Jan 17, 2013
Here’s an article I wrote for our local retailers the Rockshop when the Kemper Profiling Amp came out. I wrote it for their blog section, and since they’ve sold their unit and have taken down the promo post I wrote, I asked them if I could put it up here for you guys…
Kemper Profiling Amp – The Little Oscilloscope That Could
The Kemper Profiling Amp burst onto the scene at NAMM 2011 – a tiny green box that looked more at home in an electronics lab than at a rock show, but with the bold claim of being able to capture the “sonic DNA” of virtually any guitar amp. Um, awesome… “sonic DNA” sounds like marketing hype if ever I heard it, so I was sceptical at best – until I heard the demos.
Anyway, I digress. The concept of the Kemper Profiling Amp is perhaps best expressed by their website blurb:
The Kemper Profiling Amplifier enables you to do what generations of guitar players have been waiting for: to capture the soul of all your amps (and so many more) inside a lunchbox-sized amplifier.
So, how does it work? We use cutting edge technology to capture the sonic DNA of virtually any guitar amp. The resulting Profiles are as living, vivid and dynamic as the original amps.
Imagine you’ve used some sweet-sounding, well-maintained vintage tube amps in your last studio session: With the Kemper Profiling Amplifier, there’s no need to leave those sounds behind anymore. Simply create your own Profiles from these amps and take them with you to use anywhere you like.
The basic concept behind this is that the Kemper Profiling Amp (KPA for short) sends a signal directly to your amp of choice, and it then “profiles” the sound it receives back via a microphone in front of your cabinet or a direct line-out. So not only does it get information about your amp, but literally your whole rig. If you have that magical combination of a vintage Marshall Superbass with an amazing 4×12″ quad of original, broken-in and aged Celestion Greenbacks – and you don’t want to break your back carrying it around – the KPA is happy to step in. Chuck your favourite mic in front of it, hit profile and you’re away laughing to a recording session, with the less than 5kg KPA slung over your shoulder.
Or so they claimed.
Always one to give the benefit of the doubt, I checked out some demo vids – and here was this little thing, sending sonic blurbles to another amp, and in under a minute, it was done!! It sounded really amazing – in a matter of minutes they had refined the profile of a Bogner something or other until the miked sounds were virtually indistinguishable from each other.
Still, I wasn’t quite sure. For years we’ve been told that the latest modelling technology is “better than the real thing” and is going to replace all our outmoded, outdated analog equipment, and yet year after year we were disappointed. However, modelling technology is definitely coming into its own, and with gear like the Eleven Rack, AxeFX and Line 6 Pod HD series, the quality of sound is getting so good that I could truly imagine leaving my gear behind for a gig and instead taking a modeller instead.
So I jumped at the chance to experience the KPA first hand. Let’s see how it went.
The Perils of Presets
As with any other modeller, the KPA comes loaded with a whole heap of presets, and you can of course download peer-shared presets from the internet. An interesting thing about the KPA is that while some of the profiles were created by Christoph Kemper and his team, many of the preset profiles in the shipped unit were submitted by early test users.
It’s a strangely mixed bag, and to be honest, off the bat I wasn’t terribly impressed by the presets. But the good news is that you can download heaps of profiles from the Kemper website, and they’re all ranked so that you hopefully don’t waste too much time with sub-par profiles.
Profiling me, profiling you
The first thing I did was setup a ghetto “isolation room” in my gear closet. I put my trusty V30 loaded cab in there, and put an Audix i5 on the grill (which puts it about 2 inches off the cone, on-axis).
The signal connection path might seem daunting, but it’s actually really straightfoward and intuitive – here’s what happens:
- Connect the Direct Out of the KPA to the Input of your amp.
- Connect the microphone output to the Loop Return of the KPA.
- Connect the Main Out of the KPA to your PA or monitors – or just use headphones from the front panel headphone jack,
Simple! At this point you don’t even have to connect your guitar. But that just goes to the input on the front of the KPA.
So…. profiling time. Again, it’s freakishly simple. First you set the KPA to Profiling Mode, then you select whether you’re profiling a clean or dirty amp sound. Then you press go, and then… crazy space noises!! It sounds like the KPA sends a whole range of sounds to probe the architecture of the amp it’s trying to profile.
And in less than a minute, it’s done! You can easily monitor how the profile compares to the original sound using the soft buttons on the front. If it’s still lacking some subtle touches, you can use the “Refine” function to gather further sonic information. This involves actually playing some guitar – I found that I got the best results from playing a range of stuff including palm mutes, lead lines, chording etc.
After that, you’re pretty much set! Just enter the details using the rotary dial (this probably actually takes longer than the whole profiling process, hah!) and hit Store. (Note: don’t forget to hit Store, like I did, multiple times)
I gathered a number of interesting amps to profile, including a Marshall Slash Signature AFD100, Orange Rockerverb RV100 and my trusty little Mesa Mini Rectifier. A lot better, more qualified people have done well-recorded Youtube videos of A/B comparisons of profiled amps vs the original (see below for a good one) so I figured I’d approach it from another angle – what does it FEEL like?
Don’t get me wrong – the magic in the KPA is the sound, certainly. From the amps I tried, it came pretty close to nailing the mic’d sounds perfectly. It pretty much perfectly matched the Rockerverb straight up, and with a bit of refining, it got very very close to the AFD and Mini Rec.
