Review of Fractal Audio Axe FX II Firmware 10
We reviewed Fractal Audio's stunning Axe FX II back in issue 10.
But the company has been hard at work producing firmware updates,
recently releasing a complete overhaul in the form of firmware
v.10. It's such a huge update that it required a review all of its
own. Tom Quayle asks: is the latest the greatest?
One of the best things about Fractal Audio is its constant
desire to improve its products. Since the release of the Axe FX II
there have been no fewer than 10 firmware updates, each bringing
new and improved features for the user. What is more, all of these
updates are free, which can only be a bonus in anyone's book!
Our previous review of the unit was with a beta version of
firmware 7 and since that time Fractal has issued a further three
major updates, each introducing a slew of new amp models, improved
effects and editing capabilities. Version 10 represents such a big
upgrade in terms of both the amp and cabinet modeling that it
deserves a review all of its own so we thought we'd get the unit
back in and test out this new firmware to see how much of a
difference it makes.
The biggest upgrade in v.10 is labeled MIMIC, which stands for
(hold your breath now) 'Multi-point Iterative Matching and
Impedance Correction' technology. According to Fractal's release
notes MIMIC 'applies analytic signals to an amplifier and captures
the fine nuances of each amp at various points in the circuit and
corrects each model versus its theoretical implementation. What
this means in practice is that the various controls of the
amp-model behave and react virtually identically to the real amp
and when combined with the improved power amp modeling in v.10,
gives an even more realistic dynamic response and touch sensitivity
that is far closer to the real amplifier.
This technology is remarkably effective and gives the amp models
a supremely convincing feel and tone, especially for the lower and
medium gain models that are often considered the hardest to model.
Running through powered PA speakers it is very easy to forget that
you're not playing through a real amp with tubes glowing behind
you, as the dynamic response and tone of the guitar is so
faithfully represented and the feel is even more 'real' than
before. It would seem that Fractal have really improved upon what
was, arguably, the most authentic amp modeller out there.
Another major feature of the update comes in the form of 35 new
cabinet models in the form of custom blended impulse responses
created at Wellspring Sound and Mad Oak Studios. For those not in
the know, an Impulse Response is a digital capture of a combination
of a particular cabinet, speaker, microphone, mic position and
preamp, recorded into the Axe FX II for use in combination with an
amp model. These new 'Mix' IR's are unique in that they are a
combination of each producer's favourite speaker, cab, microphones
and positioning as used in their studio and represent ready-to-go
sounds that fit straight into a mix with very little post EQing
In use these new IR's sound fantastic and represent a real step
forward in the authenticity of digital speaker and mic modeling and
really add to the feel of the improved amp models. Fractal
have also included some artist IR's including some from Voodoo
Labs' main man and tone guru, James Santiago and progressive shred
legend, John Petrucci.
The number of amp models has been upped again for this release
and since version 7 there have been a significant number of
additions, bringing the total number of amp models up to 88,
including some great sounding bass heads and cabs. The number of
user IR slots has been increased to 100 including a scratch slot
for auditioning IRs quickly without overwriting your existing ones.
In addition many of the drive pedal models have been improved
making them more accurate and realistic and the existing tone match
feature has been improved for accuracy too.
For those looking to tweak the minute details of each amp model
and effect, numerous parameters have been introduced or refined
such as Dynamic Depth and Presence, Tube Type, AC or DC power
supply selection. The range of options on offer is simply
staggering and whilst they needn't ever be touched by the average
user, the fact that they are there shows to what lengths Fractal
will go to develop accurate modeling and let its users refine their
Within this update there are so many changes and additions that
it would be silly to try to list them all in this review (a full
set of release notes can be found on Fractal's website for those
interested in the full list of changes), safe to say that Fractal
has really improved an already highly impressive product and has
done so for free for all existing users. Combined with the fact
that this update coincides with an update for Fractal's Axe Edit
software, allowing users of firmware 10 to edit their patches from
their computer via USB again, it really is mind blowing just how
much you get with this unit in terms of options for creating
fantastic tones. Not only does it sound amazing, it now feels
amazing to play too and that's quite an achievement considering how
good the Axe FX II was in the first place. Right now, there's very
little to challenge it.
Check out the full review inc. video of the Fractal
Audio Axe FX II Firmware 10 by Tom
Quayle featured in
Guitar Interactive Magazine Issue 18.