A slightly different angle on Digital Versus Tubes

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So we've always had debates about whether digital modelling is better or as good as tubes. Some say yes as good as, some say better because less noise and more flexibility, and others say no that t00bz rule.

I sit in the middle somewhere.

But I wonder - will we ever reach a point where it's no longer even something that is thought about?

For my money, I'd probably say that the preamp stage is there. But anytime I've used one of those class D poweramps with a modeller, it has left me thinking that it was lacking something. Introduce a tube poweramp, and that something comes back. Even with modelled preamp sections.

So I think the amplification and playback stages are now where effort needs to be concentrated. And I wonder if that will ever be truly solved?
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  • Give it 20 years and younger players who have grown up without valves will accept it as the norm and the older players who can tell the difference will be so deaf they can’t tell
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  • Give it 20 years and younger players who have grown up without valves will accept it as the norm and the older players who can tell the difference will be so deaf they can’t tell
    I dunno though. I see a lot of young players still talking about valve amps and lusting after them.

    I think a lot of it rests on whether valves will be produced in the future. Currently there are like what, 3 factories worldwide that make valves now, something like that?? That's not a great place to be really.

    I've seen a chunk of younger players who started off on digital modellers who eventually moved to a valve amp. I don't think there is an issue with awareness of them as such. I think price is still something that puts a lot of younger plays off.
    My Channel: Wires Dream Disasters --- My Band: Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster --- My Studio: Orogenic Productions (website coming)
    Disclosure: I'm an audio engineer, product owner, and content developer working for FXpansion Audio UK Ltd.
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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1125
    edited February 4
    I've seen a chunk of younger players who started off on digital modellers who eventually moved to a valve amp. I don't think there is an issue with awareness of them as such. I think price is still something that puts a lot of younger plays off.
    I'm not a younger player, but I am interested in recording and I would need a minimum of 3 amps to use my guitars optimally, so I went with a used Kemper and never looked back.
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  • BridgehouseBridgehouse Frets: 17037
    Class D has been around a while with bass amps - and a good chunk of bass players will often say that a quality class D amp is a compromise - weight is so much better for convenience, but you lose some “heft” (what that actually is is a whole subject for debate).

    It’s true to say that for bass it’s often less of an issue because we usually DI for big venues and you end up with all the power stage coming from the PA - but the fact still remains that many feel the class D power stage definitely lacks something. 


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  • monquixotemonquixote Frets: 8381
    There are a few companies who seem to be trying stuff.

    TPS seemed quite impressed with the Nextone and orange claim to have a new solid state Poweramp with a better feel.

    I've never found poweramp to be too much of a problem. I find acoustic coupling to be what matters. Anything via headphones sounds wrong anything where a loud speaker is hitting the guitar I can usually deal with even if it's digital.
    Handsome_Chris said: Like white Nile Rodgers. 
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  • CirrusCirrus Frets: 3871
    I think that the interaction between a valve power amp & a relatively undampened guitar speaker is the bit that's hard to get right.

    Consider that people can hear a difference between otherwise identical speaker cabs depending on how they do the series/parallel wiring, let alone the difference between two speakers in series vs two speakers in parallel. The back EMF of the speakers moving interacts with the electrical operation of the power section. You don't get that with a class D amp, to the best of my knowledge.

    It's the same thing that, IMO, makes attenuators sound worse - it's not just the reduction in volume in the room, it's that they interfere with the electro-mechanical back and forth that the valves, transformer and speakers have with each other.

    That's tricky to model, especially when the modeller takes the amp and the cab as separate black boxes where one follows the other.
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  • Mark1960Mark1960 Frets: 91
    I have been involved with two tenage guitarist recently, passing on some stuff, and both of them whilst liking the switches and buttons on a modeling ams, aim for a valve amp in the not too distant future. I also remember in the late 70s early 80s when solids were a very cost effective alternative, and everybody was saying valve amps were dead, but here we are again. I guess it's what you personally prefer.
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  • jpfampsjpfamps Frets: 1546
    Give it 20 years and younger players who have grown up without valves will accept it as the norm and the older players who can tell the difference will be so deaf they can’t tell
    I dunno though. I see a lot of young players still talking about valve amps and lusting after them.

    I think a lot of it rests on whether valves will be produced in the future. Currently there are like what, 3 factories worldwide that make valves now, something like that?? That's not a great place to be really.

    I've seen a chunk of younger players who started off on digital modellers who eventually moved to a valve amp. I don't think there is an issue with awareness of them as such. I think price is still something that puts a lot of younger plays off.
    Most consumer electronics are manufactured is a surprisingly small number of factories c.f. the impact the 2011 floods in Thailand  had on hard drive prices.


