I’m looking into checking out either the Axe-FX II or the Kemper KPA. I know there have been ad nauseum threads about these two products, and in many ways they aren’t even designed to do exactly the same thing. But most of those threads are not recent, and so don’t take into account the most recent features, firmware, accessories, and so forth. And they are my two finalists for what I’m looking for (which is, primarily, a portable solution containing the gist of most of my usable amp tones). So I need some advice.
Here’s what I’m NOT looking for: flaming, either direction. I believe both products are awesome and do what they are supposed to very well. I’m not looking for what’s wrong with either product, I’m more looking for which one may fit MY needs better.
So, a bit about me and my needs: I’m a simple player. I mostly use a couple of effects at any given time, and tend to rotate between 2-3 basic amp tones (clean, crunch, “searing lead”). I want those tones to be as amazing as possible, then I’ll add delay or compression or whatever. I’m a semi-professional player...that is, I make part of my income from music. I do occasional session work (mostly for local or regional acts) and I play in two regular gigging bands, an average of 6-8 times a month. My current amps: Egnater MOD50 with most of the modules and an Egnater oversized 112 cab, and a Mesa Boogie Road King with 212 Road King cab. Those are my main ones (I also have an Egnater Rebel 30 I use for rehearsal). Capturing the ranges of sounds from those two amps (which are many) is crucial.
Also of note is the fact that I’m basing most of my thoughts (below) on either hard data, or on AVAILABLE sound clips. I know these are not representative...I absolutely know that. However, you can get a semi-close idea of what something can do by audio/video clips. Most of the clean tones I’ve heard clips for are super affected, for some reason. There are VERY few clips that showcase simple, pure clean tone, for either device. So I have to take a bit of a guess with a few things like that.
Otherwise, here are my thoughts so far (keep in mind, these are not intended to be definitive statements of fact; they are simply my impressions based on what I’m looking for):
Overall Tone (amp-likeness): I believe this is a wash. I think each device sounds incredible, and can get very close to the tone of real tube amps.
Overdriven tone: I think the advantage here goes to the Axe-FX, based on the clips that I’ve heard.
Clean tone: I think the advantage here goes to the Kemper, again based on the clips that I’ve heard. Hard to find “pure” clean tones for either device though.
Amp “feel”: From what I’ve read, the advantage here goes to the Kemper, with numerous reviewers noting that the Kemper responds a bit more like a tube amp does. But this is fairly subjective, so what feels “right” to one person may be the opposite for another.
Flexibility: I believe it’s factual (not just opinion) to say that the Axe-FX is more flexible. It does more. In many ways this is a plus, as it makes the Axe-FX more future-proof. But in many ways it’s also a negative, as it’s way overkill for what I need. Simple = better for me, usually. So ultimately this is a wash for me.
Pedals: I like the MCF-101 better than the Kemper Remote. I think it looks more useful and more professional, and I FAR prefer the LEDs of the MCF-101. Being able to easily see settings in a semi-dark room (which is harder than in a completely dark room) is crucial, and it seems like the MCF-101 is better in this regard. I like the red/green/off scheme better than the multiple separate LEDs too. However, the Kemper Remote is smaller, and as far as I’m concerned the smaller the footprint, the better. Also, the MCF-101 is $150 more than the Remote. I also dislike that the tap tempo button on the MCF-101 is on the top. I’m sure I can manually set it to one of the first-row buttons, but that’s where it should be out of the box. So this ultimately ends up a wash too.
Support: I believe both companies have excellent customer service. However, I believe the Axe-FX gets more (and more regular) updates in terms of software and features. Plus they are in the US rather than overseas. However, the crazy shipping costs to buy the unit initially make me wary of having to send it in for any warranty support, as I don’t want to shell out nearly $80 (each way) each time I need support (I know this might be covered while under warranty, but the Axe-FX has a much shorter warranty than the Kemper as well...1 year vs. 3 years for the Kemper). So, another wash.
Software: I believe the Axe-FX has the edge here. But this isn’t a huge deal for me. I enjoy playing with it, but once I get things dialed in, it’s rare for me to change it up much.
Price: including the pedal for either, the Kemper ends up being about $500 cheaper. This isn’t the biggest deal in the world, but it certainly does matter. Also, the Kemper has free shipping, whereas the Axe-FX is like $80. It may seem silly, but that bothers me. The Axe-FX is already more expensive, then the crazy shipping costs on top of it. And they are US based...the Kemper has to (ultimately) cross an ocean!
Misc: the Kemper takes up 3 rack spaces. The Axe-FX (which does more) takes up 2, I believe. Slight advantage to the Axe-FX, but this is fairly minor. The Kemper takes a long time to boot up, whereas the Axe-FX is super quick. But I’ve read a lot of problems with folks upgrading the software in the Axe-FX and have to send away for something to get it up and running again.
At this point, I’m leaning toward the Kemper because 1. Less expensive (especially re: shipping), 2. Simpler, which may be better for what I need, and 3. More “amp-like feel” (though this is the one that may be the most subjective AND I have the most limited knowledge about). However, the biggest issue for me is tone. It trumps everything else. Clean tones are important for me, and I can’t get a good read on clean tones from either amp because of the lack of clips, and the fact that both seem more focused on high gain tones. Also, having it feel like a real tube amp is crucial, and the limited knowledge I have so far is that the Kemper has the SLIGHT edge with this. The greater flexibility of the Axe-FX and the fact that it’s more future proof is appealing, but ultimately I fear that the majority of its fancy features would go to waste. I enjoy playing around with that kind of thing, but in the end I’m a simple guy and end up going back to a few simple tones and then use effects to taste.
So (PLEASE without flaming or inciting fanboy arguments or bashing of your non-preferred product), what say you? What do you think would work better for my needs? Again, I’m not asking which you think is a better product for whatever reason, or which works better for you...which do you think would suit my needs better? PLEASE NOTE that I am looking for input from folks who preferably have owned both, or at the very least have had the opportunity to use each in real-world situations (i.e., not just, "I tried my buddy's once and it [sucked/rocked]"). Thanks.
Sorry for the long post, but thanks for any insight. And thanks for mature, thoughtful answers rather than flame wars.