Amp sims Best of 2020 Reviews STL Tones

STL Tones Amphub

The new subscription service style plugin from STL offers users a ton of great sounding gear for a low monthly fee.

Rating: 10 / 10

Rating: 10 out of 10.

INTRO

**NOTE: Being that STL AmpHub is a constantly updated plugin, this review will also receive that kind of attention. Feel free to check back every time a week or so after every gear drop that comes out for the plugin. The plugin has come a very long way in a short time and there is a ton of gear to cover so let’s get to it!**

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.

EXPERIENCE

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 order)(individual component scores attached)

Brit J45(Marshall JTM45)9.5 / 10 – 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.

Brit J800(Marshall JCM 800)8.5 / 10 – 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. There’s just not a whole lot that can go wrong with an “800”, players worldwide have been trusting the amp to do what it does reliably for decades and it seems like plugin developers will show the amp a lot of love for decades more.

Brit SL100(Marshall Plexi / Super Lead)8.5 / 10 – 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. Sit down, grab a guitar, turn it up and play anything from three chord anthems to Angus-like solos in front of your pets, friends and family. They are sure to be as impressed with these gold’n’black tones as we were.

Cali Dual Rect 2ch (Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier)8 / 10 – 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. Punk rock enthusiasts might still be waiting for a real Mark series amp to show up in plugin form but having a nice selection of Mesa Rectifiers on the plugin market to choose from is a pretty good 2nd choice. This one lacks a pinch of the full “recto flavor” but delivers a list of authentic tones.

Eagle Power V1(Engl Powerball)8.5 /10 – 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. Users looking for a tonal juggernaut should look no further as the amp can do a lot more than high gain. Most Engl amps are packed full of many different tones even if they seemed to be high gain focused machines.

Eddy 5153 – (EVH 5150 III) – 8 / 10 – Being that this one is modeled from my favorite analog amp ever created, I went into this with the highest of expectations. STL / Ignite have modeled every square inch of the EVH 5150 III instead of just the lead channel often seen in other plugins. The blue / clean channel and all of its Fender-created-designed glory has been done right. The clean channel is often the hidden gem of the real amp and it’s the same thing with the plugin. AmpHub users looking for a stellar clean tone might not think of this amp first but when combined with one of the Fender cabs, it will truly impress. The green channel is classically my personal favorite section of the real amp and it’s been oft left out of previous modelings of the amp. The green channel in this case is about 75% of what I had hoped for. It’s certainly more than solid but it can take a little more time to get the tones I know and love with the green channel. Old greenie is where users will find the amp’s real versatility from southern rock to thrash and more. The dead red channel is a serious gain monster that has propelled the real amp into super stardom being used by some gigantic names worldwide. For leads and high gain rhythms, this channel will be a metal tone sanctuary. There is something about this channel that feels a little off but I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what. It’s not my favorite component in the AmpHub selection but it does find moments to really impress.

Fenix Bass 1959 (1959 Fender Bassman)9 / 10 – The Bassman is a classic and will likely remain a classic for a very long time to come. It’s an amp that has been used for just about every vintage guitar and bass application imaginable for decades so it’s not a wonder why it’s so popular in plugin form. 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 but with such a nice selection to choose from for drives, users can get very creative!

Fenix Deluxe Combo (Fender Deluxe) 8.5 / 10 – 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.

Frantic Kobra (Framus Cobra)6.5 / 10 – 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.

Frantic Drachen(Framus Dragon)8 / 10 – 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.

Ignite Emissary – (Ignite Amps Original) 8.5 / 10 – The legendary amp that has been available for free for years now has been given the AmpHub treatment. The two-channel beast can be had for free as part of the STL Emissary bundle that also includes Nadir 2.0 and several great sounding IRs. The Emissary is for the most part, a high gain machine but it can be used for many different modern tone applications. The lead channel is purely awesome as many people know already. It’s full of great high gain tones for various types of rhythm and lead tones. The cleaner of the two channels is decent and useful in a pinch but AmpHub has a ton of clean / gritty tones that blow it out of the water so I don’t see this channel getting a lot of love with Fender, VOX and classic Peavey options available but it’s there. Bottom line with the Emissary is that it can be your go-to or the safety net amp for when nothing else is dialing the way you want. There’s very little effort involved in getting a great high gain tone from this one.

