Perspective from an Axe Fx III user

TLDR version: I’m not sure if I’m going to keep it. I’m kind of excited to be in on the ground floor for what could eventually be a powerful contender in the modeling world, but I don’t know if I have the endurance to see this thing through with all the growing pains and likely slow trickle of updates.

I got my unit Tuesday night and have since had a couple hours to poke around the blocks and features, so I thought I’d share my initial thoughts. For reference, I main an Axe Fx III with an FC6 for my gigging band where we play mostly 90’s, but also a few older and a few newer songs. I’ve owned the Kemper toaster, the full Helix, the Boss GT-100, several Pods throughout the years, Zoom, Digitech, etc; over 2 decades experience with modelers. I now own just the HX Stomp, the Axe Fx III, and now this. I also own a few NDSP plugins - Plini, Parallax, and Darkglass on my Mac Mini.

CONSTRUCTION - I was pleasantly surprised by how solid the unit feels. It’s lightweight, but doesn’t feel cheap. The chassis finish feels smooth, yet matte. The knob feels good; it has good resistance. The footswitches/pots feel solid and there are nice, soft clicks as you turn them. While adjusting parameters, each little click indicates one parameter value; that is, if you want to turn the gain from 3.6 to 3.9, you would just turn it three clicks. This is nice, because not all units work like this (Empress ZOIA, for instance, has clicks, but they don’t really mean anything). I did find the difference between fine and coarse adjustment kind of annoying; fine is too slow, coarse is too much. This could stand to be adjusted and dialed in a bit better.

The screen is big and bright; not as high resolution as I would have liked, but it’s still very nice and will get the job done. Oddly, there wasn’t any screen protector on the screen and I found a few smudges of something or other; no damage or anything too bad, but I just expected to peel off a plastic sheet from the screen. All the jacks looked good; there’s a nice strong click when you plug your guitar cable into the combijack.

The touch screen is very snappy and responsive; like an Android phone from 2011 or so. It’s not as perfect as a new iPhone, but I only found myself having to re-touch buttons if I tapped carelessly. If I made a deliberate touch, it would always work. The only thing I can say about this is that, being that it’s a capacitance-activated touch screen, if you have thick calluses like I do, you have to be deliberate in your press. Long presses and dragging to move blocks around or change parameters feels good and responsive.

FEATURES - So I plugged my headphones in and turned the unit on. No sound, even with the volume halfway up. I checked every option I could find, went through the manual - still no sound. In order to get sound, I had to change the output from 1/2 to 3/4 before sound would come through my phones. This was inexplicable. I rebooted the unit and it was working as expected. My first bug!

I didn’t get a chance to try EVERYTHING, but I tried a bunch of the presets, a few of the stock amps & effects, as well as some of the captures. I was a bit overwhelmed by the way the stock captures are arranged: I had no idea what was an amp or dirt box or what, or what level of gain to expect. Nothing’s named at all intuitively. There even appeared to be some reverb captures(?). The cabs are nice and there’s a decent selection. I can only imagine they’re planning to add tons and tons and TONS of models. Right now, there are a scant few reverbs, delays, dirt boxes, mod pedals, etc. So few, in fact, that if I didn’t KNOW they were still planning on updates, I’d return the unit. It’s too barebones for the price you pay.

I was also a little disappointed to learn I will only be able to load up 192 IRs, give or take. Hopefully this changes. The Axe Fx can hold thousands of user IRs. This isn’t TOO big of a problem, as I’m used to the Helix’s 128 limit. I still haven’t figured out how to load IRs, but that’ll be for a different day.

This brings me to another point: the unit is not very intuitive. It took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to try presets from the app. (you have to “star” them, then find that section toward the bottom of the list in the preset finder, then download them to the QC). Speaking of which, it took me about 10 minutes to sign in to my profile on the unit. Signing into my WiFi was easy and fast - but it kept refusing my password for my Neural account. I double-checked again and again that it was correct (I’m in IT, so I know how easy it is to mistype passwords), but finally, after logging into my account on the computer, it let me log in on my QC.

I love how you can add tags to presets when you save them. This would be super handy if I’m looking for “clean,” “metal,” “edge of breakup,” “wet,” “4CM,” etc. I found it a little odd that you can’t have two presets with the same name in the same bank, even if stored in different preset locations.

