Kemper, an honest review.

  • I just thought i would pass on my personal experience of the Kemper PowerRack and welcome any questions and/or comments.


    I have been playing guitar in semi professional bands for about 25 years now and have been through a hell of a lot of different types of gear. For the past 10 years i have been using valve amps, both for live use and recording. I was using Mesa/Boogie 295 power amp with a Mesa Studio, which is as good as it is heavy in weight. I later switched to a Soldano head and my knackered spine forgave me.


    I was using a lot of pedals and felt that i needed something more simple, something that would meet the needs of the studio and road use and that was reliable and consistent, so after reading countless reviews and doing a lot of research i purchased the PoweRack.


    I found there was a lot to get my head around but with the help of the online tutorials i soon got to grips with the unit and the many, many features. My band was due to record soon after my KPA arrived, so after settling on a sound i was happy with i went ahead and recorded our single with it. I have recorded my past 3 bands albums, regular setup in our studio with mics in front of cabs etc. To be able to record at home in a comfortable environment without the blaring speaker cabinets but with much better results was an absolute treat!


    My band have booked a lot of shows in including several tours for the later part of the year (thanks Covid). So, rehearsals have started up again for that as well as writing for our next release. This is where i started to feel a bit uneasy. I realised that although the sound i used for our single sounded good through the DAW, the profile wasn't so good through my cab. I searched the RigExchange and soon found something that i was happy with that sounded great through my cab. My band play at very loud volumes, huge valve bass rigs that benefit from being pushed and a drummer, well, hard to describe...he's loud.

    I turned my PowerRack up, and up again, then up again and then went into the Output settings and turned the poweramp up, and up again. I got to a level where i could be heard, but i noticed a change with the feel and sound at that level. With my previous setup i was used to the sound coming alive the more i pushed it and i always had huge amounts of headroom, the Kemper sounds good still i feel it loses something when pumped a bit, maybe a little thinner and compressed. I thought 'ah well, it still sounds good and it'll be going straight out to front of house anyway', and that's when i thought on, 'how am i going to know how this sounds through a PA at a festival/gig venue when i haven't had the opportunity to test it?' To test this at soundcheck could be disastrous as the profile may be awful when taken out the back. So, i tried it through some flat response speakers, using the recommended settings -db output etc, and i found that i didn't like the sound i was hearing. EQ wouldn't fix the sound, it was the profile. I went about looking through many other profiles and tested in the same way and i could not settle on a sound i was happy with. For me, i need something that sounds good on stage through the cab, regardless of whether i can get a good sound out front and then fed into stage monitors.


    I have started to question whether i will use the PowerRack for live use or return to the tried and tested setup but purchase a new valve amp. The KPA is an amazing piece of gear which i will definitely continue to use in the studio and i think it would be really good for players that don't need it to be pumped so much at rehearsals or on stage. It's something i would use for different styles of music that i might play and the ease of carrying it around, plugging and playing makes it a keeper.

    The feeling of being uncertain about my setup is not a good one and i worry that it may just be a bit to much of a gamble for me for live use.


    Cheers for reading.

  • Just to give my experience and conclusions....


    Like you I've been gigging for 20+ years ( probably 30 now :) ) and I was a dedicated valve man until I picked up the power rack nearly 7 years ago. I do very little recording so my needs are for live almost exclusively...and we play loud as well.


    I started with a 4x12 and it was ok. I miked it up like a regular amp. However when I tried to go direct, it was awful. It was only then that I realised how massively coloured the cabs are. they smooth sound out to sound very similar and it covered duff profiles. As I did festivals, I saw massive differences between cabs as well.


    The second thing I realised is that FOH sound is totally different to on stage, even with a regular rig. So I thought I'm getting a great sound on stage which automatically translates to great FOH sound....no it doesn't. There is always a compromise between the 2, regardless of set up.


    I moved to FRFR and it was good and transparent but missed something..but I had the advantage of hearing much closer to what the audience hears, including any nuances...like IEM's, though this can be too much...


    I've now landed on the Kabinet...which is not the utopian solution but pretty good.


    Before you give up, I suggest:


    1) Shift your thinking. As they will always be different, which sound is most important, FOH or on stage? Its FOH in my opinion. Note this is no different for a regular map, its just more obvious with the KPA because of the options. I've become less hung up about my on stage sound, knowing my FOH sound is the best it can be, consistent and less easy for a sound man to change too much beyond what I want.


