Oh, god - not another Kemper comparison test

  • 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.

    Kemper V Amp V Loadbox test

    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 :-)

  • Of course, something we don't need comparison clips for is the fact that the real-amp-into-whatever options are... only one amp.

    It'd take an awful lot of work, time and money to set this up for every amp available as Profiles for the KPA.

    Hey, kudos to you for going to all that trouble, Alan. Admirable effort, mate.

  • My conclusion was that if I knew exactly which amp I want and I only ever want that amp then the real hong and a loabox would be as good a solution as the Kemper (not better; possibly slightly “different” but at least “as good”) and would prbably be cheaper - depending on which real amp I wanted. However, the cost of every amp I want would result in bankruptcy / divorce or most probably both!!! So it turns out the Kemper really was the right decision for me.

  • Some sounded good, I liked 5 and 10. 1 was awful.

    Hi Tommy. Thanks for the feedback.

    Those are interesting choices :D

    Can I ask how you were comparing them?

    What speakers/headphones?

    Did you download to a DAW and toggle between them in real time or just listen to the clips one after the other?

    Although they all sounded slightly different to me I would have been happy to use any of them in a track. I think I was more surprised by just how similar they all were. Much less different than I expected at outset. Any differences to my (admittedly knackered ears) could be described as just that "differences" rather than one being better than another. Even the one commercial MBritt profile of a totally different amp and cabinet didn't jump out as being out of place.

    Obviously, we all have different tastes which is what makes music so interesting - long may it continue :thumbup:

    There was one that stood out as being truly awful to me but it wasn't no 1 ( ;) ). The awful one to my ears was the Mesa Cabclone DI. But, as it is effectively a free solution that comes with the amp anyway, it's still a nice little feature to have. I would have bought the amp even if it didn't have the Cabclone! Although it jumped out as being overly bright and spiky with no tweaking, I am pretty sure it could have been made to sound pleasing enough to my ears with a little EQ and maybe some compression.

    One of things I wanted to ascertain for my own comfort was whether there really is a significant different between buying commercial profiles and spending ages searching for the right one Vs just making a quick and dirty DIY profile of my own amp exactly as I like it in the room. Basically is there any reason to fear making profiles? The OP in the other post implied that as an "average guitarist" rather than an experienced pro, making profiles would be unlikely to produces great results. Should we fear the profiler; particularly if, like me, you have to profile in the same room as the live amp? I don't have the luxury of putting the speaker in a separate room when profiling.

    I decided to take the Joe Walsh approach ("just and ordinary average guy") and find out. My process was simple; plug into Boogie. Spend about 1 minute twiddling knobs until I was happy with the sound. Record a quick loop using the Kemper Remote and play this back through the Boogie. Stick a set of Shure SE435 in my skull and cover them with a pair of workshop ear defenders to kill as much of the amp in the room as possible. Move the mic around for about a minute until it sounded fairly pleasing. Hit profile. Hit store. Job done.

    I am sure I could have gotten better results with a little more work but it certainly proved to me that there is nothing to fear when making profiles. Are they as good as the MBritt or Tone Junkie profiles etc? Probably not in all honesty but........they do sound like the way I wanted my amp to sound at that particular moment in time. I'll upload the profiles to Rig Exchange tonight. Now that I think I understand the subtractive nature of Merged profiles I'll even create a Merged Profile to replace the IR which isn't in Kemper format.

    Another thing I wanted to test with the comparison was whether different DI boxes made a noticeable difference to a direct profile. I don't have a really nice DI like the Countryman or the Kemper DI. However, the ART XDirect is listed as one of the boxes that works well in the forum thread about suitable DI's so I used that as the starting point. I wondered whether active V passive would make any real difference and as I already had an ART ZDirect it was a no brainer to just make a second DI profile. But more importantly Kemper say not to use a load box because the Direct Profile needs to see the real speaker impedance curve for the amp output section to be captured properly. I decided to try using the Two Notes Torpedo Reload as a load box and DI in one to see what happened. It is perhaps an important factor but the Two Notes is a reactive load rather than a simple resistive load box. I think the results came out OK. In fact the two that you preferred were both made with the Two Notes load box; as was the one you though was awful - go figure :/ The two you liked were also made with totally different speaker IRs. One being my quick and dirty DIY IR and the other a commercial Two Notes IR of a different cabinet in a different room. I'm not trying to say anything other than, I am surprised how similar they can sound and that the differences seem to be more about personal taste than quality. The other thing is that interesting is that neither 5, 10 or 1 were the real amp and 57 or the Kemper Studio profile.

