Kemper: So far, my axe2 stays

Discussion in 'Digital & Modeling Gear' started by chrishurley, Feb 16, 2012.

  1. chrishurley

    chrishurley Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    I posted this on the fractal forum, but I'll post it here too just in case some folks might be interested.

    I've heard so much about the Kemper Profiling Amp that I decided to give it a try. I've had an axe-fx II for about six months, having had an ultra for a couple of years before that. I mostly run into a power amp and guitar cabinets.

    This is not a full review- this is just a snapshot or profile of my experience so far.

    One of the interesting (and hard to believe) features of the KPA is its ability to disable a cabinet sim from a profile so that you could change cabinets, or use no cabinet at all and run into a physical guitar cabinet. Immediately upon working with the KPA, I found that this feature was not going to go far enough to be usable on physical guitar cabinets. Disabling the cabinet does something, but it doesn't remove it entirely- there is obviously still a sonic remnant of the cabinet because all of the presets I tried still sounded like they had some sort of cabinet on them when run through my real cabinet. FRFR users never need to disable a cabinet entirely, so this wouldn't apply to those folks.

    Because of the cabinet issues, none of the stock presets I tried really did it for me. Don't presets on any device always stink? I wasn't able to use the EQ to overcome the embedded cabinet for use with a physical guitar cabinet. Not everyone runs that way but some of us old dinosaurs still use an old style cabinet, even if feeding direct for FOH and monitoring.

    Time was running out for me on the first day and setting up a real amp for profiling wasn't an option yet, but profiling my favorite axe-2 settings wouldn't take long. I hooked up the axe-fx 2 in the KPA loop and when I was at a point to audition the sound of the axe-2 through the kpa, it was strikingly different than what I was used to- thinner and brighter. I'm not sure why. Nothing seemed to be clipping- I tried adjusting levels to no avail. I switched from the rear to the front input and it didn't seem to make much difference. It wasn't the sound of something broken- just different. I never did figure out the difference but did verify it several times by hooking my axe-fx up on its own. I ended up adjusting the preset until it sounded good through the KPA.

    The magic moment- I ran a profile on my compensated preset and then refined it. The KPA does a good job of reproducing the basic tone. The gain level is very similar, as is the EQ- with the exception of low end. The KPA version always lacked a certain low end depth that the axe-fx preset had and no amount of refining would fix it. Adding bass EQ after the fact was a partial remedy and adjusting the EQ setup in the KPA might help further (I believe that is possible).

    For most non-guitarists, I think they would rate the profile as being identical and that's a big success. For me as a player, I could hear differences. Sometimes the differences didn't seem to be significant while other times it seemed that the structure of the gain was different. Nuances and textures (what I like to call "grit texture") seemed to be "averaged" away sometimes.

    The profiling feature does work, and probably better than you might expect if you hadn't already heard that it works well.

    Kemper says that the profiler is designed for real amps and that results from profiling modellers will vary. While it is possible to profile axe2 presets, they don't really represent the original that well in a lot of cases. For this reason, I think it is flimsy to say "any sound an axe-fx2 owner can have, a KPA owner can have too". A KPA owner can have any axe-fx2 sound in the same way that any visitor to an art museum can have any painting by taking a picture with their camera. It looks just like what is on the wall but some detail is lost. On the other hand, its a handy way to take a facsimile of a sound you like from the computer or other device out into a portable device that should be a little bit more portable/usable as an amp.

    I found the tweakability of the resulting profile to be useful, though not quite what I'd call comprehensive. As others have mentioned, sometimes you just can't "get there from here" with a particular profile and just have to pick another. I was impressed that almost every profile I tried cleaned up really well with the gain control. Dirtying up varied. Some profiles could tolerate quite a bit of dirtying up while others became cluttered and farty. This isn't unlike a real amp perhaps, but I'm spoiled by being able to dial that out at will with the low-cut parameter on the axefx. The EQ seemed unobtrusive. It worked like a channel strip EQ where you could change the tonality but not the character.

    Cleaning up with the guitar knob doesn't seem to be on the same level as the axe 2. I think the axe2 may be better than a real amp in this way.

    I only briefly tried the advanced parameters and can't really comment on them yet. (Over the coarse of a few minutes I found that minor changes were pretty minor in result while major changes were unusable). I'd like to experiment more with this.

