JUST OVER TWO MONTHS HAVE PASSED SINCE THE APPEARANCE OF ‘QUANTUM 2’
AND ALREADY THE NEW ‘QUANTUM 3’
FIRMWARE IS AVAILABLE.
SO, WHAT’S NEW THIS TIME?
The amazing Quantum 2 firmware for the Axe-Fx II was extremely well-received by the Fractal Community and now, just over two months later, Quantum 3 is already here. And for the first time the Axe-Fx II and its cool younger brother, the AX8, are being further developed in parallel. New firmware versions will appear almost simultaneously for both models, meaning that the AX8 will now always have the same brilliant amp models and further improvements as the Axe-Fx II. Therefore what we write here will mostly be true for both models.
IT’S OLD HAT, REALLY
Well, to cut a long story short, everything is better. So nothing new, really, because we say this every time we talk about a newly released version. But this gives us the opportunity to go into detail about what the impetus for all these incremental improvements could be. Cliff Chase has always said his goal was to achieve the best possible authenticity. But why do people want their digital device to sound like an original analogue one? Why would many musicians turn their noses up at the slightest variation from the original even when that difference was a definite objective improvement?
CAN OBJECTIVE IMPROVEMENT BE AUTHENTIC?
First of all we would need a general consensus on what constitutes an objective improvement, because everyone hears and thinks differently and everyone has different needs and wishes – we are all, luckily, individuals. Only one thing is certain: one man’s meat is another man’s poison and what for John Doe is the best improvement ever will quite possibly be Jane Doe’s worst nightmare.
SMALLER VARIATION THAN STANDARD PRODUCTION SPREAD
The only constant in the equation and thus the only unchanging reference is the original on which the model is based. And inexorably, with tiny steps, we are getting closer and closer to the original. Even now we can already say that with most of the modeled amps we are closer to the relevant original example amp than the standard production spread. Which brings us neatly onto the next keyword.
Extensive changes have been made to the Friedman-BE and HBE models. Some new ones have been added based on a more modern example, while the others, based on an older ‘Marsha’ have been reworked. But what is all the fuss about this Dave Friedman built Brown Eye amp anyway?
ULTIMATE BROWN SOUND PLEXI
The Brown Eye (BE) is considered by many guitarists to be the ultimate Plexi. Hot-rodded to produce more gain than the original Marshall SLP, the “Brown” stands for Eddie Van Halen’s legendary “brown sound” and said guitar hero has also been a customer of Dave Friedman’s company, Friedman Amplification, for many years. But the BE also has a few aces up its sleeve at the more traditional gain levels of the classic Plexi, with a very big, but transparent sound. By any standards it is quite simply a fantastic amplifier. Of course, for the price of the original Friedman BE head you can buy an Axe-Fx II XL+ and an MFC-101 and still have enough change to go out for a few good meals…
MOST EXPENSIVE BEAUTIES
We stress this because it doesn’t sound like much: “Oh, two new amp models. So what?” But if you bring the cost of the originals into the equation, the value becomes rather more apparent. The Axe-Fx II and AX8 are now carrying close to 250 amp models, including quite a few vintage beauties that even a millionaire would have to wait a while to get his hands on, if they came up for purchase at all.
ZAPPA’S FENDER BASSMAN
Anything else? Yes: Dweezil Zappa was nice enough to lend Fractal Audio his personal modified Fender Bassman so that Cliff Chase could model it. The original is absolutely unique and of course is definitely not for sale. But in this case the Axe-Fx II and AX8 differ from the original quite considerably, in that both are available for anyone to buy.
Every firmware update includes changes in the modeling and this time several components have profited. The output transformer simulation has been improved and now more accurately simulates dynamic core losses and leakage inductance. The new “Xfrmr Grind” parameter controls the characteristics of the output transformer. Saturation in this section is now more detailed.
While we are looking at the power amp stage: the way saturation in the power amp is modeled has also been improved, resulting in warmer, more tube-like distortion.
Interaction between individual tubes is also now more detailed. A new “Harmonics” parameter controls the amount of interaction.
Changes in the power stage modeling naturally have an effect on the sound, otherwise there would be no point in making such changes. In order to make it a little easier for users to get used to the new firmware, the modeling version has now been made selectable.
The triode plate modeling has been improved. Those who have any idea what this means will probably react with a happy “Aha!” For the remaining 99.9 % of the population we will just say it sounds better.
The preamp section has not been neglected either and has undergone some enhancements to the preamp tube models. The existing theoretical tube models have been replaced with models measured from actual tubes, such as the 12AX7A, ECC83, etc. There are now six extremely accurate preamp tube types to choose from.
Some models have been reworked, with many small bugs being removed, especially in the default values for certain parameters.
In response to requests from users the range of the HiCut parameter has been increased.
Once again it is important to reset the altered parameters to their default values in existing patches: simply select another amp model briefly and then return to the originally selected model.
CABS AND EFFECTS
There is also news on the cabinet front:
- Alongside the eradication of a few small bugs there is the addition of a new microphone type called “Invert”. This can be used to invert the signal, thus causing interesting effects when used in conjunction with the delay parameter.
- As the Axe-Fx II already contains every conceivable effect, either as a dedicated block or through inventive combination of said blocks, there have been no new effects to report on for quite some time now. However, there have also been small improvements made here, generally in the form of bug removal.
There have also been further improvements made in the area of ergonomics, most notably when using Axe-Edit and AX8-Edit. The two editors will from now on be absolutely up to date, meaning that shortly after the release of a new firmware version the compatible editor for PC and Mac will be available for download. And it goes without saying, of course, that the new firmware versions and editors are completely free.
LIFE IS GOOD
And what have we learned from all this? Well, sometimes it is enough to be reminded that life can quite simply be good. At least it can for Axe-Fx users and those who want to join the club.