NorCal Axe-Fx Summit 2014 Review

On Sunday October 19th I was lucky enough to take part in the first Northern California Axe-Fx Summit held at the Mission offices in Petaluma.

For those that are not familiar with it, the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx is a digital rack mount preamp and effects system, primarily for use with guitars, but also bass and other instruments.  The Axe-Fx is popular not just for it’s great sound, but also its regular software updates and exceptional tweak ability. This has resulted in an enthusiastic community of people sharing ideas and helping each other out on the Fractal Audio Systems Forum.

The suggestion came about on the forum that players in the Northern California area should get together to meet each other in person, share some ideas, and try out the Axe-Fx with different power amps, speaker cabinets etc. Thanks to JP (forum user jproxu) and bandmate Tim for coming up with the idea in the first place and supporting the logistics. Also a special thanks to forum user Breadtooth for still attending, despite getting a speeding ticket through the city on the way in!

Checkout Breadtooths’ photos of the event here:

Photos

This was our first event of this type so we had a fairly loose agenda. After spending about an hour setting up the various pieces of gear people had brought with them, we all sat down in the meeting room and introduced ourselves and discussed how we used our gear and what we wanted to get from the day.

For me this proved one of the most interesting parts of the day. The range of different uses cases was quite a revelation. We had about 20 attendees from full time professional musicians to bedroom hobbyists. We had ‘tubes are best’ analog enthusiasts, to some who had never even used a tube amp and had begun their musical journey with modeling from the get go. There were touring musicians needing easy travel solutions, a covers band looking to carefully replicate recorded songs,  and home tweakers searching for their perfect tones. We had an advisor who assisted local bands with their gear setups, and a guitarist who had some unique requirements for playing in an orchestra pit. It was great to hear everyones stories, and made it even more clear to me why digital systems are continuing to gain popularity as they provide so much flexibility to meet this wide range of musical and practical needs.

Following the meet and greet session, we did a quick tour of the Mission shop so people could take a look around our little facility and see how we worked. After that we began listing to some different setups.

We were lucky enough to be joined by Marc Cooper from Coop DeVille  and AccuGroove. As a full time musician and user of the Axe-Fx in his daily work environment, Marc had some really useful information on getting the best out of the Axe for all sorts of different sounds including his acoustic tones via the Piezo pickup on his guitar.

Marc was kind enough to share his Presets and IR’s with us and you can download them here:

Coops Axe-Fx Presets

After this we got to spend some time listening and comparing the different full range speaker systems people had brought with them. Thanks to everyone who made the effort to carry their gear over and set it up for our benefit. Here’s the list of equipment we got to try:

Accugroove
Atomic CLR
Mission Gemini 1
Xitone

Thanks to Fractal Forums Unixguy, for being our demo player for the afternoon.

Later in the day, some people had to leave to get to gigs or make the trip home, but for those remaining, at the suggestion of  Team ‘Tubes Rule’ 🙂 we connected up the Axe-Fx to the effects loop of our Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier Roadster. We did a quick comparison of a conventional tube power amp and guitar speaker (Axe-FX cab sim off) and the Mission Gemini full range system (Axe-Fx cab sim on).  This was only a short listening test, but most agreed that the Axe-Fx and Mesa sounded great for crunchy rock and lead tones, and that the Gemini with Axe-Fx cab sims sounded remarkably close. To my ears the Mesa just had the edge in terms of ‘punchiness’.  Maybe a little of the added power tube saturation from the Mesa was helping too. The trade off was that everything had a distinctly ‘Boogie’ style tone which although great for the classic rock tones, we were using, restricts things significantly when wanting to create other tones using cab sims or full range frequency sources. It’s on my list to do more comparisons with conventional guitar amps vs FRFR next time around.

All in all, this was a great event and I really enjoyed meeting everyone and hearing their stories. For next time, here are some things on my list for adding or changing. let me know what you think.

1. Have Pizza brought in for lunch. (we used up all our time in the day and quite a few people had to skip lunch to keep going)

2. Have a single system setup full time with Axe Edit.

3. Have a set performance section where someone plays through a couple of complete songs to demonstrate their tones.

4. Have a more in depth comparison section between FRFR and conventional tube guitar amp/speaker.

 

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