My Kemper Journey: Epilogue

Discussion in 'Digital & Modeling Gear' started by chrishurley, Feb 19, 2012.

  1. chrishurley

    chrishurley Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    I think this is about the end of the Kemper road for me. I expected that I would sell the Axe-FX II, keep the KPA and pocket the difference in price but after at least 10 hours working with it off and on, I’ve decided that the kemper will be returned.

    Here’s the epilogue for those that are following along.

    If you have a KPA and love it, that’s great. Its a great product and I’m glad that its working for you. I’m not trying to convince you of anything. This is just my opinion based on my needs and my experiences.

    Quick background blob: I’ve been playing rock guitar for about 25 years. I’ve been performing for money in front of crowds for about 15 years. I get out of the “bedroom” but I make my living outside of music. I wasn’t a master craftsman, but I built a couple dozen tube amps during the 2000’s- mostly for other people. In the course of playing shows, I’ve sometimes had to play through other people’s tube amps but I’ve never played through a $4000 tube amp and haven’t generally felt any need to buy an amp since I started building amps. I was happy with what I was building. I tinkered with digital rigs before and during the time when I built amps but the axe-fx ultra was the first digital rig that I liked well enough to use regularly. It wasn’t perfect but it was close enough. Once my sons were born, the amount of time available to build amps shrank and so the axe-fx was great. I have yet to get comfortable running direct but I enjoyed the axe-fx in its role as “any tube amp sound that I want today.” I’ve spent a lot of time and money with various computer based sims but was never happy with the feel and overall sound unlike the axe-fx. When the axe-II was available, I was lucky enough to get one of the first ones. I had to sell it to raise money and spent several months working with various other rigs. I went back to my tube amp and initially appreciated its simplicity but started to miss some of the “extras”. When my number came up on the axe-II waiting list, I bought it again immediately and have enjoyed it immensely. When I heard about the KPA, I assumed that it wouldn’t work as advertised but I heard more and more about people loving it, some of them being former axe-fx users. “Cool. I’ll sell the axe-II, get a KPA and pocket the difference”. So here we are.

    The Kemper profiling feature works as advertised. I profiled the only amp that I still own and the profile sounded and felt like the amp. I won’t go into this much further because there is plenty of information talking about how good the profiling works. Yes, it works and there is nothing else out there that can do this automatically.

    Profiles of the axe-fx II were somewhat less successful than the real amp but they could be usable if you just wanted to copy a basic sound (without all the effects or any special routing.)

    To my great disappointment however, the KPA can’t unbake a cabinet from the profile. It can change the sound but the result was not generally good or useful with a power amp and guitar cabinets, even when substituting an “empty” cabinet. The vast majority of profiles that are being released have a cabinet baked into them, making them mostly useless to me as a guitar cabinet user. While there are 100+ rigs on the brand new rig exchange, there aren’t many that are DI’d.

    For FRFR users, the baked-in cabinet won’t often be a problem unless your choice of cabinets changes down the road, rendering your profiles less useful.

    In addition to the profiles I made, I found a few DI’d profiles that worked for me. In particular, I thought sheguitarplayer’s 5153c profile sounded great. I set up to switch between the KPA and axe-II with a footswitch and within a few minutes, I had a sound that was nearly indistinguishable- to the point that I would play them and forget which I was playing. no hours or days of tweaking. At this point, I became comfortable that I wasn’t missing anything in terms of tone if I just kept my axe-fx II and would still be able to craft new sounds for which I didn’t have a profile

    I listened and searched for some compelling difference in feel, attack or tone and its just not there for me. They both can sound and feel like a real amp.

    I like that I have a universe of control over my sound with the axe-fx and am not limited by finding a real amp that I like. You certainly can tweak a profile once you have it but I don’t think it is unfair to say that what you can do with it is significantly limited compared to the axe-fx. It was hard for me to reconcile with giving up the flexibility when I was faced with the scarcity of profiles that sounded good to me.

