Amplifier Modeling vs Profiling – What’s the Difference?

Unless you’re new to playing the guitar, I’m sure you’ve probably heard of modeling amps before: a form of digital amp that mixes analog and digital circuits together, resulting in an amp that can sound like a wide variety of well-known amp types. In other words, it’s like having a pretty accurate emulation of potentially hundreds of amp types, all in one amp.

Amp Modeling vs Profiling (Featured Image)
Photo by I Went Left

Sounds exciting? Well next up is a relatively new and lesser-known, but very awesome type of amp feature to look out for: amp profiling. Amp profiling is designed not merely to deliver a digital model of an amp circuit design, but to recreate the characteristics of a specific amp at a specific time – the playing dynamics, tonal response, and the whole shebang.

What is The Difference Between Amplifier Modeling vs. Profiling?

In short, modeling an amplifier refers to the processes of replicating, or “modeling” the characteristics of an amplifier circuit. The goal is to create a digital replica of how any given amp model will theoretically behave given its circuit design characteristics. A Profiler, on the other hand, refers to the replicating, or “profiling” of one specific amplifier that you have in your possession and recreates a digital model of its sound characteristics at the specific point in time that you profile it, based on the amps actual response characteristics.

Modeling Amps Explained

Modeling Amplifier Example

Modeling amps are a type of solid-state amp that uses a combination of analog and digital circuitry, which results in an amp that can emulate other amp types. Modeling amps were quite thoroughly trashed when they were first released back in the day, but technology has gotten so much better, and nowadays it’s often hard to tell an amp model from the original, especially with high-end modeling amps. And there’s no better way to have access to so many different amp types in just a single amplifier.

Modeling amps are plenty of fun – you’ll find yourself whiling away endless hours exploring a ton of tones and presets on board, finding the ones that work best for you, and endlessly bending genres. They’ll usually come with heaps of on-board effects too! Modeling amps can be quite affordable for any budget, and you’ll also find more expensive high-end amps that are feature-rich and with higher sound quality.

Features:

Amp sounds: This lets you switch through different amps; the budget modeling amps will have just a few, while the high-end amps can have hundreds of profiles as well as allowing you to input custom entries.
Cab sounds: This feature lets emulate a cab, for even more tone-tweaking potential. You’ll usually only find this feature on more high-end models.
Built-in effects: Most modeling amps will come with some effects, while high-end models can have many dozens of effects, saving you from dragging along endless pedals.
Controls: If you’re planning to perform with your modeling amp, look for a tactile interface that lets you tone-tweak on the fly, with less fiddling.

Digital Amp Modelers

Standalone modeling devices digitize the input signal from your guitar and then use a microprocessor to apply digital computation to modify that signal, which means you can achieve the sonic profiles of high-end tube and solid-state amps in a more affordable and smaller device. You can connect these modelers to a PA system or your preferred recording device, technically without having to use any power section, speaker cabinet, and microphone, or so on; you can also connect a modeling device via USB to record directly to your computer.

Digital Modeling Amplifiers

Many modeling amps include a built-in modeling device, while other (largely high-end) modeling amplifiers will combine a digital modeling device with vacuum tube amplification.

Analog Emulators

There are also analog modeling devices, and in fact, the concept of analog signal processing is very old, and the first-ever modeling devices were analog. “Modeling” itself is an old concept, and as time has gone by, the basic conceptual circuits which were used to mimic certain attributes have become more and more complex, providing richer and more detailed emulations and being capable of recreating amplifier-specific tone profiles.

Profiling Amplifier (Kemper) Explained

Kemper Profiler Amp Example

Accurately modeling the way an amp sounds and responds is by no means an easy task, but over time, digital modeling has really progressed and can now produce quite convincing replicas. However, a fair number of guitarists still find that amp models can miss the ‘feel’ of the amp. Enter the Kemper Profiling Amplifier (KPA), with its exciting new method of addressing the difficulties associated with digitally capturing potentially hundreds of amps in just one package.

This profiling amp is designed to capture the exact tones, dynamics, and responses of any amp it’s plugged into, by playing various samples through it so that can scan and understand the sounds and responses of your amp, analyzing the result to create a detailed snapshot. Instead of trying to develop an entire model of an amp, the profiling amp captures the amp’s controls at specific settings, with various tubes, miked up as you like it, and so on. It then recreates this to a tee. What’s more, KPA users can also share the amp profiles they create, which means you can virtually access countless amps profiled by users across the globe. Ground-breaking stuff!

