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Fractal Audio (FAS) Axe-Fx 2 - thoughts, ideas, and use - input welcome! (long read)

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Selta, Sep 2, 2014.

  1. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    Good day everyone! This is going to be a long thread...
    Over the past several months (actually, over a year!), I've been thinking a lot about my entire setup from the amp, cab and FX standpoint.

    Taking a quick step back, most of you likely don't know about my production. I'd say band, but we're not "just" a band. We are a group of between 50 and 60 people who perform solely in theatres. The music part is heavy metal. However, there are breaks in the music where dialog and acting take place, much like "normal" or classical theatre. We also have a chorus. Our lead female vocal is a classically, operatically trained Soprano and violinist. For the most part, we're pretty decent musicians, and our actors are superb. On top of that, fire dancing, real medieval combat, aerialists are part of the experience.
    In any case, a pretty unique situation. If you want more info, www.HeavyMetalOpera.com is where to go.

    I've played around with lots of pedals from other people who graciously let me borrow them. That was a good experience, and I got to play around with some cool gear. In this process I of course found ones I liked, didn't like, and had my mind swapped a couple of times when I tried ABCs version of XYZ pedal, instead of DEFs version. Now I start to understand this entire sub-forum and what you all go through. Thankfully, it didn't cost me a dime.

    Having a beginning of an idea of things in my head, backed with that data, I started planning how I'd route all of this, especially for the changes and what not, given that my blocking on stage may keep me away from my pedal board, or I may only have a split second to change say, 5 pedals. Kind of difficult, so I was struggling with how to manage that.

    At the same time, I've been looking hard at my amp setup. For our big theatre productions, we run no cabs on stage for anyone, and the drummer is in a full enclosure. Pretty dang quiet on stage, though we have two side-fills, and some of us run IEMs. Until recently, my setup has been simple. EBMM Bongos -> Line6 wireless -> SansAmp RPM -> FOH ==> IEM. Pretty nice, simple setup that did well.

    With a few empty rack spaces, I begun thinking about buying more preamps and trying them out. Also, a rack compressor might not be a bad idea if I don't want one on the floor. Oh, and a tuner so I can see it from across the stage easily. Man, this is getting big, expensive, and complex! And I still have to explore which preamps to try, buy them, try them, sell them, rinse and repeat. Sometimes, a preamp may not even be available, so I might have to buy a whole head, run DI out of it and carry extra weight. Man, what a drag. There's gotta be a better option.

    Well, better is relative. For me, I didn't want more complex, more expense, and a ton of time buying, selling etc. I was willing to sacrifice a little on quality, which of course lead me down the multi-FX path. I read review after review, listened to video after video, thread after thread here on talkbass too. Nothing at all jumped out at me as a good, complete solution. With multi-FX, they still are pretty terrible at amp modeling. And they give up a lot when it comes to the actual effects. Forget about expandability too... Line6 giving up on products and firmware is pretty much a given. Boss doesn't even really seem to bother with them in the first place. There has to be other options.

    There are. Or rather, there is. It's by a tiny company right here in the US called Fractal Audio Systems (FAS for short). They have but three physical products: The Axe-Fx 2, The Axe-Fx XL and the MFC-101. The MFC is the MIDI controller for both Axe-Fx units.

    From the get-go, this thing is by guitarists, for guitarists and little more. They do some light lip service to bassists by including an SVT model, a 400+ model, and an Orange AD200B. Good amps, but compared to the list of guitar amps, very lacking. Digging into the cab emulation is a similar story... hundreds of cabs and mics, but little in the way of offerings for bassists. I'll get to it a bit later, but for a moment, realize that in this thing, it doesn't matter what the amp is used for in the physical realm. We're in DSP land, where magic happens.

    Hesitant, especially at the $2200 (Axe-Fx 2 Mark 2) entry price (+$750 for the MIDI controller if you want FAS's), I simply waited. I did more reading, more listening. Not much out there in the realm of bass using this thing. Eventually, I said "heck with it", took the dive, and bought my own. I went "used" and saved myself a good bit of coin. First thing I did was a factory reset, followed by updating the firmware.

    Let's talk about firmware really quickly. FAS, as a whole, is utterly *insane* about firmware. Presently, 15.07 is "current". On average, every 4-5 months a major (13.x, 14.x, 15.x) version is dropped, for free. These firmwares aren't just bug fixes. New functionality, new models, new cabs, new FX, new routing possibilities, new switching. The owner and main developer/visionary/engineer behind this thing participates on their forums, takes feedback (from a "wishlist" forum) and implements things. So community feedback is taken to heart. Awesome!

