Plugin subscription services are becoming more and more popular every day. The Slate Everything Bundle has been killing the game for quite some years because it gives users access to tens of thousands of dollars worth of plugins for a low monthly price. Other plugin developers have also begun to do monthly bundle subscription pricing with a lot of success. AmpHub is a new kind of subscription service with a bit of a different look.
STL Tones aren’t offering their current plugins in a subscription service but rather a plugin that is in itself a subscription service. The initial offering is a nice collection of amps, pedals, IRs and other components with a company goal to provide new gear in the plugin often. However, for those who prefer to own things, the player and components can be purchased. We will provide a final thought on both the subscription and purchase preferences in the ups / downs section at the bottom.
The GUI is terrific in every way shape and form. STL / Ignite have really gone the extra mile to ensure that the components look awesome and operate very efficiently. It’s extremely easy to use but also satisfies the average experienced user. Nothing is difficult to find but the plugin hasn’t been given any kind of “EZ” feel. It’s not a one-step to mix-ready situation but it’s not a whole lot more involved to be completely honest.
The amp selection at the time of release is diverse, there’s really something for everyone. From clean to wall-smashing high gain, classic Dad rock to classic punk rock and a lot more. I have no doubt that the selection will go from modest and diverse to an all-out powervault sized selection in no time. As components are released/added to the AmpHub collection, they will be added to this review so feel free to check back as things unfold.
AMP LIST: (alphabetical as of release date)
FNDR Bass 1959 – The Bassman is a classic and will likely remain a classic for a long time to come. The analog Bassman excels with almost any variation of cabinet so the internal selections all work pretty good but it is one of several amps in the suite that will benefit from the addition of more cabs. The companies proved they could put together solid Fender sounds with Tonality Howard Benson so it’s not surprising to see Fender well represented in AmpHub. The Bassman’s controls are a little bit stiff but with light touch, most of the basic Bassman tones are attainable. AmpHub users will get a pretty good look into some of the amp’s iconic rhythm and lead capabilities but it may take some sculpting with the cab section. The Xotic BB Preamp pedal combined with the Bass 1959 is highly recommended!
FNDR Deluxe Combo – The second of AmpHub’s Fender stars is a traditional Deluxe. Fender has been a leader in clean tones for as long as amps have existed it seems. One of the most notable series of Fender clean machines has always been the Deluxe. With the compressor and the 112 cabinet, it’s very easy to dial in some really nice cleans fast. The amp covers so many eras so in turn it covers a ton of genres and applications. The Deluxe Combo here is a little bit stiff and lacks a bit of warmth at first but with a little time in the cab section, it’s pretty easy to warm things up. My favorite use for this amp has to be country picking, it has all the snap, pop and twang needed for those in need.
FRMS Cobra – I had really high hopes for this one because at the time of release, there hadn’t been a good Framus Cobra plugin on the market in sometime. The Cobra came out and instantly became very popular in smaller circles but then exploded in popularity when it was discontinued. I didn’t really like this one very much as the tone is a bit thin most of the time. It can be tweaked to sound pretty good but it does take a little more to get there than it does with the analog version. I think given the living nature of the plugin, this amp could definitely be improved upon to be a killer with a little more depth and fullness to the tone. Using the Mesa 412 while moving the mic a pinch away from the center and/or adding some resonance in the cab section can also beef things up to be passable but the amp should be able to stand a little more on its own.
FRMS Dragon – It was kind of strange to see multiple Framus amps in a relatively modest release day amp selection. I like the Dragon more than the Cobra though I am admittedly much less familiar with the Dragon in its analog form. The research I did had the analog amp and plugin sounding pretty close in comparison. I really like this amp for rock tones from rhythm to lead, classic to heavy. The Dragon’s sweet spot just seemed to be in the mid-gain to crunch areas. It wasn’t hard to find but it was hard to change to the next amp after I’d found it. With a bit of drive from one of AmpHub’s terrific boost selection, the dragon can get to high gain territory but I really prefer the amp’s rock / medium-gain sounds. It’s not my favorite amp in the suite but it’s capable of some really workable tones.
MRSHL J45 – The J45 is the first of three pure rock machines and spoiler alert, all three are really enjoyable on all levels. The cabinet selection has some great Marshall options that help the amps to sound closer to how they’d sound in an ideal analog setting. Sure Marshall amps sound great with many cabs but in my opinion, they are best with Marshall cabs. The J45 is kind of one of the amps that started it all on more than a few levels. Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, Angus Young, Billie Joe Armstrong and oh boy, the list is impressive for days. The AmpHub J45 is rich, full and warm for vintage / classic tones ranging from rock, blues, punk, rockabilly, psychobilly, funk, stoner/doom and so very much more. This is another amp that could benefit from a couple of solid fuzz pedal additions in the pre-FX section to unlock and unleash even more tones in all three Marshall inclusions.
