(Version reviewed: 1.0)
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The German-made Engl Savage 120 Mk1 is well know for being one of the best sounding high gain amps on the market both now and for several years. The amp has been used by players like Jeff Loomis, Abbath, Eric Peterson, Gary Holt, Rudolph Schenker, Isahn and many others. The amp can be seen as a mainstay in-house amp in some of the top recording studios in the world and it has been called a heavy producer’s dream.
The Savage 120 is a 120 watt KT88-fueled beast that features four channels that provide a lot more than your average high gain tones. The amp has been known as a handy and versatile amp for rhythm or lead tones that apply to everything from classic rock to tech-death without a lot missing in the middle. In the analog world, the Mark I was replaced with the Mark II in the last couple years but the original is still firmly implanted into rigs and studios across the globe as well as metal history.
Brainworx originally released this plugin as a Universal Audio exclusive, meaning that only UA users had access to the plugin. This review is for the 2020 updated and upgraded fully-native version available for users with just about any DAW or interface. The plugin comes with the amp, high quality IRs as well as Brainworx’ usual assortment of handy signal processing tools.
The amp looks like the real deal apart from a slight spelling mistake on the control panel. This will likely be fixed in an update fairly quickly but the confusing part is wondering how I missed it until it was actually brought to my attention by a reader. The GUI is pretty much immaculate outside of the IR window but we will get to that in the IR section review. The amp looks like the analog version is sitting right in front of me and the new GUI sizing option is great when needed. The cabinet / IR section and other tools are available via a button at the top of the interface. Of the four channels, Clean and Crunch1 share a set of controls and the Crunch2 / Lead channels share the other controls. The sensitivity and Bright controls only affect Clean and Crunch1. There are many controls and switches that can have a large impact on the tone so rolling through the presets and manual is always a plus.
The clean channel is pretty solid. In fact it’s quite a bit better than one would think for a high gain focused amp. There’s nothing really top shelf about it but it’s definitely functional and can deliver some nice sounds. I have been told the clean tone on the original mk1 is fairly plain but the plugin would seem to suggest otherwise. It’s not often that I even come across a KT series tube’s effects on a clean tone, it’s got it’s own feel. Don’t get me wrong, the clean tone is useful and can sound really good it’s not really the overall strength of the amp. I didn’t like it as much for humbucker cleans but with single coils / strat / tele tones, the results were quite nice . The amp is however so good on the gainy side, the clean tone could be a cardboard nightmare and it probably wouldn’t even be a big deal.
Moving to said gainy side of the amp, there really is a whole lot going on in this amp to unpack. KT88 tubes are heralded for their their terrific headroom and chunky but smooth bottom end. By design, under high-volume, high-gain settings the amp stays tighter and delivers huge tone with no compromise to the clarity of the notes. The crunch channel is just so nice for creating cutting mid/medium gain type tones. I had the bright switch engaged almost the whole time and it really added just the right amount of “shine” to the tone. Powerchords, full chords and warm leads all cut through brilliantly without a whole lot of fuss.
A huge part of the Savage’s legacy was forged by it’s uniquely saturated, high gain capabilities. With a name like the Savage I guess it’s not surprising but nonetheless, the amp is a serious wrecking machine of epic proportions. The authenticity from the analog amp to the plugin definitely had to nail this section to sell well and it really does. There’s an almost absurd amount of gain on tap here, probably more than any user will require but it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have right? Users will have enough gain to level a city block with whatever type of bludgeoning riffage they can pound out.
No matter what style of playing / tones I ran through the Savage, the end result was killer but I think I may have been most surprised by the modern tones available. When the amp’s gain goes up, things stay very articulate so it becomes easy to get those fat walls of rhythm guitar for American-styled hard rock. Even with the gain way up, it was surprising to hear just how clear the notes in even full chords can be. Wherever I went from djent, thrash, skate punk, death metal, industrial, shred and so on all seemed to be easy to dial in. The amp has this sort of signature saturated “edge” that really helps it put it’s own stamp on every application. Players that like a boosted / saturated tone will fall in love with the way the pick hits the strings through the Savage 120. The effect can also be dialed back with the gain and “lead boost” controls for a more subtle influence.
With IR sections becoming more and more crucial, the one inside the Savage 120 has been drastically updated from the UAD version of the plugin. It’s important to note that the analog Savage has great reputation for working well with a number of cabinets. The IR section now includes an improved and much larger selection of 412, 212 and other options from a variety of cabinet builders. The full information for each file such as the mic(s), positions, preamps and other details can be shown by clicking RC INFO. The plugin’s cabinet section can also be bypassed by hitting the RC OFF button instead of having to go to the bottom of the cabinets list like in plugins of the past. With the upgraded IR additions, the small IR operations window has become just too small and slow. It takes a while to scroll around in the selections which can be a bit slow going. A slightly more advanced file selection system would really smooth out the workflow.
There is no boost section to the plugin but with the wealth of free and paid boost pedal sims out there these days, it’s not the end of the world. For those looking to add a boost, The Savage much like a few other Engl creations already carries a boosted flavor to the tone so boosting the amps in the same way you might boost a 5150 or other amps can create some harshness. I’ve always found that Engl amps required a more conservative approach with tube screamers, OD pedals and other boosts. The harshness can be avoided by being careful with the amp’s mid voice controls and the pedal’s tone knob. The Savage has enough gain, cut and tightness to it that a boost is almost unnecessary as the low end of the amp tends to keep itself in line nicely but I was able to boost it at low to medium gain with a lot of success.
The additional tools Brainworx include with most of their amp sims really work as a pretty complete signal chain apart from a boost. The delay is quite nice, the high / low pass filters (tight / smooth) are very handy and the gate is solid but needs to be bypassed if users opt for their own boost pedal. Given Brainworx history of creating terrific plugins of all types, it’s comforting to know the processing tools carry the same quality.
UPS / DOWNS
It’s a happy day in Pluginland! When the UA exclusives started popping up in native version, the Savage 120 was at the top of my wishlist and I highly doubt that I am alone there. It ended up being one of the last ones to drop but it was 100% worth the wait as it ended up being tons of fun. I have put a lot of time in on this one and every moment of it was a pleasure. From the heaviest of saturated, crushing death metal to smooth soulful lead tones, crunch for days and so much more can be found here.
The only downside to talk about is the IR window mentioned earlier. The additional IR selections have rendered the style of menu used here just too small to make quick moves. It might seem like nit picking to some but it also likely wouldn’t take a lot to expand on just enough to make things a little less claustrophobic. The entire line of Brainworx plugins could definitely benefit from a little bit more freedom in this area with the upgraded window and perhaps the ability for users to load 3rd party IRs.
This is the only and likely will be the only fully-loaded plugin based on the Engl Savage 120 Mk1 for some time and it’s a good one. The plugin is fully-licensed by Engl and while we all know that doesn’t guarantee a great plugin, the Brainworx Savage 120 and their other Engl offerings have all shown nice attention to detail and authenticity. We as a team definitely recommend all of them to any and all high gain players as well as those that enjoy beautifully crunchy rock tones.
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