So I've Had My Kemper Next To My AX8 For Several Days Now, Need Advice

  • Unfortunately, I have to let one of these units go to recover some funds and it's a very hard decision. I'll run down a list of things I've learned, and I'd like to hear some honest opinions from experienced users to help my decision. I love both units, but have my own unique needs, so this is not at all a 'this is better than the other' kind of thing.


    * The AX8 has more lush, sparkling, dimensional clean tones as far as I can tell. The Kemper clean tones are outstanding as well, but the cleans sound warmer and more straightforward.


    * The AX8 has a more solid sounding signal, but the Kemper has this kind of natural, organic transparency that is also very appealing.


    * Both are awesome for metal, rock, and blues. The cleans are where they set apart a bit as mentioned.


    * Rig manager is great, and the Kemper is so easy to use, but there are some things I wish I could tweak with some software. The Fractal software is great, but kind of annoying that it will not fit the screen of my computer (Come to think of it, the Two-Notes software is the same way).


    * The ability to use different cabs is an obvious advantage of the Fractal. Some of the Kemper profiles do benefit from using cabs of other profiles, but it's still like putting a cab on a cab.


    * The BIG LETDOWN from both units that I really miss from my Axe FXII XL+ is the USB audio feature. It was so nice being able to plug directly into my laptop using Audacity to record. It sucks having to have a separate interface with even more cables to manage.


    * Kemper has the headphone jack which is very convenient. The AX8 doesn't, for whatever reason, even though it shouldn't have been a big deal to include one. For quick practice, I like to use some powered computer speakers instead of headphones. This also works on the AX8, but only mono (one speaker sounding) without the adapter cables to do stereo.


    * Using studio monitors, powered computer speakers, power amp/amp FX return, and a powered PA, the distortion and clean tones of both units sound very similar. It's hard to tell different amps apart. However, the Kemper seems to have a little more uniqueness across rigs using this setup. Where both units are most outstanding is recording through an audio interface. That's where all the glory of each amp shines.


    * I've used a few overdrives and distortions at the input of both units (Klon, TS808, Waza SD-1). The AX8 seems to be a little better at letting overdrive pedals influence the sound. The Kemper is awesome in that regard too, but it's almost like the Kemper's own sound is a bit more dominant. Still, it's just nuance and nothing really of note.


    * Kemper has the most natural, amp-like feel between the two units. The AX8 has a more precise pick attack. I tried setting the pick, compression, etc... features of the Kemper, but they don't influence the feel as much as some of the settings Fractal allows. Having said that, the Kemper has the most variation of feel between amp profiles. Fractal has a little more grit, and that can be heard very well with the neck pickup. Kemper has kind of a squashy pick sound. I like it, especially when shredding, but it seems to have that on all profiles that use distortion. The Fractal is more varied between amps, so in that regard, a bit more realistic.


    * I would say that there is a very slight edge given to the Kemper as far as being natural, authentic tone, but that mostly applies to anything audible. In direct recordings, I think the Kemper is still slightly more authentic than many of the Fractal patches - playing gained out metal, it's B.S. to say one can beat the other in authenticity as far as I'm concerned.


    * EFFECTS - Well this always seems like a contentious point in discussions. I'll remain rather neutral because I like both. However, I'll say that I think the Fractal effects are better overall (and more of them). Kemper effects are very analog sounding in my opinion; very warm, sometimes muddy. Fractal effects can also be warm, but they're crystal clear, shimmery, and add some dimension to the sound. I do find on the Kemper that there is a very fine line where you can dial in exactly the amount of effect you need without getting too washy or muddy. It seems like the same limitation of how much you can tweak profiles from the way they were originally profiled also applies to how good the effects sound to whatever degree. Being that I'm not heavy into effects and only use them to add depth and dimension, or to play covers that require them, the Kemper gives me all that I need.


    * Volume Levels - There are obviously variations on volume levels between patches on the Fractal stuff, but to be honest, the Kemper profiles vary wildly. As far as I can tell, the profiles that are very low volume in relation to all the other profiles do not sound good. By the time I get the gain and rig volume up enough to where it sounds loud and full enough, they lose something. I guess that is a result of how they were profiled. In any case, it would be nice to be able to level the rigs out a bit easier across the board. Maybe that feature is there, but I don't know as I'm still kind of new to Kemper.