MRSHL J800 -The JCM800 has been one of the highest selling amps every year since 1981 for a long list of good reasons. The amp works like a blank canvas for a painter or a high quality cut of meat for a chef in that so much can be done with the amp depending on what’s added to it. Even the addition of a simple tube screamer can end up being anything from rock to death metal with only a few tweaks needed and some experience with the amp. Like with the Orange, I used my own selection of fuzz pedals with all three Marshalls and it also turned up some really nice results. Rhythm or lead, modern or vintage, the JCM800 just sort of always finds a way to be a current part of the “best-in-guitar” discussion. The AmpHub J800 does a good job of portraying the amp’s signature “cut” and “bite” at various levels of gain.
MRSHL SL100 – STL rounds the release day Marshall 3-pack with the Super Lead and it once again puts us in a situation to mention a list of artists so staggering that it would be like a role call at the rock n roll history museum. Many of the same artists appear in the history of all three of the analog machines that inspired the plugin inclusions because the amps are obviously pretty closely related. The SL100 is not my favorite of the three amps but I do still quite enjoy it. The SL100 delivers a few variations of pure rock pleasure ranging from searing Ramones-esque punk tones to classic rock tones that will have your Dad’s New Balance kicks dancing in the closet waiting for him to fire up the BBQ. Lead or rhythm, user’s choice.
MSBG Dual Rect 2ch – I am always the first one in line to try any plugin that models anything Mesa Boogie and even more excited to hear STL / Ignite’s take on the amp. The amp has been condensed a little bit to omit a few things while maintaining the general level of authenticity. The “raw” mode has been removed which for most won’t be a deal breaker. I really don’t mind that they have trimmed some of the lesser used channels and features in some of the amps to focus on the more used sides. The Dual Rect is great for reproducing your favorite “recto” tones from bands like Nevermore, No Use For A Name, Cannibal Corpse, cheese rock legends like Nickelback, Creed or over to nu-metal Korn country. STL / Ignite have provided more than enough to get close to all of the above.
NGL Power V1 – ENGL amplification has a ton of balls…. you know, Ironballs, Fireballs and of course, the Powerball! The famous Powerball is a mainstay for a long list of artists and producers known well for their great taste in heavy guitar. Contrary to belief, it’s not strictly a metal amp, the PB can sit well in the mix for really any modern gainy purpose. The majority of the analog amp’s extensive range of controls have been modeled pretty well in the NGL Power V1, no shortcuts so users will really get an in-depth look at what the PB can do. One tip with the PB is that the amp is already very cutting in the mid frequencies so when using the boost selections with it, ease back the pedal’s tone control. Using more aggressive boost settings can tend to add harshness and thin the tone out a bit so take care in the interaction between the amp’s mid voicing controls and the boost pedal’s tone.
ORNG Rocker Mk1 – Orange amps are finally starting to see some love from amp sim developers after years of being easily the most neglected of the popular amp brands. The Rockerverb is such a fun amp to play on in it’s analog form, everything just seems a little bit smoother. The Rocker MK1 features strong sounding versions of both the amp’s clean and dirty channels. The gain control on the dirty channel is a bit tough to work with though I would assume that it’s more of a bug than the actual modeling in the way here. The lack of a fuzz pedal at the time of release had me reaching for outside fuzz to find the answer to “does it doom?”. It does in fact do stoner/doom very well in addition to many other Orange Rockerverb sounds you might be seeking from clean to heavily driven.
SLDN SLO100 – The Soldano SLO100 is an amp that has been used by one of the most ridiculous and diverse lists of artists imaginable. A long list of legendary artists known for a list of genres in fact. Knowing that, it’s to be pretty well understood that the amp is versatile and very good at all of it’s applications. The AmpHub version is not the best SLO100 plugin we have heard here but it’s definitely a really nice inclusion to the lineup. I have always felt Soldano amps sounded best through Soldano cabs with Marshall being a close second. The included cabinet selection does a good helping the amp sound good but with an Eminence loaded Soldano 412, it would be even stronger. I went into this one skeptical and admittedly picky as all hell because of my love for the analog amp but I have yet to have a moment that I struggled to get good tones with this amp. Both channels are well represented here to my ears but the boost channel does lack a little in the mid range.
VX AC30 – Many, many users clamored, begged and pleaded for the VOX amp in STL Tonality Andy James to become available outside of that specific plugin. They don’t get their wish but close. This VOX sounds and feels really good. I have really grown to enjoy this amp for it’s country and blues abilities when coupled with the compressor in the pre-effects. Sometimes, only a VOX will do and this one does the job pretty well. On the downside, VOX amps are historically best coupled with VOX cabs when trying to get that signature sound but there is no such cab in the AmpHub cab section at the time of release. This makes it kind of difficult to really get a feel for the authenticity but the amp still sounds very nice with the included options. In time, it would be nice to see an open back VOX 212 cab to go with the amp.
