AES is supposed to be about high-end gear for audio engineers, but apparently no one told the sparring rival computer guitar effects makers.

In this corner, from Modena, Italy, the reigning champion: IK Multimedia AmpliTube. And in this corner, from Berlin, Germany, the challenger: Native Instruments Guitar Rig 2.

Photos and comparison after the break.

Both have the same idea: rather than just focus on software, they offer a hardware control surface / direct box accessory for controlling effects with foot switches and making plugging in the guitar easier.

How do they stack up (on paper, anyway)?

Audio I/O: Both act as a direct box (guitar in jack) and audio interface (balanced audio outs). Both have MIDI I/O (good for working with hardware effects or synths). NI adds two pedal ins and an extra guitar in; IK has S/PDIF digital I/O. Advantage: Tie.

Control: IK has slightly more controls, with an extra LCD screen, 10 foot switches, and knobs (though you’ll have to bend over to use the knobs). NI’s design is ultra-simplified with just 6 foot switches, but they add an expression pedal, and since you’re already fiddling on-screen in software, their design makes more sense to me. Advantage: Close, but I’ll give this to NI.

Included effects and amp simulations: Both these products have a zillion effects, amp models, mic models, and a zillion more ways of combining them. NI earns extra kudos for including a nice selection of bass amps, but let’s face it — both of these are just plain freakin’ huge. I’ve heard both, they both sound great, and plenty of players are going this way onstage. Advantage: Tie.

Killer feature: Native Instruments wins this category for the inclusion of looped recording a la the Boss LoopStation. It’s the first software (guitar or otherwise) to really get this right, down to the ability to set loop length with a foot pedal. Advantage: NI.

Hardware aesthetics: IK gives us Barney purple and black colors and giant 80s-retro lettering. NI opts for understated silver. Advantage: NI.
Inclusion of a Swedish Model and Bad Pun: Super modeling? Get it? Like analog modeling? Groan. IK wins this dubious award, though no one at AES was demoing in a bikini. Advantage: IK.

It’s too soon to declare an overall winner; neither product is shipping yet. But my early money is on NI, because of their simpler but prettier hardware interface and inclusion of looping. That said, I doubt you’ll go wrong with either one, so make sure you demo each before choosing.

Speaking of availability, look for the NI kit in November. IK promises AmpliTube by the end of the year and StompIO “soon.” (Maybe there’s time to change the color?) Street pricing should be around $300-$500; looks like NI is including their controller whereas IK’s will cost extra. More on that once I can find details.

AmpliTube Product Page (plus see CDM’s earlier review of v1 with sound samples)

Guitar Rig Product Page

One more choice: There’s a third rival for your digital guitar stompbox: Line 6, known for their cheap-but-great guitar hardware, have gone software with the TonePort. Big scoop on the Line6: low latency, from what I’ve heard from a couple of users. (Latency is a measure of the delay between when you play a note and when it’s played back through computer effects; if it’s small enough, you won’t notice it at all.) NI and IK might beg to differ on that, though, so your mileage may vary.

  • Guest

    OK. I'ts early days I know, but something puzzles me about Guitar Rig 2. It's USB2 interface is supposedly an audio interface, but just what does it actually do? Native Instruments webpabe shows GR2 rigged via USB2 to a computer, but monitoring seems to be via separate balanced outs hooked to monitors. Hmmm, what gives, since NI touts it's USB interface as an audio interface? Am I missing something here? I monitor my recordings straight thru computer, since a new fast Mac plus, say, a FirePod is quite capable of doing so. I mean, this setup seems a bit strange. Any ideas?

  • admin

    It's definitely an audio interface. It's got headphones for monitoring + balanced outputs, as you say. USB is carrying input from guitar jacks one and two into the computer (plus control data), then you've got balanced outputs as your outs. (I'm guessing the headphones monitor ONLY the output signal, since the whole idea is using your computer as a virtual amp / FX box.)

    Now, you don't necessarily NEED the audio features if you've already got something like the FirePod. Native is assuming some of their customers don't already have a direct box or guitar in plus an audio interface. The box is pretty nice for control, though, if that's all you care about.

    Oh, and . . . I have no idea why they chose USB 2 instead of 1.1. I'll ask.

    Other than that, the AmpliTube StompIO is the same basic idea, with more I/O — we should know more about once that gets closer to release.


  • Guest

    It makes prefect sense to include audio I/O since you might very well use it in a live setting, where you would't have your other interfaces that you use when in the studio.

    A Mac Mini in a rack running Guitar Rig 2 would be pretty sweet.

  • Guest

    I was hoping you could set up all the presets and then only take the pedal to the gig. I guess not.

    I would love one of these, but I'm not sure if I can justify buying a laptop to take to gigs.

    As for the USB2 thing, it's the computer that does all the sound processing right? The pedal is just a controller? So to get the processed sounds out FROM the pedal, the USB2 must send the guitar signal to the computer, wait for it to add the effects and whatnot, then send it back to the pedal so it can output it through the XLRs/whatever.

    That can't be good for latency…

  • Guest

    This is exactly what I was going for in the first post. If GR 2 forces you to use it's XLR's as the only means of output somethings dead wrong here. To put it simply: either you can record and monitor straight thru your computer OR you are forced to use XLR outputs only. I can understand "Not sure what you mean" comment, as I can make no heads or tails just how NI expects us to use this thing. If USB2 carries the audio signal and thats all you need to know, fine, a real blessing. However, if the signal is forcefed back, you still need two audio inputs on your computer to monitor it (which would be idiotic since they claim it to be an "audio interface"). I know this might sound weird, but believe me I've grown accustomed to expecting the worst and beyond from just about any company. The fact that NI won't let you download any manuals unless you register an existing and purchased product does't exactly help. What you get is that your left with insufficent data to know just what this particular piece of equipment really does or is capable of. Just try to find a downloadable users manual of any of NI's products BEFORE purchasing them and prove me wrong.

  • admin

    Oh, wait, I see what you're saying. The new Guitar Rig 2 pedal is NOT just a controller. It's an audio interface, too. Audio in AND out. Of course, Guitar Rig itself is just an effects plugin at heart, so if you'd rather use your existing audio interface and their control surface, or even your own control surface, you can.

    As for latency, well, you've got the same latency you have with ANY computer effects system: you have to route audio in and out of the computer, by definition. But you don't need a separate interface if you don't want one; that's the idea of this interface.

    And while a downloadable manual would be nice, why not just ask NI customer support? They're usually happy to answer questions. (Heck, I can answer this question!) Or pass the question along to me, and I'll ask NI — watch for the new post today on GR2. 😉


  • Guest

    I'd like to see an actual rig set-up that can stand the rigors of the road. Where is someone going to put the laptop during the gig–on the ground where it can be stepped on? On top of the guitar amp?

  • Guest

    In an issue of Guitar One )I believe) about 2-3 months ago they showd the guita player from Fear Factory's rig. MAC with GR1.2. It states he uses it only for clean sounds and it goes directly to the board.