Positive Grid BIAS FX 2 Software Guitar Amp and Effects
By Chris Loeffler |
Positive Grid BIAS FX 2 Software Guitar Amp and Effects
I'll take the Positive Grid over the negative grid any day!
by Chris Loeffler
It’s the year 2019, and guitar players are still clinging to their vacuum tubes and low-put passive pickups. While synthesizers long ago made the jump to comprehensive software offerings, only a few big players in the guitar world have fully embraced digital emulation and expansion of the tools available in the 80’s. Whether it be discussion of “feel” or just the benefit of being selfishly (and satisfyingly) blasted by air from a cranked amplifier, guitar players in general are just pickier about how they expect their playing experience to be.
Outside of the hardware world of Line 6, Kemper, and Fractal Audio, few companies (Native Instruments, SoftTube, and Peavey being exceptions) have taken the plunge into creating a playing experience for guitarists that scratches their very particularly itches. Positive Grid has been one of those pioneers, and their initial launch of the BIAS Amp and BIAS FX plug-in suites was one of the most embraced products to take guitarists to the software world. With BIAS FX 2, Positive Grid build on their learnings and technological progression to introduce a true 2.0 experience to software emulation for guitar.
Positive Grid’s BIAS FX 2 downloadable software that can be used as a stand-alone tool for live performance or as a plug-in (AAX, VST, AU) with all major DAWs for laying down tracks. It works on both Windows and OS X computers and requires OS X 10.11/mac OS 10.12/Windows 8, i5 Intel Core, and 4 GB of RAM and 1 GB of storage space for the program.
What You Need to Know
BIAS FX 2, first and foremost, isn’t a simple software emulation of classic amps and effects. Like Native Instrument Guitar Rig, you can start there, but the parameter controls very quickly take you beyond what the standard amplifier or effect the preset is replicating does, with deeper control and synthesizer-like control of the signal path (if you want it). Out of the box and without tweaking, you’ll find presets for 60-200 tones, 30-100 amplifiers, 45-100 effects, and some nifty features like Guitar Match and MIDI/automation functions.
Setting the signal patch and dragging-and-dropping effects in and out of the signal chain is as intuitive as it is in real life with a clean GUI and even easier, as you aren’t tussling with bum cables, different power supplies, and Velcro.
To start building your rig, you are allowed to choose between a single amp or dual amp setup to be run in stereo or summed to mono. The amps can be used as preset, or swapped with various cabinets, speakers, and microphone setups to get your sound. While doing a true A/B between a few of the real deal setup and simulations was beyond my gear cabinet and timeframe for this review, I can attest the different configurations and microphone placements sounded like what I expected with my general recording experiences.
The effects, which are the core of BIAS FX 2, are arranged by effect type, including: Noise Gate, Compressor, Boost, Drive, Distortion, EQ, Modulation, Dealy, Pitch, and Reverb. Additionally, there are three effects modellers (Harmonizer, Time, and Fuzz) that essentially allow you to build effects from scratch, a Studio Rack collection with takes on classic rack units like the Tri-Chorus, Compressor, and various oddballs like teh Echorec, Leslie, etc.
While Positive Grid doesn’t directly name the individual pedals evoked in each category, the naming convention and visual representation make it abundantly clear. For instance, under the Drive section, there is a green pedal icon named 808OD, a blue pedal icon named Blues Wizard, and a gold pedal icon with a centaur archer called Clone. You get it. There’s a complete list of what’s included on the Positive Grid site, but rest assured that 98% of “must have” pedals are included.
The pedals certainly sound and react like their analog counterparts, and I found the sweep in the dozen or so comparisons I made to be similar as well. Said differently, if you have a favorite DMM setting you can visually dial it in identically in the Deluxe Delay effect and nail the same tempo and depth. The noise floor was quite, in fact a bit eerily so, leaving me to wonder how much mojo in a rig comes down to signal loss and additive noises between cables.
I ran out of ability to audibly distinguish what was going on before I ran out of spaces to stack effects, and some of the creative routing that happened in real-time inspired me to revisit a couple of placements on my physical pedalboard. I found it easy to set both raw, live sounds or more processed, ready-for-mastering takes depending on how much I played with after the cabinets.
Guitar Match is Positive Grid’s proprietary guitar emulation software and is included in all three versions of BIAS FX 2. It effectively converts your input signal and emulates the tone and characteristics of many different guitars, down to pickups, body resonance, and even fretboard quirks. Said differently, you can turn your ’95 MIM Strat with single coils into a ’57 Les Paul with PAFs. Sonically, it is dead on when set against benchmark recordings of the emulated guitar, and even things like decay differences are addressed in the algorithm. The biggest difference I experienced sonically had more to do with me playing like I was still on a Strat rather than it not sounding like the various guitars I was emulating.
ToneCloud is a much-appreciated feature of Bias FX 2 and the direction I would hope all software programs continue to migrate, letting users store and share their presets and effects tweaks with the entire community. Integrated into the software, it feels seamless to the BIAS FX experience and is handy when jumping between bandmates’ houses for rough track recording. What I most appreciated about the feature was a chance to hear how far others had taken their presets before I dove into editing and also to find instant inspiration via a new tone to mix things up a bit. As with any user library, the ear and skill of the user dictate the quality of the presets, but taste is a subjective thing.
The navigation of the program is icon driven, which keeps the look clean. However, there isn’t a pop-up window with a text explanation, meaning it isn’t necessarily that intuitive out of the gate what’s going to happen when you click on one.
Positive Grid’s BIAS FX 2 easily competes with the big dogs of the hardware world, and would likely cost 4x as much if it were a physical product. It sounds so close to the the original units it is emulating that you’d never hear a difference in a live or recorded setting, and, maybe most importantly, it’s an amazingly comprehensive overview of the entire effects landscape. While the quality is professional, the ease of use and accuracy of the effects and amps makes it an enticing, affordable primer to effects usage and sounds for any player. Possibly the biggest compliment I could give BIAS FX 2 is that after more than 20 years of effects usage and exploration there wasn’t a single surprise to be found… everything sounds, behaves, and works right. Bonus points for an extremely straightforward install, configuration, and upgrade process and not a single crash during 30 days of evaluation. - HC -
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.