Who says you can’t have a warehouse full of amps at your disposal at any time? The bank manager? Pfft. By Peter Hodgson

We’ve long since moved on from the days when digital modellers sounded like arse, or were just for prog metal players with 21-string guitars and Fallout tattoos. Digital amps can now fool many listeners into believing they’re hearing a valve amp on a recording, and they’re getting closer and closer to mimicking the real-world feel – that indefinable push-pull of an analog amp – to boot. 

A WAREHOUSE FULL OF AMPS
Kemper’s amp-replicating profiling technology is available in a few different configurations: Profiler Head, Profiler Rack, Profiler PowerHead and Profiler PowerRack. All are built on Kemper’s profiling technology, but the Power versions also include a 600-watt power amp which lets you plug into a speaker cabinet. You don’t need a cab to use any variation, though: plug it straight into a mixing desk or computer, and you’ll be set. There are plenty of connections on the back of this thing: stereo XLR and quarter-inch jacks; monitor out; direct output/send; XLR and quarter-inch return inputs; an alternative input for plugging into the back instead of the front – especially handy if you’re running a more complicated rack system and you want to keep the front tidy – digital S/PDIF in and out; MIDI in, out and thru; two switch/pedal quarter-inch jacks, an Ethernet network jack and a USB out. Oh, and an 8-16 Ohm speaker out. It’s a little disappointing that with all of this processing power available, there’s only a single mono speaker out instead of stereo – or even better, the option of a wet/dry/wet three-cabinet rig. 

The main differences between the powered head and rack versions are in layout: the head gives you some additional controls for the modulation, some handy LEDs around the main amp controls and a rear-mounted USB port. The rack version’s USB port is on the front and gives you controls for the reverb.

One particularly important part of the way the Kemper does its thing is its use of a high impedance input, which allows your guitar’s volume, tone and pickup settings to act like they would if they were ‘seeing’ a real amp. This also ensures that stompboxes work just as they should when driving the Kemper, an especially important factor if you’re running something like a vintage-style fuzz or wah.

Of course, the real heart of the Kemper its library of amp profiles. It comes out of the box with more than 200 profiles including vintage classics, modern high-gain amps and rare boutique items, all of which made by top engineers and producers in premiere studios around the world. And you don’t just have to use downloaded presets: you can profile real amps, too. Just plug your amp into the Kemper, mic it up and record. Test signals are sent from the Kemper into your amp and recorded by the microphone, and after less thana minute, the unit has captured what Kemper calls “the sonic DNA of your tube amp” and created a custom profile. 

You can then tweak it to more closely match your original amp, or to create a custom profile that does things your original can’t. The unit gives you control of all sorts of parameters such as Amp Definition (to give it more of a vintage sound or more modern character), Power Sagging, pick attack (even through heavy distortion), Amp Compressor and Cabinet Voicing (which you can turn off if you’re running into a cabinet, of course). And there are plenty of effects to choose from, including modulation, delay and reverb. Everything is laid out conveniently and logically, unlike some other units which require all sorts of menu-wading.

I KNOW THAT FEEL, BRO
What really sells the Kemper is its feel: roll back the volume control on your guitar, and everything cleans up incredibly naturally. Crank up the gain, and you can retain all the definition you want, even when pushing a profile beyond where the original amp’s gain level would end. I was able to profile my beloved Marshall DSL50 and tweak the profile to tighten up the low end, smooth out the pick attack and goose the gain level just a tiny bit.

The clean profiles are especially impressive with all the dimension, push and punch you would hope for, and in either a recording or simply playing situation, it’s easy to forget you’re playing through a digital unit. And that’s the real test for this stuff: can you forget that you’re using it and just rock out? Well, yeah! The Kemper is only as complicated as you want it to be, and if you’re the kind of player that uses one amp on one setting each night but relies on the guitar and pedals to get variation within your sound, you can use this unit to custom-built the perfect amp for your needs. Or, if you need five different tones per song for a 12-song set, all synced to MIDI for automatic patch changes, the Kemper can handle that as well.

There are some harmonic overtones that digital doesn’t still seem to be able to perfectly replicate yet – a very famous engineer once explained to us the science behind that – but the best way to describe the Kemper is, “Imagine sitting in the control room hearing a great tube amp through a great mixing desk.” It’s not 100 percent the same as being in the room with just the amp alone, but the sonic results are very believable, especially when applied to a recording or live performance.

THE BOTTOM LINE
“So if you had to choose between the Kemper and the Axe-FX, which would you choose?” Well, that depends on what you’d use it for. The Axe-FX certainly excels at modern sounds and is more effects-heavy, and there are plenty of players out there who use it purely as an effects processor for that side of it alone. But the Kemper’s realism and more intuitive method of profiling the sound of real-world amps means that if you’re looking for vintage tones or more of a ‘true amp’ feel, the Kemper really holds its own. And its control layout is a lot more user-friendly and familiar to those of us who are used to actual amps. There are some players who like to use both units, but if your tastes lean towards more of a traditional response, the Kemper is an easy choice.

TOP 5 FEATURES
• ​Powers virtually any guitar cab
• ​600 watts at 8 Ohm / 300 watts at 16 Ohm
• ​More than 200 built-in profiles
• ​Ability to exchange profiles online
• ​Four independent stomp effects slots

PROS
•​ Lifelike amp feel
•​ Revolutionary profiling capability
•​ Logical, simple layout

CONS
•​ No stereo speaker out

CONTACT
Innovative Music Australia

Ph: (03) 9540 0658
Web: innovativemusic.com.au