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This article was originally published in issue #44
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Have you ever had that thing where you play through an amp that sounded great yesterday, and now it just doesn't seem to be quite as good? It may sound a bit thin, or muddy, or doesn't seem to distort in quite the same way, or perhaps you're just hearing it differently today. Who really knows? Well, I can't figure out if it's the ultimate level of modelling reality, but for me, amp-sims do the same thing. I like life to be simple, and I'd love to be able to say this is MY sim and be done. I'm close; there are a couple that get used far more than all the others, but some days I just need to try something a bit different.
Softube's Vintage Amp Room has been around for about ten years now and it takes a deliberately very basic approach; no long lists of amp, cab, speaker and microphone choices, no components to swap, no tuning tweaks and no stand-alone version. What you do get is three amps in a single room with a single microphone. Those amps are a Marshall JCM800, a Fender Twin and a Vox AC30 (and the rather nice sounding room is in Soulmine Studios in Linköping in Sweden). I'm quite surprised that Softube hasn't been tempted to update Vintage Amp Room over the years with a few optional-extra speaker or microphone choices, but they clearly set-out their vision of a simple interface and a great sound and have stuck with it since.
Anyway, I fired-up the 'White Amp' (that's the JCM800) and it sounded simply exactly the way I thought it should. It isn't exactly the same as MY JCM800, but it absolutely nails the quality of that sound. I spent an hour firing-up every other amp-sim I've got for comparison, and whilst in each case you can hear the character of the Marshall (or Fender, or Vox), they all have a sort of family character that plays through whatever settings you choose; some are very present, some have a hard midrange, or a slightly distant quality to the sound. Some sounded quite different to the others for similar settings, but could be tweaked to get very close, but to my ears on that day, Amp Room just had 'The Sound' straight out of the box (so to speak) and with no option-anxiety required.
Vintage Amp Room's graphics are a bit of a throwback. The amp and cab illustrations look as though the perspective is a bit wrong, the control panels are small and the way the microphone stand moves is a bit bizarre - it sounds good and is very easy to use but does look a bit odd (take a look at the review video). Interestingly, Softube produces very highly regarded amp sims for Universal Audio that use far more conventional (by today's standards) interfaces, and the Metal Room plug-in has a quite different look to it (and multiple mics).
Oh, and the presets are odd too. Select one, modify the setting, and if you come back to the same preset in the same plug-in session, you get the changes that you made, which is sometimes useful but often not. You get no effects pedals (you can always plug into your real pedals before the signal hits your audio interface) and no post-processing options, but you can bypass the cab if you want to use something different or use effects after the amp but before the cab (and which opens up the chance to use multi-mic IRs).
Vintage Amp Room has the sort of design quirks that might be 'character' or 'flaw' depending on how you look at the; it's got very limited options, so far as I can tell it looks like and does just what it did nearly ten years ago, and it isn't cheap, but on the other hand, it still sounds exceptionally good and for today at-least it's my favourite sounding soft-amp; and after we've finished the work and handed over the recording, that's really the only thing that matters.