Price paid: £ 469
Purchased from: Andertons
Ease of Use — 8
LayoutThe AmpliFire is a floor unit that's not much bigger than two good sized pedals or to put it another way, about the size of my AMP1. There is a small display screen on the top and a number of knobs for key controls like Gain, EQ and Level. Working these knobs is very like a conventional guitar amp in many ways. There's also a control to adjust patches, which is pretty straightforward, though using the Editor on your PC is easier. At the front of the unit are three footswitches that can be assigned to control whatever you want. With the A/B function these three footswitches can move you between six different presets or you can use a Midi controller like the Midi Mouse to move between presets and use the footswitches on the AmpliFire for any three effects you want, just like conventional stompboxes. The connections on the unit will allow you to connect to virtually anything and you can also route it so that cabinet models are bypassed and you use your own cabinet or you can have cabinet models sent to the PA while you can have no cabinet models going to a normal guitar cabinet or you can have cabinet models going to both. There's certainly flexibility here.
Editor SoftwareAs with all of these units, although you can edit your parameters on the unit itself, life is an awful lot easier when you use the associated computer software. It's not just that more parameters are available to you; it's more that the whole process becomes much quicker as everything is available on one screen. As far as these units go, the Editor is very accessible and straightforward to use so I can see lots of people liking it but at the moment I find there is a real issue, at least to someone of my limited technical ability.
The latest version of the Editor that you download is not the same as the one referred to in the manual as it has many more parameters that you can adjust. This creates a real problem because you're suddenly faced with a load of terms that might as well be written in Latin for all the sense it makes to me and these terms aren't explained in the handbook, where the editing information is based on an earlier and far more basic Editor. At first I thought it was because the unit I bought had an old handbook so I downloaded the manual from Atomic's website, only to discover it was the same as mine and related to a much earlier version. If you're going to have a manual, it needs to relate to the product people are actually using!
While I can see that many people might like to use these extra parameters to precisely tailor their sound, I'm afraid I'm inclined to question the wisdom of such an approach. Not only do I have to make sense of a load of technical terms I don't understand but when I use a conventional stompbox, how many controls do I have to adjust? Even professional players, using professional quality stompboxes, have only a handful of controls that can be adjusted to get a fantastic sound, yet when trying to use something like the Echo effect on an AmpliFire, I have 20 different parameters that require attention to dial in the sound I'm after. Why? If you can buy a Delay pedal in the £100-£150 bracket that produces a really good effect with only 3-5 control knobs, why do I need 20 different controls in the AmpliFire? I want good quality effects and the effects here are good, no doubt about it, but I don't want to have to spend the rest of my life tweaking settings and researching terms I don't know. To me, this is exactly what's wrong with all of these modellers and while the AmpliFire is better than many in this regard, the editing software is still needlessly complex and probably quite daunting to many users. In the case of the Echo effect I've already mentioned, once I've selected the type of Echo I want, all I really want to do is adjust the level, mix, delay time and number of repeats - keep it simple and keep it effective.
Sound — 10
Amp ModelsTo me, this was the acid test of the unit because this is where most multi-fx units really disappoint with tones that are far too digital and artificial in nature. On first firing up the AmpliFire I was tempted to think that this unit was an improvement on others but essentially suffering from the same problem but that was before I made a key discovery. My initial thought was to either use the factory presets as a basis for developing my own patches or to download presets made by other people and use those as the foundation of my own sounds. The problem was that they invariably had a number of effects in operation and there was too much going on for me to determine where the problem lay. Instead, I turned all of the effects off and started from scratch - it works a lot better. I started by selecting a model of an amp I knew I liked, such as a Fender Twin, Plexi and JCM800 in my case, and then adjusted things in a logical order so I determined gain and EQ first to get the basic tone before going on to adjust the more obscure parameters that exist. I found it most effective to fully engage the power amp simulator, which is designed to emulate the valve warmth you get from a real valve amp and I did this even though the power amp I'm using from the AMP1 already has a small valve in it for just such a purpose. I guess the two combined just increases the valve-like tone but either way, it works very well. Once that was to my liking, I moved on to selecting cabinets. I'm running my AmpliFire through an Orange 1X12 loaded with a Vintage 30 speaker so at first I naturally selected "None" but I soon discovered that if I selected "Matched" instead, I was rewarded with a much bigger sound and although it could initially be a bit boomy, with some tweaking to the EQ and cabinet settings, I could get a really good sound that was actually an improvement on using just my own cabinet. After that it's just a matter of adding effects as you like them in much the same way.
