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This article was originally published in issue #56
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Ultimately though, it’s so easy to swap components that I think the answer is to stop worrying about it and just keep clicking until it all sounds good.
Great sounding models
New Celestion impulses with real-time mic adjustment
Amp Match is simple and effective
Lots of presets via Tone Cloud
Effects are in a separate (though integrated) product
Multi-mic doesn’t have pan options
Formats: VST, AAX Native, AU, RTAS
OS requirements: Mac OS X 10.9 or higher, Windows 7 or higher
Positive Grid BIAS Amp 2 Elite Amp Sim Software
Andi Picker reviews Positive Grid's BIAS Amp 2 software. Designed as a virtual amp creator that authentically recreates the tone and feel of real tube amplifiers and more, this could be an incredible tool to enable players to take their dream guitar tone from the studio to the stage and back again.
I’m quite astonished to find that it was three years ago that I reviewed Positive Grid’s BIAS Amp Pro software for Guitar Interactive Magazine. I recall that I liked the sound and flexibility, but felt that it missed a couple of tricks, specifically effects and multi-microphone options. BIAS FX added the effects part, and now we have BIAS Amp 2.
Anyone who has used the original version of the software will feel at home with BIAS Amp 2; the interface has an updated look and feel with more refined graphics and improved access to various options, but the logic is the same, and even anyone who has never seen BIAS Amp before will be able to get up-and-running very quickly. The plugin features a horizontal line and a number of different components such as a control panel, preamp, tone-stack, power amp etc. Drag a module onto the line for it to be active, off the line to be bypassed, and left or right to change position. Select a component, and its detailed graphic will open for fine-tweaking. Some adjustments are made by selecting switches and turning knobs, others by swapping components such as tubes and transformers. I admit that this initially took me a while to get used to – I’d sometimes over-think the choices and be reluctant to move away from the real-world; my JCM800 has EL34s in it, so do I really want to install 6V6s and a tube rectifier? If you feel the same way, then BIAS Amp 2 may just add a little to your stress because it has additional tubes (12AY7 and 12BH7 preamp and 6550 and KT88 power) which play very nicely where we need lots of punchy headroom, a new transformer model (Pure), a new Dynamic Tone Control in the transformer module that effects upper mid-range sag in a way that standard eq can’t, more microphones (MD421 and R121), and new speaker cabinets to choose from.
Ultimately though, it’s so easy to swap components that I think the answer is to stop worrying about it and just keep clicking until it all sounds good. Given that one of the major criticisms of virtual hardware is that it’s too easy for everything to end-up sounding the same, the ability to modify the standard models has to be a good thing, and if it’s all too much, well there are plenty of presets to fall-back on. Interestingly, the marketing material says that there are new Blues and Bass Amp Packs in BIAS Amp 2 – I already have both of those in BIAS Amp Pro, but the new version has additional Pre and Power amp models for them and some additional/different tone stack options too (there may be more that I haven’t found yet).
One of the things that I discovered many years ago about real-world guitar rigs is that some things make far more difference than others. We can spend hundreds of pounds on a set of NOS glassware for a relatively small difference in tone, and then a fraction of that cost spent on a new speaker can completely transform our sound. This holds true for amp-sims too, and I’ve long used third-party IRs to tune the sound of soft-amps. All of my real cabs have Celestion speakers in them, and I also get a lot of use from their IRs that I reviewed back in issue 50.
With that in mind, I was delighted to find that the BIAS Amp 2 cab emulation now includes genuine Celestion impulses. The impulses sound just as good as the stand-alone versions, and, even better, the new interface allows us to move our extended selection of virtual mics (yes, we can now use two of them simultaneously) against our virtual speakers, and to switch between open and closed back cabs, which is far more intuitive than selecting an impulse by name from a list. Sadly, the pair of mics sums to mono with no option to pan them hard left and right on a stereo track – perhaps something for a future update? The option is still there to use other IRs with the IR loader, where the file management system has been nicely updated so that selected impulses appear as a library of named icons rather than just a list of files and folders.
One of the standout features of the original BIAS Amp Pro was the Amp Match which allowed us to tune a preset sim with a real amp recording. This feature has now been updated and improved to make it far-easier to use; instead of starting by selecting a preset and adjusting it to be as close to our real amp as possible, we can now simply identify a starting category (say Crunch) and the software can choose and configure the actual model. Following the on screen instructions it appears that you need to plug in a guitar and play through the sim for your target sound, but it also works fine with a pre-recorded DI track (just make sure the track is in playback rather than monitor mode). I’ll usually spend a few minutes fine adjusting a match before saving it, and the results are pretty impressive. If you don’t have any amps that you want to match, or if it all seems like too much work, there are lots of presets available from Positive Grid and other users via the online Tone Cloud feature – including some genuine high-profile artist submissions.
I would consider BIAS Amp 2 to be an evolution of the original version. It does the same job, with some additional options and workflow improvements, and under-the-covers updates, that make it bigger and better. I did find that the sound is slightly different; it still sounds like BIAS Amp but seems to be a bit smoother and less chunky. I compared a number of presets and even when all the options appear to be the same, they don’t null against each other, and I did find the odd one that has been saved with slightly different settings. In almost all cases where I noticed a difference, I preferred the BIAS 2 sound, but it’s probably going to be worth doing a check before swapping over if you’re mid mix and using very specifically chosen sounds. Upgrades are available for existing BIAS Amp users, and I’d definitely suggest taking a few hours to give the demo version a run.
Please note that this is a review of BIAS Amp 2 Elite; other versions are available with simpler features at lower prices – details of what is included in each version are here – Positive Grid