Positive Grid Acoustic Expansion Pack for Bias FX

People often mean quite different things when they use the word “clean”. Sometimes its crystal clean like an acoustic, sometimes its warmish and dull with a bit of breakup, sometimes its spanky like a surf guitar that has some breakup when you really hit it. Many times it the sound of some serious high gain tones, but with the guitar’s onboard volume turned down.

When it comes time to get a totally, not distorted, bright, clean tone, no matter how hard you hit the guitar, things can get tricky. Way back in the day, the Marshall JMP-1 seemed magically capable of it, and so it came as no surprise that S_Gear, in VST was also capable of pulling it off.

In a somewhat excited internet rountable discussion about cleans some years ago, Ken McLaren of AcmeBarGig said to try his Redshift pickup replacer or even an impulse to accomplish this. Of course, I had to ask what he was smoking, as obviously this is a dynamic thing, not a tone thing, and impulses were not going to be handling dynamics at all.

But he insisted, and I tried it, and sure enough, for that crystal clean, I have been using impulses ever since! 

Over the past year, I had been loading a custom acoustic guitar response in NADIR in front of BiasFX when using it in VST mode, but always bummed that I couldn’t get anywhere near there in Bias FX standalone

Enter Bias FX Acoustic Expansion Pack!

The Acoustic Expansion Pack for Bias FX features a few tools get make the most out of an actual acoustic guitar recording or pickup and magically, a few tools to turn your electric guitar into an acoustic! For some reason, very little info about this expansion pack showed up on the net in any search I did, so I could be wrong about a lot of the following:

Acoustic Sim. This FX Block had little trouble taking my EMG 707s or Blackouts, at full volume even, and making them crystal clean!

The Mid and Top controls gave a lot of the characteristics you would expect from an acoustic guitar, and made them stronger or weaker. I tended not to mess with these controls much, keeping them at their minimum volume, when I wanted a strict clean tone, but dialed them up a bit to get an actual acoustic guitar tone. 

Volume seemed to be a regular level control, and I’ll leave the debate about nonliniear effects of the various Bias and Bias FX volume knobs for another forum

String Enhance could give you an exciter type of effect, for good or for ill, it was certainly not subtle, you may love it or you may hate it, but its there if you want it.

Now the Body control is where things get really far from the realms of subtlety. This control turns up or down, what I can most easily describe as a mic pointed somewhere along the far edges of the body of an acoustic guitar, but very very close to the body. It was quite realistic. Exceedingly so. However it realistically simulated the sound of a mic in a position I think people mostly wouldn’t like it. Try it for yourself. For me, it was too phasey and “flute-y” sounding and I would just leave it off normally, though strangely, everything I said makes it sound AMAZING on electric bass guitar! I have no idea why, try it. Switching between the body types underneath the picture of the guitar changes the effect that the Body knob controls. If you have the Body knob all the way off, switching these switches seems to do nothing.

Acoustic Image. This FX Block seems very similar to Acoustic Sim, though I just wasn’t able to get as nice a super clean sound, it gave me a few different options of sounding like an acoustic guitar than Acoustic Sim did. I’d really like to see both of these get a bit of work. They are most certainly usable as is, but I think they could be class leaders with a little more tinkering.

Acoustic Preamp – If you are plugging in an actual acoustic guitar, with a pickup, this FX Block will give you the effect you’d expect when plugging into an old Crate Acoustic amp or, paired with the chorus below, something like running a Roland AC60. 

Unlike wither of these, the gain control, and to some extent, surprisingly, the Mid control, will give you some unmistakably tube like distortion. This will not at all give you the “hardness” you may expect and possibly even desire, that a transistor acoustic amp will, and the lack of a Magnetic/Piezo selector switch might make that feel like a double insult.

But that’s before you try the treble control! Want the “spank” of a transistor acoustic amp? Turn it up halfway. Want so much exciter that it takes you into Mutt Lange territory? Keep turning it up. And if you think I’m kidding, here it is on a snare!

An EQ, pretty much as you’d expect. It has two sweepable mid bands with a wide enough Q not to get too “flute-y”.

This is a plugin where you really do feel the limitations of the Positive Grid Paradigm of not having the standard plugin control modifiers, like return to unity gain, return to preset default (or presets at all!), fine tune, direct entry, and perhaps the one that makes it most difficult of all, not being able to see the exact parameter values at a glance. These can all make comparing apples to apples, or really dialing in your sound quite a bit harder than it should be, and hopefully will be looked at across the entire Bias line of products.