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  • PolarityManPolarityMan Frets: 4494
    At a technical level is is obvious that the models themselves will asymptotically approach perfection and that they will pass the threshold of human detectibility at some point. 

    Also in a way the inflexibility is what I like about valve amps, if you get ones with a good voicing then no matter how much you tweak its still going to sound good whereas with modellers I might have to wade through a bunch of dross first.
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  • Danny1969Danny1969 Frets: 3752

    The trouble with class D power amp is your essentially putting the modeller signal through another digital  processor .... the audio signal modulates the pulse width to provide the amplification in the same way a switch mode power supply works.  Then you need a low pass filter to remove the carrier frequency so that's more processing. It's not a surprise you can feel a difference as a player even though listening to program music through class D might be fine. 

    Personally from an electronics design point of view I don't like class D ..... it will always fail as we simply can't make good enough electrolytic capacitors capable of handling the huge switching currents at high voltage  over many years.... they will always fail whever in a computer PSU, a TV freeview box, An Apogee AD8000 .. an HK 1000 watt PA bass bin, A Mark bass head, a TC bass head. This is all stuff I've had in for repair the last month all with class D amp  or SMPS faults all caused by bad caps, which take out the switching transistor which takes out the pulse width chip and so on etc. 

    My advice if you gig with a class D power amp in the summer take a spare, chances are you will need it sooner or later 

    www.2020studios.co.uk 
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  • p90foolp90fool Frets: 10215
    I agree about the output stage, simply because I can feel the difference when I play it even if I can't hear it when others do. 

    Although I think the technology to improve that probably already exists my fear is that there's little incentive to as long as it sounds identical, and that future generations won't know or care about how a great amp interacts with a great guitar because they've never experienced it. 
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  • dindudedindude Frets: 5930

    I tend to agree with Drew here - right back in the day when I had a Boss Metal Zone and an elderly relative found an unbranded valve amp in this loft and gave it to me - the difference was massive compared to plugging into my sessionette, I could get that Metal Zone to sound rather nice all of a sudden. I think the reality these days is there are so many options to mix and match valve/digital that the lines become blurred, just use it to the level you're comfortable with and that makes a difference to you.

    My valve amp and pedals goes through a UA OX, and I actually prefer using headphones to bedroom volumes these days, which I never thought I would say, but an all digital chain still isn't there for me, but digital towards the end of the chain makes a lot of sense. Some people like their digital a bit further up the chain or all the way through, some not at all. But we have options. Stuff like the UA OX, or the new Suhr PT15, use digital in a way that makes sense to my brain - by using tech to supplement the world I know, not trying to replace it.

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  • robinbowesrobinbowes Frets: 1904
    Sound-wise, we're already there. Feel-wise, we're close but maybe not quite there.

    The main problem I find (and had forgotten about, as I've been using a Helix for some time) is that of getting a good sound and feel at lower volumes.

    R.
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  • digitalscreamdigitalscream Frets: 13243
    Danny1969 said:

    The trouble with class D power amp is your essentially putting the modeller signal through another digital  processor

    That's a highly misleading statement.

    With a class D power amp, there's no A/D conversion - which is what most people understand (or perceive) as the problem with shoving a guitar signal through a digital processor, in terms of the latency it introduces. 

    Also, the mere fact that class D effectively uses PWM doesn't mean it's digital at all; PWM is just as analogue in absolute terms as anything else as long as it's only quantized in one aspect (which, in the case of class D amplifiers, it is - amplitude).
    "Mains is ouchy if you get it up you" - Sporky
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  • Freebird said:
    I've seen a chunk of younger players who started off on digital modellers who eventually moved to a valve amp. I don't think there is an issue with awareness of them as such. I think price is still something that puts a lot of younger plays off.
    I'm not a younger player, but I am interested in recording and I would need a minimum of 3 amps to use my guitars optimally, so I went with a used Kemper and never looked back.
    Similar for me in a way. I can't really cope with just a two channel amp. I need 4 channels minimum really. I fake it right now with a 3 channel amp and an EQ/attenuation stage before the amp.
    My Channel: Wires Dream Disasters --- My Band: Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster --- My Studio: Orogenic Productions (website coming)
    Disclosure: I'm an audio engineer, product owner, and content developer working for FXpansion Audio UK Ltd.
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  • Danny1969Danny1969 Frets: 3752
    Danny1969 said:

    The trouble with class D power amp is your essentially putting the modeller signal through another digital  processor

    That's a highly misleading statement.

