Positive Grid Bias Amp 2 by Se7enHeaven
It’s impossible to describe the sound specifically of this product, since dozens of amps and cabinets were sampled (tone matched), and so the sound of a Diesel amp is very different from that of a Marshall Plexi. Generally speaking, this software is amazing in that it produces very tube-like qualities (although you can select Solid State or a mixed setting), but without all the added ‘noise’ one gets with tube amps... or the problems associated with blown tubes. This makes it incredibly practical for studio musicians (Paul Masvidal of Cynic is a huge fan) who want a clear tone to cut through the mix, but also those who play live and want to forgo the ‘mud’ or extraneous noises typically heard from amps (FYI: you can buy a lunchbox sized amp head to store all your Bias 2 tones for those who jam or play outside the studio).
Below are two videos. The first provides a sampler of 8 different High Gain amps, 8 Metal amps and 8 Insane amps. Of course there are bass, acoustic, clean, and blues amps, but the edgier stuff really gets the point across as to the quality and diversity of what Bias 2 offers. The second video demonstrates how you can take an amp (and cab) and customize it to create your own unique amp and tone.
There is a ton of features in this program. Where to start? I suppose at the beginning. If you check the second video, there is an overview or guided tour through the program as you move through each aspect of what makes up a great amp/speaker combo. The AMP HEAD, with treble, bass, mid, presence, gain and volume knobs is the first ‘part’… and even after you tweak everything else you still can adjust those front controls if you wish… just like a real amp. You also can customize the appearance of an amp with different colors and textures (think Fender Tweed vs. Orange amps vs. Marshall Plexi).
The second part is the PRE-AMP, and here is where you can get some very different results. You can choose from various types of pre-amps, such as high gain, rock clean, British crunch, etc. Likewise, the input stage tubes and cathode follower tube can be different (12AX7, 12AT7, 12AU7, 12AY7 or 12BH7). At this juncture do note that each time you click on an aspect that can be changed, there is a description for each part, e.g., why a 12AX7 tube. There are pre- and post-EQ adjustments (bass, mid and treble shelves and for more or less ‘push’ of each) and if you want to bypass lows, mids or highs. You can have a bright or normal setting, you can adjust the gain, tube stage and distortion, and whether you want a hot or cold bias. Each of these aspects will affect the tone, which can be a tweaker’s dream or someone else’s nightmare (not everyone likes to delve into the matrix of amp adjustment and customization, and so you simply can use the many amp and cab presets at your disposal and still have awesome tones).
The third part is an EQ that follows the pre-amp, which you can view in graphic or parametric form. You can keep the signal flat or adjust as need be. What’s nice is that there are EQ pre-sets, so that you can apply a bass boost, low cut high boost, mid cut, slight push, etc. One of my favorites, for rock/metal is the chunk bass boost – really nice for rhythm guitar.
The fourth part is the TONE STACK, which adds to the ‘meat’ of the tone… ideal with high-gain distortion type amps to achieve added harmonics when playing lead or heavy rock chords. In a sense it’s like fattening up the signal.
The fifth part is the POWER AMP, and there’s a lot you can tweak here as well. Like the pre-amp, you can change the tubes (6L6GB, 6V6GT, EL34, EL84 or 6550) and whether you want push-pull (a tube-like result), solid state or a mix of both. There are knobs for master, distortion, splitter gain and power gain. You can adjust the presence and resonance and whether the amp is vintage or modern in how it works with the signal (more punch with the modern setting, obviously). There also is a host of power amp models to choose from, including bright tube EL34, clean power amp, Metal power amp, modern presence, smooth dynamic, vintage push pull, etc.
The sixth part is the TRANSFORMER; it is responsible for how efficiently the audio power of an amp will transfer to the load of the speakers (and prevents hundreds of volts from passing to the speakers). Different transformers have different results in tone and dynamics that come through the speakers and the Bias 2 software allows several choices, such as British top boost, dynamic, spongy tube, solid state, etc.
The seventh part is the CAB, which house the speakers. This part is as responsible for the sound you achieve as any of the others. The Bias 2 program offers add-on purchases, but even with the basic package you get a ton of options under the categories of 1x 12, 2x12 and 4x12 speaker cabinets. The types of speakers are numerous, which include Greenbacks, Vintage 30s, Rectifier, Metal, and several clean and bass-specific speakers. (I do recommend an upgrade to the Elite package as it includes a wide array of officially licensed custom Celestion speaker cabinets that sound incredible!) As well, you can customize the tone based on the microphone used (SM 57, MD 421, R121 and c414) and its placement at the speaker. You also can have two microphones (the same or different) and in different positions (doing so allows for the capture of higher or lower ends, etc.); this is where you can capture the highs (SM 57) with the lows (MD421) for some of the best Metal guitar tones possible, and mix the two in different amounts.
