IK's Stealth and Amplitube Products - Review
In all, I found the IK line of products to be very useful and well worth the investment. They are very usable, user friendly, reliable thus far and a very good value.
Both pieces of hardware are essentially a midi interface to take your analog signal and digitize it making it record ready to your DAW of choice (or in a standalone mode discussed later). Note that I own and used both hardware items described. What I like about these is not only do they drive IK software but they also can be used as a simple midi input and, for instance, will also drive the onboard Sims preloaded in Garageband (Mac).
Stealth Plug Features Link >>
When first dipping my toes in to the Amp Sim world, I really just wanted to do that, dip my toes in to see if it was for me. To introduce myself to this world, I started out with the Stealth Plug.
The device is very simple. It's a 15 foot cord that plugs on to your guitar's 1/4" jack and, with the USB plug at the other end, plugs in to a USB port on your computer. About a third of the way down the cord from your guitar is a little pod which contains the midi stuff. It also has a some controls too. Primary is an 1/8" headphone jack. This is key when using the IK interface, when you select an output in the interface, you can use the plug and play 'in silence' via the headphones. The pod also has volume controls.
Not much more about the plug. It is virtually plug and play. Very simple and easy and miles ahead of simple 1/4" to USB converter plugs. With the midi controller, it converts it full quality.
The plug does come packaged with Amplitube Live (Amplitube Live >>
) Amp Sim software. While I will be covering software further, it's a pretty handy starter kit and in reality is more than a starter kit. It has many very satisfying Amp Sims to play with based on Marshalls, Fenders and others. It is a limited version of essentially the big brother Amplitube 2. Still, much to play with a very useful with a little tinkering…and who doesn't tinker with their tone?
Stealth Pedal Features Link >>
The Stealth Pedal is, as the Stealth Plug, essentially a USB interface to take your analog guitar signal to your computer. First to mention that this thing is a tank! I mean that in a good way. It's very meaty feeling and very sturdy. It takes the form factor of a Dunlop Wah and is a good bit more sturdy. Feels road ready. I'd have no fear of it holding up under road-type conditions.
Key to the product is the midi part but it is also made as an expression pedal for various effects contained in the Amplitube software such as Wah, Volume and Rotary. As an expression pedal, it pretty much does what they do, rocking back and forth giving you the effect. Like a Wah, it has the 'On/Off' button under the 'toe' of the footpad.
Expanded from the Stealth Plug functionality is are the additional inputs and outputs. Like the Plug, it has a headphone jack (1/8"), USB out (to the computer) and Volume. In addition, there are inputs an outputs for both Left and Right channels for both balanced and unbalanced signals. If you are using in a standard configuration to the computer, you would just plug in to the left channel input. Very simple.
The pedal also has jacks for expanding to other IK pedal products…at an additional cost but not prohibitively so if you feel the need. You can buy an extension expression pedal which is a simplified version of the Stealth as it is a Wah-type pedal with a cord to plug in to the Core Stealth Pedal. When using this external expression, you now have the ability to assign the main pedal to one effect and the extension to another.
If that weren't enough, there is also an external footswitch you can plug in to the Stealth Pedal. This allows you to assign up to two 'On/Off' switching to selected effects pedals.
Ok, that's all kind of confusing. In short, all at one time, you can Have the core Stealth Pedal assigned as an expression and on/off, the the external expression doing the same for another Wah/volume type effect and control the 'On/Off' ability of yet two more pedals.
Oh, yes…It works well. Part of the software interface is the ability to set the sweep of the expression. I always set to max but it is a nice feature and give you lots of control. Since it's very Dunlop-like…Converts from a Crybaby will be very comfortable with this pedal.
In all, I found the software to be pretty safisying and easy to use. Like any program, there is a something of a learning curve. Most notable, selecting your Input and Output sources. Not hard to learn but if you don't look at instructions, you're going to wonder why you hear no sound. Once you know it, walk in the park.
Central to all Amplitube software products is X-Gear. It is the central interface you use for Amplitube products. What's very cool is that not only does the interface work within most of the popular DAW's but can be used as an independent, standalone product for practicing. X-Gear, when paired with the more robust Sims (read: not with Amplitube Live), allows you to mix and match two sets of signal chains (stomps, amps, cabs and rack effects). This gives you a massive set of options for dialing in 'that' tone. Other parts of X-Gear are some threshold controls (output volume to the DAW), noise gating, input etc. Last is a handy little learner tool to help learn songs by loading any MP3 type file on your computer in to the interface to play along…amplified. It lets to mix yourself in and lets you target and loop areas as needed. Haven't used it but seems pretty cool.