    * SUPPORT - OK, both Kemper and Fractal have great support. I think the Kemper forum is generally friendlier. The Fractal forum tends to have a lot of trolls that make it unfriendly for people just looking for support. Having said that, Fractal moderators do seem to try and keep their forums clean. As far as I can tell, Kemper's forum is pretty damned good.


    Basically at this point, I'm liking the Kemper tonally, but leaning towards keeping the AX8 for the following reasons: it's smaller, has the footswitch built in, and would be also be usefful for using just the effects through my tube amp. However, every time I think about letting my Kemper go, I feel attached to it somehow.- for reasons I can't describe or even pinpoint. I just like it as much as the Fractal. Anyway, I've got to let one of these babies go, so I'm hoping someone can shine some light or offer another perspective to help me make this decision. Thanks in advance for your help.

  • That would be a tougher decision for me because the one most important aspect of the AX8 is the built-in foot controller. If Kemper had a unit like that, it probably wouldn't be a hard decision. Having said that, if you're considering letting your Axe FX III go, PM me.

  • I don't envy your dilemma!


    I haven't played any of the Fractal stuff but did spend a lot of time testing the Kemper side by side with the Helix before deciding to buy Kemper. I had similar thoughts about that choice. They both had definite pluses and minuses. For me the Kemper always felt and sounded just a little more amp like whereas the Helix had "better" FX and the ability to run multiple signal chains simultaneously. In the end I had to make a choice based on how I would use the units and my own workflow. I wanted something that was as easy to use as my tube amps without the need to delve into lots of editing (definitely something that could be used without software editors) and where I could actually profile my own amps rather than try to create the sound from a model or depend on other people's idea of what my amp should sound like. I don't really use effects much and I live in the low to mid gain gain world where I ride the volume knob on the guitar. Kemper seemed to react better for me in that respect.


    I have no doubt that the sound quality of all the leading digital solutions is now so good that I could happily use any of them.


    Anyway, the best way to decide is to completely rip up your objective list of strengths and weaknesses. Then draw up a new list of NEEDS and WANTS. Start with what are your must have features/options/workflow etc. Then move to nice to haves. Make the list based on how you intend to use the device. Always remember it's a tool to get a job done. The job may be noodling at home without wakening the wife and kids, recording film soundtracks or gigging etc etc. None of that is any form of value judgement. None of the jobs is better than the others. However, some of the jobs might be more important to YOU.


    If you start with the end in mind instead of trying to rank them on features you stand a better chance of making the right decision for your own personal needs.


    Good luck.

  • Hey MG, just some quick thoughts:

    * The ability to use different cabs is an obvious advantage of the Fractal. Some of the Kemper profiles do benefit from using cabs of other profiles, but it's still like putting a cab on a cab.

    It shouldn't sound like that. Whether you're using Direct, Merged or Studio Profiles, the effect of changing the cab is... changing the cab.


    * The AX8 has a more solid sounding signal, but the Kemper has this kind of natural, organic transparency that is also very appealing.

    This for me is key. I've never heard this organic-sounding, natural-and-naturally-responsive sound and performance from any other piece of digital kit for guitar. The Kemper's awesome for bass too IMHO.


    * Kemper has the most natural, amp-like feel between the two units.

    Key point for me too, mate.


    * I would say that there is a very slight edge given to the Kemper as far as being natural, authentic tone, but that mostly applies to anything audible. In direct recordings, I think the Kemper is still slightly more authentic than many of the Fractal patches...

    Again, key for me.


    * EFFECTS - Well this always seems like a contentious point in discussions. I'll remain rather neutral because I like both. However, I'll say that I think the Fractal effects are better overall (and more of them). Kemper effects are very analog sounding in my opinion; very warm, sometimes muddy.

    Good observations, mate. The KPA's effects sound more "analog" to me too - thicker and creamier. The warmth and muddiness, especially if overdone, is par for the course with analogue-sounding pedals etc. too IMHO.