But many modellers can get close to a recorded sound – the AxeFX and Line 6 HD series come to mind at the forefront of modelling technology. From a player’s perspective though, the way the amp reacts to your playing definitely affects your dynamic, and ultimately can enhance or detract from what you put down on tape.
Does the KPA capture this accurately? The answer is YES. While listening to a profile of a mic’d amp through a PA will never quite be the same as standing next to a raging halfstack, the KPA definitely does come close – with the AFD, it did well to capture the bouncy, percussive feel of the gain, while on the Rockerverb there was that looser, girthy feel to the overdrive. On the Mini Rectifier’s Pushed mode, playing dynamics were captured amazingly well by the profile – pick softly and it cleaned up, while hard strumming got it into sweet overdrive territory. Most importantly, when I was playing through the KPA, I felt like it was a “real” amp.
Onwards and upwards
So you have a profile. What happens if you want to tweak it? Luckily, you don’t have to go back to the drawing board and re-profile your amp at a different setting – the KPA provides Gain, 3-band EQ and Presence controls. When it does the initial profile, it (freakishly accurately!) figures out what your gain setting is, and so you can increase or decrease it from there. EQ and Presence controls start off flat, and you’re free to tweak them.
These work pretty well, as long as you stay reasonably true to your original profile. This makes sense – the further you extrapolate from the profile, the more margin for error you introduce.
The KPA also includes a basic spectrum of effects – reverb, delay, modulation, and overdrive. To be honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time with them – if you’re a heavy effects user you’ll be looping in your own pedalboard, and if you’re using the KPA as a studio tool you’ll probably be applying effects from the DAW or outboard processors anyway.
The best is yet to come?
The KPA is a development work in progress. Among other things on the cards is a Performance Mode, geared towards an easier way to use it live. In the meantime though, it’s completely MIDI compatible, so you can use any programmable MIDI floorboard to change amps on the fly. In terms of updates and new features, the Kemper forums are a great way to find out what’s going on – the creator of the KPA, Christoph Kemper, is an active participant and is happy to address issues, questions and feature requests.
Wow. What a time it is to be a guitar player. Continuing on its current trajectory (and perhaps rehoused in a less funny looking casing), the KPA could be a future game changer for studio musicians wanting an array of vintage, rare or boutique tones that would otherwise cost a fortune to get access to.
The possibilities are truly endless – all you need to do is grab one of these, plug it into your recording interface, and the world is your little green oyster!
And here’s a last little edit from me – I wrote this about 6 months ago, but now KPA have just announced the rackmount version of the amp on their Facebook page. Here’s a first glimpse:
Another exciting announcement! Kemper have announced an integrated power solution for the KPA – just what they need to go viral, I reckon.
Kemper Amps announce the Kemper Profiler PowerHead with built in 600 Watt Power Amp
Kemper Amps/ Ruhr Area, Germany – January 18th, 2013 (ictw) – Today Kemper Amps, the makers of the highly acclaimed and award winning Kemper Profiler announce the new Kemper Profiler PowerHead. The Kemper Profiler PowerHead will be shown for the first time at the NAMM Show 2013, January 24th in Anaheim, California at booth 6100 in Hall A.
The Kemper Profiler PowerHead adds a built in 600 Watt power amp to the Kemper Profiler concept and turns the former recording solution into the most versatile guitar amplification system ever. Utilizing the Kemper CabDriver mode, guitarists now have the choice of playing through regular guitar cabinets or full range monitor systems. This makes the Kemper Profiler PowerHead the complete solution for the studio, the rehearsal room and the stage.
The 600 Watts Class D amplifier is carefully selected for the guitar amplification system to guarantee utmost performance. After extensive listening tests, a lot of measuring and looking thoroughly at the typical sonic behavior of power amps for guitar amplification on the market it became clear that only the best components are capable of delivering impressive results.
Many touring musicians have been consulted and now the PowerHead is ready to rumble at the NAMM Show. Visitors can play the Amp at the booth in conjunction with a choice of Cabinets: A classic 4 x 12” standard guitar cabinet, a 1 x 12” guitar cabinet, and a selection of full range solutions.
The Amplifier delivers 600 Watts at 8 Ohm, 300 Watts at 16 Ohm, does not heat up (temperature can be monitored on display) and is lightweight. The size of the Kemper Profiler remains exactly the same, the backside is completely covered now.
The Kemper Profiler PowerHead will be available some time after NAMM and retails for Euro 2100,- and USD 2730,- . Owners of the original Kemper Profiler will be able to purchase the Amp Upgrade for a price TBA. It is required to send the Profiler to he manufacturer to install the amp safely.
About Kemper Amps
The Kemper Profiler represents a radical new approach to guitar sound. For decades, the electric guitarist has effectively been shackled to the tube amplifier as the only solution for getting “that sound”. This combination may indeed be glorious, but it is far from ideal; achieving consistent results between practice, studio, and touring situations continues to challenge the guitarist, just as it has since the early 1930′s. With the advent of the Kemper Profiler, everything has changed. For the first time in history, guitarists are free to create the most unique and individual tones that reflect the very essence of the player, and then capture these exact sounds into the digital domain with Kemper’s patented technology.
Further Information at: www.kemper-profiler.com