STL Tones ToneHub by Diogo C
What it is: Virtual amplifiers for electric guitar have come a long way since the beginning of ITB mixing, and seems like nowadays basically everyone is set with a combination of amp head plus some impulse responses for the cabinets and some basic effects here and there. Sometimes you get a handful of amp heads, sometimes you’ll get many, same goes for the IR collection that comes with them. In a nutshell, that has been the virtual amp game, and we have to acknowledge that it is proven to be a successful endeavour thus far. It’s not often that we see a twist or a change of events such as the one we see with Tonehub, the flagship virtual amp STL Tones product line. Yes, it comes with the usual amp plus cabinet plus effects combo, mas there’s a very meaningful twist here, but first we have to talk about that other game that involves not using a real amp but emulating that instead - I’m talking about the “rig profilers” such as the Kemper or Axe FX systems and the recent Overloud’s TH-U Rig Player. Tonehub is closer to this kind of approach as it drifts from the usual component modelling plus IRs that constitutes the majority of virtual amp plug-ins, and it’s main objective is to deliver an experience that is closer to a Kemper than say let’s say an Amplitube or STL’s own line of “regular” amp simulators for that matter. As such, Tonehub is a preset-fueled system, with some degree of flexibility thanks to its flexible amp section called “Tracing Amplifier”. In short, this is one amp to cover the entire universe of guitar sounds, from clean to crunch and high-gain with every stop along that path. Each preset brings a Tracing Amplifier setting, an accompanying cabinet which features a 3D mic positioning system that is quite effective, and occasionally some stomps for pre-amp and post-amp effects. The pre-amp stomps feature three overdrives/distortion types and a compressor whilst the post-amp covers reverb, delay and time-based modulations (chorus/phaser/flanger/tremolo). Tonehub ships with 60 presets that offers a bit of everything, doing a good presentation job on its ability to deal with a vast number of music genres.
Sound quality: Tonehub is a highly capable plug-in and what is most impressive about it is that it is an incredibly versatile virtual amp for both electric guitar or bass, working great with pretty much anything I threw at it. Its greatest virtue is the immense range, and that’s largely due to the Tracing Amplifier, which can achieve seamlessly any guitar or bass amp sound with relative ease. Does it mean Tonehub is a “Jack of many trades but a master of none”? In a way, yes, but not in a bad way - I personally can’t pinpoint any styles where it excels on more than others, it simply worked great on everything I could throw at it, so it can certainly master many trades if one is crafty.
Ease of use: If versatility is Tonehub’s biggest feat, ease of use is perhaps its lowest point. Not that it is a hard plug-in to use or a complex one that requires a lot of thought, in fact it’s quite the contrary as you can simply pick a preset of your liking and get excellent results with it, but the process of browsing presets is a very tedious one. Presets are a big deal here, they’re arguably one of the main selling points, but the fact that you have to browse per library hinders the workflow and I would greatly welcome a way of browsing through the entire catalog without having to select an individual library. Fortunately enough there are adequate tools to sort all the sounds within the library, which definitely helps a ton, but I sorely miss a “global” search with all the preset library that I was kindly provided with by STL. On the computing performance aspect Tonehub does quite well, with a CPU load that is not insignificant but not heavy either, allowing for multiple instances on a session without crippling the system, and it adds zero extra latency, which is never a bad thing.
Features: Here we have a well-rounded solution for all sorts of electric tones, with a decent number of quality stomp boxes, the aforementioned Tracing amplifier with accompanying cabinet and a master EQ section to wrap things up, which is basically what one needs to get the job done. My only gripe here is the cabinet section, which can not be bypassed and is tied to the preset system, so it is time to say goodbye to that IRs folder. If a different cabinet sound is wanted then you should just find the appropriate preset and take it from there. Speaking of presets, the core Tonehub pack is nicely spread across different genres, ranging from high-gain metal to warm-soft jazz and anything in between, so in theory the user does not need to buy any particular preset pack to cover the basics as sound selection is quite diversified. Nevertheless, getting more preset packs can greatly expand the option and can be necessary when going for very specific tones. Lastly, it’s always good to see a virtual amp that is also available as a standalone app for DAW-less uses such as live performing, practicing or jamming.
Bang for buck: The current price tag (or a bit less in that eventual holiday sale) puts Tonehub in the mid-to-top tier of the pack in terms of cost. It’s hard to say that a couple hundred US bucks are “expensive” but it’s also a bit difficult to argue otherwise as well, especially when taking into account that one may want to get a pack or two of presets to go along with it, and those float around twenty to fifty bucks for each pack. Adding all that up can get quite costly, especially if one is committed with to Tonehub for the long run, which is understandably expected when you shell those $200 for the entry cost. Nevertheless, Tonehub provides excellent bang for those bucks and will pay them off by delivering top-quality amp sounds with minimum effort.
Recommended for: producers, mixing engineers and guitarists looking for a versatile and easy to dial virtual amp. Kemper and Axe FX users looking for a native plug-in to run their favorite STL presets may also find Tonehub interesting.
The verdict with a full disclaimer ahead: my Tonehub ride has been mostly about high-gain for modern metal and classic rock-ish “big” tones with overdrive, I was able to get some jazzy Brazilian guitar tracks going on as well. Although I can’t say I’m well-versed of the latter, I believe Tonehub will do just fine on most production situations. For metal and modern rock I think Tonehub is at least on par with what most would considered to be the best virtual amps.
- Can tackle virtually any amp sound, be it bass or guitar
- Very convincing overall sound quality
- Good selection onboard effects and stomp boxes
- Vast number of presets covering all genres
- No “global” search or browser for quick preset-finding over multiple libraries
- Buying preset libraries can get a bit expensive