Unlike most of the Bias FX modulation blocks, this one has a real mix control! This means that you will likely use this as your chorus regardless of what type of sound you are after. If you don’t care about any of the other acoustic features in this pack, you might just want to buy Bias Pedal Modulation instead, which will get you access to that critical wet/dry control (of course, Positive Grid should have a wet/dry control on EVERYTHING, but until that happens…)

As a chorus, this is pretty nice! No Tempo sync options, no delay control, but it will give you the lush, swirly sound that you are probably after in general, without the phasing problems of the stock Bias FX choruses

Reverb is a decent, basic reverb with no real detailed parameters, but will certainly give you the type of reverb sound you would expect from any of the classic (is it ok to call amps from the 1990’s “classic”?) acoustic amps

Here is a video showing turning a dull, regular electric guitar using EMG 707’s thru a DI box, turning into the type of crystal clean sound I will often use in mixes. After that, I show the effect of the Body control on the Acoustic SIM and the different body styles. Note the phase-y flute-y sound once the body control is engaged. You will be surprised how that can turn into a positive come mix time!

In Conclusion

If you are using Bias FX as a standalone, and really need crystal clean tones, this pack is a no brainer, especially if you want to use a chorus effect, ever. In addition to those two major functions, the other included parts open up a pretty decent extra tone palette.

If you are on iOS, it costs almost nothing, definitely pick it up! Desktop users may want to take a harder look, but if you can swing it, its hard not to have it.

As an exciter, this pack is actually cheaper than some of the others out there. Give it a chance vs the usual suspects when doing your drum or vocal mixes and see how you feel about it.

If you are using Bias FX inside a DAW and have access to other VST’s, you can likely get the contents of this plugin from other VST’s, the acoustic sim from an impulse loader of other acoustic sim effect, the EQ, chorus and reverb from other effects, and likely those will have direct entry, fine tuning, double click to unity, presets, and all the basic functions missing in the Bias world. Even in this case though, give it a try and see if its worth it for you for the all in one convenience of storing an entire chain in one plugin for your templates!

How to: Bias FX on iOS

With Positive Grid teasing us on Instagram about a big announcement coming for iPhone, and what always seemed to me to be a dearth of specific information about just how to do it, I figured I would write a step by step how to guide on setting up Bias FX on iOS.

The goal of this tutorial is to end up with a versatile live setup, under MIDI control.

Due to the sparse development of audio in general on iOS, there are a lot of issues we have to find workarounds for, but I really think we can end up with an extremely portable, yet extremely powerful guitar rig. But please keep in mind, as we hit walls and pitfalls, there are many different ways to skin this cat, and I am showing one possible way to get through this journey.


For this particular example, I have chosen a hardware setup that is readily easily available, and that I have done enough testing on to confirm that it will behave decently.

iOS Device: iPad Air2. This particular device provides more than enough power for my needs, and previously I had used a Mini 2 which is far less powerful, yet still ran everything here. I suppose an iPhone SE would be quite strong enough, if only PG would release Bias FX on iPhone (oh wait?)

MIDI Pedal: Behringer FCB1010. There are tons of other devices out there that will work for this including the iRig Blueboard. For my needs, I wanted a lot more switches, and having the onboard expression pedals is nice. In this case, I converted the FCB1010 to be both wireless and battery powered (more about this here: Building a Wireless, Battery Powered FCB1010). There is one more mod involving the wah which I will detail below, which could be totally avoided if Positive Grid decides to add Auto-Engage to their wahs and other relevant FX blocks (like the whammy pedal for instance)

Interface: Sonoma Wireworks StudioJack Mini. There are many other options here such as the iRig HD2, or Sonoma Wireworks’ other device, the GuitjarJack Stage, which is also a MIDI controller!

Speaker: Alto TS210. This is a basic, very low cost, very light weight FRFR powered speaker, other popular options are the QSC K series and the Yamaha DXR10. You may want to add a DI box to these in order to send also to the PA without worrying about any possible phantom power damage. One thing to consider, if your FRFR has XLR outs, is whether or not their onboard volume controls will affect the level going to the PA. Probably one more argument for a DI box. I detail using this particular speaker into a conveniently mobile setup here: iOS One Wire Setup!


Switching time.