SOUND - Let’s be honest. All current modelers sound excellent with a little tweaking. A good ear can make a Zoom 505 sound better than a bad ear tweaking the Axe Fx. I’m quite positive I’ll be able to get great sounds for all my needs out of this. I spent the most time on a chimey Vox AC30 preset, a clean Mesa Lonestar preset, and an acoustic preset. I wish there were just a plain tube preamp model, like every other modeler has, but I ended up using the Roland JC-120 with good results. I’m used to far more tweakability in my amp block (the Axe Fx III has over 100 parameters for the amp block, whereas the QC has 8 - sometimes more, sometimes fewer). Later, I found a stock acoustic preset that uses multiband compression that sounds fantastic!

I love the Hall reverb. The default on all the time-based effects seems to be 50%, which is too much. Dial it down a bit and it sounds rich and spacious. I actually found myself using and really liking the Ambient reverb (just a short reverb that gives it a little space, not huge, lush reverberations). The Tape Delay is nice - but I couldn’t believe there wasn’t an analog delay model (yet, I reckon). The compressors are nice, but more variety will be nice. The stock dirt pedals get the job done. Not really anything to write home about. I plan to capture most of my favorite pedals anyway (King of Tone, Timmy V3, SDD3K, Mythical OD, etc.). I didn’t really mess with any of the EQs, gates, or mods.

It’s too early to tell if this is going to be a keeper. I’m sure it’s going to be YEARS before this thing has even a fraction of the features of Fractal’s gear (no alliteration intended), if ever. The Axe Fx III simply has hundreds upon hundreds of models, hundreds of utilities, MIDI implementation options, I/O options, a superior computer editor, etc. I just don’t know if this will ever be there. Again, in terms of sounds, it’s fine. But I’m not sure the juice is going to be worth the squeeze to suggest, explain, and defend all the additions this unit will need to be 1/10th as useful as the Axe Fx. Literally anything you can dream to do with Axe Fx is possible via menu diving or MIDI or with the FCs.

I’m having a hard time figuring out exactly who this product is aimed at. It’s clearly got serious potential; the fidelity in sound is there. The interface is there. The construction and I/O are there. But it’s guts are just terribly lackluster at the moment. I don’t know if there’s a schedule or what the planned updates are or how involved the community will be, but it’s got an absolute Everest of a mountain to climb to really be competitive with the Axe Fx in terms of features and function. Save for a lacking between 100-200 amp, cab, and effect models, it’s about on par with the Helix already, in terms of price, features, sound, etc.

For perspective, look at the release notes from Cliff for a new FW update released today (albeit beta, but we get these updates all the time, often with substantial new content or models):

Axe-Fx III Firmware Release Notes
16.01

Improved output transformer / speaker impedance interaction modeling. This yields more accurate low frequency response. Note that the Transformer LF parameter effectively adjusts the transformer’s inductance. Increase this value to simulate a smaller transformer, decrease to simulate a larger transformer.

Improved power amp cathode current calculation accuracy for cathode biased models.

Updated default Power Tube Grid Bias and Negative Feedback on many models based on new measurement technique. NOTE: As a result of this existing presets will update the aforementioned parameters to the new default values upon recall.

Added frequency cursor to Parametric EQ graph.

Updated Blackglass 7K Drive block model. Previous model was incorrect due to defective reference unit.

Increased gain range of Filter and Parametric EQ blocks to +/-20 dB. Also increased gain range of input EQ in Amp block. Existing presets are automatically updated.

Fixed incorrect channel indication in Amp block when changing scenes if Scene Revert is true.

Fixed Amp block bypass state not reverting when changing scenes if Scene Revert is true.

Fixed incorrect Drive control taper in Jr. Blues amp models.

Fixed incorrect default P.I. Bias Excursion in Princetone Reverb and Div/13 CJ Boost models.

Fixed missing UI for several Friedman amp models.

Fixed pop when changing Amp block channels between models with disparate gains.

Fixed NaN in Stereo Tri-Chorus if Delay Time and Rate are set to minimum.

Various optimizations and improvements.

I know some might argue that they don’t need that level of depth; and I agree. I rarely DEEP deep dive, but I use more than just a few top-level parameters that the Helix and now the QC offers. Everything in the Axe III is designed for making the sound you want.

*sigh.

I’m on the fence. I’m not hurting without the money, but I also would hate to keep a unit around hoping it’ll eventually be what I want it to be, which I’m sure is literally years away before it’s even a fraction as functionally capable as the Axe.

How are other Axe users feeling about this? I’m kinda feeling a little let down; like this is the No Man’s Sky of modelers. I think I’ll keep messing with it for the next couple weeks and see where we’re at.

3 Likes

appreciate the honest assessment.

I don’t have anything Fractal, but I suspect the Fractal is more like a full size SUV or truck is to a CUV. Plus by the time you add on the foot controllers, it is way more expensive than the QC. So is the QC more like the FM3?

