This thread isn't intended to flame any fires or start world war 3 - honestly!
I don't buy into the whole Kemper is better than X of Helix is better than Y or nothing beats tubes; digitals good but it's not quite there yet..... etc etc etc They are all different and all have strengths and weakness. Some are better ofr one thing others for something else. Some might sound exactly like a real amp. Some might even sound better. Who care? Does it sound good? If the answer is yes then I'm happy.
Which brings me to, there was a thread recently where the OP felt that he was unable to get a decent tone from his Kemper but the same Les Paul into a Marshall sounded great. Therefore, the Kemper must be the problem. The OP felt letdown by the KPA and even somewhat "ripped off" because he could have gotten better results for about £1,000 less by buying a loadbox and a real valve amp. While the thread was generally helpful and balanced it unfortunately turned ugly in the end and moderators quite rightly closed it to further comments. Anyway, the save a grand with a load box and real amp suggestion piqued my interest. Anything that get the same result for a grand less has to be worth considering.
I used a Two Notes Torpedo Reload and Wall of Sound IR loader along with my Mesa Boogies for several years. When I finally switched to Kemper I was blown away by how good it was and, to be honest, I haven't turned on the Reload since I got the KPA.
In the previous thread, some members highlighted the fact that lots of "pros" use the Kemper both live and in the studio so clearly it is a quality piece of kit. The response to this suggestion was along the lines of; the Pros have the time money and experience to get everything just right and make the Kemper work for them. However, us average players (I definitely consider myself in that camp) need something that just works straight out the box without the knowledge and ears of Bob Clearmountain. This was an interesting point which runs totally contrary to my experience of the Kemper but then again maybe I have been blinded by the cult of Kemper. Time to put it to the test.
I am a bit OCD and very curious so I decided to concoct a test and compare a large range of options to see if I was just going native with Kemper. Many people accuse Kemper owners (and Helix and Axe FX etc) of being fanboys who just believe whatever the manufacturer tells us. "If Kemper says it sounds just like a real amp it must do"
I know I can be as guilty as anyone of listening with my eyes instead of my ears; which is good because in all honesty my ears are painted on
I decided to aim for as much consistency as possible. I also opted for a riff that everyone probably knows so it is familiar and lets us concentrate on the mixes.
Obviously I had to remove playing variations from the test but that was easy. My PRS P22 into Kemper and a DI Track recorded to Logic over SPDIF.
I wanted to reamp this via the Two Notes but for some reason it has developed a fault in the reamp out socket and this was creating noise that would have killed the test. So I simply reamped everything through the Kemper.
Reamping for Kemper profiles was obviously easy. Send SPDIF signal to KPA, record SPDIF signal from KAP and Bob's yer uncle as we say round here.
However, reamping back to the real amp proved a bit more challenging with the Two Notes Reload out of action. Then I realised. The Kemper serves as a straight through signal path with appropriate impedance matching when making a profile. Why not just set the KPA to profile mode and select "reference amp" then send it a SPDIF signal form the DI track? Bingo; back in business.
Everything was record straight from the KPA over SPDIF where possible however, the live amp and loadbox signals had to go through the mic pres on my old Mackie 8 Bus desk. I don't know how much difference they made but they must have had some impact on the comparison.
So the signal chains were as follows:
A - Real Amp - Mesa Boogie Mark Five:25 Clean Channel with the setting in the photo. GEQ was Off. Mesa 112 Thiele Ported EVM12L cabinet. SM57 into desk then Logic.
B - Studio profile of the same rig. No refining or tweaking. Literally just hit profile, cover ears, hit store, job done. I am sure I could have got the profile to sound even more like the amp with 10 minutes of tweaking.
C - Direct profile made with and ART XDirect active DI between amp and cabinet. A cabinet IR made from the same signal chain as the real mic'ed cabinet. In this case the IR was made with Torpedo BlendIR. As I din't have a high quality studio grade power amp guess what I used to drive the speaker when making the IR - yep, the Kemper power head with everything bypassed
D - Direct profile made with and ART ZDirect passive DI between amp and cabinet. Same IR as C.
E - Direct profile using Two Notes Torpedo as a reactive load instead of having any speaker connected. Same IR as C and D
F - The real amp into the Torpedo Loadbox with the same IR added in Logic. (the solution suggested in the previous post I mentioned)
G - Real amp with speaker disabled and the built in Cabclone DI going straight to Logic.
H - A Michael Britt profile. Michael does some great profiles but doesn't have any Mesa Mark Five:25's that I am aware ofr. I just used a nice Tweed Fender (58 Deluxe MB I think). With the benefit of hindsight I should probably have used one of the Tone Junkie Mark Five profiles as closer reference. The point here wasn't to try and get exactly the same tone but just to see is a good commercial profile really jumped out as being superior to a quick DIY.
I - Obviously my IRs might not be to everyone's taste and a significant part of the idea was to see whether a load box and IRs was at least as good a solution as the Kemper for a fraction of the cost. Therefore, I used the XDirect Kemper Direct Profile with a Twon Notes commercial IR - 1 x 12 2Notes CSG.
J - As above but with the real amp into the loadbox instead of using the direct profile.
I then tried to level match as closely as possible in a track and bounced each one to a stereo file. There is not processing on the guitars at all other than a little bit of reverb to take the dryness off it. All tracks are sending the same signal level to a bus so the reverb is consistent in all cases. The Bass is also a Kemper reamped profile - AFF - 76 Fan BM. It does have a touch of compression and EQ added in Logic but basically it is pretty much the straight profile (I could just as easily have added the compression and EQ in the profiler itself.)
I have uploaded everything to Soundcloud. The tracks aren't super loud as I haven't compressed the final mixes and they certainly haven't been slammed through a limiter so you might need to turn the volume up higher than you are used to but that's what volumes controls are for; right?
Clearly that is a lot of different mixes to keep track of so if anyone is interested in comparing them I have enable downloads on Soundloud. Simply download all the files and line them up in your own DAW to make is easy to toggle back forth between them.
Which one is the real amp? Which is the Kemper Studio Profile? Can you spot the loadbox?
My findings are that they all do sound slightly different but all are totally useable. A little bit of EQ here and there would get them all sounding close enough for jazz in my book. However, one stands out as being unpleasant to me. I although it's levels were peaking at the same point as all the others, it was perceived as much louder due to it's frequency content. I won't say what it was but I think you will notice it even though I have tried to get it sitting around the same level as the other takes.
Right pour a bottle of wine and start listening