Software-based guitar and amp emulators like Guitar Rig, AmpliTube and GarageBand have given players access to a multitude of sound and setups otherwise impossible to achieve without an unlimited budget, and a huge amount of storage space. While these might be perfect for the home or studio, musicians heading out on the road may want to invest in a more durable hardware-based, rack-mounted solution. Fractal Audio is about to unleash a beast of a rack-mounted, all-in-one preamp/effects processor billed as the most powerful instrument processor ever created.

The Axe-FX II is powered by two 600MHz dual-core Analog Devices TigerSHARC digital signal processors (DSP), which, according to Fractal Audio, gives it "more raw, real-time audio processing horsepower than anything available at any price." One DSP is in charge of everything to do with amp modeling while the other handles all of the effects and system tasks. The unit also has twice the onboard memory of previous models.

New amp, cabinet and speaker modeling

At its hearts is a brand new G2 amp modeling technology that's claimed to take amp modeling to a whole new level by digitally reproducing every part of a power amp, from the phase inverter and filter caps to speaker distortion and voice coil interaction. The system also features an 8-band equalizer to allow for precision tone tweaking without needing to add extra amp blocks to the chain and something called Virtual Vacuum Tube technology - a sort of digital replica of a vacuum tube.

The amp block gets new dynamic speaker modeling and players are offered 50 user can memory locations to store settings from the high resolution convolution cabinet emulator (which also has 64 factory preset cabs), including selections from the Redwirez and Ownhammer and designs from Jay Mitchell.

The Axe-Fx II has been given a dedicated 60-second loop function, updated effects and algorithms and more realistic sounding effects. The amp, chorus, drive, delay, flanger, phaser, pitch, and wahwah blocks are joined by two independent parameter sets called X and Y. The new buttons can act as user-defined quick jump keys for editing without needing to go through the grid, or for remote 2-channel switching of block settings. A TYPE control has been added to Chorus, Delay, Flanger, and Phaser effects to allow for easier settings adjustment and parametric EQ has been integrated into the Delay and Reverb blocks.

Users can also configure global blocks to synchronize favored sound settings across multiple presets. All settings can be saved to included backup memory for peace of mind.

The ins and outs

Balanced analog inputs to the rear and unbalanced 0.25-inch jack outputs benefit from Humbuster technology, which automatically detects and removes up to 20dB of ground noise from the signal and the instrument input at the front uses a dedicated analog-to-digital converter and a proprietary circuit for low noise performance. Both S/PDIF and AES input and output feature, as well as a 7-pin MIDI In and a selectable MIDI Out/Thru jack. The system is also MFC-101 MIDI foot controller-compatible. A USB port caters for MIDI-over-USB functionality and also allows users to monitor and process computer audio and record output to a PC or Mac.

In spite of all this effects processing power the system consumes less that 40W and offers near-silent operation. Of course, one downside to some hardware-based multi-effects and amp processors is their inability to grow and adapt to new trends and developments. Fractal Audio says that "the Axe-Fx II is well equipped for a future of free upgrades and updates in the tradition that established our commitment to product evolution."

The company told us that the Axe-Fx II is set for release at the end of this month for US$2,199.