I have been reviewing Kemper, Fractal Audio, Positive Grid, Line6 and Boss guitar modelers for having the greatest access to tone created by profiles and impulse responses and then loaded into each of the manufacturers modelers.
Before we get into the different brands the most advanced are using 2 DSP chips and the older models using COSM processing of existing sounds. Having developed DSP chips in my life, a DSP chip is based on speed and accuracy which reviewing all the current manufacturers are much of a muchness. So the tone and sound is going to be as good for each of the manufacturers. FA, Line6 and Postive Grid use DSP chips. DSP chip and the chips used in each of the boxes is much of a muchness and you will get an exact sound of the impulse as loaded. So Ownhammer or Two Notes Audio will sound exactly the same in each of the manufacturers as it will in all DAWs. So it is like saying Logic Pro X sounds different to Presonus Studio 3 to Ableton, in fact they are exactly the same sound and tone for each. Kemper has custom designed process and flash memory. It is notably slow to load taking about 1 minute as opposed to 15secs by the others. Kemper does not appear to use bought in DSP chips and approaches everything a little differently.
So what is the real difference between the modelers one asks and I would say the following:
- Usability for the studio and gigging
- Number of DSP chips
- Each of profiling new impulses
- Connection to computers and DAWs
- Control of outboard amps
- Firmware upgrades
- Support from the manufacturer.
The Line 6 Helix is very intuitive and easy to use as is the FA AX8 and FX8. The Kemper and Boss are less so, but still give a high degree of usability.
The Line 6 right now scores higher in usability than anything else on the market.
The Kemper only as a librarian piece of software and scores last in Usability for this reason. Even the cheaper Boss and ME80 have librarian functions. The Helix and FA products have good control from the software.
Number of DSP chips
Kemper has an ARM processor and memory and does not appear to have a DSP as does FA, Positive Grid bias amp and Line 6 which offer 2 DSP chips. The BOSS with COSM processor has preloaded sounds and is less flexible than the others although has a lower price to go with it be it the current GT100 V2 or the ME80 which can allow different patches of already installed sounds. Positive Grid use computers and software to do their work which again is a different approach.
The Kemper was designed for profiling so if you are going to profile a lot of amps and cabs then this should be your choice although the Positive Grid Bias amp Match is also catching up. Both FA and Line 6 do profiling and have a great usability for this too.
Kemper currently scores the highest for profiling usability.
Connection to Computers and DAWs
FA, Line6 have great connections Kemper has no direct interface and Positive Grid is software running on a Mac/iPad unless you have acquired the Bias amp which also has studio type interface.
FA is strongest here and why people like David Wallimann (who I like a lot) support this product as well as other producer guitarists. It also I believe Pete Thorn who has the luxury of Kemper, FA and Helix.
Watch out as Positive Grid Bias amp at halve the price of Kemper and FA Axe FXII may soon be an interesting option.
Control and connectivity
Line6 Helix has the most control of outboard amps and studio connections and FX connections. One artist I know uses the Line6 with a Kemper and a FA AXe II connected and his channels of his amp driving everything from the Helix. That is awesome and demonstrates the flexibility of the connectivity of the Helix. The FA Ax8 is weaker in this area as well as not having on board expression pedal
The FA AXE II and the Kemper are about the same price at $1980 and the Helix and FA AX8 are about the same at £1399. Positive Grid Bias amp is $1100 and Boss GT100 and ME80 are the cheapest.
Firmware and Upgrades
FA and Kemper have regular upgrades. Positive grid has most software releases and therefore has been the strongest in this area. Helix are on a second firmware upgrade albeit the product is the newest.
Support from Manufacturer
FA are strongest in USA, Kemper built like a German Tank and Line6 Helix now owned by Yamaha probably has the biggest support network. Positive Grid is great on software upgrades, but as the Bias amp is only being released in new batches at the moment one would have to say this comes in last, mainly as no experience as yet.
The issue is not tone or sound with DSP chip products which are currently superior for variety. The Kemper technology is different and needs a refresh to maintain power ratio with the DSP chips. The Line6 Helix is the most flexible product for studio and gigging whereas the FA Axe FX II probably suits the studio as does the Kemper which was what they were orginally for. FA AX8 is great alternative to the Helix providing your connectivity is minimal and Postive Grid is still best for studio unless you are using the iPad with an amp.
Right now the Line6 Helix to me leads the pack as I would only need to take it and a guitar to gig where they had amps or PA. Pete Thorn has Kemper, Axe FxII in his studio and is now building a pedal board where the Helix is his main controller. He can load all the sounds from the others into it and take his studio on the road with his custom Suhr PT100 amp. It will be interesting to see whether Positive Grid bring out a foot controller with the Bias amp that certainly would make for even more flexibility.
However, I invite you to stay with amps directly and find a small number to use for everything.