Using Softube's Amp Rooms
Henrik Andersson Vogel, March 2013

While Softube's guitar amplifier simulators, the three Amp Room plug-ins, are designed with ease of use in focus, a few tips and tricks on their use aren't going to hurt anybody. So here's a mix of general and specific hints for getting the most out of Vintage Amp Room, Metal Amp Room and Bass Amp Room.

Just like in real life, the differences in microphone placement alone will account for a wide range of sounds.

First off, the intent of the Amp Room plug-ins is to not only mimic the sound of guitar and bass amplifiers in the studio, but also the workflow itself. So just as in the studio, the sound you get is a combination of amplifier, cabinet and microphone—and of course also of the settings you make at the amp and where you place the mic. So even though the Amp Rooms don't have a myriad of amps, cabinets and effects, there's a lot of variation to be found by combining these parameters in different manners. Which is just like things would work while recording a physical amp in the studio.

When placing the mic, you will find that you can easily angle it when it's at its closest position.

Microphone placement
Just like in real life, the differences in microphone placement alone will account for a wide range of sounds. By grabbing the microphone stand with the mouse pointer, you can place the stand close or far away. A directional microphone that is placed close to a cabinet—or any sound source for that matter—will yield what is known as the proximity effect. This gives a boost in the bass frequencies of the sonic spectrum. If you think the guitar sound needs to lose some weight, just place the microphone a bit farther away.

With cabinets that have several speakers, such as the 4 x 12 cabinet that goes with the White Amp in Vintage Amp Room, you will note that there are some quite obvious phase differences between different microphone positions. Moving the mic back and forth while playing back a sound through the amp gives you a sound that's similar to a phaser effect. This is because of the difference in distance from the speaker elements to the microphone, and it serves to further alter the sounds that are available to you.

Don't let the word 'guitar' amp limit you, though—these amps are just as useful for electric pianos, organs, synthesizers or whatever you may feel like running through a nice amplifier.

When placing the mic, you will find that you can easily angle it when it's at its closest position—you can almost go all the way to 90 degrees off-axis. An angled placement is useful if you want the power of a microphone in close proximity to the cabinet, but want to take out some of the harshness that can occur when the mic is pointing straight on-axis into the speaker. Again, the angling of the mic in Softube's Amp Rooms perfectly mimics both the sound and the workflow of recording a physical guitar amplifier in a studio.

But while the workflow is similar between the three Amp Rooms, there are differences too. So let's take a look at each one.

Vintage Amp Room
The Vintage Amp Room contains three classic guitar amplifiers. Don't let the word "guitar" amp limit you, though—these amps are just as useful for electric pianos, organs, synthesizers or whatever you may feel like running through a nice amplifier. If you want to just get the cabinet sound, you can turn off the amp. This is a great trick to get direct recorded keyboards to blend in better with guitars and drums.

The Bass Amp Room only contains a single amplifier, but it's a highly versatile one—it has proven equally useful to folk rockers Band of Horses as it has to Motorhead's Lemmy himself.

When you first open the plug-in, you'll find the White Amp ready to rock. This is a classic British amplifier, widely used among rock'n'rollers. Turning up its power amp gives you a large, growling distortion that is great for massive chords. The preamp gain gives a fizzier distortion which is especially useful for solo playing. Keep both at moderate levels and you'll find yourself with a nice bluesy tone that breaks up just the way it should when you strike the guitar strings harder.

By clicking the amplifier and sweeping to the right, you'll select the Brown Amp. This is an American made classic, known for its clean and spanky tube tone, that breaks up to a nice, warm and slightly muddy distortion if you push it hard. The Brown Amp also sports a nice old tremolo. The amp has been used in most music styles, but it's especially at home in country, blues and alternative rock where you don't need an over the top distortion. The controls do what you expect them to, so if you have ever set the sound of a guitar amp, you'll know how to work the Brown Amp.

The Green Amp brings us back to the United Kingdom and the sixties, where this bright and beautiful sounding amp first saw the day of light. It is a studio standard to this day and not least the alternative pop and rock groups appreciates its warm edgyness. The Green Amp's three channel layout is a bit quirky, but you'll get the hang of it in a matter of minutes. The three channels have their own distinct sound character and you find the tone you're after by mixing and matching the levels to taste. There is also a Tone control which goes from High to Low. Its direction is reversed compared to how most amplifiers are laid out, but fortunately someone has carved markings into the front panel so it's easy to see which direction is which!

