Axe-FX II review by Fractal Audio

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Sound: 10
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 10
  • Ease of Use: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 9.8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.9 (19 votes)
Fractal Audio: Axe-FX II
2

Sound — 10
I wanted to give myself at least a week before I wrote this review to get past the initial excitement to really give a good take on the sound of this unit. With that being said this thing is amazing sounding. Before I sold my Eleven Rack I A/B'd both of them with the same amp sims and similar cabs and there is NO COMPARISON, it absolutely kills the Eleven Rack. There are 120+ amp models ranging from Fender Clean, to Marshall Mid Gain, to Mesa Rectifier High Gain, and they all sound fantastic. The first thing that wow'd me was the factory presets. I am sure most people will agree with me that most modellers have at least 90% unusable factory presets. The presets in the Axe-FX II are amazing and the first 50 or 60 presets are all strait amp tones and are great core tones. In all modellers I have used in the past there was always high end fizz with the high gain models which I could not stand. This increased especially when you cranked the gain. The Axe-FX II has no high end fizz thankfully. I really love the cleans you can get out of this thing. I don't have the amps in this thing to compare but I do have a tube amp and lets just say I have not used it once since I got the Axe-FX II because this thing feels and responds exactly like a tube amp. The Effects in this unit are top notch and the best I have ever used. There is so many to choose from: Drive/OD/Fuzz/dist., Chorus, Compressors, Delay and Mega-Tap Delay, Enchancer, Flanger, Formant, Vocoder, Gate, Mixer, Multi-Comp, Pitch, Reverb, Quad Chorus, Synth, Wah, etc. There are two effects I have always found lacking in modellers, Wah and Drive/Distortion/Fuzz Pedals. There is also a Looper with quantize and undo and there's also a global metronome you can use with it. In modellers I always find the OD's usually have high end fizz and the Wahs just never sound right to me. These sound fantastic in the AxX-FX II and have none of that. I AB'd my Boss Super OD, TS 808, and Fuzz Face to the models in the Axe-FX II and they are SPOT ON, so much that my pedals are up for sale. The Axe-FX II uses convolution for cabinet emulation and you can get Hi Res Mono, Low Res Mono, and Stereo. Hi Res is 1024 and Stereo is 1024x2 and you can have 2 cab blocks so you can have up to 4 cabs mixed per preset. There are 70 factory cabs and 50 users cabs and v10 will have 100 user cab locations. The Cabinets are the best I have ever heard and are very tweakable being able to add mic emulations and air and whanot. If you are into nailing other artists' tones you will love the tone match feature. It essentially takes an incoming signal (which could be a guitar part or even from an amp you want to tone match) and it matches the eq curve and applies it to your signal. It is extremely accurate and I have gotten fantastic results with it. I have been able to tonematch my amp perfectly. I actually have two guitars that I never used with the Eleven Rack because I could never dial in a good tone with them. I am now playing these guitars all the time because even with the Factory Presets they sound amazing. Same thing goes for a set of headphones I used once with the Eleven Rack and then never again, they sounded horrible. I now use these headphones with the Axe-FX II daily and they sound awesome. I really can't say enough about the quality of tone you can get, you really need to hear it in person and not a compressed YouTube video. This Machine is made of the highest quality parts (highest quality convertors, gold plated boards, x2 TigerSHARC Processors, Gig Ready Case, Highest Quality Headphone output, etc.) and you can really tell. I really can't say enough how great this thing is, you find new things every time you use it, it is that deep.

Overall Impression — 10
Overall this thing is blown me away. It is great for any type of music and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Yes it is expensive, but if you go in and add up all the amp models, cab models, and fx models you will see you get so much and it really is a great deal. The best part is the creator Cliff Chase is also the CEO. He does not have to deal with bean counters telling him what to do. So far we are on firmware 9 and firmware 10 is out any day now. In comparison the Eleven Rack had one major update (Expansion Pack) and they charged $100.00 for it. And I believe Line 6 only had one major update to their HD Line. As Far as DigiTech goes some third party software had to be developed for it because DigiTech ditched it for dead. The only thing this can be compared to is the Kemper. Having heard both I will say they both sound amazing but the Axe-FX II has so many more options and receives updates on a more frequent basis. The Axe-FX II also has tons of more horsepower which means more room for growth. For example the Kemper has a $17.50 Motorolla DSP (may have two I am not exactly sure on that), while the Axe-FX II has two $300.00 TigerSHARC DSPs. I really think they are different though because the Kemper is for core amp tones while the Axe-FX II is so much more. If I were to loose this or have it stolen I would immediately purchase another. The only thing I wish this has the ability to brew me a pot of coffee and maybe Drive my car for me? If you have the money this is a no brainer, trust me!

Reliability & Durability — 10
I would say this is extremely reliable and durable. I haven't gigged with it but I would Imagine it would hold up to most normal gig use. As far as dependability goes I have not had it crash or glitch once since I have had it. I would definitely use it on a gig without a backup. There are two versions of the Axe FX II and I believe the Mark II is supposed to have a better casing on it. Before ordering the Axe FX II I did my research on the forums and I did not come across any threads where the Axe FX II was unreliable for gigging, so I would highly recommend it for gigging if that's what you do.