    Speaking of tweaking- I make adjustments to my tone based on my mood and ears that day. Some days I might want something a little different- a little more or less of this or that. Maybe I have an idea for a sound that is just off the map, so I spend extra time playing with it. If I spend any meaningful amount of time tweaking a preset, its because that’s what I want to do. Its really easy to dial up a basic amp sound with a couple of stomps and be done with it. The only reason I can see that I’d spend less time tweaking the KPA than the axe-fx II is because there isn’t as much to tweak on the KPA and I’d just have to move on. People like to say “less time tweaking more time playing” but I don’t tweak in lieu of playing. I think that is a meme that has been picked up and exaggerated.

    I didn’t experience any crashing on the KPA but the fact that more than a couple of people have reported that worries me- especially if its going to take a minute to reboot it. I can’t imagine dealing with that at a show. I would expect that Kemper will get that worked out but it made me uncomfortable.

    If I owned or had regular access to a bunch of amps that represented everything I would ever want in guitar tone, I think the KPA would be great for me because I could take those sounds with me without all the heavy gear. Unfortunately, I don’t, but I still want to have convenient access to any guitar sound I need, want, or am able to imagine.

    So those are the big points. The rest is just details of what I personally prefer or find useful. Here’s my pros of each:

    Axe-FX II Pros: Flexibility in routing and amp modelling- parallel effect and amp rigs are easily built. No need to be reliant on others for sounds I need. Looper. USB audio. Axe-Edit. Fits in my rack with my poweramp and surge protector. Starts up quickly so I can play quickly when the mood strikes.

    KPA Pros: Profiling is quick and easy. Less expensive than axe-fx. Better availability. Better button/knob arrangement. Brand name or boutique profiles or “amp store” are almost certainly forthcoming. No fan- dead quiet.

    Both: Capable of amazingly realistic sounds without heavy tweaking. Both are amazing values in terms of what they can do.

    So that’s me. KPA is obviously working well for others. As always, your mileage may vary. I appreciate the gestures of friendship from the KPA users that reached out to me to try to help me turn the corner on this. If anyone has questions, I’ll be happy to address them.
  2. Scott Peterson

    Scott Peterson Administrator Staff Member

    Jan 3, 2002
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I think you are brave to post what you did in view of how folks that don't adapt to the newest shiny box are often treated. Perhaps you won't have to deal with that sort of issue, and that would be a good thing.

    I also salute you for not demonizing owners of any certain brand (no matter what brand) because that also seems to have been the norm too. No owners of any given brand of box are like all others that own the box; and an outspoken few do not represent the whole. It seems to me that you are obviously a better man than trying to play that sort of game and I appreciate your candor in treating the KPA owners with respect. I'd assume they will return the favor towards you.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2012
  3. Jay Mitchell

    Jay Mitchell Member

    Oct 13, 2007
    I'll second that sentiment as an intro to my responses.

    Of course. Reference my comments beginning some time ago to the effect that, with only access to the signal into the amp and out of the speaker, this is an impossibility. No amount of "digital alchemy" can ever make it happen.

    Completely agreed. IMO, neither holds a significant advantage over the other in this regard.

    This is exactly the same observation I would offer from my brief KPA experience. If you have a profile on hand that is either exactly or very close to what you have in mind, the KPA is at least as good as anything else out there, far better than most. If you find yourself wanting to significantly alter the sound/feel of a profile - especially if you want the effect of altering the physical controls on that amp - you can fuhgeddaboutit. It ain't happening.

    That will work as long as you want the sound/feel that results from a single choice of control settings on an amp. If you want the sounds resulting from a range of control settings, you'll need to acquire multiple profiles for that amp, and you will have to swap "rigs" within the KPA in order to access those differences. To be fair, it might be possible for Kemper to introduce models of physical tone stacks in a future firmware update. With such a feature - and the option of placing it at different points in the virtual amp's signal chain - the power and flexibility of the KPA would increase dramatically.

    I can easily see the appeal of the KPA for a particular group of players. For those people, there is - at present - no other option. For me, the lack of configurability would be a deal-breaker.
  4. Audioholic

    Audioholic Member

    May 19, 2008
    Yup gotta stick to what works for YOU and your workflow. I am madly in love with my kemper, for what I am wanting it to do, I don't think its for everyone and vice versa. Great that we have options!
  5. MaxTwang

    MaxTwang Member

    Oct 15, 2007
    I like the baking analogy, most practical I've heard so far.

