By Jeb Silburn, Twin Town Guitars Staff Writer
The brave new world of simulated amplifiers & cabinets.
Few things feel as good as standing in front of a 100watt full stack, turned up to ten, with fuzz blasting out of it at full throttle. For the longest time, big and loud have been the go to solution for many performing artists. A wall of amplifiers almost always promises an exciting performance, or at least a serving of tinnitus. Using multiple different amps to achieve different tones, or to increase volume and stage presence can be the name of the game. However, these monolithic rigs can add up to be back breaking load-ins, and even a stereo set of combos can be enough to make the joints ache. Over the years, different individuals have set out to alleviate this issue, and different iterations of Amp and Cab Simulators have bubbled into the market. Often referred to as Amp/Cab Sims, these devices are typically small, featherweight platforms that use different technologies to accurately replicate the sound of a mic’d amplifier and/or speaker cabinet. Some of the first versions of these were clunky, unreliable, and were often a far cry sonically from the legendary amplifiers they had boasted to mimic. In more recent years, a few companies have found success in creating pedal platforms that use digital technology to create some of the best to-date simulated amp and cab rigs. Strymon’s Iridium stepped up to bat, soon followed by Walrus Audio’s ACS1, and the two have been reigning in the market since their releases.
Understandably, both pedals share a striking amount of similarities.
The two boast the capabilities of being excellent for use on stage, in the studio, or for silent rehearsal. In a live performance setting, the Iridium or ACS1 can both go into a DI or front of house and get killer sound straight from the PA. For recording purposes, the pedals eliminate the need to mic up a cabinet (which is no easy task) and deliver top quality sound straight into your interface. Using their headphone outputs, either option can sit at the end of your signal chain and be used to practice at any hour, without sacrificing tone or volume for yourself.
Each pedal has three amplifier presets, named differently but made to imitate a Fender Deluxe Reverb, Vox AC30, and Marshall Plexi or Bluesbreaker amplifier profile. For cabinet options, the two implement IR (Impulse Response) technology to accurately recreate any number of speaker cabinets, and while they ship with a selection of presets, users can upload their own IR’s using each company's own software. IR works by doing much more than just applying a specific EQ curve to an amplifier output, it replicates a specific recorded cabinet's character and nuance. It tracks everything from the speaker vibrations, cabinet reflections, room sound, and mic placement, and catalogues it all into an imprint within the software that can be called up and used with any selection of amplifiers.
One of the main differences between the two options lies in how their stereo functions operate. The Iridium’s amplifier profiles and IR cabinets are recorded in true stereo, so that your signal chain remains a pure stereo signal all the way through the pedal, and has the ability to sum stereo to mono, and vice versa. The ACS1 offers some versatility in this arena, and allows you to mix and match what amplifier or cabinet you are using in either left or right channel, and allows you to tweak the settings on each one independently.
Largely, the consensus has been that the two pedals are incredibly similar, and both allow us to play our favorite amplifiers without the need of a chiropractor on standby. For touring musicians, at home enthusiasts, or recording artists, these are some of the first venerable pioneers in saving space, time, and weight in our rigs. The future only looks brighter for simulated amplifier and cabinet technology. Time will tell if our fabled walls of sound outlive these featherweight workhorses.