Ease of Use — 9
Although this unit can go very deep it is essentially quite easy to edit. I upgraded from the Eleven Rack and I was able to navigate through the unit without looking over the manual for more than 5 minutes. To get around you use Navigation keys (Up, down, left, right) and a large main encoder. You also have 4 Quick Control encoders which are automatically mapped to whatever you are editing. I am using these more often now but getting around with just the main encoder is very easy and intuitive. To get basic sounds is very easy but you can also go as deep as you want. I really mean that, there isn't a parameter you cannot tweak. Personally I love tweaking, but even if you don't these parameters don't get in the way if you don't need them. There is also 12 buttons for your main sections like I/O, Tuner, FX Bypass, Utility, Edit, Global, Recall, etc. For those of you who don't like using the front panel there is a software editor called Axe Edit. Unfortunately it is not available right now but along with v10 is supposedly due out any day now.

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    kburch5471
    I have been playing guitar and consistently upgrading gear for over 40 years now and just purchased an AXE FX II XL, currently with Firmware 15.02. I was hoping that this was the final answer to my search for the ultimate piece of gear to handle sound processing for all types of guitar playing. I am pretty good at figuring out high tech gear on the fly, but this unit really has a steep learning curve, so I am not prepared to give a complete review yet. However I will agree with one of the other posts above, that it does not address clean tones and amps very well. As far as rock sounds and heavy sounding tube amps, it definitely has hundreds of amps and cab models loaded. However try to find a sweet, full range, clean sound without missing frequencies or overdriven artifacts, then it becomes a real challenge. In my show I play a quarter of my material on acoustic guitar. So far I can only find two amp presets that will handle an acoustic cleanly enough to get by, and that is the Jazz 120 preset and the, basic, Tube Preamp preset. As far as effects go they are pretty good, but I am still having a tough time trying to dial in a really lush clean chorus, like my Roland GP8 and GP16 of the 1980's did. These are just a couple of my initial observations but give me another month with all parameters, and time to get past the steep learning curve, and I will be able to give a more tenured opinion. I was wondering if other users also have had issues getting sounds that were not in the overdriven tube amp category?
    jaybrink10101
    Has anybody used this for something other than Djent/metalcore? Does it do cleans/mid gain stuff well? I know Devin Townsend kills it with one of these now, but he could make a shoe-lace and two tin cans sound good. Anyone else?
    stevegta4
    Yes... Steve Vai, John Petrucci loves the living hell out of it and Larry Mitchell use this thing extensively...
    kmanjax
    I want one of these so bad. It will absolutely be my next major purchase for musical gear.
    PRS513C24
    I purchased the Axe FX-II XL in early May, it came with firmware version 14.3. I've been a tube amp user since the early '80s, and I never thought i would go solid state. I've had many amps over the years including many Marshalls, Boogies, and a few Fenders (among others). I've gotta say that with the latest firmware revisions this thing is fantastic. I'm still on a learning curve but this thing does cover mid gain sounds very well. The cleans are a little challenging but i've finally been able to achieve some cristal clear clean tones. Much of my difficulty with the cleans was in my selection of cabinets from the library. Classic rock, heavy rock and metal sounds are great on this thing. I have noticed the high end shrilly artifact that was mentioned here, you can dial it out fairly easily. The new firmware version were supposed to address this better, along with making it respond and feel more like a tube amp. They've got a money back guarantee and that's why i felt like i would give it shot. I'm loving it so far! And I'm not gonna miss carrying around 65 to 100 pound amps! LOL
    CCRoyalSenders
    The MK 2 doesn't have a better casing. It has an MFC ethercon connector and vents on the sides (which Cliff, the creator, has noted it does not need but he put them on there to stop people complaining that it should have them.)
    stoic
    I've had one for nearly a year. It replaced my Axe Fx Standard. It does have a steep learning curve. I would recommend looking at some Line 6 or even an old Digitech GSP 2120 before purchasing one of these if you're coming from a background of nothing but stomp boxes. It is a great processor, it can do nearly anything. Unfortunately, to get the most out of it, you'll probably want to go with a full range, flat response PA amp. Through a guitar amp it does sound good, but a guitar cabinet will color its sound. The best you can do in that case is turn of the cabinet simulator, which limits the type of sounds you can get out of it. So that's going to cost you extra, too. I've spent nearly $4000 on my Axe-FX and dual RCF NX-12 amps, along with a Behringer MIDI footswitch (the Axe Fx MIDI footswitch is nearly $1000 by itself). I'm not 100% sure that it is worth it, but it is fun and a great system if you have the money.
    shredder3386
    By far the most important piece of gear I have ever owned. It has a steep price tag but its worth every cent.
    sheguitarplayer
    I had one of these too and while I was initially impressed by it I have to say that over time I grew to dislike it. I used it with a power amp and cab and noticed that it has a shrill high end that I just couldn't dial out. In addition to this I a/b tested it with my evh 5153 and my jvm and found that the models lack the grunt of the real thing, and do not feel anything like them at all. The fx on it are of very good quality, but still arent up to that of my eventide eclipse.