No, because the FM3 has all the bells and whistles that the Axe Fx III has, for the most part, in terms of utilities, functions, MIDI implemetation & customization, etc. It has only a small handful of fewer models and capabilities (less DSP, no two amps at once, no capture - or whatever fractal calls their profiling, the pitch block hasn’t been updated to match the Axe III yet, and some other small differences). For the most part, it’s a direct analog to the flagship. But you’re right; once the FC is added to the cost, you’re nearly at $2.5-3k. But the usefulness is beyond double the price of the QC, depending on how much you really get into the nuts and bolts of the Axe III.

Really, the pitch block is the only thing keeping me from jumping on the FM3 (again; I had it once).

I feel very similarly. I’m also an Axe FX 3 owner, and I feel a little let down by the general lack of polish. It’s a LONG road for the Cortex to be on par with the flagships currently on the market, and by the time it’ll arrive it will still lack a few things that IMHO are a head scratchers like SPDIF out.

I’m also not super fond of the rotary switches tbh, I don’t like how they feel in hand, they require imho too much force to turn and they always seem to change either too much or too little. All in all, every little complaint is more or less insignificant in the great scheme of things, but all together adds up and again, I’m not sure I have the patience to wait it out.

3 Likes

Interesting. I’m going to subscribe to this one.

I loved my 3 and had an FM3 a few times. There is definitely more tweaking that can be done on the Fractals but I’m more interested in amp tones and response than having so much. With the Cygnus update the amp tones are very close. I would give a slight edge to the QC.

I have been playing back and forth at various times ABing the two and also comparing to a comparable amp. I’m hoping Neural steps up the interaction and feature updates and have decided to sell my FM3 and Axe 3 this week.

It really does meet my needs for amp tones and has the effects I would use already so I can do what I need as is.

I would love to have multiple functions for the footswitches and be able to turn multiple items on with a single switch as well as global blocks but that’s my want list and not need.

For amp tones it had become the winner for me and I’ve had a Kemper since 2012 and Fractal since 2016 or so.

My opinion based on my testing at this time.

4 Likes

Yeah, man; it’s been sitting in its box for the last two days. As reluctant as I was to pull the trigger to buy it, I’m about equally reluctant to pull the trigger to return it. I’m sure I could probably sell it at a decent profit, but that’s not really my game. We do seem to feel the same way about it and you make a lot of great points. I think most people coming from fractal (the Axe III, specifically) are going to be in the same boat. It’s got a LONG road before it even begins to live up to the hype and expectations.

1 Like

Interesting! You think it beats the Axe Fx III? I agree that it sounds fantastic; if it were all about tone, for me, I’d keep it as a backup rig. But in my band, I can’t afford to not have the features and utilities that the Axe + FC affords me. I’m stoked that it’s really lit your fire, though. I’m thinking that if I do return it, I’ll probably pick up an FM3 again. Now that I’m making more - but simpler - presets, I think I can live with the FM3’s DSP limitations. It’d also be nice to have one less thing to carry between practice, home, and gigs, if the FM3 is sync’d to my Axe Fx III.

[quote="UglyBunny, post:7, topic:4514, full:true"]

Yeah, man; it’s been sitting in its box for the last two days. As reluctant as I was to pull the trigger to buy it, I’m about equally reluctant to pull the trigger to return it.
[/quote]

I just sold mine. I might buy it again in a year or two, but as things stand now it’s just not ready and I’ll focus on playing instead of nursing a half finished modeler.

3 Likes

I think for amp tones and the ability to capture it beats it out for what I need. If I were in a different situation maybe I would lean toward the Axe for flexibility. I definitely have nothing bad to say about the Axe it’s just a matter of what I need and amp tones.

2 Likes

Well, it’s official. I sent it back. I’m just going to pick up an FM3 if it ever gets the Axe Fx III’s pitch block ported over, or, if it never does, then I might just get another Axe Fx III to have as a spare/gigging/rehearsal unit.

I am exactly the opposite when it comes to tweakability. I had the AX8 for years, HX stomp and Iridium. In the end I was fed up with the tons of parameters and constant updates of my AX8 and I kept tweaking and tweaking and was playing less and less my guitars. Lost the fun and sold my AX8 (even if it was a great but too complex sound device for me). Looked for something with a different approach and found it. The Quad Cortex gives me enough features and all the simplicity and still great tones, at least as good if not better than the ones I ended up with in the past. And back came the fun. And I dearly hope NDSP keep it at that: simplicity! All that at a high performance level! A good Fender model does not need more parameters than the knobs I find on the original amp, my two cents.