    The Axe-Fx 2 has a *ton* of cool features. I haven't even begun to explore them all. I did, however, take a minute to screen cap some of the details you can tweak:
    Lets start with amp tweaks:




    The cab parameters:



    I like this compressor:

    And this is one feature I'm having a lot of fun with, scene changing:
    Scene1 in Preset1:



    With a single button press on my MFC, I can change either presets or scenes. So I can switch entire signal chains changing amps, cabs and which FX are even available (preset), and then I can toggle those on/off (scene). You can also use up to 4 expression pedals to change values on the blocks as well. In the above, between scene 2 and 3 I have a split second (not even 1 beat) to change all of those FX states. Wouldn't be very easy to do with physical pedals. With the MFC, just one button to change to each scene.

    All in all, these things are freaking amazing. I'm entirely glad I went with it. In the above Scene2 screenshot, you see the green block "T-Match", next to the "Amp" block (2nd row, 5th column). That is what's called a Tone Match. Say you have a favorite FX pedal, chain of effects pedals, or heck, a solo track from your favorite bassist. You can use their software to grab a tone match of it, which then can be used as an effect block. In the above, my TM block is a B7K with settings I really liked. You could say, grab a multi-track of a Rush song, play just Geddy's track, grab a tone match of it, and effectively sound like him. Player ability aside, it's crazy accurate.

    On top of that, you have the standard "IR" or Impulse Response you can take of speaker cabs. So if none of the several hundred built-in speakers work for you, you can take an IR of your favorite and use it as a block. Leave the power amp, cabs at home and run to FOH with your exact tone. The B7K tone match is identical to the "real deal" in the above. if I want different B7K settings, I'd have to take a new TM and place it in the grid, but that is easy to do.

    Speaking of speakers, and in turn amps. In the "real world", playing bass guitar at high volume through guitar cabs isn't exactly a great idea. The amp itself will be fine, but the speakers are likely to go poof. But, in the Axe-Fx, it doesn't matter. I can use a 10W head with a 1x10 guitar speaker and it might actually sound *good*. Not a distorted fuzz box, but an interesting texture. Or of course, it might sound like crap. So even though there's only a few bass amps and cabs from factory, you're not limited to them. In a few of my presets, I actually like some of the guitar cabs. And, as you can see in the pics above, if you like a particular mic on your cab, you can put one on it, too. And even play with position, a little bit. There are quite a few people out there that have taken bass cabs and make IRs of them - a lot for free even.

    I'm still exploring, tweaking, learning about this thing. I have about 9 or 10 hours behind this thing so far and I feel like I have only begun to scratch the surface.
    The amount of config you can put into it is amazing. At the same time, the out of the box presets are good - for guitarists. For bass, the community is coming together for it, slowly but surely, but the "out of the box" experience leaves a bit to be desired.
    There is a place called AxeChange used to share presets, IRs, TMs among users. There's quite a few pretty nice ones out there that are very useable with zero tweaking. Putting a preset, IR, or TM onto the Axe is three mouse clicks. Buy one, throw on a handful of presets and start tweaking. Also be quite prepared for 2 or 3 hours to go by in what feels like 15 minutes. Even though it's obviously geared to guitarists, everything in there works just fine for bass. Even the tuner tracks low A# just fine.
    Overall "usability" is a piece of cake really. Programming the MFC is super easy. Making changes in Axe-Edit (the UI you see above) is a piece of cake as well. Knowing what to tweak and when is the difficult part, just like in real life.

    Yes, it is pretty spendy, but it, IMO, is worth every cent. And, they even do a trial period of I believe 14 days - so you can try it out and send it back if you don't like it. Find a local person with one and ask if you can spend a few hours with it.

    It's a very versatile and useful product for us in its current state. If we can get FAS on board to do more direct modeling of popular bass equipment, it will be simply unreal. As it stands, this thing has replaced a huge amount of equipment and headache for me, and I won't be looking back.

    I truly hope some of you read all of this and ask me questions. I'll try to take some recordings and post them here for you to hear over the next few weeks. I know this product has been talked about here, lightly, in the past, but I strongly feel this thing deserves a lot more attention from the bass community. If wanted, I'll also share any presets that I build here for you to play with and tweak.