Many engineers like to make a blend of the clean DI signal and the mic'ed up amplifier, which is precisely what you do with the DI/Amp Balance slider.

Bass Amp Room
It was about time someone took bass amplifier simulation seriously, and the success of Softube's Bass Amp Room speaks for itself. The Bass Amp Room only contains a single amplifier, but it's a highly versatile one—it has proven equally useful to folk rockers Band of Horses as it has to Motorhead's Lemmy himself. This amp can be run through either of the three different cabinets, and just like with the other Amp Rooms you can place the microphone at any distance, and also angle it when it's close to the cabinet. The cabinets are a classic 8 x 10 inch, 4 x 12 inch and—perhaps surprisingly—an open back 1 x 12 inch cabinet. Don't dismiss the latter without trying it, you'll be surprised to see how useful it is to place the bass sound in the mix.

Apart from the amplifier controls, which are quite straightforward, you will find a separate DI section at the bottom of the plug-in window. Again, the idea here is to mimic the actual workflow in the studio. Many engineers like to make a blend of the clean DI signal and the mic'ed up amplifier, which is precisely what you do with the DI/Amp Balance slider. You can also tweak the tone of the DI portion of the sound with the effects knobs in the DI section.

One common use of blending DI and amp sound is to let the DI sound cover the lowest frequencies by setting the High Cut knob at its lowest setting (about 200 Hertz), turn up the Tone knob towards Fat and use the limiter to keep the DI sound very dynamically even. When you carefully blend this in with a more dynamic and lively amplifier sound, which is not too heavy on the low frequencies, you simultaneously provide your mix with a rock solid low end as well as a dynamic and present bass guitar sound.

Even if you have a physical guitar amplifier you like to use, it can still be great to have access to a good amplifier simulator like Softube's Amp Rooms.

Metal Amp Room
Your DAW just got evil. This amplifier plug-in may even contain backward messages ...

Well, no. It's just a guitar amp. But it's an amp that will give you the most fiercely aggressive high gain sound you can imagine—whether you're after a beeswarmish high gain or a darker, more guttural sound to go with those drop C tunings. Apart from the amplifier sound, a few things set the Metal Amp Room apart from the other two Softube Amp Rooms. First, it contains an extremely fast gate. It's actually faster than any analog gate around. This is very useful for metal style rhythm guitar, where you often want to have dead silence in between the palm muted chug-chug-chugs. And second, the Metal Amp Room doesn't only have two different cabinets, you'll also find two different microphones—a dynamic and a condenser. These can be used separately or combined in mono, but you also have the option of spreading them out to the left and right sides of the soundstage for a big, wide sound. Lots of variation to be found there.

Actually, the Metal Amp Room is useful for much more than metal. Try turning down the gain for a clean amplifier sound. This is of course useful for clean guitars but also great to run keyboards and drum machines through in order to bring some life and reality to the sound.

But I have a guitar amp already ...
Even if you have a physical guitar amplifier you like to use, it can still be great to have access to a good amplifier simulator like Softube's Amp Rooms. One use can be to make a virtual dub of the physical amp recording. You create more power and stereo width by taking a DI parallel to the physical amp recording, run the DI through one of the Amp Rooms and pan the two recordings out to the left and right sides.

The gate in Metal Amp Room is actually faster than any analog gate around. This is very useful for metal style rhythm guitar, where you often want to have dead silence in between the palm muted chug-chug-chugs.

But many times it can also be great to mix in a tad of amplifier simulator underneath a physical amp recording. For example, many rock and metal bands make the mistake of recording the guitars with too much distortion. Because a lot of distortion is going to give us a lot of power, right? Wrong. Come mix time, you may find that the high gain roar that excited you so much while recording translates into a weak sounding buzz that no amount of equalization will fix. You may still want to keep the character of the amp the player recorded with though, so the remedy can many times be to run a DI parallel through a clean or slightly overdriven amp, such as the Brown Amp with not too much gain. When you mix this in—a little goes a long way—with the overly distorted amp recording, you may find that the string separation from the Brown Amp recording brings back a sense of largeness, gut and presence while you still keep the sound character from the original recording.

Freelance writer.
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