    * SUPPORT - OK, both Kemper and Fractal have great support. I think the Kemper forum is generally friendlier. The Fractal forum tends to have a lot of trolls that make it unfriendly for people just looking for support. Having said that, Fractal moderators do seem to try and keep their forums clean. As far as I can tell, Kemper's forum is pretty damned good.

    You seem like a very-fair fella, mate. 8o


    Basically at this point, I'm liking the Kemper tonally, but leaning towards keeping the AX8 for the following reasons: it's smaller, has the footswitch built in, and would be also be usefful for using just the effects through my tube amp. However, every time I think about letting my Kemper go, I feel attached to it somehow.- for reasons I can't describe or even pinpoint. I just like it as much as the Fractal. Anyway, I've got to let one of these babies go, so I'm hoping someone can shine some light or offer another perspective to help me make this decision. Thanks in advance for your help.

    You know, that attachment you feel may well be due to its analogue-like personality. Many here feel the same way and haven't felt that since before ditching their tube amps. Makes sense, really.


    You asked for suggestions. I can only speak for myself, but with today's technology, the wealth of digital effects available through plugins means that I'd not place any weight on what the KPA offered, even 'though it's perfectly-serviceable. Live use is a different story perhaps (still more-than-adequate for this purpose IMHO), but I intend to use it for recording only. In this light, the authenticity, responsiveness, naturalness and "organic" sound (infinite natural variations if one really "listens in" to the tones - uncanny, IMHO) have to take precedence. Once recorded, you can take it anywhere you like with plugins, but that all-important "authentic" sound source has to reign supreme IMHO. I'm speaking as an engineer, which should be obvious, but any "purist" home recordist would think the same way. No point compromising on sound sources; we do the same thing when we buy mic's, preamps and so on - buy the best we can afford. A ridiculous example serves to illustrate this:


    Would you buy a Behringer mic pre over a Neve because it had more and better effects when in reality all you want to record is the pure sound source ? Studios think this way too except in rare circumstances such as maybe "The Edge's" pedals, for example, or whatever. Generally they don't want to deal with the potential headaches caused by trying to get a pre-fab'd sound to fit in the mix.


    You probably know this stuff (I'd be surprised if you don't), but you asked for an angle that might make a difference for you, so there's mine. As @Wheresthedug said, sometimes you have to take a fresh look at things, and I tend to agree, especially when you find yourself going 'round in circles, which I'm sensing you're doing, probably 'cause it takes one to know one and I've been there sooo many times it's not funny.


    Interestingly enough, a new perspective and set of judgement criteria bring about a huge sense of relief and satisfaction in my experience, if they bring about a clear, confident decision. I'm hoping this will be the case for you, mate!


    HTH


    PS:
    I'm sorry but I probably won't be able to respond for perhaps many days. The constantly-wet weather (more than 2 weeks now) has wrecked my connection and I'm only getting 20 to 30-second windows at 1->2k speeds in order to do my "forum work" (since last Wednesday). Throughout today and the evening (now 3:30AM), I've only managed to respond to 2 PM's and make one post (this one). It was a miracle I was even able to load this page; browser just times out at this speed. Will have to reboot modem a few times 'til I get another tiny window in which to hit the "Submit" button! EDIT: I'm on my 8th reboot now and still no window, but I'll persist! EDIT: It took 14 in the end. Too funny, really. Good luck, man. :thumbup:

  • Has there been one that you've found yourself going to first more and the other you've found yourself just switching on and plugging in because you feel guilty and need to give it a fair shout?


    Convenience is a huge aspect of this really. The sooner you're up and running and making music, the fewer steps you have to take between "I feel like playing my guitar" to great sound coming out, the happier you'll be.


    Don't go with your head, go with your heart. Don't forget this time next year maybe you'll be able to save up and get the other unit if you really need both, by then you'll probably be really happy with whichever one you got anyway so wont need both, but that just = extra guitar :D

  • Has there been one that you've found yourself going to first more and the other you've found yourself just switching on and plugging in because you feel guilty and need to give it a fair shout?


    Convenience is a huge aspect of this really. The sooner you're up and running and making music, the fewer steps you have to take between "I feel like playing my guitar" to great sound coming out, the happier you'll be.


