ML Sound Lab came on the amp sim scene with the popular Amped Roots plugin that featured a selection of single-channel / condensed versions of Ryan “Fluff” Bruce’s favorite amps. Very soon after that release came Amped ARK; a pair of very enticing Paul Reed Smith Archon heads.
The Archon has become an insanely popular amp. As a result, it comes in many forms from 25w to 100w, 6L6 and EL34 versions, combos and heads, there’s a lot to choose from. I am not 100% sure which Archons are modeled here but judging by the descriptions, I will assume “ARK Blue” is an Archon that has 6L6 power on the cleans and a dirty channel that has a KT66 mod. Some Archons will work with KT66 tubes in place of the 6L6s, it’s a really nice mod for the amp. “ARK Camo” seems to be totally EL34 powered but I could be wrong on this one.
The amps are featured in a suite style plugin that includes a matched IR for each channel as well as pre and post FX for a terrific price.
The GUI is much nicer than that of it’s predecessor, Amped Roots. The plugin looks very crisp and vibrant while being seamless to navigate through. The condensed control scheme is pretty much uniform across all of ML Sound Lab’s plugins making them easy to dial in. Where there is convenience, there is usually some sort of a drop in quality somewhere to offset. In this case, the authenticity takes the hit for the good of ease-of-use so users seeking a hyper-realistic experience may have to continue their search.
Essentially there are two 2-channel amps featured in the plugin but they have been separated for ease of use and to enable users to have four sets of controls to work with instead of having to share panels. I like the layout of the amps very much and the pop-up pedal section is nice for a smooth workflow.
ARK Blue Clean is a nice and fairly full-bodied clean tone that can shimmer and provide a pretty nice feel. It sounds best when as clean as possible. I managed to come up with some really functional atmospheric cleans when I added some delay and reverb. These tones worked with a lot of different styles of playing and mixing. When i added drive from the amp or drive pedal, the cleans just felt a bit degraded as the drive went up. I was expecting some rock or vintage type applications from this section of the plugin but those tones didn’t really come together.
I like a good first impression and ARK Blue Lead has a really nice default tone with everything at half way or so. There’s a decent amount of body to the lead channel but it can be a bit fizzy when the gain gets turned up. For punk rock, hard rock and other mid-gain rhythm and leads, the tones are more than useful. However when I turned the gain up, the tone started to lose feel and quality. High gain tones are possible when the drive pedal and amp are dialed in ideally but getting things perfect can take some doing. It’s not really a plugin I would turn to for high gain with what else is on the market currently but in a pinch, it can pull it off.
ARK Camo Clean is quite nice across the whole section. The amp sounds really nice and the added warmth of the EL34 tube type helps to add some feel as well. The picking response and note articulation is just average through the other three sections of the plugin but this channel is very enjoyable as a player. Whether clean or with some added drive from the amp and drive pedal, I have been able to play through a variety of enjoyable tones. Jazz, blues, country and other styles are fairly easy to come by if you are using the right pickups and take your time. For some applications, adding my own compression and drive/boost came in very handy to add something “more” to the tones.
The ARK Camo Lead section is a lot of fun for lead work. The rhythm tones are pretty nice as well but the lead capabilities outweigh the rhythm uses for me. The leads have nice sustain and character where the rhythm tones are a bit thinner and more limited. With the gain knob back at 3 or so, it’s fun to lay into some of those AC/DC classic rock leads, kick the gain up to 5 and add a bit of delay for some tasteful shred as well as some other useful solo/lead applications. Beyond 6-7 on the gain control, the tones start to get a little fizzy and less articulate.
ML Sound Lab is a company built on the quality of their premium IRs so, when the company announced their intention to pursue amp sim tech, it was assumed there would be some lavish cab options. Instead there’s a confusingly simplistic single matched IR file per channel. Don’t get me wrong, what’s included sounds great but with all of the resources ML Sound Lab has in-house for premium IRs, a larger selection interchangeable with all the channels would go a long way. The cab section includes a bypass and fairly limited way for users to use their own IR selection onboard. It would be nice to see a global bypass for the cabinet section across all channels.
If users decide to turn the cabinet in each amp off in favor of another option, ML Sound Lab does offer their popular MIKKO cab sim plugin with many expansions. MLSL also obviously has a nice selection of premium IRs that can be used in the cab section’s limited loader or in the user’s choice of loader. Having a larger selection onboard would however greatly add to the time before users opt to bypass for their own selections that may or may not be MLSL products. I found Amped ARK sounded quite nice with IRs from several developers as the analog Archon amps are well known for matching up well with a large variety of cabinets.
The pedal section seems to be uniform across the three Amped plugins. The gate can be a effective but a touch limited in how much can be done with it. The drive pedal is a fairly average tube screamer type effect that sounds pretty solid apart from the drive knob. When I started adding some drive from the pedal, it just seemed to thin things out. With the drive knob off, the drive pedal can really have a nice impact on the tone. Post-FX aren’t the most useful in most plugins outside of standalone applications. In a DAW, I prefer to bypass post-FX to add my own after the processing. The delay here is really comfortable to use and the reverb is more than useful on many levels.
UPS / DOWNS
There may not be many plugins based on the Archon now but there will likely be more on the horizon. Amped ARK is a simple and quick way to give users at least a basic idea of what the PRS Archon is capable of for a very reasonable price. I had fun with the plugin and I would recommend it to everyone from beginners to professionals looking for some solid tones. It’s definitely capable of much better tones than the Waves PRS Supermodels bundle which hasn’t held up well through the wave of next-gen amp sims.
On the downside, I am again disappointed that a company with such an awesome selection of premium IRs in their product line only included four IR files with the plugin. This plugin would have scored higher if it had a cabinet section that utilized even a tiny teaser of their huge selection of killer IRs / their MIKKO cab sim tech. Doing so would instantly improve all of the plugins on all levels. I understand that the company wants to keep the MIKKO plugin separate but surely a selection of even 25-30 IRs would only make for better business down the line.
Amped ARK has some nice tones inside for a very reasonable price but the limited / condensed controls, overly-simplified cab section and a slight fizz factor in the tone do impact the score. With additional cabinet resources, the plugin would be scored considerably better but as is, what’s available in the suite is still worth the price. Try the restricted trial today to get a peek at what ARK can do for your tone.
See more: ML Sound Labs launch video