    Thanks for the review.
  6. Dr Git

    Dr Git Member

    Apr 28, 2007
    East of Tampa FL
    So many valid points made by both sides. Agreed its nice to have these cool tools to work with. I disagree with the cost factor though. If the FX are that much limited on the KPA, then i don't see the $350 difference in the KPA's favor. Am i correct no pitch fx, no tape echo. I'd have to buy a rack unit of some kind to compensate the FX, so there goes that $350 difference to me. Also i would feel limited gigging out without a MFC-101. Its just everything i wanted in a floor unit for the past 30 years. That said, i would still love to experience a KPA, as i like to hear everything new out of curiousity. lol
  7. bmi

    bmi Senior Member

    Apr 8, 2008
  8. 6strang

    6strang Supporting Member

    Jun 20, 2006
    Great review and some good points to consider. The Axe 2 has the momentum swinging in its favor at this point IMO. There are excellent effects, 2 amps at once, updates/support and Axe Edit. Hmmm....
  9. MrSleepy

    MrSleepy Member

    Sep 19, 2010
    Location: the 51st State of the USA..

    There is also an EU vs America aspect..

    If I want to buy an Axe II via G66 it will cost almost $1000 dollars more than I would pay for the axe II in the US.(my Ax Ultra cost me effectively $3000 (EUR 2199)).

    The Kemper (being of German origin) will be $1000-1100 cheaper for EU dwellers than the AxeII,and as such,probably sell more in the EU.

    Its one of the few times when the advantage is in our favour.

  10. Professor Tweed

    Professor Tweed Member

    Nov 9, 2011
    Very useful thread for the pros and cons of these two excellent machines. I'm delighted with the KPA because it does what I've wanted for 15 years. Get my amp sounds so that I can record them at home without micing them and playing at volume. Saves my ears, saves my dog's sanity, stops me waiting for the neighbours to go out before I record at the amp's sweet spot. As a bonus I've got access to a load of other people's amp sounds. I'm not interested in effects and am happy to stick with a few real world pedals which will go into the KPA just as they'd go into my amp. There is some play in the KPA for tonal alteration and the gain can go up and down a bit and still sound authentic. If I ever gig as a guitarist then I also like the idea of being to take my amp sounds in a KPA rather than worrying about someone nicking or falling over my vintage amp. (Irony is I'm more likely to be gigging as a bass player and I'm quite happy to use my tech 21 bass sansamp for that.)

    As a European the other bonus of the KPA is being able to get it now rather than wait up to five months for the Axe FX II which is £800 more expensive. I placed an order for both at the start of December. At the time I was still unconvinced that the KPA would actually turn up in the real world any time soon, but I was pleased to be proved wrong and after a couple of weeks' playing on it I cancelled my order with G66.

    I also predict there will be more direct profiles coming out for KPA soon, given that this has been requested on the forum and for £25 for a Behringer DI-1000 it's not that difficult to do.

    It'll be interesting to see how both units have evolved in a year's time.
  11. sheguitarplayer

    sheguitarplayer Member

    Nov 9, 2007
    Nice balanced post as usual Chris, sorry it didn't work for you but Ive no doubt you will be able to move it on soon enough.
  12. Gasp100

    Gasp100 Silver Supporting Member

    Oct 23, 2007
    North Myrtle Beach, SC
    Excellent review, I own (or have owned both) and your review is absolutely spot on in every respect. One thing I will add that you touched on is purposely built DI profiles (like sheguitarplayer's EVH clean DI using an EVH head set to clean-ish into a Palmer DI - I believe set to load with no cab) works VERY well into external power amp + cab. But, that profile is the exception, not the nor (right now). Also, I believe that the KPA is closing the gap just a little for people using FRFR but still searching for a little "in the room". That is the only way I can describe it. YMMV.
  13. chrishurley

    chrishurley Supporting Member

    Feb 17, 2005
    I think the KPA will continue to get better and better and the people for whom it is a good fit will be happier and happier. If there was no axe-fx II, I'd own one. I'd guess that the reverse is probably true for some people too, so its all good.

