The Marshall JCM800 is likely the most modeled amp on earth and then some…and then some more but I am one of those people that wants to try every one. Plugin users often wonder why new JCM800 plugins hit the market every year instead of focusing on amps that haven’t been done many times already. The answer to that question is fairly simple. As technology progresses, the most popular analog gear is given new and updated life. There’s always a market for a good JCM800 plugin but there have also been many swings and misses in Marshall plugin history so it takes a special plugin to stand out.
ML Sound Lab got into the amp sim game in 2020 after a couple years building a very successful name in the IR world and since coming into the picture the company has several releases. This time out, they tackled the oft-selected Marshall JCM800 for their ML800 plugin. The plugin is priced affordably and includes two channels of the amp, a modest pedal section and 5 IRs from the ML Sound Lab vault.
The GUI looks and functions nicely though at times it can be a little bit clunky in certain areas. ML Sound Lab’s GUIs have improved steadily from their first release and they quickly came up with uniform way to present their amp sims. Uniformity across a line of plugins can be very important to the general ease-of-use which in turn makes all of their plugins great for anyone from beginners to experienced amp sim users. One part of the GUI that confuses me a little bit is the decision to split one of the most bare-bones amps out there into two panels but that could be an up or down depending on the user.
The first notes sounded really good but once I started moving around in the controls, the tone would change in ways that I know a JCM800 would not. None of the controls on the ML800 really do what they are supposed to do so the authenticity took a hit from the get-go. Making more moves with the controls only made the tone less and less realistic which has me wondering about the engine driving the plugin. This unfortunately is pretty common for all of the company’s amp sims. I don’t mind this when it comes to lower priced plugins but the ML stuff is priced at a level where there should be more to the controls and the plugin in general.
If you’ve read any of our reviews for the ML Sound Lab plugins, our thoughts on the cab sections may start to seem like a broken record but nonetheless, here we are. ML Sound Lab are very well known for creating some of the best IRs on the market today so one would think their plugins would be well stocked with their killer IRs right? Wrong. While the ML800 does come with five top-level, perfectly matched IRs, that selection really should be more like 20-25 or so. We do preach quality over quantity but ML Sound Lab has a very impressive library of IR packs to pull from and the JCM800 is well known for being a stud with hundreds of different cabs so why not? There’s a section to load user IRs or the cabinet section can be bypassed altogether in favor of a third party loader or perhaps something like ML Sound Lab’s popular Mikko plugin.
ML Sound Lab’s standard selection of pedals has not changed across all of the Amped plugins. It’s not particularly good or bad really, it’s just sort of “there”. Everything in the conveniently set-up section does its job well enough but I found much better tones when I reached for my own selection of stomps. In a mixing scenario, the post-FX were of no use when I added EQ and more to the signal chain so I would say they’d only be useful for standalone players. The boost seems to drive the amp pretty well but beyond that, the pedals aren’t much to talk about.
When I tried my own selection of boost pedals, the tones were better but when I turned to fuzz and HM2 tones, the amp started driving in all kinds of ways that I had never heard an 800 sound. Things got thin and just sort of sounded degraded rather than the lovely ways the pedals normally hit a JCM800.
UPS / DOWNS
With so many high quality plugins out there that have done the JCM800 justice, to be relevant, a new one really has to be remarkable to make a dent in today’s market. The plugin can turn up more than a few usable tones but unfortunately it doesn’t really go beyond that. Being as much of a fan of the legendary gold-paneled classic, I really can’t recommend this one for those wanting an authentic or realistic 800 experience. For a long list of very good Marshall-inspired plugins capable of delivering a great experience, look at our “Quick Guide – Marshall“.
ML Sound Lab has put out a very high number of plugins in a very short time which does create some wonder about how the gear is being modeled. Many of the ML Sound Lab amp sims have seemed rushed or only partially finished and as a result, the tones are a bit fizzy, the controls limited and everything is just a little bland. ML Sound Lab should consider slowing down the amount of releases to focus on making sure the plugins have some lasting power and a higher level of quality.
See more: ML Sound Labs launch video
Riffs, Beards & Gear demo