked a bit confusing.

A small amount of trial and error sorted out the correct settings, so no big deal. On the laptop, it was simple: choose "Jam" from the input list, and start playing.

And that is the key strength of AmpKit for Mac: plug and play simplicity with decent sound and lots of patches to play with. I'll still use Guitar Rig for more serious use, but it's nice to have that simple option - the computer equivalent of leaving a guitar on a stand in your living room. When it's simple to fire up the app and play, you're more likely to use it.

Try the demo - it will show you all the strengths and weaknesses of the product, and you can judge the quality of the sims using your own ears.

You'll find some that pass and some you want to pass by - but I suspect many players will find a way to dial in tones that meet their needs. Also, this is a 1.0 product, and very strong for something new to the market. Nice to see a fresh take on the Garagebander workflow - for me, that's the key differentiator of AmpKit.

Pros: Simple and elegant use model; reasonably affordable; compatibility with iOS versions; great sound; nicely implemented "re-amping" recorder feature; flexible gain controls; reasonable support for bass models as well as guitar.

Cons: Tin-eared Vox emulations; no component or VST plug-in support; single track recorder; limited export options; Mac only.


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