When it comes to amp sims, I’m sure you’ve heard a hundred different opinions.
“It sounds crap. It will never sound real.”
“I need software because I can’t make noise at home, and guitar amp simulators now sound as good as the real thing.”
Either way, I set out to get some REAL data about this ongoing battle by surveying 447 different musicians.
If you are struggling to decide which road to go down, you’ll absolutely love the infographic in this post.
I also put together a complete rundown of the 24 best amp sims available in 2018.
But first, if you want to feel proud of your mixes…
Grab this free PDF and learn how to make a virtual guitar amp sound more realistic in just 8 easy steps:
- So… Who Wins?
- The Best FREE Software
- Amp Designer (Free with Logic Pro X)
- BIAS Amp (Free Version)
- AmpliTube 4 (Free Version)
- Brainworx bx_rockrack V3 Player (Free Presets)
- Ignite Amps (Free, Fully Featured)
- ampLion Free (Free Bundle)
- Mercuriall Free Stuff (Range of Free Plugins)
- Voxengo Boogex (Free, Fully Featured)
- LePou Plugins (Free, Fully Featured)
- The Most Realistic Premium Software in 2018
- How to Make Software Sound REAL
So… Who Wins?
The debate generally goes something like this…
“Could simulators ever sound like real amplifiers?”
But that completely misses the point.
There will never be a definitive answer as to which is ‘best’.
After all, they are just tools. They both have their uses, depending on the situation.
Regardless of the answer to this question, there is one important truth…
Using software is the better choice in a home studio.
Why? Four reasons.
1) You don’t have to worry about room acoustics.
2) You don’t need a microphone.
3) You don’t have to worry about noise.
4) If time is a constraint, you have a wide range of tones available in a matter of SECONDS.
For me, that’s the biggie.
It takes a good guitarist years to build a versatile collection of amplifiers and find their tone.
Add to that the range of microphones you would need, and the time spent learning how to record guitar to a studio level…
And it becomes clear which is the more efficient option.
Of course, you don’t have to stick to just one approach.
You can have amplifier software, and real amplifiers. Each have their use.
However, if time and cost are important to you, I recommend getting started with simulation as soon as possible.
Countless guitarists swear by simulation, like Tyler from Music is Win:
Are you ready to get started with simulators?
I have compiled a list of the best free and paid guitar amp simulators available in 2017. Keep reading…
The Best FREE Software
Amp Designer (Free with Logic Pro X)
While not technically free for all DAW users, users of Logic Pro X should feel proud to have this plugin in their arsenal.
In our survey, we asked what plugin people preferred to use.
Amp Designer was mentioned almost as much as AmpliTube, which costs upwards of $234.
BIAS Amp (Free Version)
We’ll cover this in more detail later, but here’s the short…
This is the plugin I recommend to most people. And they have a free version.
It’s a no-brainer.
AmpliTube 4 (Free Version)
This free version of AmpliTube is based on credits, rather than an upfront purchase.
To get started, 24 pieces of gear are include at no cost.
Brainworx bx_rockrack V3 Player (Free Presets)
I love the Brainworx stuff, and this free plugin comes with 26 pro presets.
Ignite Amps (Free, Fully Featured)
The guys over at Ignite Amps have built a few free options.
The Emissary modeller sounds great – perfect if you work with hardcore music.
ampLion Free (Free Bundle)
A handy bundle of several free simulation plugins.
Mercuriall Free Stuff (Range of Free Plugins)
A range of effects, power amplifiers and cabinet modelling plugins to combine.
Voxengo Boogex (Free, Fully Featured)
A versatile free plugin that gives you a ton of control.
You can get a wide range of tones out of this thing.
LePou Plugins (Free, Fully Featured)
Beloved by fans of indie developers, this collection of free guitar amp simulators packs a punch.
The Most Realistic Premium Software in 2018
BIAS Amp & FX
Let’s start with my personal favorite.
Despite being highly affordable, this plugin is an absolute joy to use – and it sounds great.
I initially opted for BIAS FX, which includes a ton of stomp boxes as well as a range of amplifiers and cabs.
But if you want the full range of models, grab BIAS Amp.
