Amp Sims vs Real Amps

Amp Sims have been on the rise for the past decade, with more and more guitarists, bedroom producers & even pros jumping on board. With so much emphasis put on realistic tones and the cost of getting into recording, which one’s coming out on top in the digital age?

Cost to Play

It’s not hard to see that amp sims are the cheapest option compared to real amps. There are amazing vivid simulators on the market starting well under a $100 price tag. Of course, some of the more expensive hardware pieces such as the Kemper & AxeFX exist at a price reaching dangerously close to the $3k mark, but even at that price they’re a steal. Why?

Because for that $3k investment, you have dozens of amps, effects, cabinets & mics at your disposal. You have access to professional-grade emulations at a fraction of the real cost.

That access alone makes the less expensive options in plugin form that much more incredible. If you took the original Toneforge Menace as an example, you’ll notice an overdrive pedal ($100), hi-gain amp ($2k-$3k avg.), three studio-grade microphones (another $3,500), and a parametric EQ & Limiter that could easily run your total over $12,000 all-in.

Or you spend $89. Your call.


The biggest drawback for some time has been whether or not these simulators sound good enough to replace the real thing. Some of the major concerns include realistic tube saturation and non-linear variations in harmonics. Essentially, they want the things that “sweeten” the sound in the real gear.

For early adopters of amp sims, this was a completely legitimate concern. Amp sims were huge processing hogs that used to require an expensive computer or standalone DSP systems to run.

But just as DAWs have become more powerful and made use of reduced hardware limitations, amp sims have done the same. Today, we’re able to run multiple instances of these plugins in single sessions. Manufacturers have taken advantage of this and continue to test and retest hardware to make it match as closely as possible. Heck, they’ve even taken it a step further to create mix-ready tones, presets, more – finding ways to use the computer processors to do things that real amps just couldn’t handle.

Digital Revolution

The software behind these amp sims have been developed and redefined to a point where great tone can be achieved with minimal effort.

Are we saying real amps should go away completely? No. But that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to go out and buy a 100w amp when they want to capture a particular sound. Instead, reach for the flexibility of the software. Learn how to use the amp sim and you’ll never be disappointed with the end result.

At the end of the day, we’re all about recording great music. If the amp sim can get you there faster, you’d be crazy not to take advantage of that.

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