Ignite NRR-1 – (Ignite Amps Original)10 / 10 – Those familiar with Ignite Amps legendary line of freeware plugins will know this amp very well. Originally, the NRR-1 was made in it’s analog form as a preamp for Italian metal guitarist; Cristiano Trionfera (Fleshgod Apocalypse, Eyeconoclast). The preamp is mostly based on the famous Soldano X88R with some modifications. The amp has been brought into the AmpHub universe coupled with a power section whereas in the past the NRR-1 was best used with an additional power amp plugin. Clean-ish, a huge variety of rock and metal tones plus all the shred required by most humans. The various channels really hold a lot of quality throughout, there just isn’t a part of the amp that isn’t full of tones. The NRR-1 matches up well with all of the boost pedals and the majority of the IR selections available in the All Access subscription. Huge thumbs up to STL / Ignite for giving new life to an amp sim that so many of us spent so many hours shredding on!!

LAB Mr.Hectic(Laboga Mr.Hector)9 / 10 – The Mr.Hector amp from Polish amp builder; Laboga is an incredible, semi-well known amp capable of a lot of different things. The 2-channel, 6L6-powered beast has clean, crunch, rock, metal and beyond behind it’s grill that has all been translated very nicely into the plugin realm. STL/Ignite have done a terrific job ensuring that their Mr.Hectic model is as accurate / authentic as possible. I don’t have a lot of experience with this amp but between the tones I found while researching the amp and the tones that I was able to dial in for several styles / genres, I was more than satisfied with the authenticity. I was really surprised to find that the clean tones from Mr.Hectic are really great. For an amp with so many gainy applications, having a really great clean tone is a huge bonus. Not just one clean tone either, I am able to dial in several different clean tones for styles that I didn’t think I would be tackling with the amp. Players that love to shape tones will get all the tone shaping controls they will need to dial in great stuff.

Meridian Class 30 – (Peavey Classic 30)10 / 10 – I have fond memories of a beaten up Peavey Classic 30 as a young guitarist but it was not an amp I expected to see pop up in AmpHub so when it did pop up, I was very interested. This also might not be the first stop on the AmpHub

Origin Rocker Mk1(Orange Rockerverb)9 / 10 – Orange amps are finally starting to see a lot of 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.

Solstice Solo(Soldano SLO-100)10 / 10 – 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.

Vulture A30(VOX AC30) – 9 / 10 – Iconic British EL84 goodness at its finest brought into the plugin world. 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.

BASS AMPS

Ignite Amps Graviton(Ignite Amps Original) – Review in progress!

PEDALS

The initial release showcased a small but very nice selection but through seemingly no time at all, things grew quickly. The current selection offers an all-star, star-studded line-up of ways to boost, push and bump the amps inside. An arsenal featuring well known stomps from brands like Fortin, Maxon, Boss, Earthquaker Devices, ProCo, Xotic, Ibanez, TC Electronics, MXR and more with more on the way every month. It really is quite awesome to look at how the entire collection has grown, that feeling also creates excitement for the future as I wonder what new gear will come up monthly. The current selection provides everything users will need to create more push, bump, scream, chainsaw, drive, distortion and more with the great selection of amps available.

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. In the future it woud be cool to see perhaps the addition of some more notable delays, choruses etc from throughout the pedal / rack effect universe.

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, Peavey 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 right now there is a very nice selection of cabinets and mics to choose from and there is a balance between the two sides to enable IR blending. The easy blending utilities bring worlds of different tone options and options for shaping up the perfect tone.

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. In the second update, the plugin received the ability to load user IRs which really gives users access to thousands more tones overall. In my vast experimentation with this feature, I found that I was able to create a lot more comfort with each amp. The addition of this feature also kicked the score of the plugin up given the feature’s additional convenience and quality.

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 been enjoying it for months 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. Only a couple selections leave me wanting a little more which is impressive given the amount of gear available across the entire selection. There is simply no style that cannot be pulled off with AmpHub minus maybe anything involving fuzz. I just don’t see how it’s possible for any guitarist to open AmpHub and not find something to enjoy.

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 promise of adding new gear to AmpHub often has come to fruition after several months of gear updates to the all access pack. The updates have been steady and impressive. While there has very recently been a bass amp and cab added to the plugin, it’s just not quite enough. We would love to see some more love for bass players in the future and given the quality of the one bass amp currently in the plugin, bass players will be hungry for more STL/Ignite quality low end immediately.

AmpHub is proving to be one of the absolute best plugins on the market for guitarists. At this point, the all-access pass is becoming nearly a full-suite type set up and with another year of updates, the gear included will rival not only single/multi-amp suites but also the jam packed full-suite plugins like Helix Native, TH-U and many others. If this happens, the quality in AmpHub would easily make it the best full-suite plugin on the market today for a low monthly fee. Not a bad idea at all!


See more: STL Tones – Tonehub Audio Examples

Cover image courtesy of Federico Ascari – check his Youtube channel

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