Last updated on August 7, 2017 by Rob Mayzes

When it comes to amp sims, I’m sure you’ve heard a hundred different opinions.

“It sounds crap. It will never sound real.”

Or maybe…

“I need software because I can’t make noise at home, and 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 run down of the 24 best simulators available in 2017.

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:

 

CHAPTERS

Infographic Showdown | Best Free Amp Sims | Best Paid Amp Sims | Simulator Tips

 

 



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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.

BUT…

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 amp sims 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 amp sims packs a punch.

 

 

The Most Realistic Premium Software in 2017

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.

 

Scuffman S-Gear

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.

 

AmpliTube 4

Arguably the most widely-used plugin of the bunch, IK Multimedia were pioneers in this area.

AmpliTube 4 is a staple in many studios around the world, and has been used by notable artists like Malcolm Young of AC/DC fame.

 

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 Thermionik

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.

 

ampLion Pro

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…

One for lovers of British amps, and another for lovers of Engl.

Both are highly affordable, and incredibly easy to use. Again, the lack of options here can be seen as an advantage.

 

Waves GTR3

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.

 

TSE X50

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.

 

Line6 POD

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.

POD Farm is their software-based emulation, and the POD HDX series offers top-end simulation.

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 simulator is only the first step.

Once you get started, you need to approach 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:

Audio professional, musician and founder of Musician on a Mission.

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35 comments on this article

  • Admiring the time and effort you put into your site and in depth
    information you provide. It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed information. Great read!
    I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  • I know this site provides quality depending content and additional stuff, is there any other web page which provides these things
    in quality?

  • Hi, great article. I’m a noob when it comes to silent practicing. I have always practiced through guitar>pedalboard>amp.

    If I wanted to still be able to practice/record with my guitar and pedalboard, what else would I need to have to be able to get similar sounds that I get from my amp (el34 based amp, similar to a Vox ac 15)

  • I’m currently using Deplike Guitar Effects app on my android phone(iOS available too) with
    Behringer UCG102 and their amps and effects pedals are just like real ones.
    Also it’s the one and the only app that support USB audio interface on Android.

  • Dear Guys,

    I play on the guitar for some years, but I have never owned the real guitar head/combo. I Play with simulators, only. I tried almost everything, but at this moment is out there something special…Waves – PRS Heads. Overall, for every situation, you must use a very good input preamp for your soundcard for the warm sounding of your guitar. Before I used REVALVER from Peavey, great simulations for sure, but there is one small leak…if you play chuggy and some milliseconds after palm muting, there is pretty digital/unnatural response from ampsim (maybe you know what I meant). And PRS heads from Waves sounds really heavy (like real 5 gain stages, compare with TH3, PRS has more gain and for more has clarity at the same time), clean is the best I EVER HEARD…..cleans are so dynamic. You must have a good IR, in a plugin you have but those are not so good. yeah, 2018 is the best, the borders of modeling are along so far. At this year you really don’t need to buy the real head, in my opinion…rock on…

  • Hi,

    I think it’s time to consider adding Blue Cat’s Free Amp/Destructor/Axiom and Line 6 Helix Native to the lists and by the way it’s ScuffHAM not ScuffMAN.

    Cheers
    Frantiac

  • Dear Manager,

    This is Emma from GrandTechnology-a China manufacturer focus on OEM.
    We offer guitar amp, pedal, electric guitar, etc, all has been manufactured according to CE standard.

    After checking your weblink, I think our products could meet your request of expand product line.

    In Europe market, we are working with many distributors.

    Please visit our website to check details: http://grandtechnology.en.made-in-china.com/

    Kind regards,
    Emma

  • I have used Bias FX/Pro. If you tweak, you can find pretty good sound with it! I have also tested Overloud Th3 and found out some very authentic sounds in the collection.

  • Khaos Hellatron says:
    October 11, 2017 at 05:46:47 pm

    Hi Guys, I hope this helps. For Tracking, I use SimulAnalog’s…No Latency. My Amps are Thermionik, Kuassa and the Free ones from Nick Crow, LePou & Ignite Amps. For IR, I use Catharsis, Recabinet’s & Messiah. I admit, I don’t know if they (Amps & Cabs) all sound like the Real Thing but what really matters to me is how well they sound in my mixes and how intuitive and easy it is to get the sound I’m going for (That’s why I’m not much a fan of those Amps, though sound great, have too much controls). I use the Hohner RP250 with DiMarzio Pickups straight to a Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6. I use Airwindows’ Guitar Conditioner as my Tone Pedal. My DAW is REAPER. For me they work the way I want them to.

  • I have both and S-Gear, in my opinion is far better.

  • I’m using a Line 6 POD XT Live hardware unit for most of my guitar sounds. I like the hands on thing of hardware for guitars, and this thing sounds great with a few different amps & FX. The other thing that works well is feeding it into the FX return of my tube amp and mic’ing it up.
    As you say, it’s all about how it sounds in the mix, not soloed.

