I’ve posted on this unit in a separate forum but as I’ve had more time to spend with it, and a proper written review doesn’t seem to exist, I’ll give it a try.
At first glance cold-war era soviet tech comes to mind, think Chernobyl — void of any design aesthetics and cluttered with knobs (6), mini knobs (4), toggles switches (5), jacks (6), mini jacks (2), and XLR’s (2.) Considering it smaller than a Boss DS-1, it can be a lot to digest. Thankfully, the learning curve is somewhat mitigated by the fact that they’ve managed to label every single switch, knob, and jack on this thing in tiny Helvetica script (those with bad eyeballs be prepared for a workout.) The interface is clear cut though so once you’ve waded through, its pretty easy to navigate. All the controls seem sturdy enough to survive a normal life at the end of your pedalboard, and there are enough options to route this thing six ways from Sunday (see manual.)
The pedals is divided into three sections: Preamp. Power Amp Sim, And Stereo CabSim. You get three Preamp choices (AC BRIT, AMERICAN, MS BRIT) with volume, gain, and a 3-band EQ. The Power Amp Sim section gives you the opportunity to toggle between 6L6, EL34, and KT88 power tubes while allowing you to adjust the Presence and Resonance with two separate knobs. The Stereo CabSim gives you (duh) two speaker cabs to choose from in stereo or summed to mono. 1X12, 2X12, and 4X12 are the options. The two knobs in this section individually simulate/adjust the movement of the mic from center to off axis on the respective speaker cabs. If you’ve spent any time with an amp, all of this is old hand.
My first inclination is to say that these are the best amp sims I’ve ever played. Admittedly, I’ve never tried an Axe FX or Kemper but suspect anyone in the market for either of those is not looking to the Simplifier as an alternative. I played it through headphones, an FRFR, and directly into a DAW. Through the headphones it sounds alright, never producing any weird frequency spikes that tend to cause ear fatigue. I was able to play for a solid hour without my ears giving in. The separate volume knob for the headphones helps in this regard as you aren’t forced to compromise your amp settings too much in order to accommodate a comfortable listening level. I did find all the models to be a little brighter when listening through the headphones, and they weren’t able to replicate that oomph you’d expect when listening through a speaker. By comparison, the Helix does a much better job with its headphone amp.
Plugged into an FRFR, it sounds, well……like a good tube amp. I think the Helix and Atomic sound pretty convincing as well. In fact, at just about any price point you can find a modeler that will be capable of producing at least a few workable tones. That codes been cracked and its just us dodgy old cork sniffers that are still fumbling around for that last 5% of tube magik that modeling tech hasn’t replicated yet. So far I think it boils down to feel. The Simplifier’s amps not only sound really good but also react like a tube amp. The response is not gratuitous like what is common in a lot of modelers. It just seems to be more of the physical world. There is a weightiness to the notes that immediately grabs your attention. Its like nothing one expects from a non-amp set up. I’ve played a tube amp just about every day for the last 30 years, and in the last couple of years have mangled together various preamps, modelers, effects processors, pedals, and IR loaders to rehearse and perform. Although I’ve received nothing but compliments on my tone, I always missed my amp. This isn’t about that “amp in the room” thing either- it seems that argument will never cease. My concerns lay with how my guitar interacted with the set up and how my playing differed as a result of that interaction. I just didn't attempt to play as dynamically with that rig as when I was playing with my amp. For a bedroom player the flap about dynamics and response may seem a little overblown, however, at stage/rehearsal volume its difficult to underestimate the impact this can have on your playing. The ability to control your amp by rolling back the volume or digging in to generate a naturally aggressive compression can determine, in real time, how you create and perform your music. This is challenging to explain because it isn’t something that can readily be detected without the guitar being in your hands and no video can demonstrate it.
