JUST A FEW DAYS AGO THE NEW QUANTUM 5 FIRMWARE WAS RELEASED FOR THE AXE-FX II AND
SHORTLY AFTERWARDS FOR THE AX8. THE UPDATE TO QUANTUM 4 WAS A
FAIRLY SMALL STEP THAT WE WILL DISCUSS BELOW.
QUANTUM 5, HOWEVER, IS ONCE AGAIN
A HUGE LEAP FORWARDS.
UNBELIEVABLE, BUT TRUE
Quantum 5 is once again an update that makes it feel ‘like a blanket has been pulled off’ or ‘as if the window has just been cleaned’. Quite a surprise, considering Fractal Audio’s ‘windows’ were already more than transparent.
Three months after our last article on new firmware, which sang high praise for Quantum 3.02, Fractal Audio raised the bar to Quantum Version 4. Meanwhile there had been an incremental update with the inclusion of a new amp model, ‘Metallica’s USA IIC++’ in Firmware 3.03.
Quantum 4 brought with it new improvements in modeling accuracy. In other words, in the comment ‘The Axe-Fx sounds great, but not quite like a real tube amp’, once again more people will be inclined to leave out the ‘but not quite’ part. These improvements were mostly in the reaction of the virtual power amp, specifically the changes in the way power tubes distort as the amount of grid voltage varies. This meant that the overtones the power amp produced were even more authentic.
Quantum 4 also introduced a real plus in user-friendliness, specifically in the way existing presets are treated after an update. Presets are now no longer automatically affected, meaning that your carefully crafted sound does not instantly change. The new modeling only takes effect when the Modeling Version parameter on the Advanced settings page of the amp block is set to ‘Latest’. In the Global menu the default value for new presets can also be set to ‘Latest’, so that any new presets you create will automatically use the newest installed modeling version.
This trend continues with the brand new Quantum 5 Firmware. Here are the main innovations:
Cliff Chase has been working hard again and this time he has been concentrating primarily on the preamp stage. The modeling for tubes driving cathode followers has been improved; this arrangement is typical for Marshall and other similar amps. These models now have a warmer distortion with smoother decay and the shape of this cathode follower distortion can be adjusted with a new parameter, ‘CF Hardness’, which can be found on the Advanced page of the amp block.
HEAR IT AND FEEL IT
Lots of complicated words for an improvement that is easier to feel than to explain. Just try it out for yourself – you will be able to hear the difference and feel it too.
Since the release of Quantum 5 Cliff Chase has introduced an extra trick with version 5.03: the Supply Sag parameter now has twice as much sag on offer as in previous versions, meaning that extreme amounts are now available, in some cases as much as three times what a real amp could produce. Existing presets are automatically adjusted, so that the amount of sag that has been set remains the same.
SEVEN AMP ARMY
As we all know, you can never have enough amps and this time there are seven new ones included. The new ‘Legato 100’ model is based on a very famous 100 Watt Carvin Legacy amp – yes, none other than Steve Vai himself allowed his personal amp to be examined in detail and modeled. Gotcha!
The other six new models all carry the prosaic name of ‘Capt Hook’ and are based on a Hook Captain Classic 34, an amp that uses a mu follower to produce a highly complex distortion with very smooth decay. Both classic rockers and boutique fans will be more than happy with this amp. A dream come true!
Specific attention has also been paid to the effects. This time Cliff Chase has worked on the drive block and improved the diode clipping algorithms. All of the drives now sound sweeter and more transparent and the following have been rematched: Rat Dist, Super OD, T808 OD, T808 MOD, Plus Dist, Esoteric ACB, Esoteric RCB, PI Fuzz, Zen Master und Ruckus. Here again, our challenge is to try them out and see if you can avoid grinning!
EVEN MORE USE-FRIENDLY
On top of the previously-mentioned fact that the amp modeling version can be individually selected, allowing a kind of ‘compatibility mode’ when installing new firmware, Quantum 5 has introduced a new global parameter, ‘Force Default Version’, which causes every preset to load with the selected default modeling version.
As with every previous firmware update, a number of bugs have been ironed out.
AXE-FX II MK1 & II
The many additions in capability made over the last five years have caused an increase in the amount of memory needed and this is becoming a noticeable with the older Axe-Fx Mark I and II models. To ensure that longer-standing Axe-Fx II owners can also benefit from the new developments a barely-used compatibility code has been removed, meaning that Quantum 5 is not compatible with presets saved prior to Firmware Version 15.08. If you are still using such old presets, please load and resave them before upgrading to Quantum 5.
As always, the update is completely free and can be downloaded here.