While I was at NAMM, Tom King was kind enough to invite me to a private (i.e., outside the cacophony of the show floor) preview of the Amplifire. I got some quality hands-on time with the device as well as a run-through of the editor and finally some Q&A around the product.
If you're reading this, you're probably at least somewhat familiar with the concept. The Amplifire is a compact amp sim/multieffects floorboard that features Studio Devil's modeling algorithms as well as the ability to use user Impulse Response (IR) files for cabinet simulation. Its convolution engine supports IRs up to 1024 samples. Since the question of USB audio came up, Tom confirmed that the current hardware cannot support audio over USB so direct to digital recording is not an option.
Unlike a lot of products (e.g., Tech 21 Fly Rig), the Amplifire's size was no surprise when I first saw it. Tom proudly slipped it into the pocket of a gig bag to demonstrate its portability. The first surprise came when Tom handed it to me. It was much lighter than I envisioned. It still feels sturdy but it's surprisingly light.
The $64,000 question going around since the product's announcement was "How does it sound?" My answer is "Very good!" I mainly focused on the amp sims' responsiveness. Even on a saturated Recto preset, rolling off the guitar's volume cleaned things up nicely. For those whose tastes run more towards the classic benchmarks, I also tried the Plexi, Fender, and Vox amp emulations and found all of them to be representative of the real thing. The Studio Devil algorithms do a nice job of offering realistic amp response from sparkly cleans to chiming light drive to crunch and full-on overdrive.
As far as effects go, it offers a respectable set of options, particularly with its three parametric EQ blocks. The one thing that might be considered a limitation is a single modulation block (chorus, trem, flanger) but that's probably a result of my experience with the AxeFx's dizzying array of options. It's not unusual to only offer a single modulation block but for AxeFx owners looking to use this as a backup, it's probably worth noting.
The onboard menu is the typical hierarchical menu system you'd expect given the limited real estate for display and controls. On the plus side, all typical amp controls (gain, master volume, treble/mid/bass and presence have dedicated knobs for easy adjustment. There's also a system-level volume control for managing volume.
While the menu system is quite usable, the editor software (available for Windows and OSX) seems very well thought out. It generally avoids the use of rotary controls instead preferring sliders, which are much easier to adjust with a mouse. The slider controls have text fields for keyboard entry of values as well as increment/decrement arrows make precise control easier.
The editor has four tabs: Edit, Cabinets, Global, and Backup.
Edit allows you to manage routing through the various blocks and provides deep editing on whatever block in the chain is selected.
The Cabinet tab allows you to manage the 32 user IR slots on the device.
The Global tab is where you manage things like output settings, MIDI configuration, and footswitch assignments.
Finally, the Backup tab provides a facility for importing an exporting presets, IRs, and global settings.
Based on my hands-on time with the Amplifire and thinking about its feature set, I'd describe it as a "bare bones, top shelf modeling unit". The amp sims are top notch. Though I didn't get a change to A/B with an AxeFx, the response of the amps was quite satisfying. It has all the effects you'd expect, though you don't get multiples of anything besides EQ. At the price point (intro price is $599, post-intro price TBD), it's hard to think of another product that offers high quality modeling, convolution speaker sims, and a full complement of effects. Tom pared down some features compared to the "big boys" but you have to expect to give something up at 1/3 the price of an AxeFx II.
I'm not sure what the device will ship with in terms of included IRs but I think that this device could highlight the downside of allowing use of IRs in a prosumer-priced unit. When I was noodling with the Vox model, it took a bit of time to find an IR that fit with the amp model. It'll be interesting to see how a mainstream-priced MFX unit fares when users have that much ability to go down the IR rabbit hole.
Overall, my assessment can be summed up in three words: I want one. I'm not ready to give up my AxeFx but the Amplifire could be the core of a smaller, lighter live rig. While my band has a great dedicated rehearsal space, it's not terribly convenient to get my stuff from the car to the studio. I'm thinking that I could mount the Amplifire on a lightweight aluminum board (like the Temple or Aclam boards I discovered earlier this week) with an expression pedal and a basic MIDI controller to select presets and I'd have a great sounding direct rig on a lightweight pedalboard. It wouldn't be as capable as my AxeFx-based rig but it would be a fraction of the weight and cost of the "A" rig.
That's about it for now. I'm on the reserve list for the Amplifire so we'll see where that takes my live rig.