This is a biggie. Last year, LBX, MPL, Daniel Perry, I and quite a few others around the REAPER community and the Positive Grid pages spent a great deal of time creating different schemes between snapshot switching, crossfading, and caching to come up with instant, glitch free switching using a wide variety of VST plugins, DAWs, scripts and other tools. These are all computer based, though some of this research did result in Juce code which has been offered to Positive Grid and could at least in theory be applied to the iOS version of Bias FX. As it sits, for many peoples’ purposes, switching between presets is just too slow for onstage use, and another way will have to be used, which luckily, Positive Grid has provided for us, though it has some caveats.

Dual output paths for guitar amp vs PA system/FRFR.

This is a big problem, and in the way I’m describing it, there will ONLY be an output suitable for FRFR. There is a way to use dual paths in Bias FX by putting a cab on one Amp path and not putting one on the other, but since we are using path switching to deal with the switching time problem, this will not be available to us. A floating Impluse FX block could fix this, as could treating the left and right outputs differently in the global menu, but sadly, these are only wishes for the future and not the reality of today. As an extreme case, you could stick a Mooer RADAR or something on the FRFR output and leave the cabs off the amps, but that would destroy our simplicity. Running another app thru Interapp Audio might possibly help, but this brings up the unreliability factor by orders of magnitude. Much more about the Dual Path Philosophy Here

Wah switching.

Unlike a lot of its competitors, Bias FX does not have Auto Engage for its wah FX. Most MIDI pedals out there have no switches under the expression pedal to allow you to switch manually either, so you have to chose between a variety of decent, and not so decent workarounds.

In my case, I drilled a hole under one of the expression pedals and stuck in a momentary action SPST pushbutton switch. The other end was soldered to the switch of pedal #9. This means that I had to give up one of the FCB1010’s switches, but on other MIDI pedalboards, if it has a second CC input, you may be able to use that instead (still auto engage would be much, much cooler!)

Preset Setups

Switching is too slow from preset to preset, so switching between dual paths is the way we will go here. Hopefully, in the future Positive Grid will adress this with a snapshot switching scheme or possibly some more options dealing with crossfading or caching.

By path switching, I mean we will insert the splitter FX block which also adds the Mixer FX block, and allows for two amp paths, and then toggle between path 1 and path 2 with a footswitch, allowing an instant switch between clean and distorted sounds. The downsides of this arrangements are, in most cases, not being able to use simultaneous dual amplifier models, and much much worse potentially for a live situation, losing the ability to have a signal with the cabinet ON for the PA system and FRFR speakers and a cabinet OFF signal, for regular guitar amp inputs. This really does need to be addressed, but for this article, we will just assume you are using an FRFR speaker.

MIDI Pedal Setup

The first thing I like to do is figure out roughly how I would like my pedalboard setup. Usually with the FCB 1010, I like to have presets on the bottom row, with stomps on the top, but given the amount of time it takes to switch presets in Bias FX iOS, we’re using path switching instead, so I will be putting the presets on the top row. I also want tap tempo and a dedicated pedal for the tuner. Also, one of the pedals had to be given up for the wah switch as detailed above (please please please, Positive Grid, give us Auto-Engage!).

Word to the wise, while you are setting this up, try not to get super frustrated that documentation for the Positive Grid stuff is EXTREMELY hard to find. My Google Fu is not weak, but a lot of the answers to basic questions will be elusive.

So my basic layout will look like this

Here is a capture from the pedalboard editor screen, yours will look a bit different depending on the editor you use.

In this case, each bank has three presets, which are the first three pedals on the left of the top row, with Bank 1 having presets 1-3 and Bank 2 having presets 5-7. Due to the way Bias FX’s preset to MIDI PC works, numbering it this way makes life a lot easier for me.

The fourth pedal on the top row (pedal 9) is wired to the pushbutton switch that I wired in underneath the first expression pedal. In this way either that fourth pedal or the pushbutton will send, in this case, CC #9 which I will be using to toggle the wah on and off.

The last pedal of the top row, Pedal 10, is set to CC #10, which will call up the tuner in Bias FX.

The bottom row of pedals is set from CC #1 to CC #5 in that order. Pedal 1 controls the Splitter Switch in Bias FX to switch between amplifier paths. Pedal 2, 3, and 4 are meant to control stomps in each preset. You can even set a single pedal to toggle more than one FX block in Bias FX, which will really, really come in handy, and actually gives you some of the benefits you would find were this a snapshot system.

Bias FX MIDI Setup

Getting Bias FX to listen to your MIDI pedalboard can be quite tricky.

In my case, using the wireless MIDI setup, I need to use an app in between my pedal and Bias FX called midimttr. Once the MIDI pedal was paired to the iPad in the iOS settings, I set midimttr to look like this






In Bias FX, click settings, then “MIDI Setting”, then switch “Enable MIDI Control” to the on position. Then click “MIDI Channel” and chose “All Channels” or whatever channel you want to listen to.

