I recently bought my Axe Fx Ultra by Fractal Audio after doing a lot of research online. It was supposedly the big thing that all guitarists and home-studio owners had been looking for – A way to sound like a high quality tube amp without buying a high quality tube amp. That and pretty much every effect under the sun you could possibly need for your guitar.

But is it worth it? In this video, I’ll be taking a look at the Axe Fx Ultra and seeing whether it lives up to the hype…

Features + Versatility

This is a fun place to start for anyone who has GAS (For those that don’t know, Gas = Gear Aquisition Syndrome, where you can never have enough gear). To me, it finally cured my GAS where guitars are concerned, with…

50+ Amp Models, 39 Cabinets, 10 Microphones, 17 Drive Models, 12 Reverbs, Dozens of Delays, Modulation, EQ, Pitch, Intelligent Harmony, Tremolo, Wah, Compressor, Gate, Precision Tuner, Swappable Tone Stacks, Two Rigs at Once, Custom IR Player and Effects Loop as standard for the Axe Fx, but mine is the ultra version, which adds…

An arpeggiator, synth effects, vocoder, looper, multi-band compressor, ring modulator, quad chorus, diffuser, resonator, crossover and more complex delay and pitch based effects.

Those Amp models range massively, from hi gain Mesa and Engl simulations to rockier Marshals and even an old school Vox AC30 with top boost. There are also some great amps for clean work, as well as an ampeg SVT for all the bassists out there! Basically – chances are you’ll find what you want on this thing.

The Axe Fx is absolutely filled with features – it’ll be quite a while before you run out of things to try on it!

With all these features it can be used in several different ways – as an entire guitar rig simulation, just an amp plugged into a cabinate, or as a crazily versatile Multi-FX unit. It’s great for in the studio, but I’ve read lots of things on t’internet about people using it very successfully live – some people even plug it straight into the P.A. – saving carring a heavy cabinate up unnecessarily large numbers of stairs. Just remember – you’ll need a power amp if you’re going to use it live or it won’t be very loud!

Useability

I think if I was to comment negatively on the Axe-FX it would possibly be on the User Interface – but thinking about it, I don’t know that I could produce a better designed interface on a rack unit when there are this many features to give people access to.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s going to take a bit of learning – the presets are great and have apparently got better on each firmware upgrade (those upgrades are free, by the way – more on that later), but the best tones will no doubt be created by yourself, since you probably know what you like more than the Axe does. But I’m sure a Mind-reading effects unit will be added in due course.

The screen does the job and after a few hours of playing with it I feel comfortable using it to make new patches – when you get the hang of switching between pages, it starts to feel like a very natural process. One thing I really like is that when you change the amp that you’re simulating, unlike other amp sims it doesn’t change all the other settings as well – meaning you can make an objective decision between the different tones as to which is better for what you want.

The manual is pretty concise and mine came with a quick start guide which is even more so, but there’s a wiki page online with even more information, including the makes of the amps that it simulates.

Fractal audio are also developing a piece of software to accompany it for those people who prefer using computers or find the little screen restricting and fiddly – It’s called “Axe Edit” and at current it’s still in Beta testing, so it’s not quite perfected just yet, but the screenshots look pretty exciting! It’s another thing that Fractal Audio are working on and giving away for free in addition to everything else that comes with the Axe. It’s not got a usb interface, by the way – make sure you have a couple of MIDI leads hanging about if you want to connect your Axe to the computer.

Quality

I have absolutely nothing bad to say about the Axe where quality is concerned. Every amp sounds professional – it’s like having a knowledgeable studio engineer with an obsession for guitar tone in a smallish black box. I always used to struggle with getting powerful guitar tones – I’ll do a proper comparison video at some point, but suffice to say that this is the real deal – I can’t tell the difference between this and a real amp. Can you?

Value

Now I paid Just over £1900 for this from G66.eu, which is currently the only distributor in Europe. Shipping was included in that and it comes with a 15 day money back guarantee – so you can make sure it’s as good as you hoped it would be. Suffice to say after 15 days with it I had no intention of letting it go.

It might seem like a hefty price tag, but let’s break it down:

There are over 50 amp sims on this. If we divide the cost by that, that would be 1900/50 = £38 for each high-end amp. And that’s just the amps, how about the cabs, the mics, the effects pedals and everything else you’d need to get this sound if the Axe didn’t exist. As well as the fact that everything is in one place and is infinitely easier to use than all that gear.

Cliff Chase, the creator of the Axe-Fx is scarily dedicated to the product, releasing a new version of the firmware with new features, amps and all kind, seemingly every few months. He gives these upgrades away for free – with any other company they’d make you buy an upgraded version of the hardware. Cliff seems content in providing these upgrades to the community he’s built around the Axe-Fx out of the goodness of his heart.

This is a massively refreshing business ethic, which means that you’re essentially buying all the upgrades that come out in future as well. The forum on fractalaudio.com is absolutely dedicated to the product (It’s not hard to see why) and act as a fantastic customer service team. If the wiki page they’ve set up doesn’t solve your problems, chances are the forum will.

Overall

I bought the Axe-Fx hoping that I could FINALLY get a professional sounding guitar tone in my humble home studio – it has far exceeded my expectations in that respect. The Axe is…

- Jam-packed with more features than you can shake a multi-fx-unit-shaped stick at.
- As good if not better quality than miking up a real, high end guitar amp
- Quick to use once you get the hang of it
- Constantly being updated with new features for free
- Supported by a massive community of helpful people
- Ridiculously good value for money, even though it’s still pricey!

I give the Axe FX 99%. I’d have given it 100% but I’m now so spoiled by how many features I have access to that I got annoyed when I realised it didn’t also make my coffee for me.

It’s products like this that make me love being alive at this time – think about how many years people have had to spend tens of thousands of pounds on all that gear, and here I am with it in a box slightly bigger than an old school VCR. It kinda looks like one too.

So in conclusion – If you want professional sounding guitar and have the money – the Axe Fx is for you. This is high end gear, so if you’re still trying to justify the price tag, I guess you need to ask yourself a simple question: Do you want your music to sound professional or are you content with sounding amateur?

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5 Responses to “Review: Axe Fx Ultra”

  1. Hey Dave thanks for posting this video! the review of the axe fx ultra was really great. you did a good job breaking it down and showing us all the major features. I can’t wait to try one out for myself. Cheers!

  2. You’re welcome, man! Glad you found it useful : )

    It was a lot of fun figuring out all the different things it could do – that wiki page they’ve set up (google “axe fx wiki” and you’ll find it) is invaluable!

  3. Hey Dave,
    What’s up. Loved you review of the Axe Fx Ultra. Purchasing mine very soon. Dave I am confused about one thing. You said the Axe doesn’t have a usb interface and that it would require a couple of midi cables to be able to connect to the computer. Now my question is do I get the Midi Cables that have the Midi In and Midi out or the the Midi to USB cable. Cause I have a mac desktop.

    Best Wishes,
    Aman.

  4. Pretty interesting I think I will need to pick one of these bad boys up

  5. Awesome review dave! Would be awesome to see some more like this!
    one problem though. You have now make me want one of these and i cannot afford it. :’(

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