    TL;DR? Too bad.
    Jop vS, s0c9, Blu bro and 5 others like this.
  2. Marial

    Marial weapons-grade plum

    Apr 8, 2011
    Looking forward to seeing this thing in action on the 15th!
  3. Spfairchild

    Spfairchild Supporting Member

    Oct 23, 2005
    Endorsing Artist: MTD Basses, Genzler Amplification, GHS Strings, Tsunami Cables, Sonic Nuance Electronics Contributing Reviewer: Bass Gear Magazine
    Pretty awesome, Ray! I've used a PC-based system for virtual effects hosting and sample triggering/looping/recording on and off for the last 7 or 8 years, but this definitely seems like an evolution on that model, and probably a lot more stable since it's all proprietary. The Tone Match specifically sounds cool. Thanks for posting!
  4. I will eventually end up with one of those, because then I finally can focus on other things than effects and amps...
    Thank you for sharing that story. One question though:

    How difficult is it to just dial in a basic and good basstone? How difficult is it then to tweak it without a computer? I mean, I can imagine you come up with this thing, expectations high as shag and then you're able to bring in insane delays and stuff, but the basic fat bass sound is lacking. Just the fat sound a nice tube amp or tube pre produces thorugh a normal bass cab.
  5. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    That is pretty dang easy, aledeville. You can do all of the exact same things from the front panel that you can in the desktop software. Dialing in a simple bass tone (depending on your definition of that) is pretty easy. If I just want a fat, warm tone with no effects you can just put an amp and cab (or even just an amp - a cab block is not required) and run to power amp + cab or FOH. You could have that up and running in about 1 minute, out of the box very easily. From the front panel it would be about 10 button pushes total, plus whatever EQ tweaks you feel necessary. The only hard part is picking an amp to stick with.

    If you're in say, an "oh crap" situation where everything somehow failed and you need to get to the basics quick, just grab the SVT amp as your only active block, tweak the gain, EQ and volume to taste and rock out. Similar to if you are, for whatever reason, taking it out of the box at setup for the gig (maybe UPS dropped it off at 5pm and load in was 6?). It's really similar to a "real" amp in its ease of use. When I get home from work this evening I'll either take a picture of the front panel, or a quick video of how easy this would be to do.

    I'd personally call this unit easy to learn and work with. However, it is very powerful, and it is easy to get "lost" in the details of the settings. On the tube amps, controlling things like bias, supply sag and so on are just things you don't play with on physical amps. You can also run 16 ohm cabs with the SVT, and can even alter how the output tranny performs. Those details are fun to tweak and can be a time suck if you want them to be. So, it's pretty awesome how detailed and powerful all of the settings are if you want to dial in something very exacting. But it could also be "too much", and be a bit overwhelming.
    aledeville likes this.
  6. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    Ok, I'm not feeling so well tonight. I'll get around to this sometime tomorrow.
  7. Sub'd. Thanks for the in depth post, looking forward to seeing and hearing more.
  8. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    Went ahead and took some crappy photos tonight. Sorry for the low quality. Bad lighting and cell phone camera do not mix very well :). You should get the idea from this though.

    To build a preset from the front panel, if you ever find yourself in that situation, is quite easy. Even "elaborate" ones. I'll show the steps to get a basic "Oh crap" one built:
    1) First, Scroll to the preset you want to edit:

    2) Insert your "shunts" (virtual cables), and then an amp block. To select a block you use the Up/Down/Left/Right arrows, and then use the big Value wheel to select the block type (Shunt, Amp, Cab, Compressor, Flanger etc. etc.):

    3) when you insert a block, the menu for it automatically pops up. In this case, I put an amp block in (as seen above), so it dropped me into the amp models:

    4) You still have your usual settings you can tweak as you want, using the Page Left, Page Right and 5 wheels on the face:

    5) Insert a cab block if you so desire:

    6) Again, use the large VALUE wheel to select the cab you want to use:

    7) Place shunts to the OUTPUT stage:

    8) Hit "exit" to go back to the main screen, where you then press "STORE" to save:

    9) When you get back in front of a computer, you can use the Axe-Edit software to view/tweak as normal:
    s0c9 and aledeville like this.
  9. Vlad5

    Vlad5 Chronic Knob Twiddling Tone Chaser

    Feb 17, 2011
    New England
    Nice write up!