  • hi rob ,I have played loud with my band and buddies , I got a big red marshall , and a boss gt 10 , the rhythm guitarist has a marshall head with a different cab , sounds fantastic cranked up to 8 or 9 , perfect for blending with a heavy rock drummer and lung launching vocal screamer, 600 watt pa system .however its late at night , I live in a flat and I want to record or create some music. geez ,don the headphones and ampsim it is , I love amplitube for the more melodic and crunchie sounds , gtr from waves is good for heavier sounds ,but my boss gt10 is just fun ,and it can be connected with a usb, no need for audio device ,its got one built in . like you said ,they are all tools and have a specific purpose to fit our every needs , one size fits all cant work in a diverse world of music ,individual preferences demand as many different tools as our imagination can figure out a place to use them.p s reason 9.5 softube amps (lovely for clean guitar)and guitar sims in Cubase ,all have a place . utilize what you got and write some awesome tunes is what I say .

  • wouldnt it be prudent to throw a spectrum analyzer and/or an oscilloscope after the plugin and from the mic amps to “see” more about what each source is providing?
    altho the ears are ALWAYS the best source of this sort of info

    in any case thanks for all you do…and keep on truckin ;-)

  • What about Peavey Revalver?
    Great plugin!

  • I would be really interested in a follow-up comparison video to see if people can tell the difference between a sim and a tube amp similar to what the sims are trying to model. Not to be critical, but I don’t really think it’s fair to make the statement or implication that “most can’t tell the difference between a real amp and an amp sim” if we’re trying to differentiate between a sim and a digital, solid-state “budget” amp. I understand if you can’t find vintage amps to compare, but you could put a Vox AC30 sim up against a Bad Cat Cub or a Matchless DC-30, a Princeton Reverb sim against a Vintage Sound 15, or a Marshall sim against a Tone King Royalist. In my personal experience, the difference is much more noticeable.

    I’m not against amp sims. I own two Eleven Racks and I’ve used Ampire in Studio One. I use them often for rhythm electric guitar as well as bass and steel guitar. But for lead guitar, neither the Vox or Matchless sims come close to the sound of my Bad Cat.

  • I use a pod hd500x into my blackstar venue. Sims sound good but tubes add a saturation and compression that is tasty. And the blackstar has an emulated out so no mic needed and translates well. I’ve found the clean tone is awesome but the crunch and heavy aren’t as tight so I use the emulation from the pod. Best of both worlds.

  • Chainsaw Curtis says:
    August 9, 2017 at 01:52:05 pm

    I’ve only tried one amp simulator (in Digital Performer) and I have been unable to get a tone that I liked out of it. I can plug my Tele into almost any amp and get a sound I like within a few minutes. Even faster if I put my Boss ME 50 in between the two like I do onstage. Granted I don’t record in a bedroom there is nothing like having a real amp at a reasonable volume aimed at you so you can feel what it does to the instrument.

  • That Tweed Deluxe emulation in the video, sounds terrible. I’ve owned two Deluxes and they sound so much better than that. That sim sounds like it has flat batteries! The head following sounds better.

    The only amp simulation that I’ve tried that got close, was the old Line 6 Amp Farm for Pro Tools TDM. It still wasn’t as good as the real thing, but it was much closer.

  • Once again, a reminder to see how much LOGIC RULES !! ?Great content, thanks Rob.

  • I’ve been at this a really long time and finally we have software that not only sounds good, it sounds great! My preference is Positive Grids Bias FX and Bias Amp. I’ve even built a live rig running on my iPad and totally thrilled!

  • While I am a user of S-Gear and on occasion Logics offering blended with Two Notes Torpedo Wall of Sound. I use the BluGuitar One with the BlueBox Speaker Emulator from Thomas Blug far more often. For me this is the ultimate in recording at friendly volumes. If you have not checked it out Rob, it really is worth a look. The range of tones available quickly and easily are vast and it sounds great. Okay it’s not exactly cheap, but when you consider it works as well live allowing exactly the same tones as you use in the studio? It’s not so bad.

  • Rob mentioned using a DI box instead of just plugging straight into the interface. Can anyone recommend a decent, affordable one? I find that even with vintage style, passive pickups and my interface gain set as low as it can go, I still need to roll down on my guitar volume to give enough headroom. Will a DI box solve this issue?

    One other frustration I’ve had with Amp Sims is that, although they sound good enough in the mix, when starting out a new track, I don’t find them particularly inspiring to play through. For this reason I’ll play something through my amp and tweak things until I get the tone I want when I “write” a guitar part. But then when I try to recreate that same tone in Ampire I often find it thin or nasally by comparison.

    • I was interested with the DI as well. I have a good DI and did a sound test through S-Gear. Recorded different tones with and without the DI. To be honest I couldn’t tell alot of difference. I would find someone who has a DI and try it before you spend cash.

      • I have a Radial DI, and it hadn’t made a single difference as opposed to going straight into the front end of my old Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. The 2i2 is apparently very flexible in that regard. However, if you’re audio interface isn’t working without one, the Radial is a good one.

  • Jonathan Wolverton says:
    August 7, 2017 at 05:09:48 pm

    Ampire XT is an amp sim that comes with Studio One and I think it’s better than S-Gear by a longshot. The included cab emulations are terrible but you can also drag in your own impulses which combined with any of the amps sound amazing.

  • I use Ampire which is what comes with Studio One. Any Studio One users who could let me know if any of these ones are significantly better?

  • I’m curious though, what was the real amp in the comparison video??

  • I use a Two Notes Torpedo Studio and I love it. Its a great alternative to amp sims and allows me to use my heads and get my sound. You cannot tell its not a mic’d cab in the mix. Great tool!