Building the Presets

For this first bank, I would like a clean preset, a distorted rhythm preset, and a heavily effected, distorted lead sound. Given the MIDI control available to us, what I will really be doing, is creating a preset that can switch between all of these things, and simply set each preset into the desired state and save it that way. As you play more and more with each of these, the individual presets will likely evolve to become quite different than the generic master preset, but its a good way to start.

So here are some screenshots of the basic preset I’m setting up here, which will be available on the cloud

In this example, I have a clean sound on the top path, and a distorted sound on the bottom path. The paths are chosen by switching the SPLITTER between CH1 and CH2. In order to set this up, hit the “LIVE VIEW” button at the bottom of Bias FX. Long press the bottom left button of the LIVE VIEW pedalboard, then press “Splitter Channel Select” then chose “Switch Channels” as shown below.

Now to assign MIDI CC #1 to the splitter, hit the back arrow, then click “MIDI Learn”. Either press the pedal you want to use on your MIDI pedalboard (which frustratingly often does not work) or click the “- +” buttons until you get the MIDI CC number you want. Hit the back arrow and test it out!

Next, while the LIVE VIEW is still showing, set up the tap tempo, by long pressing another one of the bottom buttons then click “Tap Tempo”. Assign it to the desired CC# as you did above, by clicking MIDI Learn. In my case, I am using CC #5. Also, as shown in the picture, you may want to enable “Stick on Board” as shown in the picture. I am reasonably sure that this keeps the Live View assigned this way even when you change banks.

Next on the agenda, let’s get the tuner assigned. Its probably now a good time to talk about the ways that Bias FX lets you assign MIDI control. There seem to be three ways:

  1. Long press on the “LIVE View” buttons
  2. Long press on knobs or switches of the FX icons in the regular view
  3. In Settings, MIDI Setting, MIDI Control Assignments

You would assume that #3 would show you an overview of all the assignments, but you would be wrong. Here is my assignment screen currently

As you can see, some assignments go to what seems to be a global position at the top, and others end up in a per-preset assignment. I have written to Positive Grid a few times to see if there is a way to explicitly chose which ones go where, or if there are any rules to it, but AFAIK I haven’t gotten a response to this yet. Keep in mind that you may have MIDI controls assigned, that do not show up here. Also, a big gotcha shows in that, just like in the desktop version, not all assignable things are actually assignable in all three places. Some things can only be assigned in Live View, some can only be assigned in MIDI Assignment view, etc. This can be very confusing, and should probably, honestly be worked on by Positive Grid!

Back to setting up the tuner. Use method #3 by going to Settings/ MIDI Setting/ MIDI Control Assignments and chose “Add New Control Assignment”. Click “Utility” and chose “Tuner” which will bring up a MIDI CC assignment screen. Here you can attempt to MIDI Learn the CC or just chose the one you want directly.

Next lets get to some stomps! For my lead sound, I would like a delay and a reverb, and I’d really like them to turn on or off at the same time. Let’s take a look at how to do assignment type #2. On the distorted path, chose the delay pedal icon, and when it shows up in zoomed in mode, long press its power button. Either enter the CC manually in the menu that comes up or attempt to MIDI Learn it. Do the same thing with the reverb pedal. Ensure that they are both either in the on state or the off state (though you can use this same technique to countr-toggle FX as well) and give your pedal a press! They should switch in and switch out as a unit, giving you some of the benefits of a snapshot system, or a MUCH faster preset switch, without having to do a major tap dance on your pedalboard!

Again, BE AWARE, that using #2 to do this may result in the assignment not showing up in MIDI Assingment View, but will still work. Again, Positive Grid should really address this.

Now assign the wah. You can use method #1 or #3 for the toggle switch. And yes, it is a toggle, not a directly on or off, which is an issue that can make some serious trouble, and should eventually be addressed by Positive Grid. In our case, it shouldn’t really give you any grief, but Bias FX Desktop, when used in a host DAW, can have serious issues with this paradigm. In my case, I have used the CC# for the pedal, and the switch wired underneath my first expression pedal, which is CC#9.

Get the Wah pedal assigned next, using either method #2 or #3. In my case, I am using CC #27. On this preset, I also have a volume pedal on the clean path, which I have assigned to CC #11

Assigning the Presets

As briefly mentioned earlier, for this first bank, I wanted a clean sound, a distorted sound, and a more effected lead sound. For the clean sound, simply switch to the clean path of the base preset and save it as “Clean”, for instance, to preset 1B of your current bank.