Amplitube 2 Software:
Amplitube 2 Features Link >>
Amplitube 2 Audio Demos Link >>
In my opinion, this is largely the most usable package of all the Sim software. In ways, it's looking to be the broadest swath of Amp Sims possible and really does that pretty well. Like any product that tries to be all things to all people, it can only go so far. That's not a limitation though. Not really at all. It means that the more extreme you want you push your tone, the more you might find the other IK Sim product (i.e. - 'Metal').
Like most of the Amplitube products, the amp selection is segmented in to ways of selecting a preset rigs and effects: Complete Rigs, Pure Amps, Signature, Style and VIP. Rigs and Pure Amps are similar with the difference that the Rigs are set with effects. Style is just that, what general style you're looking, this gives you a good starting point. VIP are IK's folks giving preset Rigs they've created and, last, Signature Amps. This is kinda cool because they've taken created sims of Signature tones. Example, Brian May's Bohemian Rhapsody lead tone. They are really good emulations. Fun to play with and is a good way to see how various settings for amps an effects work within the interface. A good way to learn about the product.
Amplitube 2 is probably the most used of the Sims for me. It's versatility is its strength. It's meets the needs from country, classic rock, jazz, blues and some metal. What I like is that the Sims have a certain warmth to them that many other Sims from other makers seem to lack. Perhaps that's just me. No Sim will ever quite have the sonic impact of the air moving from a speaker to a mic's diaphragm. This is so close that it will satisfy even the most picky.
Amplitube Metal Software:
Amplitube Metal Features Link >>
Amplitube Metal Audio Demos Link >>
Just as the product name says, this is about Metal. Whether it's Marshall's, 5150's, Randalls or some other specialty amps, you can really kick up the overdrive with this collection of Sims. It really is a metal players dream. What I liked was that there were lots of different amps and types of metal represented in the collection.
Unlike the Amplitube 2, where I somewhat could play the simulations 'out of the box' with little adjustment, I found myself tinkering with these amps much more. I don't think they are flawed Amp Sims but I think I'm that picky when I'm looking for metal/hard rock tone. Good news, when you mess around with it, the amps, effects and rack gear are very responsive to changes. If your not a person that likes monkeying with tone, and want it good straight away, you might get a little impatient messing about.
Me, I love messing with tone. After some tinkering, I was able to great tone in a number of different styles. Point being, the tone is in there even if the presets weren't exactly to my tastes. As we all do on any amp, even amps we've owned for a long time, we twiddle knobs endlessly. I don't want to have people veer away from the product but to more understand that it is a product that might take a little more tweaking to get your butter tone.
Amplitube Hendrix Software:
Amplitube Hendrix Features Link >>
Amplitube Hendrix Audio Demos Link >>
This one is as advertised. According to IK's marketing stuff, this is the only Amp Simulation software licensed by the Hendrix estate and noted because of the quality. Well, it is really good. There are many different iterations of various Hendrix tones. What I found interesting is the sometimes slight variances from one song tone to another. It isn't just a Hendrix fuzztone but actually digs in to the variations.
It's great for lots of vintage sounds. With exception of firing up the Wah and scratching out a little intro sound to Voodoo Chile, I found myself tinkering to get a more 'me' vintage tone. Some of the presets are great and don't need to be touched but some I found weren't quite what I wanted and I would twiddle a bit. In a way, it seemed blasphemous to alter a sacred Hendrix tone but in doing so, I was able to cull some cool stuff from the Strat.
Not much more can be said: Looking for Hendrix tone in a Sim, this will do exactly that and pretty satisfyingly.
Amplitube Ampeg SVX Bass Sim Software:
Amplitube Ampeg SVX Bass Features Link >>
Amplitube Ampeg SVX Bass Audio Demos Link >>
Ok, haven't used it yet. Planned ahead in ordering this. I have a bass on the way so I'll know soon enough. I think point in mentioning this is that IK's focus isn't solely on guitar but Bass too.
Pretty obviously, I like the products that I've obtained. I haven't been able to max out my experience with them yet but it is due to the incredible amount of options each package contains. Key is that they're very good at exactly what they are tying to do; simulate a classic amp tone. I've heard it said that you can't completely emulate the sound of a great amp and a high quality mic in a studio. I agree. There is an enormity to that sound that is hard to come by.
However, owning several expensive amps, delicate and costly mics and a great studio room is not in the cards for most all players. So, this gets you far further along that what the average Joe can get from a home studio. The case can be made for sacrifices with amp sims but they are few.
With that in mind, hunting down a good sim/interface package, IK is a good choice in my opinion. Easy to use. Can be used in a DAW or stand alone. Tone options and tinkering make for a pretty compelling bunch of products. The hardware is easy and well made. Worth consideration.
Sweetwater IK USB Interfaces Link >>
Sweetwater IK Amplitube Guitar and Bass Software Link >>