News Tips / FAQ

The Value Of Amp Sims

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I wanted to do a post to touch on a few related topics that seem to be on my mind a lot lately so why not get a few things out there for discussion. I truly feel that people have gotten a little confused on the meaning of the word expensive when it’s being used in relation to amp sims.

I was reading a couple forum and Facebook posts about upper-tier amp sims that seemed to be debating the costs involved with the higher-end stuff. Some of the comments I was reading just seemed so ignorant towards the amount of work goes into a high quality product and what kind of overhead and expenses exist for these companies.

One user said “$150 (the real price was less) for a plugin is just greedy, it shows (developer censored) doesn’t care about their users, they just want money”. Another user wrote “Too many plugins are coming out, they need to be cheaper so guitarists can try more of them” and my personal favorite; “These are way too expensive for fake sounding guitar tones, just go buy an amp already”. Hell, I have seen people complaining about the price of the TSE X50 “because it used to be free” or how some companies “sold out” because they charge $75.00 for a plugin and got started with freeware. It’s just nuts.

Opinions such as this have always existed but it seems they are becoming more common and less educated all the time. No one said you had to buy every plugin nor does anyone need every new plugin that comes out. Do you buy every hardware amp that comes out? Likely not so are developers supposed to lower their prices simply so everyone can afford to buy every single plugin or because some folk can’t stand to not have the newest stuff the moment it comes out? C’mon..

The technology has also vastly improved and continues to do so at a crazy pace. With the improvements in the tech comes larger price tags but calling them expensive to me is just a narrow-minded look at the product, what it provides to the user and everything that went into developing it. Amp sims are not Kemper profiles, you can’t just take really nice gear, arrange it and take a snapshot, they are built from the ground up. (Note: I am not saying Kemper profiles aren’t difficult to do properly, I am saying they are nowhere near the ballpark of the amount work involved with amp sim development.)

Let’s dissect the cost of amp sims in comparison to a real amp. Amp sims like those developed by Brainworx, Nembrini Audio and Neural DSP plugins will be our first example. These sims mostly have regular prices that sit in the upper price bracket which we define as anything $100USD and over. These are very well made and very realistic plugins that each represent something in the ballpark of $5000-15,000USD or more worth of hardware pedals, amps, cabinets and other gear. All of this gear is being made by the best people in the world at their craft which needs to be noted here because talented people don’t always come cheap. Have you ever priced out a Diezel VH4 or a Fortin Natas? Give it a go and compare the costs involved.

Line 6 Helix Native is one that constantly draws out at least a few complainers whenever it’s mentioned on social media. This is the #1 plugin that everyone claims is far too expensive, yet users get around $200,000+ worth of gear inside it that has been modeled very nicely by some very talented people for an MSRP of $400USD. Then you have to take home recording convenience into account. No cords, no storage building needed, cabinets to mic or really anything to do but click and drag your way to a great tone at home with little to no experience needed. Helix Native is the only full-suite type plugin that’s worth bigger dollars. You’d need a full time engineer to move your gear around.

Users are getting an easy and effective way to record professional quality and mix ready guitar tones in the privacy of your own bedroom or professional studio for $100-150 on average and that is somehow in some insane way of thinking, too expensive? Let’s look at the specifics involved with replicating a plugin in hardware form for home recording purposes. I will use a favorite of myself and many others, Fortin NTS Suite by Neural DSP. Here’s the gear included and the average retail price in USD for each component in new condition.

  • Fortin Natas Amp – $5,000.00
  • Fortin Grind Pedal – $225.00
  • Fortin Zuul Noise Gate – $225.00
  • Boutique Tube Screamer – $225.00
  • High Quality Oversized 412 cab – approx $1300.00
  • Royer R-121 – $1300.00
  • Shure SM57 – $100.00
  • Sennheiser MD 421 – $400
  • Sennheiser e906 – $200
  • Neumann KM 184 – $800
  • Beyerdynamic M160 – $700
  • TOTAL: $10,250.00USD

I could go on to itemize any amp sim you’d like and the costs of everything involved might make people think twice before so freely voicing negative opinions based on the price. Nearly all freeware was designed to build brand loyalty while gaining exposure with the usual intention to either build products on contract for another company or to eventually start charging for products. It’s a great business idea and it’s appreciated but I believe it has created a strange idea of what things are worth in the amp sim world.

