Axe-Fx III is the latest version of Fractal Audio Systems’ flagship hardware amp and effect modeler. It’s an exceedingly powerful and potentially complex piece of gear, yet it’s easy to summarize the highlights: A dramatic increase in processing power means even more detailed and realistic models. Meanwhile, a wealth of refinements and upgrades makes it easier to edit, access, and record your sounds.
Axe-Fx III replaces Axe-Fx II’s dual 600 MHz SHARC chips with two 1GHz Keystone processors. According to Fractal, this means the new unit multiplies the previous iteration’s processing power by 2.8. There’s also much more memory, as well as dedicated cards for USB communication and graphics. The latter makes possible one of the device’s most welcome upgrades: a full-color editing screen about the size of a smart phone.
The depth and detail of the modeled amps, cabinets, and effects has improved too, though to my ears, Axe-Fx II already boasted the best modeling in the biz. The improvements are most dramatic on ambient effects, especially reverbs. Now Axe-Fx stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of today’s dedicated reverb processors. The final, fading reverb trails—an acid test for digital reverbs—are gloriously naturalistic. I think I also hear improvements among some modulation effects (especially phasers and flangers), and pitch shifts seem faster and more hi-res. I suspect only a miniscule percentage of players could differentiate Axe-Fx III’s models from hardware (i.e., the real thing) in a blind listening test. I sure couldn’t.
The latest Axe-Fx has a whopping 512 preset slots, but that number is actually deceptively low. As with Axe-Fx II, each preset can contain eight “scenes” that store the on/bypass status of all the preset’s components. So switching scenes is a lot like using stompboxes with an effect switcher/looper. But Axe-Fx III takes it even further: Every virtual component has four “channels,” each capturing specific settings for the modeled device. So imagine using a switcher/looper, with an added robot arm to change settings on each pedal. Taking advantage of these scenes and channels, you could realistically play an entire gig with justone Axe-Fx III preset. (Also, you can now store MIDI control data with each scene.)