Universal Audio may be a company known primarily for its legendary hardware units and the plugin versions of those and loads of other classic rack gear, but they have recently entered the amp sim game as well, applying the same principles to achieve sonic cloning of beloved amps in a faithful and reverent way.
Friedman Amps has embraced licensing their amps as sims in a way that no other boutique amp company has, and I think it’s both a smart business move and a great benefit to society. Their amps are (justifiably) high priced, and not everyone can afford them – but they made sure that everyone has access to the Friedman sound by allowing fully licensed models by various companies (at some point I’m gonna have to shoot out all of them and see which one is best) for a far more reasonable fee.
The two Friedmans that UA offers are extremely well modeled, very accurate to the originals. They’re also drastically lighter (yuk yuk). They’re high gain enough for some metal applications, but they really shine in the mid gain tone area. They were a nice middle ground between the other two amp types I tried for this review. I actually liked the DS40 better than the BE100, which I was not expecting. The BE100 is sort of the flagship amp, but I think the DS40 should be carefully considered as well if you’re looking into Friedman or their sim models.
Engl is one of my personal favorite amp companies, and I think they have the sound of metal on lockdown. I tend to reach for Engl sounds in all my amp modeling software and hardware as my go-to rhythm tone. I’ve never owned the real thing, but I’ve played a couple, and it’s some of the very best stuff there is.
So they had quite the task building a clone of such a legendary amp company. I can say that I’m glad they chose one of their other amp models, because the Powerball and Savage amps have been cloned to death and can be found all over. The E646VS Victor Smolski sim has me clamoring to try the real deal now. The controls are so in-depth that I really think you might find just about any sound you could possibly be looking for in there.
What can be said about the Marshall Super Lead that hasn’t been said already? It sounds like the real thing, and that vintage tone is all there. I can safely say that for heavy rhythm tones it is not my bag, but that for some really beautiful lead sounds and lower gain chord stuff it is a monster and its legendary status is well earned. Once again, far cheaper and easier upkeep than the real deal, so if you like a Hendrix/SRV sound that can be pushed a bit harder for some screaming leads, don’t sleep on this one.
The biggest weakness of all of these amps is not a new or uncommon one – cab IRs are a massive part of the sound of any amp, and not many have really mastered them yet. The included IRs are a smattering of different kinds of mics and cabs, not really comprehensive enough to find all the sounds you need, and not limited enough for them to have put in the time to find some sweet spots. Luckily, there is an option to bypass them altogether so you can use your own loader and cabs, which you’ll probably be doing anyway if you’re into some serious production. The amps themselves are worth the money you’ll spend on them, so don’t judge them based entirely on the sounds you heard in my demo – for consistency I used the included IRs.
UA continues to make world class plugins, and the amps I tried here are no exception. With a two week trial for any plugin you want to try, you can really take them for a spin before committing to buy them. See if any amp builder will do the same! Not flippin likely.
Check out the whole collection on their website.