Be aware that the preset system seems to map from PC #0 rather than PC #1, so if you are using PC 1, PC 2, and PC 3 on your pedalboard, you would want to save your three presets to 1B, 1C and 1D.

For the distorted sound, switch to the distorted path and save as “distorted” to preset 1C

For the effected sound, turn on the reverb and delay, and save as to preset 1D.

Congratulations! You now have a pretty versatile, and controllable live sound setup!

The preset this is all based on is available on the cloud as
“LM212-5150 master” under “Aaron Carey”

It would be nice to see a few of these issues dealt with, a workable dual output system (cab off for guitar amp sends, cab on for FRFR/PA system sends), wet/dry controls for relevant FX, a real harmonizer, and of course auto-input, but this is DEFINITELY a workable setup, and now that there’s an iPhone version, its amazing that the brains of it can fit in your pocket!

GuitarJack Stage with LBX Stripper

How to set up GuitarJack Stage for four presets, auto engage wah and a spillover delay inside of REAPER using LBX Stripper, using free plugins.

Another installment of Bringing the Studio to the Stage. This time, were setting up four presets using the LBX Stripper script for REAPER

First download REAPER if you don’t already have it https://www.reaper.fm/download.php

Then, make sure you have LBX Stripper installed. Download it from here: https://github.com/L-B-X/LBXStripper/archive/master.zip

In REAPER, go to Options then “Show REAPER resource path in Explorer/Finder, go to your scripts folder and unzip the contents of the LBX Stripper zipfile

Install ReaPack if you don’t have it already, you can grab some of the custom plugins used in this project from there: https://reapack.com/

If you haven’t used ReaPack before, after installation, go to the Extensions menu, and browse the ReaPack packages for any plugins you need

Plugins you may need if you don’t have them already:

  • MIDI Auto Engage – in reapack
  • CC Injector
  • ReaControl MIDI
  • MIDI to ReaControl path

Here are the example project files: https://www.dropbox.com/s/vzik5zi280pc51i/GuitarJack%20Stage.zip?dl=0

After that, just follow along with the video!

Let me know if you have any issues


Bringing the Studio to the Stage! for guitarists

You may have noticed a theme, (that I myself didn’t notice till various manufacturers and friends at NAMM 2018 pointed it out to me) unifying my posts on social media, various forums and even this website lately:

The idea and desire to bring every bit of processing power, DSP, routing philosophy and switching functionality that we enjoy in the recording studio, to our onstage guitar setups.

These include:

  • Your ultimate signal chain you’d use on a mix, without regard to processing power, latency, frequency range and dynamic range response of the playback equipment or other limiting factors
  • Switching between these sounds with no gaps, dropouts, glitches, or delay
  • Controlling the internal parameters of these sounds in an intuitive way (auto engagement of wah pedals as a glaring example)
  • Having every dream rig you ever even imagined available at the touch of a footswitch
  • Being able to have both a perfect monitoring sound onstage as well as your ideal sound projected to the audience from the PA system

The Basics

The very basics of this system would be your guitar, whatever system would be handling the inputs and outputs and the DSP involved (be it a computer or multiFX pedal or modeling amp or mobile device, even your phone!), some way to control it (likely a pedalboard), and the ways to amplify this for monitoring and get it out to the PA system

Design Philosophy

Ideally, especially due to the inherent rule of Murphy’s law and the perceived and often justified unreliability of computer systems, I would like to have the simplest, most foolproof setup possible

My “One Wire iOS FRFR setup” article is a prime example

As wireless as possible would be nice, and I include power wires in this. If it can be battery powered by rechargables, so much the better

An example of one of the possible components would be my Wireless, Battery Powered FCB1010 article

Portability is another big factor. You don’t want to be THAT GUY that takes 20 minutes to set up and still sounds like crap. You don’t want to be that guy that every soundman puts on blast to his peers.

The Two Path Philosophy!

Central to this whole endeavour, is the Two Path Philosophy: In short, there will be an onstage monitoring path, in the role traditionally filled by the guitar amplifier, and a Front of House path, where your signal goes to the PA system. Depending on the actual hardware used, these two paths may need drastically different signals, for instance, a traditional guitar amplifier used for monitoring will want a signal without any speaker simulation on it, while the PA system will absolutely require a cabinet sound to be present. This is a HUGE consideration, and one that the Marketing Machine will ignore or lie about time and again.