    Yeah, a very talented (he teaches too) treble guitar player I know let me play with his AXFXII with my bass.
    I was pleasantly surprised at how 'natural' it sounded.
    I have really good hearing, and very discerning taste for my own bass tone (which is why I'm constantly in effects/BST section of TB).
    So, when I say I'd rock one of these instead of my Mesa M9 (if I had to) I totally would, and be happy.
    I absolutely hate every amp modeler I've tried, I can hear the artifacts, always, so... dare I say... digital.

    But I know this unit has 2 very powerful processors, one for amp modeling, one for all the other effects.
    So with all that power, the digital artifacts are pretty much non-existent.

    Heck John Myung from Dream Theater has and uses one (so does Petrucci), and I know he is super picky about his tone.
    My aforementioned treble guitar friend sold all his amps, cabs and effects (except for his Boomerang looper) when he got one of these.

    Still though, I'm not in the need for one just yet. When I get all the effects tones I know I want on my pedal board I'll probably save up and get one.
    Then I'll tone print all my effects and keep em around for nostalgia or something.
    Going bass > AXFX > FOH has its appeal, that's for sure.
    I like simple hookups!

    Heck, you could even use a REDDI between this unit and the FOH for some real tubey goodness if you like.
    Seems like a good set up.
  10. fasto


    Mar 4, 2007
    Amsterdam, NL
    Would like to see that Fractal Audio shows much more LOVE to us bass-players ...

    And i don´t like that low-resolution display ... reminds me of Game Boy Tetris 8bit.
  11. Thank you selta for your time and effort. Much appreciated! I'm definitely looking deeper into this one...

    However, fasto adressed an issue... How much does this thing cost? Why is the display worse than on a Zoom MS-60B? Seriously? The second thing is the jogwheel that malfunctions when it gets a little warm. But that display really bugs me.
  12. I'd love a Axe-FX, I could even see myself selling my pedals to get it and the foot controler, but I can't justify the price.
  13. Velociwaffle


    Sep 4, 2014
    Hey Aldeville, I have an Axe for mainly bass playing as well the unit is a bit pricey at $2200 USD but when compared to the cost of a professional set up of an Amp, Cab, and Pedal set up that this thing replaces, the cost is very much worth it. Not even including the versatility that a company's it considering I could create nearly an infinite amount of signal chains for various genres/venues/groups. That only a single set up couldn't do. For the screen problem it is a little weak, but you get over it quickly because of how easy it is to navigate and set up. Surprisingly it is incredibly easy to see and read from across the stage when tuning. Finally 90% of the time I've done all the navigating and set up of my signal chains through a computer rTher than the front panel. For your question about the knob, I've ran my Axe for a slings a 8-9 hours and never had a problem with heat at all let alone causing a malfunction within the Axe itself.
    jimfist likes this.
  14. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    I also had a pretty hard time justifying it to myself. I think if I were primarily a guitarist, I wouldn't have a whole lot of issues with dropping this coin on it. The main thing that held me back was the uncertainty that it worked well for bass guitar. I know a couple of high profile artists use them, but it's hard to tell what they use them for. Eventually, I realized that I was either going to be buying/selling a ton of preamps and FX pedals, and a quick run in my head easily trumped the cost of the Axe and MFC combined. Then I went used which sealed the deal for me.

    As Velociwaffle mentioned, if you buy new the Axe-Fx 2 Mk 2 is $2200. The XL is $2500. The MFC is $750. Used, you can find the Axe-Fx 2 Mk 1 or Mk 2 for about $1800, and the MFC for about $650.
    If you do buy new, you get a 14 day trial (I think it's 14 days, I may be mistaken). If you spend serious time with it, I would think within a few hours you'll know whether or not it's a keeper for you.
    Also, realize that pretty much any MIDI controller can likely be used. I know a popular alternative is the Behringer FCB1010, which costs about $150.

    The display doesn't bother me in the least. Any time I use the front panel (kind of rare) it's crisp and easy to read. Navigation on it is pretty easy. When I look across stage at it for tuning, I can see it nicely. When I'm doing serious tweaking, I use the Axe-Edit software (where most of the screenshots you see come from). I think if they ended up putting like a touch screen or high rez screen in there, they'd have to dedicate more hardware to it, driving up the cost and complexity needlessly. However, only you can decide if the screen is an issue or not. If it breaks the deal for you, then this isn't the right piece of gear for you :). I can't think of any other multi-fx or processor that has a better screen. The Line6 POD series definitely doesn't, nor does anything I've seen from BOSS.