How Amp Profiling Works

The KPA comes with up to a thousand rigs, which you’ll be working with when you use, save or recall sounds. These rigs contain your complete signal chain and are divided into three sections which you’ll see on your front panel. Firstly, the Stomps section, which has slots for up to four mono effects; next up, the Stack contains the amp and cabinet profiles you’ve selected — the profiling process will capture both of these simultaneously, and then separate them so you can mix and match; there’s also an EQ section common to all profiles, including bass, middle, treble, and presence. Finally, the Effects section comes with four more effect slots, which include stereo capabilities. Two slots are set at delay and reverb, while ‘X’ and ‘Mod’ can host whatever effect you’d prefer. And at the back of the KPA, you’ll find a ton of connectors that are used to profile the various sections of the device.

Getting to know how to use the KPA is super straightforward; press any of the backlit button switches to turn an item or section on and off, and hold the button down for half a second to call up detailed settings on the screen. The context-sensitive buttons let you adjust settings in-depth, and the store button allows you to store any element and its associated settings as a preset. Copy-paste buttons mean you can easily swap elements around between rigs.

By default, the rotary controls beneath the screen are used for EQ settings, alongside gain and volume knobs on either side, making it easy to change things up on the fly just like you would with a tube head amp. There are even more dedicated knobs above, for the noise gate, master volume, and mod, delay, and reverb effects slots. This hands-on control makes sense when you remember that the KPA is very much intended to be a stand-alone device; it doesn’t include any computer audio interface, and the USB socket is just used for installing firmware updates, backing up your settings, and sharing profiles and rigs with other users. On the other hand, there’s plenty of connection options on the back of the KPA.

The quarter-inch direct output carries your original guitar signal, straight from the input and without any A-D conversion. This feeds the amp being profiled but also captures that signal for re-amping later. The XLR/quarter-inch return input will return the mic signal while the amp is being profiled.

So, how does it work? Kemper is keeping mum on how they manage to capture the tone and response of the amps they profile, but the basics involve: the KPA sends a series of test tones to an amp, receives them via a miked speaker cab or line input, and uses the results to create an accurate profile of the amp’s characteristics, responses, and controls. It’s pretty exciting to think that so many beloved amps can now be digitized and preserved convincingly, making them more accessible than ever and allowing music heritage to be preserved for future generations of guitarists to enjoy.

Why Should I Get Amp Profiling?

Make Music Faster

Wasting time trying to find the right amp sound when you just want to play really puts a damper on your creative flow! With amp profiling, you can enjoy the convenience of tracking guitars without drowning in cables, pedals, amps, speakers, and so on. You can also download profiles, to deliver a great sound that’s ready to go, with far less fuss.

Of course, you’ll technically also find this feature in modeling amps; but amp profiling is so, so much better at recreating the authentic, layered nuance in touch, feel and sound of a wide variety of amp types.

Keep Your Favorite Amps Forever

Guitarists tend to change amps as often as rev-heads change their cars; and all too often, they regret the choice. But if you capture the profile before you say farewell to your trusty old favorite, it can remain part of your gear for long after you’ve sold it or replaced its parts. It’s a near-perfect virtual snapshot of your amp as it was at the time, which you can keep forever and even share with others, all without worrying that replacing a part that needs to be replaced is going to change your sound forever.

Easier Gigging

Rather than bringing a plethora of bits and bobs with you when you gig, with a KPA all you need, is a PA, your guitar, and your Kemper. You can build in all the songs in your set and access them just by twisting a knob; and if you want to cycle between clean, crunchy, and so on, you can use the KPA’s Performance Mode to cycle up to an impressive five distinct tones per song, using either the switcher knob or footswitch.

A World Of Sounds To Explore

The Kemper doesn’t just profile your amps, it lets you access thousands of other free amp profiles thanks to users across the globe who’ve captured their own amps, pedals, and gear and uploaded it to the Rig Exchange app. Search by amp make or mode if you know what you’re looking for, or by artist, or just spend countless hours browsing!

There’s also a huge market for premium paid amp profiles, with most major amp profilers offering sample packs so you can get a taste before you spend your cash.

Craft Your Sound

For about the same cost as a quality tube head amp or combo amp, you’ve got thousands of digitalized amp and speaker combinations in one handy package. You’ll be able to experience endless amps that you’d never have access to otherwise, exploring their differences and nuances and finding what really resonates with you.

Why should I get Amp Modeling?

Easy to use – just plug and play

Back in the day, you needed a whole lot of gear to play guitar, lugging around your amp, pedals, patch cords, power source, pedalboard, cables, and guitars – the whole shebang. A good modeling amp with a footswitch, cable, and guitar can pretty much replace your old pile of pedals, making it easier to transport (or to play at home without filling the room with endless bits and bobs). Just plug in and play – so much easier than dealing with a complicated setup every time you’re gigging or recording, and saving space in your boot, too.

