Amp sims Reviews STL Tones

STL Tones Tonehub

STL Tones new amp sim gives users a possibility to access the companies Kemper profiles without using the hardware and has got a lot of attention. In this review we give you our views on it.

Rating: 9/10

Rating: 8 out of 10.

INTRO

In recent years, developers have been experimenting with ways to use profiles for the revolutionary Kemper Profiling Amp in a plugin. Not sure what a Kemper Profiling Amp is? Maybe you’re not sure how they are made? You’ll find the answer to both of those questions HERE. They have brochures in many languages so simply hit the link and select your language to get all the info.

Essentially and very simply put, the Kemper is a modeler that uses rig profiles. Rig profiles are basically a digital snapshot of a guitar or bass setup that can be edited to a certain degree inside the modeler. Many bands / players both famous and bedroom level have switched from big walls of amps to the compact lunchbox for touring out of convenience. The price of the hardware modeler is quite lofty for the average Joe but the Kemper profile packs floating around look like a lot fun don’t they? I’d say so. Enter TONEHUB!

STL Tones has a number of very enticing packs that have been professionally created with insane collections of gear. Collections that contain some of the best gear ever made. STL Tones and their great team have found a way to get those profiles out to a larger audience in a more affordable way.

I have long drooled over the awesome Kemper profile packs they put out so I was really happy to hear about this release!

EXPERIENCE

The GUI is for lack of a better term; perfect. There’s literally not a single thing wrong with every section of the GUI. It’s perfect; smooth looks, easy to navigate and effective. All of the sections are laid out clearly and concisely for the user which is important with any plugin but with a plugin of this complexity, it’s crucial to have a GUI that promotes ease of use. I believe a beginner could pick up ToneHub and have it figured out in a day or two at most where experienced users should feel at home right away.

The brain, control center and main feature of ToneHub is their revolutionary Tracing Amp. This is the part of the plugin that allows users to use and edit STL Tones Kemper Profiles and it does so very effectively. The amp itself has a very simplistic set of controls that can be used to further shape your profiles with ease.

One of the Tracing Amp’s main features is the efficiency of the controls. In most Kemper profiles, tweaking any of the controls too far to the right or left kind of invites a more processed and fake sound into the tone. The tracing amp’s technology allows for a little more tweaking in either direction while keeping the profile’s tone in place.

Any Kemper user will tell you that the sound is only as good as the profile it’s currently playing and the plugin is no different. However, STL just happens to be pretty damn good at not only creating these profiles but also at selecting some of the best players and producers in the world for the job. As a result, the list of packs available is pretty jaw dropping but being premium profiles from premium artists, some of them are priced accordingly.

To me this brings up a bit of an issue that I could see affect the plugin’s sales. $150USD (at time of release) puts the plugin in the higher price bracket with the Core Pack and one free pack so for users to afford multiple packs could be quite costly if the only packs available are premium priced. If the plugin is designed to help create sales for the STL packs while allowing users to play in the Kemper world a bit, another option may be required.

One way to easily combat this would be to create $20-25 profile packs with around 50 files either in mixed styles or one featured genre. Putting signature packs on sale, bundling them or dropping the prices can be a nightmare for artist royalties and relations so in-house made packs could be the needed middle end solution. These more affordable but still very effective packs could be bundled, put on sale and even given away from time to time without such issues.

When it comes to the pack selection available, STL Tones was nice enough to send us all of the packs for review so we had a chance to go over literally every file of every single pack. ONE pack selection comes with the purchase of the plugin in addition to the Tone Core pack that is built in. The packs range in price from $40-100USD with roughly 40-80 profiles per pack. The packs also often cover more than one genre and some include bass profiles as well. It’s not really feasible for everyone to own every pack but they do cover so much ground and gear so a few packs would get the job done for most.

Here’s a list of our favorite packs as for various styles.

HEAVY:

  • Lasse Lammert – (far and above my favorite pack)
  • Will Putney Guitar
  • Romesh Dodangola

ROCK:

  • Howard Benson
  • John Feldman
  • Lee Malia

CLEAN:

  • Howard Benson
  • John Feldman
  • Kris Crummett

Starting with the clean side of the profiles included, I had a lot of fun adding the compressor and green drive pedal from ToneHub to many of them. Country, blues, jazz, southern rock, brit pop and a lot of other genres are more than attainable with this plugin and the right profiles. Some of the clean tones made me happy, some did not. Clean tones are probably the only real inconsistency from pack to pack as some of them felt like more of an afterthought than anything else but for the most part, good clean tones can be found pretty easily.