11 Likes

I totally get your point; but with Fractal, it’s the best of both worlds since they introduces the “authentic” tab. Now you don’t have to deep dive ever; if a pedal has 3 knobs, that’s all you see in the authentic tab. If an amp only has 4 knobs, that’s all you get. You CAN deep dive, but you never need to. Regardless, I’m happy you’ve rediscovered the fun with the QC. I certainly hope whoever gets my the QC I sent back will be thrilled :slight_smile:

2 Likes

I absolutely agree with Heinrich. :+1: For me it makes no sense to compare the AXEIII + FC with the QC, as the AXE costs twice as much. In my opinion, a comparison only makes sense between an FM3 + FC and the QC, which are at the same price level.
I bought the FM3 about 2 months ago, tested it for several weeks and sold it again 2 weeks ago in frustration. The FM3 sounds very good. No question. But if you have to start at “Point Zero” like me it is absolutely catastrophic to get all functions easily done because it’s very complicated. :thinking: You always need the FM3edit software to move forward…changes at the FM3 device itself are laborious…I loaned the FM3 to a friend of mine who has been using a Kemper for years. He also wanted to test it and after testing he had the same opinion. After his feedback I sold it.

Now I got the QC 3 days ago. What can I say…everything of the handling that is bad with the FM3 is good with the QC. Operation via the display is a dream. The concept is absolutely suitable for live performances. I no longer need a separate PC and I no longer have to leave my pick at the table and have to touch a mouse to make changes. I can hold my pick in my hand and reach my QC quickly. And I can make changes by my right or left hand very comfortable…that it is so much more fun instead of the FM3…In a few hours I got to know the QC device better and more easily than the FM3 in several weeks and hours of YouTube vids and manual readings…!!! The FM3 manual has 170 pages the QC manual has 100 pages but with more functions e.g. like the captures…
Personally, I don’t need 1000 setting options because I don’t have the time and the will to use it. I’m no precision tool mechanic… As a live musician, singer and entertainer, I need small, compact, simple, perfect-sounding modelling equipment. The QC offers me all of this. :+1: :relaxed:

I have to give a huge compliment to this young Neural DSP guys. :star_struck: :+1: You have created a great product for present and future. The hardware is perfect from my point of view. The software is also great concerning the amp sounds. Especially when it comes to effects, Fractal is still ahead of the game in my opinion. But the software can be changed every time by an update for the users. Hardware not… Concerning the hardware the QC for my opinion actually is the benchmark! Rock’n Roll! This is a QC user’s perspective :love_you_gesture:

12 Likes

I agree that it’s not fair to compare to the Axe Fx III - so let’s compare it to the FM3. Literally everything I said still stands. The FM3, save for the lack of a scant few blocks, less DSP, and a yet-to-be-improved virtual capo (though some say the one it has now if fine; I disagree, but I digress) actually IS the Axe Fx III in a smaller form factor in terms of tone and functionality and MIDI and utilities. Regardless, the QC has many, MANY years worth of updates before it comes close to the thoughtfulness to gigging musicians that the Fractal stuff has.

Regarding the “many years”, Fractal did the research and NDSP can capitalize on what’s learned from them (and Kemper and Line 6). As they have some experience from their successful plugins, they are off to a good start and I believe those years will not be that many! The established manufacturers are already reacting to the QC competition, scavenging on their ideas - which of course they should, to the benefit of all users.

2 Likes

I completely agree with hasse_fx and disagree with UglyBunny. Dear Bunny: Did you notice that this is a Neural DSP and not a Fractal forum? :rofl: I think that you live in a different world than most people who buy a modeler. In your first post you wrote that 192 IRs that can be loaded in the QC are less!! Who needs to load more than 192 IRs??!I For me that’s absurd! But I also drive only one car and not ten :crazy_face:… I have the impression that you’re married to Fractal and just want to badmouth the QC. The closest evidence of this is that you wrote that the QC was not very intuitive. Compared to Fractal FM3, this statement is utterly ridiculous and, moreover, wrong. :exploding_head: I tested both units unbiased and I perhaps would have kept the FM3 if it hadn’t been that complicated and would have had more blocks and foot switches… Let’s compare the development of the both companies: Fractal is in the market since 2006. Neural DSP since 2017. I think that the Neural guys did a extremely good job in that short time…Neural DSP is among the best plugin programmer in the world. So everyone knows that they have great skills in software. They achieved that in just a short time. They have also managed to place the best modeler hardware in the market in just a short time. I don’t think it will be many years before they flatten Fractal’s Cygnus. On the contrary: I promise you that the next FM3 will look like the QC!! :joy:

2 Likes

@Michael75 I don’t even know where to start with your response.