    2) Make sure you try Merged profiles rather than studio - if you are not happy with your cab sound, this is likely to be more accurate


    3) All your on stage sounds need to be tuned for on stage volumes. The KPA/digital is actually more linear but sound of course changes at volume.


    4) Its not all about volume but cut. If you have to keep turning up its more likely that the sound is conflicting with other instruments and you'll need a disproportionate amount of volume. Because the KPA has so many options, we naturally search out the best sound. The best sound is usually the fullest, which sounds fab on its own but gets lost in a band mix. This is the same for a regular set up but valve amps have less options so you often don't face this so much.

  • playing Live with Kemper 7 years, now, not 1 problem, ever,

    but tweaking sounds,for a live show,,, MUST be done at concert level,, whatever that will be for the night,,,,

    and,,, I need a diff set up/EQ/Level/efx,,, etc,,, for stage , and then FOH,,

    I use a small Matchless amp for my stage sound, and send xlr out to house,I start with NO stage sound, and play till the sound guy gives me a thumbs up, then I set my amp as a monitor, , all being fed with a Kemper profile, once I make the sound guy/ mixer happy, Its always a great gig,,

    Thats my exp,,,I do country/ rock/ pop/ and blues shows, as a sub,,and session guy,, with this same set up, jus diff profiles,/guitars as per gig..

    It took me 2 years of searching, but I got there,

    Its a great time to play guitar,,choices for everyone,

  • To me, 'tried-and-true' means that's what you know, and that's a perfectly good thing. The Kemper sounds (and feels like) an amp. Except it isn't one. As you've realized, using the same basic methods for getting a good sound out of a tube amp don't 100% transfer to the KPA.

    There is a bit of trial and error, which takes time. Let's also be honest, one reason tube amps are 'easier' is because, for the most part, you get what you get. It either works, you *make* it work or you go get a different one and try again.

    If on-stage sound is a problem (you play loud), could it be you're hearing a mic'd cabinet sound when your ear expects an amp-in-the-room tone? Especially at volume, that'll be a HUGE difference to your ear. Perhaps a Kemper Kone (or 4) ??

    “Without music, life would be a mistake.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

  • My Kemper clicked until I profiled my own Twin, and to my surprise, it sounded identical, I just added some more amp compression and now it reacts better at lower volumes than my twin. Maybe you should try to profile your amps with a simple SM57, you might be surprise that even the punch and air from the amp is there with the same cab. Also, try some direct profiles from the amps you like, preferably profiled with the same kind of cabs (reactance to speakers is a thing), and EQ at high volume, that way you might find what you are missing. If anything, valve amps are more wild when turned up, but you should get really close.


    About how different you sound in FOH, it is a realization you get to when using the kemper. I discovered that I never sounded as amazing as I heard myself, because the front engineers were morons, they do the mic in the outer zone of the cone, and EQ everything making the guitar sound shrill and only for the voice to stand out. I started to get the "Your guitar sounds amazing dude!" after the kemper.

  • Thanks you all for your responses to this.


    I definitely don't want to give up with the KPA for live use and i appreciate that a lot of time is needed to get the right sound. It's there somewhere but i'm just yet to find it.


    It is interesting to read all of your experiences, it gives me hope that with time i can get things to work for me.


    Part of my anxiety with the setup is that our first gig back will be the first date of a tour, which doesn't leave me much room to change once i commit to using it. The only thing i could think of is if i take it to a venue locally before the tour to try it through a PA but that is easier said than done.


    I have not yet attempted to profile my own amps to be fair but i thought i could pull somebody else's who had already done that using some of the amps i own.


    Going with just merged profiles is a good suggestion but how are merged profiles identified when trawling through Rig exchange? Are these listed with cab/mic settings and not N/A i take it?


    The only other thing i have noticed is that i haven't felt like i have enjoyed our recent rehearsals, which is a big concern and a very important part of why we do what we do, right? I'm so used to having the air move with a huge thick sound behind it during rehearsals and i'm not quite getting that.


    I would be open to any recommendations if anyone can point me in the direction of some good heavy Soldano type profiles that would translate well for live use.


    Thanks

  • I think many of us have been here so totally get what you are saying.