    I'm looking forward to profiling a real amp. I have a DI box I can use so that I won't have to incorporate a cabinet. I'll be interested to see if the KPA can successfully ADD a cabinet when none was profiled, even though it can't seem to entirely REMOVE a cabinet when one was included in the profile. I only have one tube amp at this point in time. I have access to a couple of others but I'm not sure I will go that far. I expect that most of the KPA profiles that people share (or sell.. ahem...) will include a cabinet. For a poweramp-cabinet user like me, these are not terribly useful. I will hook up my monitors shortly to see how this sounds in that environment.

    The box itself is quite nice. The LEDs around the knobs are awesome. The always active tuner is nice. The LCD is beautiful and detailed. The knobs behave very well in use. I didn't spend much time with the effects yet but I found nothing offensive about what I heard.

    Routing and effects capability is similar to what you get with an eleven rack or POD- one series rig with a few stomps, one amp and cabinet, and a couple of post amp effects. Obviously, this sort of rig works fine and is more than what we as guitarists used for decades with real amplifiers, but there is no parallel routing. There is also no dual amp setup- no synth, no mbc, no looper. I don't use those things everyday but giving them up requires consideration.

    Startup time is also similar to the 11R- it takes about a minute for it to be ready to play.

    At the end of the evening, I found myself somewhat disappointed as a poweramp cabinet user and as someone who was looking forward to being able to build tones in Revalver (for example) and then copying them to the KPA. It copies the basic idea of the sound but the nuances are hit or miss. Real amps will be different- maybe better. I don't have access to a lot of them and much of what is out there includes a cabinet which isn't useful to me.

    I'm not done yet and will spend more time with it over the coming days as I have time.

    I just thought I'd share my experience as an axe-fx 2 user since I know some of you are interested in this KPA thing as I was. Take it for what you will.


    EDIT: OK before we have multiple pages of this: Yes, I plan to spend more than one day with the Kemper and will continue to work it out for a while.
    EDIT: Here's my first profile
    EDIT: Here's my second update
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2012
  2. stratotone

    stratotone Silver Supporting Member

    Sep 1, 2004
    Tulsa, Oklahoma
    Very cool review Chris! (BTW, thanks for the ax84 stuff, gave me a good boost on my tube amp building skills over a decade ago).

    Sounds like I need to check out an Axe II, because the Kemper for my uses just kills the standard I have for amp tones.

    The cabinet thing is a bummer, I think you can get around it by profiling tube amp preamps or by using a hotplate and the line out. I haven't heard of anyone getting good profiles from another modeller, so no real surprise there for me.

    I've been using my standard into a VHT 2/90/2 poweramp and then a V30 loaded marshall 4x12 live, and even using microphones on it because the cab emulated outs sound like crap FOH. Going to gig this weekend with the Kemper and I'm afraid the reverse is going to be true - my 4x12 and poweramp setup will probably sound meh, but the FOH directs will kill.

    I'm going to try to profile my Mesa Studio preamp and maybe Quad also - Chris, I can send the profile if you'd like to try it. Ditto for trying with a hotplate and line out on my bogner again, or maybe even one of my vintage Marshalls just to see what it does.

    The rolling the volume back for cleans thing - there's a compression setting you can tweeze in the kemper that is supposed to really help with that. Haven't messed with it much, my bogner clip shows pretty good (imho) volume cleanup.

    Fractal AND Kemper Powered!
  3. stratzrus

    stratzrus Philadelphia Jazz, Funk, and R&B Supporting Member

    May 16, 2006
    Philadelphia, PA
    I think if you spent more time with the KPA and used some profiles made with real amps that were mic'd you'd be able to get more satisfactory results. I can't comment on the amp and cab vs. FRFR issue you perceive, but it's true that, at least from the posts I've read, most KPA users use a FRFR monitor or nearfields for amplification.

    I like that the profiles cleaned up well, that's always a big plus, and I was also impressed with the LEDs around the knobs...very readable onstage.

    I would also miss the "extras" that the Axe FX offers so I understand what you are saying there. To me, the differences between the two are not just tonal and a clear understanding of what's important to a given player can be very helpful when making a choice between the two. While I prefer the Axe II tonally (with the recognition that many prefer the KPA) it was the differences in functionality that were most important to me since both units can sound great when used in a way that plays to their strong points.

    Hopefully you can spend some more time exploring the KPA and will have a chance to make some profiles yourself. I said it about the Axe and it's true about the's really hard to learn enough during a short trial period to make an informed decision, particularly if you only have limited time to work with it during that period.