This was mentioned A LOT in the survey, and I have seen this software praised on a range of forums.
All in all, a great first purchase.
This was also in the top 4 from the survey, and is well worth a look.
The coolest thing about S-Gear?
It’s included in the Slate everything bundle, which is incredibly popular – for a good reason.
Arguably the most widely-used plugin of the bunch, IK Multimedia were pioneers in this area.
Softube Bass Room
Most of the software in this list caters for bass guitar, with bass specific amplifiers, cabs and microphones.
But this dedicated bass amp modelling plugin deserves a mention.
Andrew Schepps (Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2) loves Bass Room, and Brett Chassen even used this plugin with Lemmy of Motörhead (rest in peace, brother).
JST Toneforge Menace
A range of guitar and bass amps for metal and hardcore music.
PLUS, you get an impulse response loader, so you can simulate any amplfiier or cab. Pretty cool, right?
Kazrog focused purely on tone with this one.
The UI is very simple – none of the flashy design that most amp software has.
Instead, you just get great tones and nothing else. Simple.
The free version of this plugin was included earlier in the guide.
Give it a go, and if you like it, upgrade to the full version.
Kuassa Amp Plugins
The guys over at Kuassa have a range of plugins worth checking out, including a dedicated bass amp modeller.
Brainworx bx_rockrack V3
With this one, Brainworx focus more on good 1:1 emulations, rather than versatility. If that sounds like your thing, be sure to check it out.
You only get 8 models, but sometimes you NEED limitations to help get the job done.
If you find that you spend too long fiddling around, and can never settle on a tone – this might be for you.
Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro 5
Native Instruments momentarily stepped out the world of electronic music to deliver Guitar Rig Pro.
Despite their usual association with DJing, sampling and synthesis, this software DELIVERS.
You get 17 cabs, 27 cabinets, and 54 effects – everything you need.
Mercuriall Spark & Tube Amp U530
Two great plugins here…
Both are highly affordable, and incredibly easy to use. Again, the lack of options here can be seen as an advantage.
I’m a huge fan of Waves plugins, yet felt disappointed in their amp sim offering.
Still, it’s worth a try – you might completely disagree.
It’s only $49, and considering the frequent sales that Waves offer, this could be the most affordable plugin in the entire list.
If cost is our main consideration, be sure to check this out.
Overloud TH3 Full
This plugin boasts the worlds largest collection of amps, with 203 models and over 1000 presets.
If versatility is your aim, this might be worth a look.
On the other end of the scale, we have the TSE X50, which faithfully models just ONE amplifier – the 5150, as made famous by Eddie Van Halen.
It all started with Line6, back in 1996 with the AxSys 212.
The POD came soon after and helped Line6 to rise to fame in the early 2000’s and popularize the idea of amp simulation.
After releasing a range of products (some of which felt cheap and sounded awful), they have remained at the forefront of this area.
Nowadays, there are several offerings that are worth checking out.
If you want to take your tone to the next level, the HD series is well worth a try.
Pro Tools | Eleven Rack
Combining both hardware and software elements, the Eleven Rack is seen by many as the daddy of guitar amp software.
Perhaps the only competitor to the rack-mounted POD HD Pro X, this is the perfect option for somebody who wants the best tone possible.
It’s designed to work with Pro Tools, but it works with other best DAWs too.
Now, if you want the sound of the Eleven Rack, without forking out for the hardware – they also make a software-only version that costs slightly less.
BUT, it only works with Pro Tools.
How to Make Software Sound REAL
Finding the right amp simulator is only the first step.
Once you get started, you need to approach amp sims differently to working with a real guitar amp.
Want to make your software sound ten times more realistic?
Grab this free PDF and learn how to use simulation like a pro in just 8 easy steps:
- What equipment do I need to make a home recording studio?
- How to choose the best type of microphone?
- Gain Staging – 5 Simple Settings The Pros’ Use in DAW
- How to EQ vocals like a Pro?
- Reverse Reverb: Here’s How to Create This Cool Trick (3 Easy Steps)
- How to Master a Song at Home (in 14 Easy Steps)
Audio professional, musician and founder of Musician on a Mission.