If you are coming from an audio engineering background, you will doubtlessly be aware of the constant bombardment of snake oil salesmen, scammers and the nonstop attempt of the Marketing Machine to separate you from your money. I have to warn you, that the guitar world is even worse. Its a mix of the willfully ignorant and deliberately deceptive and finding real answers can be an exercise in tilting at windmills. Good luck, you have been warned.

The Components

Here are the basic components in some detail, some or most of these may or may not be combined into a single unit, so take this for what its worth

Guitar to Interface

This part could be as simple as a guitar cable to your interface. In my case, I usually have a wireless with the receiver velcro’d to my FRFR speaker, which also has electrical power, the interface and the DI velcro’d or hot glued to it.


The way to get your guitar signal into the DSP system. This will usually be a combination of analog to digital converters, digital to analog converters, some sort of interface topology for your computer or mobile device, like USB or Lightning, and hopefully some monitoring and control facilities, like output volume controls (don’t laugh, a lot of them don’t have this basic feature!).

If you are using a modeling combo or MultiFX pedalboard, this could also include the interface. Some of them also include the switching functionality. Some of them can also be used AS a computer/mobile device interface either instead of or even WITH the unit’s internal DSP. (Pod XT Live comes to mind, it has a MIDI controller built in for footswitching, a real ASIO interface over USB and a lot of internal DSP). Many of these devices have an interface for the computer over USB but their drivers and control software do not truly allow you to replace their internal chain (such as the Line 6 Firehawk and Line 6 Amplifi 150) sadly.

Standard 2 channel computer interfaces

In general (and this could change) most people will be looking at the standard 2 channel computer interface for this.


  • The most often picked models will have a DI input of some sort to minimize the amount of gear you need to carry. Again dealing with portability, the simpler the better!
  • This can seem small at this point, but can yield a big stick live, is whether or not the interface includes a hardware output volume knob
  • Direct monitoring: manufacturers of crappy drivers make all sorts of a big deal about this function, but its useless in our case. Any interface under consideration MUST be able to defeat the direct monitoring function, we definitely don’t want (in almost any case), the unprocessed guitar signal running out the outputs in parallel with the processed signal
  • Round Trip latency – This is usually the be all end all, though in real world testing, people are nowhere near as sensitive to reasonable latency as the Marketing Machine and forum trolls would have you believe. I made a Round Trip Latency chart with contributions from users around the world. This is a good resource to compare interfaces, and though it could be seen as a correlation/causation fallacy, I have found, almost without exception, that the faster drivers are more reliable and less resource hungry. Take that to the bank
  • Connectivity – Eeek, due to the competing standards of the FRFR systems’ inputs, and the adaptability issues you can run into with anything aside from XLR, this can be sketchy. For the most part you are going to see 1/4″ females for the output of these interfaces, though some will have XLR (yay! assuming your FRFR has XLR inputs) or unfortunately RCA. Some will only have an output on a stereo 1/4″ meant as a headphone output. Also check just which outputs the previously mention output volume knob controls, it may not be the one you were hoping for
  • Distortion – This can be another biggie. A lot of these interface choices absolutely cannot handle the output of hotter guitar pickups. Some distort in the analog realm, no matter where you set the input gain. Some go over 0dBFS even at the lowest gains, but do not appear to distort in the analog realm

Here are some specific USB interfaces that are commonly seen for our purposes:

Shown also are the Round Trip Latency numbers at 512, 256, 128 and 64 samples. Yes, some can go lower, but that’s largely academic. A lot of the DSP we will be using has an RT CPU processing time around 2 milliseconds so anything under that could be irrelevant. It all depends on what you are doing with the signal

The Top Tier:

These are the three with really low RTL figures, and generally highest regarded (rightly or wrongly)

RME has long set the standard when it comes to drivers and performance, regardless of how much the Marketing Machine would love to replace them. Usually RME and MOTU are going neck and neck, but unfortunately, MOTU’s USB performance seems to trail far, far behind.  This model has XLR outs, MIDI, onboard meters, and a nice fat volume knob, It also has a not so nice, big, fat, 750 dollar price

This model comes highly recommended across reputable sources, though I haven’t tried it personally. It has MIDI, 1/4″ outs on separate jacks, and a big, fat, obvious volume knob. $250

This device’s RTL numbers justify its inclusion to this particular category. I haven’t tried one myself, and the amount of hype surrounding this company, and what sure seems to be Marketing Machine saturation has made me highly skeptical, but the numbers look good. Separate 1/4″ output jacks and a nice, big volume knob. $200