    Agreed on the first point. The community is plugging a lot of the gaps as well as we can, but there's just some things we aren't able to do. It would be pretty cool if there was a way we could develop our own FX/amps instead of taking the point-in-time snapshot (tone match). So far though, I haven't been limited by the gear available within the Axe.
    See above for my thoughts on the screen. :)

    Yeah, lots of high profile guitarists and a few bassists are using these in the studio and/or live. To what extent is difficult to say of course. The DSPs on board are pretty crazy, and who knows what the next iteration of the unit will bring.

    Welcome to talkbass! I also have yet to have any issues with heat or stability of mine. It's been left on for days and never got even warm.
  15. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    One thing I cannot get over, or stress enough about this thing, is how absolutely simple it can be to dial in awesome presets. Veterans of FXs will probably have an even easier time, but even for me, finding FX and getting them to do exactly what I want and when is pretty easy. Even via the front panel. Tonight I was messing around in my music room with one set for my main band and wanted to change some things around. I didn't feel like grabbing my laptop or taking the Axe to the laptop, so instead I just twiddled on the front panel. Within a minute or two I was very happy with the results and jamming away.
    I put the bass down and picked up an instrument that is fairly unfamiliar to be - electric guitar. I haven't played one for at least 4 years, and even then it wasn't serious (just random noodling). So again, from the front panel I went and made a new preset to just crank out some great guitar tone. Some of the factory presets got me most of the way there, but to test my knowledge of both the Axe and guitars, I set out to build my own. I had complete success within 5 minutes. The main hangup I had was that I forgot to put a shunt in the chain... d'olp. It's pretty dang awesome to be able to have "Cranked tube amp" tone and feel without the volume.
  16. Great thread Selta! Coming at it as more of a guitar player, I'm just starting to use my axe fx II for bass gigs. I usually use a compressor into a eden nemesis combo. I tried one rehearsal with the axe fx into a clr monitor it was a great sound, but didnt handle the low end at volume that well. Todays gig im going to try the axe fx into the fx return of the nemesis so i can bypass the pre and use the axe amps.
  17. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    Thanks, stevorc321. If you post your preset I can also try to help if you'd like. Do you believe the CLR was the weak link (which one were you using? I'd personally recommend a fEarful or better yet, an Audio Kinesis cab)? I think the Atomic CLRs only hit about 70Hz before having a pretty steep dropoff, so the good wuby-duby stuff won't be there. Your idea as well is just fine - for rehearsal, I run into the FX Return of a GK RB1001 into some cab in the studio (usually a GK 4x10, but sometimes an Ampeg 8x10). It definitely is suitable, though for me not ideal. At our shows, the sound coming through the IEMs and FOH is a bit different, as the cab does color the tone a little. I've also found that often, not having a cab block in the Axe is helpful, so that's definitely something to try out as well.

    As I tweak presets this weekend, I'll post some up here for people to grab too! They'll be pretty specific to my band, but will be hopefully a good starting point :)
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2014
  18. jimfist

    jimfist "Cling tenaciously to my buttocks!" Supporting Member

    Mar 28, 2011
    Boston, MA (USA)
    Selta, fight the good fight in support of the AxeFx. It is incredible stuff. You know me from the Fractal Audio forum, and I agree that the AxeFxII, though pricey, is a hidden gem processor for bass guitar, even with the apparent lack of attention the FAS developers give bassists. I appreciate you have taken time to go in such great detail...something I've always wanted to do but have not had the time or wherewithal to get to. Good stuff, and when they come after you with those pitchforks, I've got your back! LOL
    s0c9 likes this.
  19. Well the gig with the axe->nemesis amp went great and I set up a mutron-ish patch for bass solos which went over well, so I'll be using that rig from now on.
    Selta - (from your OP), did you TM the BK7 yourself or are you using the TMs from the fractal forum (from user SeeD I think)?
  20. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    SeeD has done some great work. He has a few B7K TMs, and also did a good job on some G-K cab IRs he made. I used him B7K TMs as well as my own, and a couple of others I found while sifting through the forums. Sadly, I did something very dumb with mine - renamed them all B7K 1 through 11, so I do not know which one is which any longer :(. Part of the reason I hope Cliff ends up putting it in Axe-Fx 2 as its own block!

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