    With a class D power amp, there's no A/D conversion - which is what most people understand (or perceive) as the problem with shoving a guitar signal through a digital processor, in terms of the latency it introduces. 

    Also, the mere fact that class D effectively uses PWM doesn't mean it's digital at all; PWM is just as analogue in absolute terms as anything else as long as it's only quantized in one aspect (which, in the case of class D amplifiers, it is - amplitude).
    No not digital as in AD conversion but very much digital as in the switching transistor is either on or off, there's no bias point it's a purely digital function, hence the efficiency.  I agree processor was a poor choice of wording though. 
    www.2020studios.co.uk 
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  • FreebirdFreebird Frets: 1125
    edited February 4
    WiresDreamDisasters said:
    Similar for me in a way. I can't really cope with just a two channel amp. I need 4 channels minimum really. I fake it right now with a 3 channel amp and an EQ/attenuation stage before the amp.
    I use the staple Fender, Vox, Marshall and Ampeg type sounds, but I have enjoyed being able to experiment with the boutique amp profiles as a bonus. I've also discovered the delights of playing my Tele through a Roland JC 120 profile, which sounds great with a stereo chorus!

    I'd still like to get my hands on a nice little valve amp though, for playing in the room.
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  • MayneheadMaynehead Frets: 1480
    edited February 4
    I still think "Modellers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
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  • PolarityManPolarityMan Frets: 4494
    I think there are a few things in this category, line 6 have some original models, theres the toneforge stuff, most recently the mish mansoor tie in.
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  • Maynehead said:
    I still think "Modelers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
    That's what I like about my Katana. It's not trying to be another real world amp, it just presents several very cool sounds of its own.

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  • John_AJohn_A Frets: 2019
    Maynehead said:
    I still think "Modelers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
    That's what I like about my Katana. It's not trying to be another real world amp, it just presents several very cool sounds of its own.
    They don't make a big thing of it, but the Katana amps are actually taken from the GT-100

    JC-120 - Clean
    TWEED - Crunch
    5150 - DRIVE Lead
    SLDN - Brown 

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  • digitalscreamdigitalscream Frets: 13243
    Maynehead said:
    I still think "Modellers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
    I've honestly never really cared whether a model sounds like the original amp or not...authenticity is irrelevant to me, I just use the model names as a clue to the general flavour of the block and tweak from there. If I can't get it to work, I just move on to the next one that sounds vaguely appropriate for what I'm aiming at.
    "Mains is ouchy if you get it up you" - Sporky
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  • Maynehead said:
    I still think "Modellers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
    I've honestly never really cared whether a model sounds like the original amp or not...authenticity is irrelevant to me, I just use the model names as a clue to the general flavour of the block and tweak from there. If I can't get it to work, I just move on to the next one that sounds vaguely appropriate for what I'm aiming at.

    Yep - part of why I love the Fractal Recto model is it sounds like the same family of the real amps but it's a bit better behaved in lower tunings.  The real amp is really quite something to play through as a half stack, but for recording I actually found it easier to use the Axe FX.
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  • MayneheadMaynehead Frets: 1480
    Maynehead said:
    I still think "Modellers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
    I've honestly never really cared whether a model sounds like the original amp or not...authenticity is irrelevant to me, I just use the model names as a clue to the general flavour of the block and tweak from there. If I can't get it to work, I just move on to the next one that sounds vaguely appropriate for what I'm aiming at.
    I guess the pertinent question here is: If you disregard practicality/cost/feasibility etc., from a pure tone point of view, would you prefer a modelling amp with 10 amp models, or having the 10 actual amps that are being modelled at your disposal?
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  • PolarityManPolarityMan Frets: 4494
    Maynehead said:
    I still think "Modellers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
    I've honestly never really cared whether a model sounds like the original amp or not...authenticity is irrelevant to me, I just use the model names as a clue to the general flavour of the block and tweak from there. If I can't get it to work, I just move on to the next one that sounds vaguely appropriate for what I'm aiming at.