The mid gain and rock tones are available though not nearly as plentiful as the higher gain tones. Many of the packs have mid-gain and crunchy profiles mixed in but some of them feel like more of an afterthought over a purpose. The Howard Benson pack is not messing around in this area however so I highly recommend that pack for those looking for quality tones for rock, punk and any other mildly to mid-way driven tones.

The high gain tones are for the moment, the meat of the STL Profile packs. High gain tone enthusiasts will literally be in their own personal tone dream world with ToneHub. Every single time I lay into the Lasse Lammert or Will Putney packs, I come away with a smile from ear to ear. The list of top shelf high gain gear profiled in many of the packs and the Core pack is positively staggering. There’s simply no stone unturned in this area, every single high gain amp you can think of has been profiled in one or several of the profile packs available.

One thing I like a lot about most of the packs is that the pickups used to create the profile have been noted in the profile itself. Users may want to pay attention to this as profiles made with active pickups may not translate the same to passives and the same the other way around. You certainly don’t need the same pickups to have the tones sound awesome but it’s good to take note of what was used as it can help to find the best profiles for your needs. I found the EMG 81/85 profiles sounded 10x better when used with my 81/85x set but the profiles were still great with passive pickups.

The cabinet section is simple, effective and basically everything it needs to be. I really enjoyed working with it in most of the profiles though it definitely responded better in some than others. There’s no bypass for the cabinet section which in most cases would concern me but with ToneHub not so much. Is it possible? Absolutely but it wouldn’t benefit the profile. In a Kemper profile, the cabinet as well as the mic(s) used are all a huge part of the profile. It’s all captured together.

I don’t see any point at all to a cabinet bypass in this plugin. Any addition like that would instantly compromise the integrity of the profile. The addition of premium IRs doesn’t work the same with a Kemper as it does with any other modeler. In other modelers, IRs can go right in flawlessly but doing so with a Kemper is almost like using photoshop to give yourself a six pack when you already have one. Could you do it? Sure but why?

The KPA captures cabinets better with it’s own algorithm than with the internal IR convertor and I’ve yet to hear an imported cab IR that was any better than even the most amateur profiling session’s output. I find that often presets for Line 6, Fractal, Headrush and other modelers can almost always benefit from the addition of premium IRs and the signal chain does not diminish whatsoever but with a Kemper profile, it’s a different story.

Lastly to the pre and post FX sections. One thing about the KPA is that it has always struggled to profile some pedals accurately. Tube screamers, the Horizon devices precision drive and many others cannot be profiled accurately. A more technical explanation I will turn to one of our readers!

“My guess is Kemper has exhaustively analyzed how amps distort (mainly tube amps) and modeled his box as a harmonic distortion generator. The profiling determines the proper parameters in the algorithm used to create the distortion. However, a TS may distort in ways not taken into account by his algorithm, and thus is not captured during the profiling process. But the EQ and gain may be taken into account as they would be part of the algorithm.”

To make up for this STL Tones have dropped a compressor and three different boost / TS / OD pedals that can be used to further shape and push the tones. These can be used on their own or stacked to really get users the tones they are after. On the post-FX side, they’ve added delay and reverb pedals to add atmosphere, depth and a lot more flavors. Notice that the included FX are before and after the tracing amplifier, thus not needing to break into the profile at all. I found all of the pedals very useful on a number of levels.

UPS / DOWNS

I really don’t want this plugin to be seen as just another djent machine for the kids because while it djents phenomenally well, there’s a lot more offered here. It was effortless to find and finely tune tones for a lot of different styles and genres of guitar and bass but, currently, the STL profile packs do involve a little more high gain than anything else. I was able to find great clean, driven-clean and crunchy mid-gain tones for rock but STL’s packs could use some additions in these departments.

I have long yearned for a plugin that could do exactly what ToneHub does. There are others and there will be more coming from various developers, I am sure but this one functions great for my needs. The terrific STL Tones profiles also help a lot because once again, profiles are absolutely key when dealing with a Kemper or anything designed to mimic one in whatever ways. Bad profiles = bad tone and anyone that tells you these profiles are easy to make at this level is mistaken.

On the down side, as mentioned, the avg pack price is pretty high at the moment. It would be really great to see a line of genre-specific in-house made profiles that STL could offer at more affordable prices. I could see users being on the fence with ToneHub if they don’t feel they can afford the packs. An in-house line of packs would sell a lot more plugins in the long run. There’s really not too much to pick about with this one!

NOTE: ToneHub does not capture profiles and does NOT play non-STL files of any kind. It’s meant to be a high quality way to enjoy and abuse STL’s great collection of packs without requiring a $2000 modeler.


See more: STL Tones – Tonehub Audio Examples

Cover image courtesy of Federico Ascari – check his Youtube channel

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