    Thanks for the review! :aok

    Pete, I think you would find it easier to get satisfactory tones out of the II but it's possible you'd still prefer the KPA. Ultimately the two do seem to have sonic differences (at least from the KPA clips I've heard) and some prefer one over the other. Your own personal preferences will greatly impact which you like best.

    The VHT power amp is great but I personally think V30s are a bad choice of speakers and this is from personal experience. I have cabs with V30s, EV 12Ls, and a stock VHT/Fryette Deliverance 4x12 with Eminence P50Es and the VHT cab sounds best to me by a wide margin. it is much more detailed and articulate than the others and has a clean and tight bottom end. Check one out if you can. Paulmapp used the VHT cabs extensively so you may want to check with him as well.

    Here's a shot of my big rig. As you can see I have it set up so that I can easily compare one cab to another. So far the VHT cabs are my personal preference.


    BTW I use an Axe II, a Randall RT2/50 power amp, and a VHT Fat Bottom 2x12 for gigging. It's more than enough for any venue where I'm likely to get work. I use the Ultra with my big rig and it's part of a permanent installation in my studio used mostly for high gain tones when blowing off steam after work.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2012
  4. chrishurley

    chrishurley Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    Absolutely agree with the points about not making a decision after one day. This is just a snapshot.

    The only reason I mention about profiling a modeller is that I keep seeing people saying "well, you can just profile the axe-fx". Yes, that works but its not ideal. Unfortunately, I was hoping it would work really well so I could build up cool stuff with Revalver or Scuffham and then just capture it. Not sure now.

    I think its a cool unit and I'm looking forward to spending more time with it. I didn't go into this being against the kemper- I know I can sell the axe-fx easily if the kemper wins out for my usage or the kemper can be returned if I'm not thrilled with it.

    I'll do some updates along the way and as always "your mileage may vary"

    Also- I welcome pointers to profiles that don't have a cabinet baked in because that's where I live at this point in time.
  5. Gasp100

    Gasp100 Silver Supporting Member

    Oct 23, 2007
    North Myrtle Beach, SC
    Thanks Chris, great review. A couple of things:
    1. Someone did some pretty extensive testing of profiling the II (version 3.5) and they seemed to come up with a process that was slightly different than when profiling an amp to get where they wanted to go. It may have been "Armin", you can search the Kemper forum to see if there are some hints that may improve your AxeFX II profiles.
    2. Sheguitarplayer has created some EVH 5150 (mark III?) amp profiles that were done using a load box / no cab. I have no tested these yet, but I would give them a run to see if these work well into power amp / cab. Now clearly, unless people start doing a ton of "nc" profiles this might not make a difference, but testing a specific NC profile might help when testing your approach of KPA -> power amp -> cab.
    3. Did you disable cabs and use main outs to your power amp + cab? Or did you use the monitor out with the "no cab" soft button enabled. I am getting pretty good results using the monitor out / no cab and adjusting the seperate monitor out EQ slightly.
    4. Remember, you've had the II for 6 months. I would give the KPA a little more time -- definitely try it out through studio monitors or FRFR if you get the chance.
    Thanks! Greg

    EDIT: As I said, I'm pretty happy KPA -> power amp -> cab now but this is way down on my list of necessity/priority for my current needs and testing. I feel like the AxeFX II might be the better tool for this type of setup because the delineation between the components is completely cut and dry. You have total control of preamp / poweramp / cabinet. With the KPA, there is some type of subtractive EQ going on that is virtually "removing" the cabinet from the equation.
  6. zentman

    zentman Member

    Mar 18, 2010
    Give it time is the correct response.
  7. Scott Peterson

    Scott Peterson Staff Member

    Jan 3, 2002
    It will be interesting to read your thoughts again after you've lived with the KPA for a few weeks.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.
  8. suckamc

    suckamc Member

    Jan 25, 2007
    My needs are a bit different, as they don't involve profiling modelers or using a guitar cab/power amp. But this is a very interesting review, for sure!

    The UPS guy is gonna miss me yet again today, so I'm not sure when the Axe2 and Kemper will be able to do battle at my house. Hopefully tomorrow.
  9. slotools

    slotools Member

    Dec 31, 2003
    Wise words Mr Peterson.....

