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It depends. I have a Kemper, S-Gear and Mercuriall Spark. The plugins are very good, all things considered, but the Kemper is without doubt better. Much better. With a good profile it's sublime and you can lose yourself playing for hours. Whether that improvement is worth the considerable difference in price to you though is where the "depends" comes in.
The Kemper is "x" amount better.
The Amplitube Boogie pack is excellent. They really captured that classic Mesa midrange "honk" and that genera of Mark lineage tones even better than Kemper can in some respects.Personal anecdote: I have been enjoying the Amplitube 4 Mesa Boogie pack.
I hear that! I love so much of what the Kemper does, and my longest gigging streak with the kemper was actually when I profiled my own direct rigs, which probably just means I want to hear what I'm used to hearing...but I think there are many of us that are the same way. In that aspect, to answer the OP's question, there are absolutely software-based ways of getting there.The Amplitube Boogie pack is excellent. They really captured that classic Mesa midrange "honk" and that genera of Mark lineage tones even better than Kemper can in some respects.
That said, tone/feel wise, I wouldn't put it above the Kemper overall.
Part of the value proposition of a hardware unit, is that it is a hardware unit, it is both the hardware and the software. Some of the features of the hardware unit are pretty much 100% hardware and you will not be able to get them without some kind of hardware unit to supplement your software. Ex. I can connect a powered KPA and drive a cab or passive PA directly.
Great answer and so true!You can get a Kemper (unpowered) for ~$1500.
Depending on the profile, IMO it can sound significantly better than BIAS or Scuffam.
A quality audio interface that has low noise-floor (120dB dynamic range and low round-trip latency - similar to a top-tier hardware modeler) is $600+ (Quantum 2 or better).
S-Gear thru a $200 audio interface isn't going to be equal to the Kemper, Axe-FX, Helix.
Noise-floor will be significantly higher... and round-trip latency will be significantly higher
If you already have a high-end audio interface that provides low round-trip latency (as part of a DAW), software solutions in that type of scenario make more sense. If you have to buy the computer, audio interface, and software... it's going to be more expensive (and less portable) than the Kemper.