INTERVIEW – FEDERICO BERTI
#1 – Ignite Amps is a household name in the amp sim game but could you tell us when and how the company got started?
It’s kinda hard to say exactly when it started. It wasn’t really planned, we were just two guys passionate about guitar tones and engineering (we met at university) that one day found a lot of famous tube guitar amplifier schematics available on a website and decided to build one of them.
It was in 2006, we were young and inexperienced, so it took quite some time, but we managed to get our first tube preamplifier circuit working somehow. The sound result was so overwhelming to push us into experimenting with other tube circuits and improve our experience and skills with every build.
About 2 years later, Stefano Morabito of 16th Cellar Studio put us in touch with Cristiano Trionfera of Fleshgod Apocalypse, who was looking for a lightweight amplifier solution for touring. We assembled and modded a 3 channel tube preamp for him (we called it the “NRR-1”, sounds familiar?), pairing it with a class D 180W poweramp. The overall weight was less than 10 Kg, Cristiano loved the sound and that’s where we used the “Ignite Amps” name for the first time.
Suddently our hobby wasn’t just a hobby anymore.
#2 – How did you get started building amp sims?
It was in December 2009. It was a single triode stage at first and it took a pair of months to get all the math and differential non-linear equations system solver code figured out. This was then extended into a full guitar tube preamp simulator, obviously based on the NRR-1 circuit.
After having a really hard time discerning the simulator from the real hardware in A/B tests, we decided to do the opposite of what everyone else was doing at that time: instead of creating digital emulations of existing hardware, we started designing circuits in digital format first and then turn them into hardware.
Being able to play through a real time simulation of the circuits before building it allowed us to drastically reduce prototyping time and cost. If we’re not satisfied with how a circuit sounds, swapping a tube, a capacitor or a resistor is just a matter of changing a line of code and recompile the software, no need to go out and buy or order components, eventually wait for them to arrive, solder them into the prototype board, etc.
The NRR-1 1.0.0 was released in November 2010 as a Windows only x86 VST plug-in and it was a success.
#3 – What made you decide to give away your hard work for free?
In 2010, amp sims weren’t yet as popular as they’re now and you have to start somewhere.
Everybody loves free stuff, so releasing free software is the best option to get people interested into your brand, products and technology.
Sadly, a lot of people still tend to associate “free” with “low quality”, even when the free software technology is miles above the majority of the paid products saturating the market.
For the record, our technology (or parts of it) can be found in some commercial products provided by companies we’ve been collaborating with over the years (Overloud, nTrack, STL Tones, Lancaster Audio to name a few), but most people are not aware of it.
#4 – Even your older work holds up over time, what do you attribute the lasting qualities of your products to?
We try to keep all our products updated with our latest technology, when possible (and needed).
To give you some examples, the NRR-1 is 8 years old, but version 3.0 was released this year and features our 3rd generation tube modeling engine. If you compare the sound and mostly the playing feel of version 3.0 with version 1.0 or 2.0, you’ll clearly hear the difference.
On the other hand, there are situations where technology remains top of the line for years. Nowadays, you can read a lot of claims regarding “realtime Spice-like simulation”: our TS-999 (and the TSB-1, later) featured that type of technology since day 1 and is almost 8 years old now (released in Feb 2011), that’s why is still considered one of the best sounding overdrive simulators around.
Linear convolution is the state of the art for cabinet simulation today and NadIR has got you covered since 2013.
#5 – The Emissary seems to have given Ignite a great push in popularity, everyone seems to love it. How long did you work on it?
Strangely enough, it didn’t take that much to design the Emissary circuit. Ryan had a very clear idea of the tone he was searching for when he asked us to build his custom head, so we took his specs, created the “virtual” circuit to suit his needs and sent him the prototype in software format. He was really satisfied since the beginning, we just did some slight circuit tweaks and it was perfect for him.
Or 2nd generation tube modeling engine was already consolidated at time, so it took a few weeks to have a working digital prototype for him to try.
Then we added the GUI (thanks to the amazing guys at Voger Design) and implemented all the plug-in formats for Windows and Mac and finalized it just 2 days before the beginnig of the KVR Developer Challenge 2014, where Emissary scored the 3rd place over 37 entries. The Emissary hardware was shipped a few months later.
#6 – Many freeware developers eventually move to at least some paid products, will Ignite eventually do the same?
Yes, this is what will likely happen in the near future, if everything goes as planned.
Our latest technology has been proven to be stable and, most importantly, at least on par with what’s considered the best in the industry nowadays, so it’s time to finally venture into the commercial software market.
But have no fear, this doesn’t mean we’ll stop updating or releasing free software.
#7 – Can you give us a sneak peek of what’s to come from Ignite Amps in the new year?
We have big plans for 2019 and we’ll be introducing new stuff starting from Winter NAMM 2019, in January:
– ProF.E.T. 2.0, featuring a completely reworked and improved JFET modeling engine
– NadIR 2.0, featuring a completely redesigned user interface and some cool new features
– Emissary 2.0, premiering our most recent updates to the 3rd generation tube modeling engine, never used before
– Libra, combining the NadIR convolution engine with the possibility to mix up to 8 different IRs in a graphical way, never seen before
We would like to thank everyone at Ignite Amps for giving away their hard work and quality plugins for free. If you aren’t familiar with Ignite Amps and their products, get on in there to get some free stuff!! Their temporary home is on KVR: https://www.kvraudio.com/developer/ignite-amps