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This article was originally published in issue #15
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Made by the same people who developed the legendary Access Virus synthesiser, the Kemper Profiling Amplifier comes from a pedigree of very high-end audio products. Its main purpose is to allow the user to capture the tone and feel of any amplifier and store it in this lunchbox sized device for use in the studio, live, or for practice sessions. How successful it is at this goal is nothing short of remarkable and it really can be very difficult for the listener to distinguish between the original amplifier and the Kemper's profiled version. The ability to capture your own or someone else's beloved tube amps in such a small package and carry them around to any gig, session or rehearsal is truly revolutionary and distinguishes the Kemper from all the other 'modelling amplifiers' on the market.
The amplifier is split into four main sections and sports a retro, Starship Enterprise look that appears far more complex than it actually is in practice. Along the top panel are the three elements that make up a profile - Stomp, Stack and Effects - whilst the lower panel contains a large LED screen and the majority of the editing and fine-tuning controls, mapped to six large dials and a series of buttons with various functions. Powered-up, with all of the LEDs on full brightness, the Kemper looks stunning and wouldn't be out of place in any good sci-fi movie - it's a cool look for sure!
The Stomp section contains a load of stomp pedals and effects including drives, compressors, EQ's and modulations that can be placed before the amplifier section. Four of these can be put in any order and tweaked with various parameters for an impressive level of control. The Stack section contains the actual profile of your stored amplifier, broken into the amplifier itself, tone stack (EQ) and the cabinet. Each can be edited or switched on/off independently allowing you to bypass the cabinet for example and run through an existing guitar cab. The Effects section is essentially a post amp version of the Stomp section and allows for four effects with quick access controls underneath for easy editing. The lower panel's LED screen updates depending on which menu you're in at the time and dials all update to reflect the relevant parameter for editing. In the default screen these dials function as amplifier EQ controls and all values are reflected in segmented LED's around each dial.
In use the Kemper is very intuitive and whilst it looks daunting at first, I managed to operate it fully with only a brief perusal of the manual. Profiling an amplifier is surprisingly easy, involving miking-up your cab and using a send and return on the Kemper to send audio to the amp and receive it back from the mic. Once this is set-up it's a simple process of switching the mode dial to 'Profiler' and after a couple of button presses the Kemper sends a series of space age noises through the amp to capture its dynamic response and tonal 'DNA' so that both the tone and feel are reflected in the end result. Once the initial capture stage is performed the profile can be refined by playing some chords and lead work, so the Kemper can perfect the sound and feel further.
We performed some blind comparisons between the amplifier and the Kemper profile and it was almost impossible to tell the two apart. Sensitive players may be able to feel some differences between the two but tonally the Kemper does a truly remarkable job and the feel is very close indeed, with plenty of parameters on hand, allowing the user to refine the response to their liking.
Of course not everyone has a room full of boutique amplifiers to profile in their house, so the real killer feature of the Kemper is the ability to purchase and download other people's profiles via a USB memory stick. There are hundreds of superb amp profiles all over the net that allow you to have the tone of almost any classic or boutique amp you can imagine. This feature alone makes the Kemper a massively attractive purchase for studio musicians and owners.
The Kemper team seems to have built in room for future upgrades too, as there are modes and buttons that aren't yet used by the firmware and seem to be there for updates somewhere down the line, plus a series of firmware updates adding features and refining existing functions. All manner of audio in/out options and full midi implementation/control add to the professional appeal of the Kemper and combined with the custom soft case (sold separately) it could be the only thing you need to take to any session, apart from your guitar!
There are of course too many features to go through in this kind of review but I really can't recommend the Kemper Profiling Amplifier enough. It's got the potential to be a truly game changing device and whilst I have no idea how it works, I am blown away by how accurately it captures the tone and feel of great amplifiers. Considering it costs less than most boutique or high-end amplifiers it represents great value for money too. In other words - why are you still reading this? Go and check one out now!