The past collaborations between Finland’s Neural DSP and Canada’s Fortin Amps helped to launch Neural DSP into amp sim super stardom. The partnership also gave tons of people the opportunity to get to know Fortin’s terrific amps that likely would have never had the chance otherwise. It’s literally become the model of why amp builders should team up with top quality amp sim developers to ensure their brands are properly represented in the software realm. After some time, the collaboration returns with a plugin based on the Fortin Cali 50W, 3-Channel head!
I am a big fan of the analog version of the Cali and all the wonderful things that it brings to the table. In my opinion it’s the most versatile amp that I have heard from Fortin. Where Nameless and NTS Suite focus more on the high gain side of guitar, the Cali provides a much wider spectrum of tones for a variety of players. The analog amp quickly became very popular quickly because it was the Fortin level of quality but it was something different that could deliver classic rock in addition to a wall of gain.
Neural DSP have delivered the Cali to the plugin realm and they have surrounded it with a suite featuring some great pedals, a killer cabinet section and a few other tools. I want to thank Jason “Killertone” Frankhouser for being the best go-to for fine examples of how the analog Fortin Cali should sound. The content was invaluable to this review.
Neural DSP have worked very hard to come up with an easy and effective GUI from day one and it’s remained fairly similar since then. Their plugins as a result can be used by newer to experienced users. The Cali looks awesome, it functions effortlessly and makes it very easy to enjoy the plugin fully.
Neural DSP have gone the extra mile in capturing every square inch and switch possible to retain true authenticity. In an amp sim with versatility of this level, it won’t always be easy and quick to dial in. The Fortin Cali Suite has a lot of controls and switches that can help tap into the versatility so we recommend any user new to the amp and plugin have a look at the manual to help decode all the switches and how they work. There are also YouTube demos and forum posts on the analog amp itself that can come in handy when trying to nail down the perfect tone for your needs.
To give a few quick thoughts on some of the specific controls; The “Hair” and “Thump” controls work with how the poweramp section of the amp interacts with the speakers. The “Violence” switch adds an extra gain stage to OD1 and OD2 which is a very useful addition. The 3-way “Bright” switch works with Gain 1 and Gain 2 in many ways that really impact the tone differently. None of these switches are really just “on and done” kind of controls. It’s important to work the various switches along with the other controls to really bring out the full power.
The suite includes three Fortin-designed pedals; The Zuul noise gate, The Hexdrive screamer and the infamous and very unique one-knob boost known as The Grind Pedal. The Zuul is a really great and very simply noise gate that can be quite handy for maintaining a quiet signal and tighter tone. The Hexdrive is one of the nicer tube screamer / overdrive pedals you’ll find anywhere in the plugin realm. It always seemed to match up and accent the Fortin amp sims so perfectly while being easy to dial in. The Grind pedal is modeled perfectly and while it’s normally not really my thing, it seems to have a nicer effect with the EL34 fueled power section. The “modern” 0-10-10 screamer settings did not bring out the best in this amp. I felt the screamer is best set more like 0-7-7 to get started, then tweak to taste.
The analog amp has been separated into three channels respectively; Clean, OD1 and OD2. The clean tone is purely awesome. I have used it for country, blues, classic rock, southern rock, jazz and more. I was astonished by the clean capabilities when I first started playing around with the plugin. I have no experience with the analog amp and the content I have researched for authenticity has mostly featured OD1 and OD2. To get a crystal clean tone, it takes a bit of feeling out the controls and it could also depend on how high output your pickups are but I was able to get some very nice cleans. From there it becomes about using your own assortment of compression, delay, reverb, modulation and other plugins to create whatever clean tone you’d like. The amp’s clean and OD2 channels really make for a wonderful canvas to paint on with any effect you like.