Commonly used models:

The ubiquitous Focusrite units really dominate this market. Forever locked in a war with Presonus over this particular chunk of the userbase, Focusrite’s commitment to user support really seems to help tip the scales in their favor. You will likely be able to find Focusrite products wherever you go and there are always deals online for bundles with these products, in case you need to add recording studio considerations to your purchase as well as the guitar stuff we are focused on here. The 2i2 has separate 1/4″ outs, while the Solo has RCA’s. Both have a nice volume knob and a switch to defeat the direct monitoring. $150 for the 212, $100 for the Solo. Where these seem to fall behind is the RTL at 256 samples, they definitely hold their own at 128. Definitely worth adding to the Focusrite offerings here is the 2i4, which brings MIDI I/O and balanced line outs on separate 1/4″ to the table, at $180

Yep, Behringer. The drivers for these two in particular are actually pretty good! I warn you in the strongest terms not to assume the same for other Behringer drivers. Many require you to use ASIO4All instead. Both units have separate 1/4″ outs and volume knobs, with the 204 adding MIDI I/O. While at extreme low latency settings the focusrite drivers are ahead, at 256 samples, the Behringer drivers pull ahead. $60 dollars for the 202 and $80 dollars for the 204

There are tons and tons of other USB interfaces out there, and if one really screams out at me, I’ll be sure to list it

iOS interfaces

You might well want to read my guide to iOS interfaces for some detail

Sonoma Wireworks StudioJack Mini/GuitarJack Stage – These are the gold standard in iOS interfaces at the moment. HEALTHY output levels, pristine sound quality, stable drivers, lightning powered, with actual stereo outputs, and pass through charging. SJM has stereo outs on a single 1/4″ TRS, while the GJS has separate 1/4″ outs. Unlike most of the rest, these units can handle the Dual Path Philosophy on 1/4″, which can be a real life saver. GuitarJack Stage adds switching and realtime parameter control over MIDI to the equation, plus an expression pedal input. StudioJack Mini goes for $150 while GuitjarJack Stage can be found for $300. iOS has a lot lot lot of limitations for our purposes, the Sonoma Wireworks interfaces certainly help as much as they can to get around them. There are other interfaces out there for iOS, but these two come extremely highly recommended. ASIO drivers let these interfaces double as USB computer interfaces for Windows and OSX as well.

IK Multimedia iRig HD2 – These are probably going to be the most common interfaces you’ll see and come at a decent price. The 1/4″ output is mono, though it does have stereo outs on 1/8″. No ASIO drivers, though it does work with extremely long latency with ASIO4All. $100

DSP System

The “computer” used for processing. Play your guitar thru your interface, interface sends a signal to the computer, the computer modifies your sounds, send it back out through the interface into the speakers for you and your audience to hear.

MultiFX combos and MultiFX pedalboards fall in this category, but for the most part, they are too limited on their own for our purposes here. We’re really looking at two platforms at this time: Desktop/Laptops running Windows and OSX or tablets running iOS.


Although it could be argued that iOS was really first to the party, and that the saturation of iDevices on the market means that apps and hardware would be plentiful and well evolved, in reality the iOS system is far, far behind the laptop offerings. While there is AudioUnits, sort of, there is no VST, or VST type system to route, process and modify audio between applications. InterAppAudio and AudioBus do actually perform some of these functions, but not in as meaningful a way as you would probably expect at this stage in time. Audio apps are not really developed with real world, onstage use in mind, and their lack of market knowledge really shows in many painful ways.

All that said, you might still be perfectly happy with what’s available out there.

Newer iPad models are certainly powerful enough to handle the processing you want to do.

Sadly, though they were so early to the market, Amplitube for iOS is a pathetic shell of its VST or standalone laptop version. You may find Tonestack as a decent approximation though (and it comes with some cool tricks of its own). Bias and BiasFX work almost the same as their standalone laptop versions do (minus the painful exclusion of Impulse Response loaders, though they will load amps made on the laptop with impulses baked in), though these two processes really benefit from the help of other VSTs and DAW’s internal routing to really make a complete package. There are a few IR loaders you can run inside AudioBus or IAA, but I found them to be far too sketchy for reliable use.