So what's the bottom line on these amp models then? Well, as with most things, there are pros and cons. Getting a really good amp tone out of the AmpliFire takes quite a bit longer than doing so with a conventional valve amp due to the myriad of parameters that need to be adjusted but once you get there, the results are very impressive. This unit does not give you a 100% accurate representation of real valve tone, but it is VERY close and significantly closer than anything else you're likely to try below £1000. The Line 6 HD unit doesn't come even remotely close so I'm inclined to see this as more of a competitor for the Helix. Inevitably, some amp models are better than others but they're all very good. Of the three I used first, the JCM800 was the weakest, even though it was still impressive but the Twin was excellent and the Plexi model was absolutely sublime. I've added other amp models to my presets now and every one of them has been impressive.
EffectsI find these to be very much like the amp models in that they are all very good, even if there isn't the range of options offered by rivals like the Line 6 HD. At the moment, for instance, you either have the Chorus on or off, with no facility to select a particular type of Chorus but as you might guess by now, that's fine by me; a Chorus is a Chorus. This isn't the same for all effects as there are a few different types of Boost you can choose and a few different types of Echo etc. And more are promised with further firmware updates but it's fair to say that the selection isn't as extensive as some units. I don't find that a problem but I accept that some might. What is on offer here is all of the fundamental effects you're likely to use and all of them are excellent.
Reliability & Durability — 10
Who knows at this early stage just how long it will last but it appears to be made very well and I would have no particular issue gigging with it. All of the controls have a reassuringly solid feel to them, including the footswitches and the overall impression you get is that you're using a premium quality product as opposed to a bargain product despite its relatively modest price. Time will tell but the early signs are good. With my set up I automatically gig with a backup because I have the AmpliFire plugged into the effects return of an AMP1 but I'd say that it seems sturdy enough to be able to gig it without a backup.
Overall Impression — 10
I don't have a major issue with anything about this unit as it's all excellent quality in a compact package that works well but if I was being picky, there are a few things I would look to change on any future incarnation. Even though it would make the unit bigger, I would like to have had an assignable expression pedal attached so that I didn't have to cart around an individual pedal to have control of the Wah effect when the Wah that's in the AmpliFire is basically very good. I also don't see why the only way you can attach an expression pedal to the device is by using the Effects Return, thereby removing your ability to use an effects loop with the AmpliFire. Finally, I would have liked to see the USB connection doubling as an audio interface, as it does on the Line 6 but I accept that each of these modifications would have price implications and I'm equally sure that I may not want to pay that much more. It's a balancing act for Atomic and overall I can't complain.
The BluGuitar AMP1 was the first modelling unit I've ever tried that hasn't had me longing to return to a valve amp and the AmpliFire has moved me even further away from that desire. It's not exactly the same as a real valve amp and individual pedals but it is very close, offers far more tonal possibilities and is significantly more compact and portable. To use a car analogy, I don't feel like I'm driving a Ferrari with the AmpliFire because like a real valve amp, that car has something special about it that is more than the sum of its parts but I equally don't feel like I'm driving a Toyota GT86 in comparison either. Now it's more like driving a McLaren because in all sorts of ways it's as good as, or better, than the Ferrari, yet somehow just misses that little bit of magic that you get from the original. I'd love a Ferrari but I'm more than happy with my McLaren.