One might normally deduce that OD2 would be the heavier and higher gain of the two but in the Fortin Cali it represents the mid-gain/rhythm or “rock” side of the amp. For me, the OD2 channel opened a world of rock tones and I have spent more time with this channel than any other part of the amp. From ballsy blue-collared rock to as far as about vintage / modern thrash tones if you engage the Hexdrive. Like the other channels, it took me a little while to really get the hang of how to harness this channel because of the ground it covers. I find it fascinating how much every control and switch can offer and impact each other.
OD1 is a raw, visceral and unforgiving killing machine. The EL34 tubes mixes with a mountain of gain and an additional global saturation control (pull the bass EQ knob) creates some of the all-out most enjoyable high gain tones that I have ever heard in any amp or plugin. There’s an aggression to this side of the amp that is truly unique to itself. The sound reminds me a lot of the Dino Cazares / Fear Factory tones of the earlier FF albums before his modded Marshall was stolen. I was able to replicate that tone to a degree that has me grinning ear to ear just thinking about it.
When the high gain department onboard Fortin Cali Suite is compared to other Neural high gain monsters like Nameless Suite, NTS Suite or the Granophyre, I can basically say that instead of a sword or a scalpel, you have a big serrated Rambo knife. The end result is the same, the Cali just does things in a more raw and slightly less focused approach. The EL34 tube section really provides a more organic way of stalking and pinning down some amazing high gain tones. The amp just has a way of making even crushing high gain sound just a little dirtier and greasier than amps with a more focused approach.
In addition to their barrage of rhythm tones, OD1 and OD2 also have the ability to provide some of the best lead tones I have heard in a plugin. Add your own delay plugin after the amp sim (or after the EQ if you are mixing) to create anything from soaring ballad leads to hair metal shredding an onto tech-death fretboard wizardry. This is another huge selling feature for me because it adds another level of enjoyment to the plugin. Some amps can be better suited for rhythm or lead depending on the amp but the Fortin Cali is once again showing its Jack-of-all-trades. Pink Floyd style leads were even fairly easy to come by.
The cab section has been tasked to well known producer and musician Adam “Nolly” Getgood. It features a great selection of the best industry standard mics as well as a detailed set of controls to control and shape with. Users can use 1-2 mics from the selection to mic up the 412 cabinet to their liking. 3D cab sections do however require at least some knowledge of how to mic a cabinet, the details of which can be explained easily in a wide variety of YouTube videos. I had a lot of success mixing a close SM57 with a slightly further away 421 with a 70/30 mix in favor of the 57. The OD2 channel really provided a nice vintage vibe when I kicked in a Ribbon 121 in place of the 57.
There’s an impulse loader right inside the cabinet section for users to load their own collection. I had a blast with tons of IRs from a number of developers. The clean amp sounds amazing with many of 212 open back IRs I have tried with it. Open back 412 IRs also sound really nice when trying to achieve rock tones with OD2 and lastly, dive into your collection of oversized or vintage 412 closed back for a tighter and more powerful tone. It was a little bit picky with outside IRs but most of what I tried with the Fortin Cali Suite matched up well.
UPS / DOWNS:
The Fortin Nameless Suite and NTS Suite plugins are truly flawless in every way. In fact, with updates, they have only gotten better since release. The 1:1 replica level quality of the Cali Suite continues the tradition of perfection in the Neural/Fortin products. It instantly becomes one of the best and most versatile single amp suites on the market right now and likely will remain that way for a long time. There was nothing I set out to achieve tone-wise that I could not accomplish at a level that made me happy.
The whole suite exudes enjoyment and playability for my personal tastes. What I like about it most is that it’s just a whole different feel from the other Fortin / Neural products. There was no overlap, it simply adds a whole new dimension to the line. Being able to take the Fortin/Neural quality to new genres and styles really turned up a lot a lot of applications. I was able to conquer a lot of ground that I had previously not even contemplated with the previous collabs between the companies. This one is just pure fun and quality from top to bottom.
See more: Neural DSP launch video and some tone demos from the HASR Youtube channel