There’s a basic but nice compliment of pedals to use in the pre-FX section but the selection itself was not too diverse for the initial release. There’s a really nice bunch of tube screamer / OD / boost pedals but beyond that, the plugin could use some additions to this area like fuzz, an HM2 maybe and just a few other toys to compliment the amps. For the current grouping however, STL has offered an all-star star-studded line-up of ways to boost the amps inside. The Fortin 33, Maxon 808, Boss SD-1, Xotic BB, TCE Preamp and Ibanez TS9 components are all a lot of fun with pretty much every amp.
Post-FX sections can be extraordinarily useful for standalone users but for those tracking in a DAW, the post-FX needs to be bypassed for the addition of EQ and other processing. The delay and reverb components are great for creating everything from lush atmospheres to just the right amount of “soar” for that one big bend in your next power ballad. The modulation components are a lot of fun and useful for constructing endless soundscapes from the subtle to the extreme. Each of the post pedals provides a pretty solid range of controls and all of them are easy to use. I am not sure if the section with stay with just the AmpHub branded pedals or perhaps add some more notable delays, choruses etc but as is, the included stuff can do the job pretty well.
The dual cabinet section is laid out great, functions easily and contains a modest but pretty solid selection that includes 112, 212 and 412 cabinets. Marshall, Orange, Engl, VOX and Mesa Boogie are just a few of the reliable workhorse names available but in time, it’s likely users will see several more additions to the IR selection. For now, the cabinet selection limits the authenticity of the amps a little in that, some classic amps/sounds are just heavily influenced by a specific speaker/cab and for the moment, that specific selection is unavailable internally. The option then being to either blend cabs in the dual loader to achieve something close or bypass for an external solution.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s more than enough to get plenty of great tones with the current cabs but as mentioned, some of the amps could and will shine even brighter as cabs are added. At this time there is no option to load user IRs but after talking with Ignite Amps, we were informed that this is a goal for an update in the near future. Users can for the moment bypass the cab section to add their own loader and IR selections to further extend the tonal possibilities but the internal options will go a very long way if tweaked accordingly with the nice selection of controls.
The operation and very useful controls in the cabinet section allows for a ton of customization. Users can access controls for distance, angle, resonance, HP/LP filters and more options to really shape and sculpt the perfect tones for the perfect mix. These controls are so handy while right in a mix session because with only the touch of a few things, the tone can go from faint to prominent in a mix. Get to know this section well as it will help users in many ways to bring the best from all of the other components. The operation seems similar to that of the cab section in ToneHub so those with a knowledge of that section will likely have a leg up with AmpHub.
UPS / DOWNS
AmpHub is a lot of fun, I have experimented with it for some time now and I have been very impressed from the first moment. The majority of the gear is very well done by the fellas at Ignite Amps, their reputation for high quality tech and tones has once again been elevated. I wouldn’t call any of the amps a dead-on 1:1 replica but almost all of the components provide users with at very least a solid impression of their analog inspirations. Only a couple selections left me wanting a little more which is impressive given the amount of gear available.
It’s definitely worth trying the subscription model for a few months to a year. For only $10USD/month, users get way more than their money’s full and complete worth. The price will only start to look more and more attractive as new things are added to the already impressive arsenal of tone. The promise of adding new gear to AmpHub often is a good one and both STL and Ignite have the immaculate reputations to suggest it will happen as promised. At the time of this review, there is one gear update/upgrade on record. It included one fully modeled amp, modifications to an existing amp and additional cabs. If the selection continues to grow and improve at this rate, the AmpHub collection will be more than formidable in no time.
A potential negative towards subscription services as a whole rather than AmpHub specifically; they might not be as effective for those that don’t actively track and/or play a lot. For occasional players looking to experience the STL / Ignite magic, we recommend purchasing something from their Tonality series of plugins or the AmpHub player itself. Subscription services as a whole are only handy to those that will actively use them, otherwise, it’s kind of money wasted.
The plugin itself doesn’t have a lot wrong with it but there are a few things worth noting. I didn’t really like the Framus Cobra as much as I would have hoped. It’s a tad thin and the controls just seem to be missing something here and there. The cabinet selection is at least for the moment, fairly limited and could use more options to bring the most out of all the amps. The plugin is likely to be updated often and with that, our review will always be live. Some of Amphub’s cons are likely to vanish fairly quickly.
See more: STL Tones – Tonehub Audio Examples
Cover image courtesy of Federico Ascari – check his Youtube channel