    It took me about 18 months to be happy BUUUUUTTTT before you panic, I wasn't changing sounds, it was about my own confidence in my sounds and ditching the 4 x12. it was a leap of faith.


    It took people to tell me how good I sounded because the way it delivers on stage is different. I had to get used to that a bit but now I have confidence in my sound. Its all about how you feel...took me ages to "believe" in digital regardless of what my ears said...


    1) Merged profiles - most are tagged but no way systematically to know - its a feature request :). Most commercial packs include them. There is a video on merged profiles through a cab vs studio and its significant! definately give it a go. I'm FRFR/Kabinet now so I don't use them


    2) Defo get happy before your tour. What about a rehearsal room? Hire it out and use the PA???


    3) Bert M SLO profiles are pretty good and they are free in the Kemper packs. Otherwise quite a few around. I like Big Hairy sounds SLO's...but loads of profiles around. This is the hardest thing to do. Defo profile your map as a starting point, then you know your PA sound will be almost identical as it is now...which is a great starting point. Even better, do a DI profile.....then your on stage should be damn close..

  • i think in most cases the cab simulation IR ist the problem. In my opininon the right cap makes 60-70% of the soundquality. As other guys say you have to tweak the parameters in live situation volume. (fletcher munson curve). Try not tu use the EQ so much, its better to work with the options in the amp section to change the voicing of the amp. I use the BM Friedman BE 100 Preset together with a Matrix GT 1000 solid state amp and on stage a 2x12 FRFR Cab (Blueamps BEAST) which ist realy loud and drive a lot of air. My first Attempt in the rehersal room was louder than the 100 Blackstar Amp with 4x12 Cab from my colleque. Also the drummer cant trust his ears.

    The best is not to tweak amp Profils that much as its coloured the sound and change everything. The way to go is to find the amp you like with the cab you like and work on that sound. my suggestion to try Bert Meulendijk presets as they are really good. Work with the Definition Parameter in the AMP section and try to find the best sound for the amp. IN rehersal I use my non powered rack with -18DB and the solid state amp in bridge modus on 12o clock. All settins below -12 DB are killer for ears for sure.

    on main output I send the Signal depending on the mixer desk with -12 to -20 DB. this works great for the sound engeneer. With FRFR I have the feeling on the Stage and can decide how loud i need the monitor volume.

    But as other people say not the loudness ist important its the cut through the mix and this works only If the amp sounds a litte bit harsh (not homeplaying friendly)

  • I have found my Kemper to be an excellent solution for recording at home.


    I have used it on countless wedding gigs and have found it to be just ok. Good enough for wedding gigs. I use an FRFR and it's also just OK. I don't love it.


    I do not like the Kemper in a live situation enough to use it for my original bands. For those I still use my Fender.


    But for recording, digital amps are the way to go for me.

  • bring a small combo amp/ortube head,, you can count on,( almost every venue/club/bar. has a cab,)there is one for almost any style of music, also good for backstage warm ups, hotel room jam/song writting etc, good luck,,

    BTW,,,working with the kemper during sound check is a great way to dial in tone,

  • . I use an FRFR and it's also just OK. I don't love it.


    I do not like the Kemper in a live situation enough to use it for my original bands. For those I still use my Fender.

    Here again - an FRFR will not provide an amp-in-the-room sound. It can't.

    This complaint (not a bad thing - it's true) is precisely why the Kone speaker was developed.

    “Without music, life would be a mistake.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

  • Here again - an FRFR will not provide an amp-in-the-room sound. It can't.

    This complaint (not a bad thing - it's true) is precisely why the Kone speaker was developed.

    I understand this.


    The biggest hurdle with digital amps is knowing what you sound like out front. I have played my Kemper with a traditional guitar cab and I love it. I suppose I could mic the cab live, but at that point it would be easier to bring a small combo as the cabinet just makes all profiles sound similar. Not exactly the same, but similar enough.


    I could use a guitar cab on stage, and send the direct signal from the KPA to FOH (studio profile) but then I don’t know what the audience is hearing (I understand that I can never fully know, regardless of what kind of amplification I use, but with non digital/direct solutions I have a better idea)


    I have not considered the Kemper Kab so I haven’t really looked into it. Can I send the direct signal from the Kab to FOH, thus ensuring I have a decent idea of what the audience hears? In other words, will the KPA “imprints” (or whatever they’re called) be sent to FOH and how can I be sure they sound the same through the PA as they do coming out of the Kemper Kab?