Both Tonestack and BiasFX have workarounds, although very limited, that can get them to Two Path outputs. Tonestack has a splitter and you can put a speaker cabinet on one path, while the other path can carry a signal with no speaker cabinet. For BiasFX, you can create one Amp with an IR built in for the PA path and another amp with the cabinet bypassed for the guitar amp signal. Recent versions of BiasAmp 2 may have an issue with this, I’ll keep this updated. The Bias Solutions require that you have Bias Amp desktop installed on your laptop or desktop. All of the Two Path issues require that you have an interface with stereo outs in order to implement the solutions, so keep that in mind.

Tonestack brings auto engage for the wah to the table, and FX ranging from usable to full on VST quality. Bias seems to have the same quality of amps, indistinguishable between the iOS and VST.

MIDI implementation across the iOS apps is not exactly something to be jumping for joy over. Again this really feels like a case of the creators not having to use these things live onstage themselves. While certainly workable, for the most part, these fall far, far short of even a 1990’s multiFX pedal system, which is a sad indictment on humanity indeed.

Personally, my iOS setup has Tonestack as the host app with Bias FX run inside it through IAA, as I just can’t quite get the Tonestack amps to sound the way I’d like

Desktop/Laptop (Windows/OSX)

Switching System

Monitoring System

Front of House System

Example Systems

Line 6 Pod XT Live as interface and pedalboard

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Testing the wah auto auto engage

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The Two Path Philosophy

TL;DR A guitar player needs to think about two paths. One going to a guitar amp, with speaker emulation off, the other going to a PA system, with speaker emulation on. What are some ways to deal with it?

Generally, a guitar player, on stage, has two primary signal paths to worry about;

  1.  The personal monitor path. Traditionally, the guitarists guitar rig, through a guitar amp, the very essence of “your sound”. What you will generally hear onstage at a smaller show, which you can turn up or move closer to to hear more of yourself. At a bigger show, this may be a feed taken in one form or another from your personal rig
  2. The Front Of House path. What the audience hears. At a small enough show, they may only be hearing your actual amp from #1 directly. At a larger show, the audience will mostly be hearing the PA system, which you will feed to the soundman either by micing your amp or various line output schemes.

#1 is usually, or traditionally a guitar amplifier of some kind. These tend to be narrow frequency range speakers, a number of 12″ speakers the vast majority of the time. For modelling systems like the Firehawk, the Axe FX, BIAS, The REAPER Live Pedalboard project, Headrush, all manner of old Digitech units, Boss, etc, you would feed this type of amplifier a full range signal, unmodified by any sort of speaker emulation, as the 12″ speaker in this rig will be doing all the speaker emulation the old fashioned way.

#2 Is where we usually get into trouble. In the dinosaur era, and still done by some Luddites today (or when a company makes an EXTREMELY boneheaded engineering mistake, like in the case of the Line 6 Amplifi 150, where they don’t stick a line output on a modelling amp), is to mic this rig and send the signal to the PA system. In modern times, we would normally take an “emulated output” from the rig and send that to the PA. This line output would necessarily need a speaker emulation of some sort, or you will just end up with a gross, fizzy mess.

Combo Amps compatible with The Two Path Philosophy on their own

Blackstar TVP 260 (can also function as a powered FRFR)

Fender Mustang III v2 – sort of

Pedalboards compatible with The Two Path Philosophy on their own

Line 6 HD500X – Seems to be able to do this by using a dual amp path. You’d give up a bit of DSP, but certainly looks doable

Line 6 Helix/Helix LT – This unit seems to be designed with this particular setup in mind, and actually seems to offer a few different ways to skin this cat

Standalone software compatible with The Two Path Philosophy

Tonestack (iOS) – Not exactly seemingly designed with this in mind, but there are ways to trick it into working

Bias FX (iPad, Windows, OSX[I think]) – With its dual path you can work it, though you will be giving up some abilities

Revalver (Windows, OSX) – Very complete way of dealing with this issue, additionally, being able to host 3rd party VST’s

TH3 – (Windows, OSX) Can do this with its dual path settings, though switching time will be severely compromised

Plugins compatible with The Two Path Philosophy

To be fair to plugins, once you get them in your favorite VST loader, there will be myriad ways to make this work, below describes only how they can do on their own. For the cost of a bit of CPU resources, you could run these in any series or parallel configuration and the sky’s the limit, hence the desire to create The REAPER Live Pedalboard Project

Bias FX (Windows, OSX[I think]) – With its dual path you can work it, though you will be giving up some abilities

Revalver (Windows, OSX) – Very complete way of dealing with this issue, additionally, being able to host 3rd party VST’s

TH3 – (Windows, OSX) Can do this with its dual path settings, though switching time will be severely compromised