    For me the whole exercise suggests that:

    • The Kemper does a pretty good job of accurately capturing the real tone and character of the live amp.
    • It's sounds work for my tastes at least as well as any of the other options open to me.
    • I can't record a real amp in the house without triggering divorce papers or eviction. However, if I had to use any of the alternativemethods, I wouldn't lose any sleep.
    • However, the Kemper gives me access to a massive range of amps that the other options don't and
    • the workflow/ease of use trumps anything else I have encountered.

    I consider myself reassured that I am not just falling into the fanboy confirmation bias trap :thumbsup:

  • 2,6,7,10


    Thanks for posting. Is that you choices in order of preference or Amp, Kemper, Loadbox etc?
    In no particular order you went for:

    The MBritt Tweed Fender profile
    Mesa Cabclone (which I thought was like sticking needles in my ears ;) Just goes to show how subjective taste really is)
    The real amp
    The real amp into a loadbox with the commercial Two Notes IR of a different cabiner)

    I just keep coming back to the conclusion that there isn’t necessarily a best or even better sounding way to get a sound - just subtle differences that are as much about personal taste as any objective quality.

  • Nice work!

    Btw, I just used my Kemper, instead of a vintage Marshall 50w, at a great venue. We re-anacted At Fillmore East. Great sound guy. The Kemper sounded fantastic. Kemper powered head, monitor out to two JBL D120 speakers, and Ownhammer JBL D120 Mains out to FOH.

  • They were in no order, but to me 10 sounded the best, then 2 then 7...6 was a guess, it sounded better than the others i think.

  • 2 is the real amp I think.


    Dude you need a hearing test or your hearing aid need fixed :D

    I am, of course, just kidding - I promise.

    2 is the only one I personally find truly offensive; like ice pick in the ears offensive! It is the Mesa Boogie Cabclone DI :)

    This has been an interesting exercise for me and it shows one thing above all others - tone is totally subjective.

    There is definitely no best or even better when it comes to guitar tone. To paraphrase a cliche "beauty is in the ear of the beholder". One person's idea of sonic nirvana is another's idea of torture. It totally highlights why all those threads asking questions like "which is the best X profile for Blah genre" are a futile waste of time. The answer is always whichever one YOU like the best because nobody else's opinion matters. The absloulte best profiles I have found (for me) are always the ones I made with my one amp and a single SM57. Why, because that is the sound I was hearing in my head when I made it. Other people almost certain listen to my profiles and go "meh" (or even much worse :wacko: ) but they are the tones that I was chasing at the time.

    It also shows me that the whole Kemper is better than Axe or Helix or Axe is better than....... is irrelevant in the real world.

    We are living in a truly golden age of guitar where technology lets us get the sounds we want simply and consistently from whatever we choose. Unfortunately, most guitarists (I'm as bad as anyone else!) are never happy because we are always searching for something extra which is always just out of reach: it's like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

    For me the main thing is to enjoy the journey. The Kemper works great for my needs ad I am delighted with the results it gives me and the workflow suits me. If I had to work with something else I am sure I would still be happy with the results. I suppose the other thing I am trying to say is it is always better to really learn to work with what we have than keep constantly jumping around between different solutions but never really knowing any of them inside out. I am constantly amazed at just how powerful must of today's solutions are and I could spend years digging and still never reach full potential. Oh, shit!!! There's a realisation for you right there - the weakest part of any of those signal chains is invariably ME rather than the gear ;(

  • @IronWord thanks for the additional info and thanks for the feedback. I put up a full list of what they are later but you might be surprised by what each one is ;-)

    Dude you are splitting some fine hairs here, with the exception of 2 because it cuts through the mix and thats one of the things i was listening for and maybe another one that just has a different compression. It's easy to tell they are different to each other. BUt to really pick out a best is not easy. In my headphones the guitar is coming through all right side, if it was stereo i could get a better idea.

    I am listening through SHURE SRH1840 headphones IF i had to put in order what sounded best to worse to me it would be difficult without getting it in true stereo
    10,6,7,5,9,8,1and the difference between those is about 1% if that. 2,3,4 are at the bottom with 2 being the worse but cutting through the mix better.