    Don't go with your head, go with your heart. Don't forget this time next year maybe you'll be able to save up and get the other unit if you really need both, by then you'll probably be really happy with whichever one you got anyway so wont need both, but that just = extra guitar :D

    I have a hard time trying to discern which one I like the most. Honestly the AX8 seems to be what I gravitate to. I think it's actually very true to the amp sounds and how they tweak which is surprising since I thought the Kemper would be most authentic. It gets a more realistic, woody neck tone and the effects are a level up than the Kemper. However, what keeps me coming back to the Kemper is the tone and feel.


    When I plug into my Friedman BE-100, the AX8 is most like it in feel and tone. The Kemper has this kind of artificial flavor, but even so, I really like it a lot. It's this squashy, juicy kind of pick attack and the feel of it is more forgiving. The Fractal stuff is less forgiving to pick attack. If you're familiar with Mesa Boogie amps, then that's what the Fractal pick response reminds me of. Kemper's pick attack reminds me of a Friedman Smallbox. Even though the Fractal seems like more authentic, whatever it is in the Kemper tone is very satisfying. I can't say what it is exactly, but I like it.


    When it comes to features, the AX8 has it all in a portable package. My Kemper rack is a bit clunky. I probably won't port either one around a whole lot, but it's nice to have it all bundled in one unit.


    The dealer I bought my Kemper from only had the rack versions. I wish I could exchange it for the head version, which would be more convenient for me, but they don't have any. If I could swap it for the head version, I might keep it over the AX8 simply because it would be a little easier to tote.


    I don't know man. I've spent hours and hours going back and forth between them. It's not helping at all. The more I play them, the harder it is to make a choice. Damn this sucks.

  • ..However, every time I think about letting my Kemper go, I feel attached to it somehow.- for reasons I can't describe or even pinpoint. I just like it as much as the Fractal. Anyway,....

    The reason you're clinging to the Kemper is because it's the closest you can get to the sound and FEEL of a tube amp. You could settle for many digital devices and get used to their sound, but the Kemper is the closest that you can get to the real deal, and that make it exceptionally unique and worth keeping. HTH

  • Then what'll save you more money? If there differences are that slight for you, then go the other way and use your head. It's not like you'll be missing much by opting for the cheaper option.


    Nothing wrong with loving the AX8 if that's what does it for you and to be honest that's what it sounds like you're saying. When you talk about the Kemper - it sounds more like you're trying to convince yourself to me.


    Of course maybe both are wrong for you and that's why you've not settled on one yet.

  • Man, you gotta love it when people take a jab at you before offering some advice. "Unverifiable and inaccurate?" Really dude? So do you usually walk around thinking everyone else is not smart or experienced enough to give a credible assessment? Anyway, I understand what you mean, but I've spent my life taught not to make emotional decisions, so I wouldn't be good at making decisions like that. I think I agree about the toaster version, but I can't exchange my rack for one, so I guess I'll have to get a little headshell or something.Thanks for your input.

  • I FINALLY FIGURED IT OUT!!!!


    Many years ago before getting into tube amps, I used to use solid state amps and processors. When I first got into tube amps, I was blown away, so I've been a die-hard tube guy since. Over the years, I've tried all the Line6 processors up until the POD HD. I even tried a Katana when the first came out. A few years ago was my first taste of Fractal, and I was blown away, but no entirely convinced. Anyway, to make a long story short, I didn't think there was anything that could match Fractal -- even Kemper -- until I actually played a Kemper.


    Well, fast-forward to now. After spending a couple of hours, for the 5th day in a row, going back and forth between my AX8 and Kemper, something very familiar happened - EAR FATIGUE! Back in the day, I didn't realize what it was that made me feel sick of playing after a while, but that never happened with tube amps. I had actually decided to sell the Kemper and stick with the AX8 because I liked it more overall. However, once the ear fatigue set in, I knew I'd recognized what it was that kept me going back to the Kemper.


    After that, I plugged into my Kemper and played for another hour - then played another 45 minutes or so later last night. That's the one thing that I'd get from my Axe FX II and the AX8 that I never experienced from the Kemper.


