REVIEWS

NEURAL DSP QUAD CORTEX | REVIEW

Published 2 months ago on December 23, 2023

By Guitar Interactive Magazine

Neural DSP Quad Cortex

MSRP: (UK) £1599 / (US) $1849

The Quad Cortex floor processor from Neural DSP fuses high-precision studio guitar and bass tones with real-world gigging flexibility. This slim, self-contained floor processor is powered by Quad-Core SHARC DSP and Neural’s proven sound-modelling technology to bring today’s players the ultimate in grab-and-go session accessibility. Inside, more than 50 amps, 1,000 cabs, and 70 stomps serve as building blocks for crafting your favourite rigs. Nick Jennison tells us more.

If you’ve been in this industry long enough, you’ll’ve seen the waves of “amp-replacement” guitar tech come and go: each claiming to be the solution to the woes of the valve amp user. First came solid-state amps; then digital rack units, the infamous “kidney bean,” all culminating in the latest crop of modellers/profilers. As a bit of a “modelling sceptic”, even I have to admit that this current generation is pretty close to the real thing.

Imagine my surprise when plugin mavens Neural DSP announced they were venturing into the world of hardware amp modelling with the Quad Cortex. The queues to test the beta version at NAMM 2019 extended around the block, but when I finally had a chance to sit down and try it on the Sunday afternoon (literally while the stand was being disassembled!), I was in full cynic mode …and you know what? I was floored. The feel, tone and response was staggering. I knew right then that I was dealing with something special. Fast forward 18 months (and a global pandemic) and finally, it was time to review a production model. Was it as good as I remembered? In a word, yes.

Ok, let’s zoom out a bit here and talk about what we’re looking at. The Neural DSP Quad Cortex is a floor-format amp modeller with the ability to create “captures” of your amp, pedals, speaker cabinet, etc. “Sounds like pretty much every other modeller on the market then”, right? Well, there are a few key differences that set the Quad Cortex apart from the crowd. First of all, the processing power under the hood is way, way in excess of anything else out there short of a high-end studio computer. Running out of DSP is a common problem with modern modellers, but with four of the most powerful processors available providing the juice, you’ll never bump up against this with the Quad Cortex.

Second, and more interesting in my opinion, is the way the “capture” function works. On the surface, it’s pretty similar - you connect the Quad Cortex to your amp/pedal/microwave etc, it plays the sounds of whale song and dial-up modems through your gear and records the result. What sets it apart is the way the resulting sound is captured and interpreted by the Quad Cortex. It uses a neural network that operates in a very similar manner to human hearing to decode the Dr Who noises into something that sounds like your rig, and the result is unbelievably natural. The machines are coming for us.

As if that wasn’t enough, because there’s so much power on tap, you can have multiple captures active in a single preset. You don’t have to capture your entire overdrive > compressor > amp > cabinet signal chain in one go: you can capture the individual elements of your rig and put them together in any way you’d like. If you want to have the same fuzz capture feeding two different amp captures, that’s no problem. Why not make it four? Each with their own stereo reverbs? The Quad Cortex won’t break a sweat.

If that sounds a bit like hard work, don’t worry. The Quad Cortex comes with a host of factory captures that sound and feel incredible. I’ve owned a number of the amps they’ve captured and playing these captures felt so lifelike that I’m confident I could tell you where the knobs were set. But if amp models are more your speed, there are a ton of those available too: all based on Neural DSP’s award-winning plugins. It’s also a dream to edit, thanks to the gorgeous touch-screen display and the clever footswitches that double as encoders. If delving through menus has put you off modellers in the past, fear not: if you can operate a smartphone, you can operate the Quad Cortex.

On to the effects, and this is where the Quad Cortex falls slightly short, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the included modulation effects, delays, and reverbs sound very good, but they aren’t as “next-gen” sounding as the amp sims and captures are. There’s also a significantly smaller selection than you’d get with some competitors. That said, it’s very important to remember that this is a very new unit from a very new company - there are no doubt going to be regular updates, with more toys for you to play with.

I was a little concerned that I was too hyperbolic in the video portion of this review when I announced “the future is here”, but on reflection, I stand by that statement. I’ve never played a modeller that has sounded and felt as convincing as the Quad Cortex, and I’ve never been so tempted to retire my amps to the studio. If it can convince a crusty rocker like me, I’m certain you’ll dig it too. I highly recommended.

For more information, please visit:

neuraldsp.com/

For more of our latest reviews, click here


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