    Yep - part of why I love the Fractal Recto model is it sounds like the same family of the real amps but it's a bit better behaved in lower tunings.  The real amp is really quite something to play through as a half stack, but for recording I actually found it easier to use the Axe FX.
    A lot of that is the cab too though, mesa 4x12s are fucking beasting! Only ever played through one once when sharing backline and theyre just tear your head off.
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  • GrahamGGrahamG Frets: 48
    Isn't this sort of already happening with the Thomas Blug amp?
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  • John_AJohn_A Frets: 2019
    Maynehead said:
    Maynehead said:
    I still think "Modellers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
    I've honestly never really cared whether a model sounds like the original amp or not...authenticity is irrelevant to me, I just use the model names as a clue to the general flavour of the block and tweak from there. If I can't get it to work, I just move on to the next one that sounds vaguely appropriate for what I'm aiming at.
    I guess the pertinent question here is: If you disregard practicality/cost/feasibility etc., from a pure tone point of view, would you prefer a modelling amp with 10 amp models, or having the 10 actual amps that are being modelled at your disposal?
    Bit of a hypothetical question but I'd still go modeller as tonally it's much more adaptable, My (hypothetical) pair of JCM800's with 4 4x12 cabs would sound rubbish in the Dog n Duck, where-as my modeller sounds great.  Unless you file that under 'practicality' ;)
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  • digitalscreamdigitalscream Frets: 13243
    Maynehead said:
    Maynehead said:
    I still think "Modellers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
    I've honestly never really cared whether a model sounds like the original amp or not...authenticity is irrelevant to me, I just use the model names as a clue to the general flavour of the block and tweak from there. If I can't get it to work, I just move on to the next one that sounds vaguely appropriate for what I'm aiming at.
    I guess the pertinent question here is: If you disregard practicality/cost/feasibility etc., from a pure tone point of view, would you prefer a modelling amp with 10 amp models, or having the 10 actual amps that are being modelled at your disposal?
    I'd rather have 10 useful amp models than the same 10 amps.

    In fact, I'd rather have three useful amp models and a couple of useful alternatives for each major effect type than 20 useful glass bottle amps.

    Practicality wins, for me. For live stuff, that means a good modeller, a tiny-but-mighty power amp and a lightweight cab. For recording...it means having them all at my fingertips whenever the urge takes me.

    I've already proven to myself that no audience member can tell that it's not a valve amp when I'm running through a real cab, and that with a great engineer mixing it, using a modeller like the Helix doesn't detract from the music.

    I'm keeping the JCA50H for sentimental reasons, but from this point forward...I'm all about the modelling.
    "Mains is ouchy if you get it up you" - Sporky
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  • Maynehead said:
    I still think "Modellers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
    I've honestly never really cared whether a model sounds like the original amp or not...authenticity is irrelevant to me, I just use the model names as a clue to the general flavour of the block and tweak from there. If I can't get it to work, I just move on to the next one that sounds vaguely appropriate for what I'm aiming at.

    Yep - part of why I love the Fractal Recto model is it sounds like the same family of the real amps but it's a bit better behaved in lower tunings.  The real amp is really quite something to play through as a half stack, but for recording I actually found it easier to use the Axe FX.
    A lot of that is the cab too though, mesa 4x12s are fucking beasting! Only ever played through one once when sharing backline and theyre just tear your head off.

    True, the oversize cab does have quite a different response compared to a normal sized 4x12.  I find the 2x12 is the sweet spot for my tastes.  Even then, it's just a huge sounding amp in general.
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  • MayneheadMaynehead Frets: 1480
    Maynehead said:
    Maynehead said:
    I still think "Modellers" should stop trying to model valve amps, and become Digital Amps in their own right. Only when that happens will there be real competition against the valve amps, otherwise valve amps will always be the holy grail.
    I've honestly never really cared whether a model sounds like the original amp or not...authenticity is irrelevant to me, I just use the model names as a clue to the general flavour of the block and tweak from there. If I can't get it to work, I just move on to the next one that sounds vaguely appropriate for what I'm aiming at.
    I guess the pertinent question here is: If you disregard practicality/cost/feasibility etc., from a pure tone point of view, would you prefer a modelling amp with 10 amp models, or having the 10 actual amps that are being modelled at your disposal?
    I'd rather have 10 useful amp models than the same 10 amps.

    In fact, I'd rather have three useful amp models and a couple of useful alternatives for each major effect type than 20 useful glass bottle amps.

    Practicality wins, for me. For live stuff, that means a good modeller, a tiny-but-mighty power amp and a lightweight cab. For recording...it means having them all at my fingertips whenever the urge takes me.

    I've already proven to myself that no audience member can tell that it's not a valve amp when I'm running through a real cab, and that with a great engineer mixing it, using a modeller like the Helix doesn't detract from the music.

    I'm keeping the JCA50H for sentimental reasons, but from this point forward...I'm all about the modelling.
    Maybe my question was slightly confusing.

    Basically what I’m asking is, is it the actual tone of the amps that draws people towards modellers, or is it all the other conveniences that they offer?

    If you were a millionaire rockstar recording an album at the studio, would you still use a Helix?
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