Modeling amps are also awesome as a practice amp because they’ll play at low volumes without compromising on sound quality. When you’re jamming in your music room at home, a modeling amp is pretty much all you need – no pedals needed!

Sound quality

Being easy to set up doesn’t count for much if you’re not happy with the sound. But today’s modeling amps really do stand up quite well against solid-state and tube amps, and you get quite a bit of bang for your buck. It’s traditionally been hard to fully replicate that tube amp warmth and texture, and many guitarists still won’t consider an amp that’s not tube – you’ll have to decide yourself whether you’re one of them. You’ll even find real amp vs amp model comparison videos on YouTube to give you an idea of the difference in sound; it’s hard to tell what’s a model anymore! Of course, the dynamics and response won’t be quite the same as the OG tube, but many modeling amps certainly deliver sound quality that’s eminently gig-worthy, and at a much more affordable price than the all-tube equivalent. (And if amp modeling is not quite up to your exacting standards, amp profiling may well be!)

Another advantage of modeling amps is that they don’t just deliver the tones of one awesome amp, but a whole plethora of presets and amp profiles to play with. Whether you’re in the mood for buttery or crunchy, chimney, or gritty, you’ve got a world of tones at your disposal.

Robust and durable

There’s a lot more maintenance involved in a tube amp; ideally, you should be going under the hood monthly to have a glance and make sure everything’s up to spec, and replacing your vacuum tubes every year or two (depending on how much you play). Having your tubes fail on-stage is pretty embarrassing, to say the least! You don’t want to find yourself working on your amp on stage while the band is doing soundcheck (or worst still, in front of a crowd).

Technically, any amp can fail at any time, but solid-state and modeling amps are generally speaking much more robust, less fragile, and more able to handle being chucked in your car boot or lugged around on the train. Their parts don’t tend to wear out or need replacement, and they don’t need to be biased either; what’s biasing, you’re wondering? Don’t worry – with a solid-state or modeling amp, you don’t even need to know – just plug, play and enjoy.

Endless tone-tweaking

If you’re looking to craft one unique signature sound and play with it again and again, and you already have a general idea of what that sound is, then a modeling amp might not be for you – on the other hand, if flicking through the pages of music history and dialing up tones from your favorite players across a diverse range of genres and eras sound just like your cup of tea, you’re in luck. If you’re a hobby guitarist or playing in a cover band, this offers some serious value, because, with a bit of fiddling, you can sound like myriad guitarists, play your favorite songs like they originally sounded, and so on. And if your modeling amp has an amp and cabinet emulation, then you’ve achieved any cover band’s dream! And of course, that authenticity will really resonate with your audience.

While tube amps sound awesome, and their natural tones sound exactly how they’re supposed to, they’re comparatively quite limited in tonal versatility. In fact, their natural tone is why they’re so loved – but you can’t turn them into another amp. With a modeling amp, the musical world is your oyster.

Cost Considerations

You’ll find some pretty awesome tube amps for less than $1k, and with the whole rig (pedals, pedalboard, power supply, cables, and so on) you’re probably looking at shelling out about $1500 to be gig-ready. But if you’re looking for something more pocket-friendly, you can be gig-ready with a modeling amp at $350, with some very exciting high-end options around the $600 mark. And if you’re just practicing at home, you’re only looking at spending about $200. That’s some serious value for money.

So whether you’re a hobby player, just want a practice amp, playing in a cover band, or you’re as excited as we are about being able to dial in hundreds of amps in the one box, amp modeling is a seriously appealing choice. And again, you’re not having to fuss around with pedals, tube maintenance, and so on – just play around with some knobs, and have fun exploring incredible tonal versatility at a great price.

Conclusion

So, now you understand the differences between amp profiling and modeling. Amp modeling is a great choice for many guitarists, while amp profiling is a relatively new but incredible technology that essentially “scans” a sample of how an amp sounds and reacts, and lets you dial up detailed, nuanced profiles of thousands of amps shared by guitarists across the globe. If you’ve got a bit of extra cash to spend, amp profiling may be well worth the money to be able to better capture the digitization of your favorite amps while exploring amp profiles that sound and react almost exactly like the real thing; but amp modeling is an extremely popular choice in of itself, bringing a world of music to your gig, studio or music room at a very affordable price.

Which one is best for you, if either? Well, if you can’t imagine going anything but tube, or you have a particular sound you’re going for and just want to stick for it, neither is going to cut the mustard; if you’ve got leeway in your budget, amp profiling is one of the most exciting things to happen in amp technology today; and if just being able to switch from Fender to Marshall in no-time-flat and not having to deal with an array of pedals and cables would be enough to put a smile on your dial, then a good modeling amp is bound to keep you happy for many years to come.

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