    I'll be watching with interest to see how KPA expands over time and I think additional competitive products in the marketplace will only be a benefit to those of us that buy and use such things.

    I'll say again that I appreciate the nice KPA owners that reached out to me with suggestions and assistance.
  14. Black Squirrel

    Black Squirrel Silver Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2010
    Peoples Republic Of Cambridge
    The reverse is True for me for sure, I have had great sounds using both units.
  15. Deuterium

    Deuterium Member

    Sep 19, 2005
    Mabye a stupid question, but...

    Why didn't Kemper make a duplicate profile of every single amp they have used as their main "presets", but using a D.I. system to capture the profile, thereby completely eliminating the guitar cabinet from the equation. How much extra work would that have been? Seems to me, micing up an amp is what would take the majority of the time. Boom, once they capture that profile, then make a Duplicate/Alternate using a D.I. method, without changing any of the reference amp's paramaters.

    Wouldn't that have made sense, especially for the people who don't want to use a KPA with a FRFR system, but instead want to use a tube power amp and a real guitar cab??
  16. devbro

    devbro Member

    Apr 17, 2004
    Los Angeles
    Excellent review and as unbiased as I've seen!

    As one who is easily distracted by shiny objects, I must admit, the KPA looked good. I'm not a habitual tweaker so the "up an running out of the box" looked appealing.

    For me, The AFII has been vexing at times especially due to the steep learning curve and unintuitive interface. At the end of the day, if the thing didn't sound so damn good, I probably would have joined the KPA wave. At this point though, I'm so far down the learning curve I think I'll stay put.
  17. mattball826

    mattball826 Member

    Oct 23, 2009
    our co guitarists has both, loves them both but is doing opposite what you are doing. hes keeping the kemper. he has a standard too fwiw but sold his axe2 said he will sell his standard and use his intellifex for effects. i said he should keep the standard at the least.. he uses more frfr because neither of them are satisfactory with a traditional cabinet/rack power.

    personally, as much as amp lover i am and have heard them all side by side, i still go with traditional amps live vs modeler profiler etc with frfr or guitar cab rack amp.. there just isnt as much compromise for me that way. i can use a simple combo or half stack when needed and it delivers with no ifs ands buts maybe could be or wish it dids. i like my one trick pony live on stage behind me.

    still love the idea of these digital units though. just need more meat and potatoes basic rig. keep em coming. and please keep improving them.
  18. stratzrus

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

    May 16, 2006
    Philadelphia, PA
    Depending on the kind of music you play, an amp and cab or combo can still be the best solutions. If they aren't it should be obvious pretty quickly.

    I could easily play with just a combo for most of my real world gigs, but I'm writing some music now that makes my modeler a critical component of the performance.

    By this time next year, I think a traditional amp will no longer be an option for me. I actually really like the tones I'm getting out of my modeler so I don't feel like I'm losing anything by going digital.

    With that said, I can see how it could be very different for someone else and there's still a lot to be said for a great amp that rocks your world.
  19. shasha

    shasha Member

    Apr 9, 2010
    Actually that's probably one of the best questions I've heard considering the biggest objections seem to be what this would address.

    But then again based on just my experiences with IR's and the AxeFX I know that the cab is a huge portion of the sound and having the matching cab 'baked' into the profile probably helps with the wow factor and make it more plug and play out of the box. I mean there is a lot to be said for flexibility, but there's just as much to be said for 'turn the damn thing on and it works'.

    Probably lots of arguments for both.

    Oh and a nice write up Chris. I kind of did a similar thing for the 11R a few weeks ago and it's kind of a weird feeling because you aren't sure if someone is going to rip you apart or you're going to insite some kind of crapfest argument. As long as it's objective experiences that are being shared I think that its got to be worthwhile to someone out there though. I mean many times threads get so off topic and sides are taken that the point of the discussion is completely lost.
  20. enigma

    enigma Supporting Member

    Sep 1, 2008
    To the OP. It was a short book! :)

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