I never said the QC was unintuitive. I said a particular function was not intuitive. Secondly, I made it VERY clear from the beginning that I am an Axe Fx III owner - there’s no fanboying, just facts. Thirdly, you’re rigth: 192 (which it’s actually 256 IRs) are not necessary. HOWEVER, you need the thousand slots to be able to choose the handful that you do/will use. Have you ever bought an OwnHammer IR bundle? I got the R(e)Volution pack and it came with over 77,000 IRs! That’s a mind-numbingly large number of IRs. Even their summary folders have a TON for each type of cab. So it’s handy to have lots of slots for auditioning. I also praised the QC for its UI - I think it’s brilliant and I’m sure you’re right; the next Fractal floor unit probably will have a touch screen and maybe even footswitches that double as rotary encoders. But if you’re at all familiar with FAS, you’ll understand why it’s silly to think the QC will EVER “flatten Fractal’s Cygnus.” I do agree that the tones were VERY good in the QC, however, but with the FAS ecosystem, the tones can become great (or shit, if you don’t know what you’re doing lol).

@hasse_fx - But will they, is the question. WILL they capitalize on Fractal’s research & development? I think the QC has the best chance of dominating the Helix, but not the Fractal stuff. Cliff is always on the move. He’s always one step ahead of even himself. NDSP would have to drop content updates at an unprecedented rate for the industry in order to even catch up to where Fractal is NOW, let alone where they’ll be by the time NDSP gets to where Fractal is now.

Again, this is not fanboyism, this is just soberly and unbiasedly looking at the playing field. Well, okay, maybe a little bias, but I obviously wanted the QC to be great - I invested $1750 into it! I have several of their plugins. I know they can make great tones. But as a gigging musician, I need more than tones; I need flexibility, customization of utilities, COMPLETE control over MIDI & external controllers. I need my presets to function and interact in a dynamic and customizable way. This is another reason why I don’t think QC will likely catch up to the Axe Fx III in terms of utilities and fucntionality: it wouldn’t be practical for their touch screen to try to have all those options. You’d either have to dive into menu trees 20 deep or the options would be so small they’d be hard to touch accurately (Korg Kronos, anyone?).

So - let me state for the record: I LOVE NDSP. I love their plugins. I think this is for the most part a brilliant piece of gear that will make many, many people happy. I think it will very much cut into the market share of many units out there - and it should, because it’s better. But as a professional gigging musician who uses an Axe Fx III and who automates my many somewhat complicated presets and connects other gear to/from my Axe, the QC just didn’t work out and, in my assessment, will not have the features I need for a long time. I feel I have been very balanced in my criticism: perhaps my assessment that it will be " many many years" before the QC “catches up” (if they catch up) might seem like hyperbole, but if you’ve been tracking the rate at which updates have been dropping for the Fractal gear, you’ll know I’m probably not too far off the mark.

1 Like

Mark my words: literally every single utility/feature request you’ll see over the next few years will be something that is either (a) already in the Axe III/FM3, (b) already requested by the FAS community and/or (c) isn’t in it for a good practical (read: programming) reason. (NOTE: this is of course besides the capture- or cloud-specific requests; I mean functions like footswitch behavior, MIDI implementation, routing, scene and block management, global EQs and settings, I/O flexibility & settings, the tuner, etc.)

Now, of course, the QC is going to take off in other directions, I’m sure. The FAS stuff lacks WiFi and the well-implemented cloud features that the QC has, so that’s a whole other area to expand uninhibited in for NDSP. The captures is another one; I could see them implementing more control over the captures instead of the few simple controls they have now.

I’m very interested to see how this develops. I WANT it to do well. I want it to come out with something that makes me say, “YES! Okay, NOW I need that,” even if it lacks some features I would otherwise need.

This is what was surprising to me. Usually beneficial features like this would be included in the baseline for a new product because it is already out on other devices, or at least a version. As long as it’s a quick update it will be quickly forgotten that it was not included at startup.

Also note, Fractal made a huge change to Cygnus at the same time the QC came out to people. This was not a coincidence as the tonal differences between Ares and the QC is vastly different and the Cygnus update was needed to get back in the ballpark.

When I had both I stopped using my FM3 when Cygnus came to the Axe 3 because the difference was night and day. So for sound quality checks the Axe 3 and Qc are the comparison. Until Cygnus comes to the FM3 it is not in the ballpark.