You’d also have to consider the knowledge needed to mic the cabinet effectively plus the time it takes to get up and move the mics every time you want to tweak the sound. You would also need a great sounding room for recording the cabinet and either it will need to be soundproofed to record at high volume or you’d need either an attenuator box, no impulse load boxes allowed here, that’s not part of recreating this set-up, it’s a cab section vs. real cab.

Right now I know at least someone reading this is saying “there’s no way the plugin records like the real thing, not even close bro” and in a sense I can see that point of view but I will counter by saying many side by side and “shootout” comparisons exist where it’s very difficult to tell the difference. If there is a difference, it’s certainly not a $9,240.00 difference, that’s for damn sure. So I think when complaining about the $110 price, people should consider the gear that’s been meticulously modeled for these plugins and what you’d need to sound that good at home.

So, all things considered, how is $100-150 is too much for a killer sounding product that someone put hundreds or thousands of hours into building for your convenience? Or $400 for a high quality selection of gear from Line 6 that would fill a transport? It’s a small price to pay for the quality of tones and upscale convenience one gets with plugins that have been properly designed by experienced professionals.

When I see people debating about the price of these plugins, it just comes off as entitled while showing little to no respect for the developers. Why do people talk down a developer or product simply because their products aren’t priced to their liking? I can’t afford a Porsche but you don’t hear me shit talking Porche because they won’t make a $120,000 car in my $32,000 price range. I don’t tell people to boycott steakhouses that I wish I could afford to eat at or argue with people online that enjoy the steaks there. Can you imagine?

At the end of the day the demographic for amp sims is predominantly made up of guitarists on a budget which works because even the most expensive amp sims are almost tailor-made for people on a budget. $100USD is not a lot of money for what you are getting in return with the top companies but it is a lot to spend on a plugin that isn’t very good. This is why I always tell people on a budget to be patient and feel out the reviews before committing to avoid purchase regret and wasted money.

Not every high quality amp sim is priced in the top-tier either. Expensive doesn’t always mean good and cheap or free doesn’t mean it’s a lesser or inferior product. You will however have to experience more of the market and really scour the landscape to find the high quality and more affordable stuff because it may not be as often demoed at as high a profile as some. If I have learned one thing in my travels so far in this industry it’s that hidden gems are literally everywhere. You just have to open your attention to cover more ground developer-wise.

Many very high quality plugins will be coming out in the $100+ price bracket this year and in the future and it will no longer be feasible to own them all so if you are on a budget like the rest of us, you might have to snipe sales, look for people selling licenses for cheap and other ways to get the plugins you need for the budget you are on. There’s also a ton of high quality freeware to keep you busy and occupied while waiting for the right moment to snap up the stuff on your list.

Just because a product is out of someone’s price range doesn’t make it expensive and it really shouldn’t involve anyone talking negatively about the product. With hardware, do we look at Fortin or Diezel amps and say “pfft those things are overpriced”? What makes a product overpriced is when the product is priced high but the quality of it doesn’t match the quality of the other products in the same price bracket. In this case, I’d say these amp sims are leading the pack rather than falling short or riding coattails.

In this world, more often than not, you get what you pay for and sometimes we have to make hard choices about the things we purchase rather than blindly rushing into a product because you want to own it on release day. The prices won’t change because you complain about them but if you save, shop smart, shop sales and prioritize, you’ll get the plugins you want fairly cheap. Plus, waiting on it while saving and checking out the flood of new release content may uncover that your money might be better spent on the next plugin anyways. Let everyone else beta test for your decision making process.

Thanks for your time, enjoy your day and happy shredding!

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