  • I turned my PowerRack up, and up again, then up again and then went into the Output settings and turned the poweramp up, and up again. I got to a level where i could be heard, but i noticed a change with the feel and sound at that level. With my previous setup i was used to the sound coming alive the more i pushed it and i always had huge amounts of headroom, the Kemper sounds good still i feel it loses something when pumped a bit, maybe a little thinner and compressed.

    The choice of passive, FRFR or Kabinet for your cabs are one collection of things that influence tone. However, another option you have is to not use the power amp in the Kemper and instead experiment with other power amps, i.e. Kemper > some other power amp > speaker cab.


    Maybe a high powered tube amp with lots of headroom would would get you closer to what you're used to hearing on stage with your passive cabs. I don't know how much of a difference that would make, but it is another path you could explore for your stage sound.


  • When using imprints with the Kemper Kone/Kab, the imprints are only sent through the monitor outs. The signal sent out through main outs (which would go to FOH) would still be the same as the original profile.


    The purpose of imprints is to try and simulate a non-mic'd amp in the room sound. They are basically for the player's enjoyment only.

    If you wanted to hear most accurately what FOH is hearing with the Kone/Kab you would run it in Full Range mode, rather than using Imprints.

  • I would recommend profiling your own amps if possible. I recently did some direct profiles of heads I own and tbh I like them better than most other profiles I’ve tried because they sound pretty much identical to the real amps that I already liked. And they sound equally good thru a cab and through the main out with a cab sim.

  • Thanks again everyone.


    I appreciate all the responses.


    I do have my Mesa/Boogie Stereo Simul-Class 295, which is one of the best power amps out there i have found. The reason for not using it in a live setting anymore is the weight and size of it. I used to tour with it powering 4 4 x12 cabs. Slightly ridiculous but it's a very powerful amp (costs a fortune to revalve)

    I would be very interested to hear how the KPA sounds through this instead of using the built in power amp.


    I will try profiling some of my own amps i think using the suggested methods. I'm glad other people have experienced the same concerns as i am now. I guess it's just a case of getting used to the change from moving from the traditional setup.


    Thanks again everyone. I think without the help/advice/chat from the forum that i've had i'd probably have given up a while ago. Cheers.

  • For me live I ditched the whole FRFR route (except foh get's an IR included signal of course)


    Now I play a vertical 2x12 zilla cab wired for 4 ohm ... That way I have plenty of power and headroom available :)


    That did it for me to compete with ease with loud drummers/bassist and tube head guys ;-)


    Raf

  • What Speakers are you running in the 212 Zilla Cab?


    I tried it a long time ago against an Metal Drummer with the HB 212 v30 and he couldnt here me that good in the rehearsal room!

    No im playing with the Headrush 112 and its all good.


    To be fair the Headrush has 2000w and the HB had 120w!

  • an 8 ohm celestion k-100 and a 8 ohm V30 wired parallel ...


    Raf

  • I also have the Mesa Boogie 295, but my Kemper Rack is the unpowered version. Also had the Studio Pre, now got a Triaxis. My band uses my EVH 5153 100 watt.


    I used to tweak at home all kind of 5153 profiles (tru nearfield studio monitors), sounded great. Until I brought the Kemper in the rehearsal room and connected it to the return (power amp) of our EVH 5153. It was awful, too trebly. Using the Kemper as a preamp and A/B'ing it with our EVH I realized the 5153 profiles sounded best (on the 4x12 cab) without any eq. With the Mesa 295 I liked the Kemper/295 better than the EVH.


    After that I took the uncolored profiles as the basis and tried all kind of cabinet profiles. And played them really loud over my studio monitors. What seems dull/muffled at bedroom level will sound good on higher levels (on a PA). The PA loves the mids in your sound , so pump that up. Put some hi- and lowpass (its in the master output settings) on the master output.


    So I did it the other way around. First I got myself a killing sound tru the 4x12 and Mesa295, then I searched for a cab profile that needed not much tweaking to sound good in a venue.


    Ps. I have tried the Matrix GT1000FX (also have a loud drummer) but it was no match for our 100 watt tube amps, the matrix couldn't keep up volume wise.