    I received my Kemper yesterday and have owned an axe fxII for a short while. I wanted to dislike the unit so I could send back for a refund being
    confident that it was just a flavor of the month. Seemed that rhythm was the strong suit, distortions were right there with the axe, but then I downloaded some profiles....all I can say is Wow, was like a Ferari going to second gear. If you are a clean player like I am most of the time, the Kemper is a very good choice, distortions are even with the Axe although most of the stock patches are gig ready. I can still see Axe having a marketplace.

    One thing that always bugged me regarding the Axe is that they never make enough to have them ready and slowly supply the coupon units, a great marketing concept. I believe that Kemper will make sure that there are enough units to go around, then come out with a rack unit, a power unit, then a floor unit, hot color options, then one that hooks up to your brain.....the point is, muscians want it now, and love to wait for the next big thing to come along so it can forumed to death before it is released.

    I believe the eleven rack gets really hurt by the evolution of the higher priced modelers, the pod hd series will always have a nice market in the lower end.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2012
  10. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel Silver Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2010
    Peoples Republic Of Cambridge
    Good Honest Review.


    The KPA may not be a great "Real" Cab solution.
  11. Armin

    Armin Member

    Sep 19, 2011
    Yes, I profiled the AxeFx II - version 4.01 btw.

    Simple profiling did not work for me either - it sounded very different.

    I found that I need a different 'refining procedure'.
    When I refined as explained in the manual (strumming some chords) - it did not work.
    I refined by using single notes (around the 12th fret), normal chords and power chords - for whatever reason did it change the results.

    btw. the KPA does NOT switch the speaker sim totally off - even when deactivated - as explained - to be able to use different speaker setups in combination with a real amp.
    You'll find a thread from C.Kemper in the KPA forum explaining all this.
    Search for 'Cab TOTAL BYPASS on monitor outs'
  12. chrishurley

    chrishurley Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    Question: Is there some way that I'm missing on how to profile an amp with a DI while still being able to compare the profile to the reference amp without swapping cables back and forth.
  13. JMP2203

    JMP2203 Member

    Jul 25, 2005
  14. mwc2112

    mwc2112 Supporting Member

    Nov 8, 2006
    Wylie, Tx (DFW area)
    Not exactly the same since he didn't have an Axe2 to compare it to (he used a 1st Gen one). But really, from everything I've heard about the KPA and the Axe2 (including clips) I think I would be happy with either one of them... which is why I want both. :D
  15. chrishurley

    chrishurley Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2005
  16. sheguitarplayer

    sheguitarplayer Member

    Nov 9, 2007
  17. Muzz

    Muzz Member

    Jan 26, 2012
    Nice review.

    You mentioned "Cleaning up with the guitar knob doesn't seem to be on the same level as the axe 2. I think the axe2 may be better than a real amp in this way.". I would say that what you get is more accurate to the real amp profiled. I don't think the Axe is better than a real amp but less accurate or different to the real amp. Since the Axe is modeling real amps it should theoretically react the same way as the real counterpart.

    I suggest you to try to profile your own real amps to see how well the profiling works. Record and clip with the amp+mic and then another with the KPA profile. If you do the profile well you will have a real hard time to make the difference. Also try the user profiles you can get in Kemper forum (some are great) but most importantly, try Tills cabs.

    Btw, the KPA combined with the Axe Fx II for effects is awesome.
  18. xpenno

    xpenno Member

    Jul 18, 2006
    Great, honest review Chris, thanks for sharing.

    With regards to the low-end response, I agree with you that IMHO it's not as detailed as the AxeFX II. I've not really found it to be problematic yet but I know what you mean.

    With regards to profiling the AxeFX, I have had mixed results. the best way I found was to profile direct and add a cab from another profile in the KPA. Something didn't work out right when profiling the AxeFX cabs. In the end I got some really good profiles from the Axe.

    As for the Cabinet block not being bypassed totally, there has been a recent discussion on the Kemper forum and users have said that if you save the cab block from a completely direct profile then this acts as a complete cab bypass.

    Here is a link to the cabinet that I posted up on the forum, I've not tried myself yet but it could be worth a go.

    Look forward to hearing more about your comparisons.

  19. chrishurley

    chrishurley Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    Thanks for the comments about bypassing the cab. I grabbed a couple of sheguitarplayer's direct profiles too.
  20. tgp100

    tgp100 Member

    Oct 10, 2011
    I think I've read that the cab/ir sim must be turned off/bypassed when profiling other modelers or software sims.
    (Also bypass fx, noisegate, compressor..)
    So profiling with the Axe cab/ir on won't give the best result.
    The cab/mic should be added later in the kpa.

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