    I don't know if anyone else is the same way, but the reason I can't stand solid state amps and modelers is that they grate on my ears after a while. Sometimes I'll listen to an album and really like it, but it'll grate on my ears, so I'll go and look up the gear used to record that album, if I can find it, and sure enough it'll turn out to be solid state or something. That's why I never, ever get tired of listening to classic albums recorded with loud tube amps. Perhaps it's a rather idiosyncratic thing.


    Therefore, as much as I like the AX8 and prefer its features, I'm going to have to keep the Kemper because it doesn't make my ears weary. Anyway, that is what I was talking about earlier in the thread that I couldn't quite identify. There is something definitely more organic and tube-like than Fractal's stuff, and I'm not saying that to take sides or anything. I'm still very impressed by Fractal among all others. It's just that Kemper is the only one I can tolerate and enjoy for a long time.

  • If you’re after cleans, which are again subjective, and you’re not making your own profiles, Bert M’s B-Verb and TAF’s Carr Slant 6 are both nice, then tons of MBritt, Tone Junkie, etc. But again what clean means, especially in context to a track, varies wildly.

    I've downloaded all of the free patches. The biggest surprises were the Carr Slant, Little Walter 22, and one of my very favorite profiles is the Valvetech 25. I don't know if the Valvetech is a stock patch or not, but that one is amazing. If fact, if I come across one at a good price, I'm going to buy the real deal.

  • Therefore, as much as I like the AX8 and prefer its features, I'm going to have to keep the Kemper because it doesn't make my ears weary. Anyway, that is what I was talking about earlier in the thread that I couldn't quite identify. There is something definitely more organic and tube-like than Fractal's stuff, and I'm not saying that to take sides or anything. I'm still very impressed by Fractal among all others. It's just that Kemper is the only one I can tolerate and enjoy for a long time.

    This is why I kept saying that the "organic", "natural" factor was key, MG.


    Further to that, did you notice this statement?:

    the authenticity, responsiveness, naturalness and "organic" sound (infinite natural variations if one really "listens in" to the tones - uncanny, IMHO) have to take precedence.

    I'm certain this is the reason you don't experience that fatigue. I'll try to summarise what I've said in these here parts a number of times; please forgive the brazen lack of contextual explanations and so on. You made what I think is a commendable, valuable observation, and even identified the characteristics of the sound that led to the fatigue. Well done, man! All I'm trying to do here is perhaps shed some light on your observation by way of an explanation:


    I've banged on here about the brain's hunger to be "fed" "interesting-and-elegant" numbers, probably posting too much (and long posts!) about it. It's the same as tree leaves and branches swaying and fluttering in the wind vs a toy truck for a child's brain development. Looking at fixed plastic monotone shapes all day simply cannot compete with being out in the natural environment; the latter is numbers galore, and glorious ones at that. Complex shapes and movements, sophisticated colours, nothing contrived and peddled as a substitute for real experiences.


    The brain adds, subtracts, and I believe multiplies and divides every frequency from every other in real time when you listen to music. Its bandwidth is literally incomprehensible to us (ironic, that!), and is comparable to the entire communications network in the US, for example. No wonder it hungers for fodder, and force feeding it "conventional" modellers, especially distorted tones IMHO, is an insult to its intelligence, abilities and requirement for data that it can play nice "little" number games with.


    In short, IMHO, the Kemper's providing your brain with genuine entertainment; it probably loves playing games with the, here we go again, "complex, organic-and-natural-sounding" tones (did I say this was key? LOL) it receives from the Kemper. This would explain the ability to play for hours when you otherwise wouldn't. It'd explain being tempted to switch the unit on and play when you otherwise wouldn't have. It'd explain why so many owners find that they love the unit more every day, something I experience myself and have likened to a "perfect" relationship with a woman.


    OK. 'Nuff said. I'm sure you get it. Hey, as a bonus, who knows, this baby might even help prevent degenerative brain diseases (I'm sure it would, actually!).


    HTH, and again, well done on your fine observation, MG, and congrats on reaching a conclusion! I'm stoked for you man. :thumbup:

  • Everyone is missing a key point...


    We ARE the nicest forum :)


    Seriously I think your views and consistant to what we believe. The Kemper is more organic and natural but the Axe stuff has the effects advantage...


    But its so personal, not sure what we can add.


    As mentioned if you can;t tell that much difference go the cheaper route.