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FIRMWARE 18

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CLIFF CHASE: 

"IT'S ALL ABOUT THE PUNCH. IT HAS TAKEN YEARS FOR US TO CRACK THAT NUT BUT I THINK WE FINALLY DID IT.
WHEN YOU PLAY A REAL TUBE AMP THE SOUND PUNCHES YOU IN THE CHEST. MODELERS NEVER DO THAT.
THEY "SOUND" THE SAME AND THEY MAY EVEN SORT OF FEEL SOMEWHAT 
THE SAMETHE BUT YOU NEVER GET THAT PUNCH.
G3 SOLVES THAT MYSTERY I THINK."
 

 

CLIFF ON FIRMWARE 18 
Anyone trying to put the main improvements of Firmware 18 into words could hardly do it better than Cliff Chase himself, which is why we left the foreword to him this time. The Axe-Fx II brought with it G2 Modeling, the further development of the already unequalled amp simulations of the first Axe-Fx generations. And now there is G3. The third generation. And this time, there’s no need to buy a new device. Let’s find out what’s behind it all.

G3 – NEW FROM THE GROUND UP 
G3 is completely new. It builds on the existing experience and innovations of course, but many of the algorithms have been rewritten. With G3 the Axe-Fx II reacts to pick attack more sensitively, has more dynamic response, nicer distortion characteristics with less fizz and a juicier crunch and provides a more accurate representation of its tube-powered role models when it comes to frequency response and interaction with the guitar. Low notes are now clearer when the power amp stage is pushed and the dynamics can be explosively powerful.

AMP IN THE ROOM
To implement its G3 technology for the simulation of a particular amp, Fractal Audio has to actually have that amp on the premises, as each one is examined, measured and studied in great detail at various stages of its signal chain and at various different settings. And although Fractal Audio meanwhile possesses an amp collection that would make many a collector green with envy, Cliff Chase doesn’t currently have access to some of the amps that are already modeled in the Axe-Fx II. This is why those amp simulations that have been reworked with G3 technology are marked as such on the “Pre” page of the Amp block. The ones not yet reworked will be updated in future firmware releases.

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ON THE WAY TO PERFECTION 

Two new parameters offer further adjustments: Sat Drive controls the amount of saturation when the Sat switch is on, whilst Crunch adjusts the characteristics of the distortion. There is also now a choice of ‘Vintage’, ‘Modern’ or ‘Test’ preamp tube types. G3 is thus another milestone on the way to perfection. As far as authenticity goes, the Axe-Fx II is getting closer and closer to the real thing and with this new firmware version the number of people who can hear or feel any difference at all will sink considerably again. And in terms of controllability, adjustability and variability it has long since left its real amp counterparts behind.

AMPS AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE
With four new models of the Cameron CCV100, a simulation of the Friedman Smallbox amp and a model of the 50W version of the 5153, the total number of available amps has now risen to 214! Quality and quantity – yes, it is possible!

OH, AND CABS TOO
Ever-improving amp models have brought another aspect of good guitar tone into focus: the loudspeaker cabinet is a fundamental component of the overall guitar sound, sometimes more important than the amp itself, but its influence tends to be overlooked by many. This is why Fractal Audio regularly turn their attention to guitar speaker cabinets, which in 2015 no longer need to be hugely heavy items of cargo, but instead are built in to the Axe-Fx II in the form of easily portable IR files. Some of the existing cabinet simulations in the Axe-Fx II have been replaced with new UltraRes(TM) IRs from the soon-to-be-released “Universal Noise Storage 2 Cabinet Pack”. These IRs were created using the new method that was introduced in Firmware Version 17.04 (after our Firmware 17 article), the “Mic + DI” technique.

MIC + DI
Impulse response curves for loudspeaker cabinets have traditionally been captured by sending test tones from the Axe-Fx into a power amp and from there into the relevant cabinet. The sound coming from the cabinet is then recorded with a microphone. The disadvantage of this process is that the result is always influenced by the sound of the amp, and if its frequency response is not linear, the result will be adulterated. And even the best amps in the world do not have an absolutely linear frequency response…

Enter the Mic + DI method: here two signals are measured. Alongside the usual signal from the microphone in front of the cabinet, the output of the amp is also sent via a DI box directly into the Axe-Fx. (For a list of suitable DI boxes see the release notes.) This means the Axe-Fx can compare the two signals and cancel the sound of the amp out of the equation, resulting in a crystal clear, 100% pure IR. Even distortion produced by the amp is removed from the measurement.

TWISTING AND TURNING
The Rotary block has been completely reworked. For those who have never used it before, now is a great time to try it out. Those who already use it should reset the block by double-clicking the Bypass button.

  • The output level of the Compressor block can now be controlled via modifier, which opens up further creative possibilities. 

  • The level of the signal going from the USB input to the outputs is also now adjustable. 

  • To make integration with computers easier it is now possible to select the clock source for the A/D and D/A converters. This is also relevant for those who have never connected their Axe-Fx II to a computer and have no idea what an input clock is or what it does: as this new parameter has no default value, the first time the device is switched on after the firmware update you will probably see the message “NO INPUT CLOCK!” on the screen. In this case simply go to the I/O menu and set the parameter “Word Clock” to “Auto”.

A handful of bug repairs rounds up the changes. As always, you will find all the details in the release notes contained in the update package.

FROM G3 TO  G66
G3 is another giant leap on the way to perfection. The day when Fractal Audio calls its newest generation of algorithms G66 is probably still quite a long way off, but in the year 2015 we are more than happy with G3.

FINALLY, CLIFF CHASE AGAIN
Cliff Chase: “The reason that people are freaking out is that FW18 is all about certain subtle nuances that fine tube amps have but that modelers don't, or did not until now. Tube amps do several key things that provide certain psychological stimulation and create enjoyment. FW18 reproduces those nuances. It took nearly a year of studying amps to figure these secrets out and then getting that into code.”