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FIRMWARE 17

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 IN THE YEAR 1796 A STILL VERY YOUNG CARL FRIEDRICH GAUSS PROVIDED
MATHEMATICAL PROOF THAT A REGULAR HEPTADECAGON COULD BE
CONSTRUCTED WITH ONLY THE HELP OF COMPASSES
AND AN UNMARKED STRAIGHTEDGE

 

NEITHER COMPASSES NOR STRAIGHTEDGE
The academic world was very impressed indeed, but since then there has not been a great deal of activity concerning the number 17, apart from a few lightweight German pop songs. Up to now, that is, because at the end of 2014 Cliff Chase has succeeded in pulling off another feat: he has, without the aid of compasses or straightedge, proved that it is possible to improve the world’s best guitar processor yet again.

NEW BRILLIANCE
How is this possible? Many small points have been improved, but a few new wow-factors have also been introduced. More amps, new preamps and various further optimisations make this firmware update a pleasurable must.

TOP TEN PLUS
Since our last firmware update article an astounding ten(!) new amps have been added to the arsenal. From classic Fenders such as the bass channel of the famous 1965 Bassman to the boutique cream cake of a new Dumble and from further Plexi models through new Diezels to the FAS Modern III; this time there is something for everyone.

RAISING THE BAR EVER HIGHER
On the way the 200 amp mark has been reached and exceeded. With the first Axe-Fx the motto was ‘quality over quantity’ – there were relatively few amps models, but all of them sounded very good indeed. Meanwhile the motto has changed to ‘quality AND quantity’, as the technology employed by Fractal Audio allows the inclusion of an ever-increasing number of amps without having to make even the slightest compromise in quality.

HIGH-VOLTAGE DEPENDENCE
Once again there has been some hot-rodding going on under the hood. As an example, Cliff Chase has discovered a way of improving the method of calculating the power amp screen grid and anode voltage dependence. Clear? Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is like this – for the nth time Cliff Chase has solved problems with our sound that we didn’t even know we had, using a method we don’t even begin to understand. All we know is that it works and the result is a noticeably more open, more dynamic sound especially when the virtual power amp is pushed.

  • Rather more tangible and a good deal easier to explain is the new DYN EQ page in the Amp block. This brings together all the parameters that affect the dynamics of an amp model. Two new parameters provide ways of modifying the character of dynamics changes and allow, for example, a powerful mid-boost when you dig harder into the strings. Wonderful!

  • The ‘USA’ amps now use an exact mathematical model to simulate the power amp feedback network. Further improvements in amp modelling and additional tone-shaping options complete the news on the amp front.

CABINET TREATS
Let’s move on to the innovation that Firmware 17 will most likely be remembered for: the introduction of preamps in the Cab block. It a well-kept secret (and thus in these Internet times one that the whole world probably knows) that many of the classic guitar recordings owe a considerable portion of their fantastic sound and perfect placing in the mix to the type of preamp that was used to amplify the microphone signal. Whether they were individual devices or preamps built into the mixing desk, each one generally had a particular flavour that they would add to the sound, especially when driven into saturation. Many world-class producers of the past and present have chosen their mixing desks based on the mic-preamps built into them. And all of this is now in the Axe-Fx II, easily accessible via the Cab block. The result is that the Axe-Fx now has yet another important mastering tool, making it even easier to sit your recorded guitar sound perfectly in the mix. We have already devoted a special article to the new preamps.

On top of this there are a further two UltraRes Cabs from the new Cab Pack 7. These replace similar factory cabinets.

PASSIONATE ABOUT EFFECT-TWEAKING
The breath-taking effects section has also been trimmed towards perfection: 

  • The Multidelay block now has Low Cut, High Cut and Drive parameters. These were already available in the other Delay blocks. The feedback parameters are now calculated slightly differently and have become a little easier to control.

  • Alongside the above-mentioned preamp innovations in the Cab block, the Drive block has also received additional types: ‘SDD Preamp’, ‘FET Preamp’ and ‘Ruckus’ can now be selected. The graphic equalisers in the Amp and GEQ blocks now also offer ‘3 Band Console’ types. The Multiband Compressor now has a ‘Fast RMS’ detector type.

  • The Flanger block has been completely rewritten and shows once again that Cliff Chase never rests on his laurels. All of the Flangers now sound more realistic, more natural, more ‘analogue’. There are several newly-introduced Flanger types that make it easy to get an idea of what is now possible. The Chorus block has also profited from this work, as its algorithms are based on those of the Flanger block.

  • The various new Reverb types and their fantastic quality have already been looked at in depth in an extra article, so we will refrain from going into any detail here.

HANDLING
Good things have been happening on the user-friendliness front, too:

  • Long lists have become easier to navigate because they now automatically wrap at their limits, allowing much easier access to parameters at the opposite end of the list. 

  • The Utility menu now contains VU Meters that show the relative loudness of the channels. This makes it much easier to set presets to the same apparent volume, especially as the level of the Amp blocks can also be adjusted directly from this page.

FEELING GOOD
A grand total of 25 bug-fixes have been implemented since our last firmware article – none of them were particularly serious and most of them concerned things like ‘wrong triode plate voltage in 1987x models’ or ‘wrong B+ capacitor value in 1959SLP and Plexi 100W amp models’. These are fixes that have no effect on sound quality, but simply serve to ensure that the authenticity of the amp models is as good as it can possibly be. Which in itself is proof, if any were needed, that the Axe-Fx II is still being actively developed and improved and that you will never have to wait long for even the tiniest bug to be discovered and fixed. A pretty good feeling, really.

  • If you already have an Axe-Fx II you can download Firmware 17.03 here..

A CLEVER IDEA
It is not impossible that some people might be reading this because they don’t know what to do with the money they got for Christmas. Well, we have an idea