This model occupies that edge of brittle sound that’s expected from AC’s. The tone stack will help fine tune to your guitar but that core sound is always gonna be there. The mid and high controls are extremely interactive so don’t be surprised if it takes a minute to get them dialed in just right. I haven’t spent enough time with a Vox to say that I’m intimate with the amp but I’ve heard it enough live to know the sound. I’ve always wanted one but for pragmatic reasons (weight and volume), have never taken the leap. Unfortunately, every AC30 sim has left me underwhelmed up to this point. They usually do a passable job with the over-the-top Brian May tone but struggle with anything less gainy. With vintage voiced single coils, my Strat was unable to coax any gain out of the Simplifier’s AC BRIT model. This isn’t a bad thing though, as its one of the coolest clean sounds your likely to hear from something that doesn’t say Vox. As the gain knob is increased more sustain is added to the note, making it rounder and bigger while preserving the characteristic jangle. Adding a boost/overdrive/distortion will get you to the crunch zone. But beware that this is a Vox, so it takes certain drive pedals better than others. Thankfully, it LOVES the fuzz! Humbuckers are a totally different ball game. Turning the gain to 2 o’clock will cover a whole Tom Petty set— all you’ll need is a boost and your volume knob. Dime the gain and get ready to tie your mother down. I was even able to cop Scofield’s tone ( not playing) by rolling back the gain and almost maxing the filter on a rat type pedal. Very cool. This model is addictive.
The core tone is Fender blackface and for the player searching for that perfect pedal platform, she may find herself parked here. The clean tone is strong, present and mixes well with modulations and delays. It took every overdrive/distortion and fuzz I had to throw at it. Although I didn’t have one, I suspect amp-in-a-box pedals would do great too. More traditional players will also vibe with this model because of its great clean tone. It sounds so sweet with just a splash of reverb or slapback. Jazz, blues, country, roots, and rock players will feel at home. Once again, with single coils, a pedal may be needed for any grit. Humbuckers will start to overdrive with the gain past 2 o'clock. On this model its best to max the volume and treat the the gain knob like a non-master volume. Of all the models, the American has the lowest overall signal output.
This model reminded me that one amp is all it takes. The other day I was listening to a high quality bootleg of the Earl’s Court show and was floored by how many tones Page summonsed from that old Marshall. I’m not sure of his pedalboard but its a safe assumption that it wasn’t half the size of the average TGP’er. So most of that heavy lifting was done by the amp and guitar. With humbuckers, the ms brit model gets you in the ballpark. I’m not professing that this little box sounds exactly like a 100 watt superlead but it will allow the same type of tonality through your volume knob. A pretty neat trick. Playing the ‘billion dollar babies’ riff put a smile on my face. Single coils will require a little help to get crunchy. P90’s sound absolutely awesome. This model loves my Lovepedal Bonetender and Tone Bakery Creme Brulee. Once again, its feel that separates the British sim from others that I have tried. The crunch feels so organic and compresses just the right way when you strum hard.
As I spend more time with the Simplifier, it becomes apparent that this device was primarily designed for live use. All the amp models have an obvious sweet spot that gets better and better the louder you play. For instance, at bedroom volumes, the power amp sim is indiscernible . However, turned up to performing levels, one can hear and feel the difference in the tube selections. As a humbucker player, this is the perfect tool. It can generate the breakup that I need while allowing me enough room to clean it up for open chord strumming— amazing. I should also admit that the clean tones from my strat are so inspiring that its starting to creep into rotation.
A lot of people will complain about the obvious lack of programmability but one thing Ive learned through using the Simplifier is that I much prefer getting my tone from one source. Switching from one amp model to another always has an artificial feeling about it and can be a bit off putting at louder volumes. When working with a core tone any addition to it sounds more homogenous.
The routing options are endless and you can even use it as a stand alone preamp or cabsim. I tried the preamp alone with some of my IR’s but much preferred the Simplifiers built in cabs with the ability to adjust the mic pos. etc. The IR’s on the other hand, seem to detract from the tactile nuances that make the box appealing in the first place.
There have been analog modeling solutions in the past— the V Stack and Morley JD10 immediately come to mind. Although these pedals had some incredible tones, the lack of serious cabinet/poweramp simulation greatly limited their applications. The Simplifier is obviously an evolution of this technology. I’m not willing to pursue the digital vs. analog argument but I will say that this devise offers a level of realism that I haven’t found in other modelers. In addition, its size and price point make it a no brainer.......and it looks kinda cool too.