2018 was a huge year for pro audio software in general. The past year has seen the release of some of the most incredible products that I have ever had the pleasure of using. While we were not able to agree on a favorite here at HASR, that sort of shows how much quality gear came out for a wide range of players in 2018. I did however come to a decision on my choices so while I cannot speak for HASR overall, as the editor in chief I felt I wanted to share my thoughts. I have linked the product reviews for reference.
BEST AMP SIM – (Guitar): STL TONES TONALITY-HOWARD BENSON
STL Tones’ Tonality was the clear favorite for me. I chose it for it’s very high levels of quality and versatility at a price that is more than fair for what’s included. Tonality includes five amps, five cabinets and three pedals all meticulously modeled to perfection. The plugin contains sparkling cleans to beastly hi-gain and everything in between with a noticeable attention to detail.
Several very high quality amp sims came out this year but Tonality’s mix of vintage and modern gear and tones gave it the edge. For me, when I see a product is strong across a wide range of genres and applications, it obviously increases the product’s versatility but also it’s overall value. I would use it on any recording for any use at any time.
BEST FULL AMP SUITE: BLUE CAT AUDIO AXIOM
Axiom is a full amp suite designed around Blue Cat Audio’s Destructor plugin. Destructor is a very uniquely designed amp sim that gives the user more control and customization options than any other amp sim ever created. There’s almost no end to the tones you can make with destructor. From clean to hi-gain and every type of tone that fits between them, Destructor can do it all.
Using the incredibly versatile Destructor as the engine, Axiom adds a whole lot of pedals, processing tools and more to give Destructor even more versatility. How far you go with Destructor and Axiom depends on you really. If you put the time in to learn how to use the plugins, they can be like creating tones with a razor sharp scalpel but if you prefer to plug and play, you can use Axioms, avalanche of great presets to get you around competently.
Axiom also allows users to add their own 3rd party plugins to both the pre and post effects sections. This is a game changer for full and multi amp plugins because normally you are stuck with their onboard stuff and thus really limiting your capabilities. Add your own boosts in front or your own verbs, delays and mods on the back end. This was a huge upside for me.
Axiom is an absolute masterpiece and for all of those people out there that want elite level customization and complete control of their tones, this is your dream plugin. This isn’t like bias amp where there’s a million switches that do nothing, this is a plugin that gives the user unlimited, high quality tone shaping options in every component.
BEST AMP SIM – (Bass): NEURALDSP DARKGLASS ULTRA
I’m not sure there will be a best bass amp sim plugin every year but this plugin needed mentioning because it has changed how I see bass amp sims while also setting the bar for bass amp sims in the future.
NeuralDSP came out with three very high quality and enjoyable plugins in 2018 but the one that I liked most of the three was the Darkglass Ultra. Darkglass gear is fantastic stuff in hardware form and the plugin delivers the same level of quality. So much that my jaw hit the desk the first time I gave it a go and I’m not even a bass player by trade.
I didn’t do the review for the Darkglass Ultra but if I had, the score would have been the same or even 10+. It has become my new mainstay bass plugin and I don’t see that changing in the foreseeable future. No matter what your style of playing is, the Darkglass Ultra plugin will enhance it. This is a plugin I would stake my reputation on.
BEST PEDAL PLUGIN – AUDIFIED MULTI-DRIVE PEDAL PRO
Another product that came out this year that I love is Audified’s Multi-Drive Pedal Pro. If you read through our page enough you will find this plugin mentioned often as the best option to boost or drive a ton of very different amp sims.
MDPP provides a truly great selection of some of the most popular boost and drive pedals ever made, modeled with precision. Every pedal has been modeled with absolute detail and it really shows through in the tones available in every pedal.
In my opinion, this pedal suite offers some of the highest quality pedal plugins ever made all in one box. Every knob and control on every pedal responds a lot like the real thing. MDPP provides a ton of quality at a great price and it’s definitely more than your average TS plugin.
For impulses, the market saw a lot of additions from a number of developers but 3 Sigma Audio and Lancaster Audio both had numerous strong offerings. The Bill Kelliher impulse pack from 3SA is an incredibly good sounding collection of products but I also spent the year falling in love with every Zilla cab from several developers.
Both 3SA and Lancaster Audio have continuously proven that they are major players in the impulse game and I look always look forward to trying as many high quality, properly made impulses as possible. You won’t find any half-assed half baked impulses from either of these companies and I would trust either of them as I would Ownhammer, Redwirez and the other developers that put in the work to provide the best quality.