Review: Fractal Audio AX8 Multieffects Unit
Considering that the Fractal Audio AX8 is packed with enough amp and speaker cabinet models and multieffects capability to last a lifetime, is packaged in a powerful, industrial-strength floor pedalboard controller and costs a little more half the price of Fractal’s flagship Axe-FX II processor, it’s no surprise that more and more players are ditching traditional amp and effects rack/pedalboard rigs.
While the convenience of this compact yet incredibly versatile product is certainly one of its biggest selling points, Fractal also makes the initial investment in an AX8 one that consistently generates generous returns by providing a steady stream of firmware upgrades that expand available models and performance alike.
The latest AX8 upgrade—Quantum version 8.02—offers such a significant leap in quality that I’d advise anyone who has ever (or never) tried an AX8 to take a deeper look.
For those not familiar with the AX8 (where have you been?), here is a quick feature rundown. The selection of amp and speaker cabinet models is vast and consists of pretty much every vintage classic from the Fifties onward, recent workhorses and numerous boutique amps, as well as every conceivable speaker configuration and a wide variety of speaker brands and models.
Ditto goes for the effects, offering instant access to pedal and rack processor effects that would take a lifetime and a fortune to accumulate. All of these incredible tones and textures are housed in a rugged, pro-quality pedalboard controller with silent relay footswitches and rock solid knobs built to last forever. The AX8 sounds best when connected to a sound system via a mixer or to a recording console and monitors, but it also sounds great connected to a standard guitar amp with the speaker emulation disabled.
Inside the AX8 is a super-powerful processor, which may not be as powerful as the processing in the flagship Axe-FX II but still allows users to program very sophisticated rigs. Internal memory stores 512 presets, but you also can save additional presets via the AX8’s USB interface when connected to a computer. AX8-Edit is a free software librarian/editor package that provides comprehensive control of every parameter of the models and effects, making it very easy to program your own custom presets. The Fractal-Bot application, which also is free, facilitates firmware upgrades and downloading or saving presets via sys-ex.
So what does the new Quantum 8.02 firmware upgrade provide? While it may seem minor, the overall amp modeling is upgraded to provide more clarity and “openness,” which results in a significant upgrade to the AX8’s overall sound quality, dynamic response and feel. The popular “Brit Brown” amp model has had its gain boosted an additional 12dB, and the “5F1 Tweed EC” adds a new model to the lineup based on a popular artist signature amp.
All compressor models now include low-cut filter and high-frequency emphasis parameters, and, per the request of a major Fractal endorser, the output compression parameter in the Amp block now can be changed in real time using a modifier. Five new IR speaker cabinet models were also added to the factory lineup.
I personally found the AX8 pretty damn great before, but the sound quality of the Quantum 8 .02 firmware upgrade offers such a significant leap in the overall authenticity, vibe and responsiveness of its tones that I’m confident to say it actually sounds better than many of the amps and effects it models. The high-gain models, particularly the Friedman amps, sound mammoth, and the clean tones have that “direct to strings” touch that previously eluded most modeling technology. Forget hiring an experienced recording engineer or ace guitar tech—the AX8 gives players a lifetime’s worth of world class tones on a platinum platter.
DIRECT PRICE: $1,299.99
MANUFACTURER: Fractal Audio Systems, fractalaudio.com
● The Quantum 8.02 firmware upgrade adds the new “5F1 Tweed EC” model, boosts the gain of the “Brit Brown” model and provides an overall sound quality upgrade.
● Free AX8-Edit software provides access to all amp, speaker cabinet and effect parameters, making it easy to program new presets and sophisticated setups.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For less than the price of a decent tube amp head, the AX8 provides a vast selection of truly professional-quality amps, speaker cabinets and effects that keep getting better, thanks to upgrades like the Quantum 8.02 firmware.