At the end of this chain is another EQ (both graphic and parametric) for a bit of final tweaking, if so desired.
Now, in regard to the above noted items, keep in mind that you can ‘move’ any element out of the chain. If you don’t want an EQ after the pre-amp, then keep the signal ‘flat’ or simply drag it away from the ‘active’ items. As well, what’s always on the screen, no matter the component you are looking at, you will find some common elements… input and output levels, a NOISE GATE and REVERB, any of which you can tweak at any time. The noise gate works exceptionally well, and often you only need to turn it up quarter way when working with very high gain and distorted amps. REVERB is standard fare on many physical amps, and the options in Bias 2 are very usable and lush… different versions of room, chamber, hall and plate. With each you can adjust the mix, time, damping, dwell, as well as any low or high cut.
Positive Grid also created what is known as the Tone Cloud. This allows you to upload any amp/cab combination that you create and think deserves some sharing with other Bias 2 users. And, of course, you get to audition (prior to downloading) any patches you want in your collection.
Finally, what separates Positive Grid technology from other digital/software amp modelers is its Amp Match. The crew at Positive Grid used this technology to bring you the pre-set amps you get with the program, and so you know the technology is sound because the sampled amps in Bias 2 sound so good and authentic. This feature allows you to record or ‘capture’ the sound of an amp (you play freely for 20-seconds) by way of a microphone or a direct line-in… and if you need to tweak it (by adjusting the pre-amp, power amp, cab or EQs), you can do so and save it as a patch for future use. Ola Englund is a famous YouTube personality who has done this and has shared his Amp Matches on the Tone Cloud.
If you’re into tweaking and want a host of equipment at your disposal, then Positive Grid’s Bias 2 is an incredible find and a product that will give years of experimentation and joy. It’s easy to get bored with a tone, even if you like it very much, and being able to adjust a few settings, select new speakers, change out some tubes or a transformer, or even work with an entirely different amp is a dream for any guitarist. Typically we limit how much gear we buy due to finances and space, particularly with amps and cabinets… often relegating extra cash flow to pedals (which Positive Grid also sells, in both software and hardware categories). If we want a new amp or cabinet, usually this means selling it or stacking the gear in the corner to make room for the new kid in town, but there’s always a limit. Now you are able to have a warehouse full of gear that sounds as good as the real thing (superior when recording or wanting a clear signal when gigging) and while taking up only hard-drive space.
What also makes this cool is that it’s like having an Axe Fx and Kemper all in one. First, you get a ton of amps and cabinets, like an Axe Fx, and yet you are able to Amp Match any of your amps that you like, just like a Kemper. As stated Amp Matching makes sense when you want to sell gear and make room in your home studio (or simply to have the amp in a smaller Bias Head package when gigging, which is what Paul Masvidal has done).
I like jamming and creating music in Band-in-a-Box (BB)… laying out chord progressions in various styles (rock, jazz, metal, etc.). However, Bias 2 (stand-alone) requires ASIO, as does BB (this is an issue with ASIO technology… only one thing at a time can use it). Not too big a deal… I put Band-in-a-Box through my computer system speakers (lower end, but decent sound) while Bias 2 pumps through KRK Rokit 8 speakers. When using Bias 2 in my DAW (Cakewalk Sonar X3) it works flawlessly.
The other problem I encountered is with the Amp Match. I could not get it to work… having tried a few dozen times and with the help of the crew over at Positive Grid (who responded rather quickly every time… very good customer service). The feature works, since Positive Grid used it to capture the tones of all those amps… and there are other Bias 2 users on Tone Cloud who used the feature. And so, it’s an issue with my computer system (Windows 7) and old files not communicating effectively. However, a fellow reviewer at Gearslutz (with a more updated computer) had it working in no time flat, creating a 5150 style tone that captured a TSE X50 V2 (high-gain) plug-in through custom Rosen IRs, and it sounds great (super dry and grainy). You can access this Amp Match on the Tone Cloud, located in the High-Gain section under the name GS Test 01.
Lastly, although Bias Amp 2 does come with various Reverbs, as do many hardware-based amps, many guitarists prefer a good Delay to add depth and dimension to their tones. Consequently, Bias Amp 2 would sound even more awesome if a simple delay pedal patch was included (which also would encourage the purchase of Positive Grid’s FX software).