Fractal Audio has grown in popularity in the guitar tech industry over the past few years. The company has been producing effect units and amplifiers that have redefined the high end sector of the market and become the equipment of choice for many of the biggest names in the guitar world. Among its long list of high-end products is the Fractal Audio AX8. This effects only amp is the first floor based unit the company has manufactured. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this Fractal AX8 review.
Specs and Features
The Fractal Audio AX8 is a powerful floor-based multi-effects unit that is packaged in a powerful, rock-solid, floor pedalboard order controller. This unit has been designed with enough amp and effects capabilities that can last you a lifetime. Though it is cheaper than the Axe-FX II, which is Fractal Audio’s flagship product, we can see why a huge number of players are ditching conventional pedalboard rigs, effects racks, and amplifiers for the Fractal AX8.
There are so many reasons why players love the AX8. But the main reason, which also happens to be its biggest selling point is it compact yet incredibly versatile design. Other than that, they frequently provide a steady stream of firmware upgrade to this product. This improves the performance and capabilities of the AX8, making a worthy investment for any player.
The most recent upgrade to the AX8 is Quantum version 8.02. It made a major leap in quality in this upgrade that makes the AX8 a must-have unit for all players.
So, let’s get started on the AX8 features review. The AX8’s come in a variety of amp modeling and speaker cabinet modeling (check out my article on this – 10 Best Modeling Amp For Guitars & Top 2021 Options). Its amps are available in numerous boutique, recent workhorses, and a wide variety of vintage classics from the 50s onward. The speakers, on the other hand, are available from a wide variety of brands and models and in every conceivable speaker configurations.
The most impressive features of this unit is its effects that offer instant access to the rack processor and pedal effects. In many similar devices, it takes a lot of time and effort to accumulate them, but they made it easy for you to do so with the AX8. All of these incredible textures and tone are housed in tough, high-quality pedal controller that features rock solid knobs and silent relay footswitches which were built to last forever. It sounds great connected to a standard guitar amplifier with the speaker emulation disabled. But for the best sound, we recommend that you connect it to a recording console and monitors, or to a sound system via a mixer.
The AX8 has a very powerful processor that allows you to program highly sophisticated rigs. You can store up to 512 presets in its internal memory, and in case you have additional ones, you can save them to a computer through the USB interface of this unit. With the AX8, you can control all parameters of the effects and models using a free software editor/librarian package called the AX8-Edit. This makes it very easy for you to program your own custom presets. Saving or downloading presets and upgrading the device’s firmware via sys-ex is also easy thanks to an application called Fractal-Bot that is also provided free of charge.
So, which new features will you get to enjoy from the new Quantum 8.02 firmware upgrade? The new firmware upgrade significantly improves the amp models overall sound quality, dynamic response, and feel by providing more clarity and openness. For instance, the gain of the amp’s Brit Brown has been given a boost of an additional 12dB.
For anyone who has used the Axe-FX processor, it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the sound quality of the AX8 is incredible.
There are many companies that manufacturer amps, but none of their products beats them when it comes to authentic amp modelling technology. They design and manufacture more than 200 different amp and cab models, covering everything from roaring 6505 style metal sounds to Fender tweed style clean sounds, making their product line very versatile.
Not only is the sound authentic, but it is also clear and responds as you would expect a real amp model to, proving that the company nailed that “amp in the room” feel with this.
When it comes to live performance, the sound quality does not disappoint. Many guitar players worry that most modelling equipment, even the high-end ones do not perform as expected in live settings. Being a digital equipment, the AX8 outshines other big names in live sound quality. This amp produces the same consistent sound through the PA, unlike the poorly mic’s cab that other similar equipment.
The AX8 amp modelling technology allows it to make full use of modern PAs’ full range frequency response speaker systems. This means that your guitar will sound clearer and absolutely monstrous when the AX8 is hooked up to a big speaker system in a large venue.
The AX8 is a durable amp that weighs about 15 pounds. It has a hardware is heavy duty comprising of aluminum end-caps and a steel chassis. This means that it can handles all that years of heavy usage and rough handling associated with outdoor gigs will throw its way. Above the main footswitches, you’ll find a metal bar, which serves as a handles and also protects the analog knobs from being accidentally kicked by or stepped on.
Though there is not much to say about AX8’s firmware concerning how reliable it is and whether or not it will fail you, we recommend that you just keep it, together with the AX8-edit and Fractal-Bot updated.
In terms of the amp’s reliability, we can say that the AX8 is very reliable. You can use it without a back-up and it will still continue performing its best. But if you need stage volume outside of speaker wedges, we recommend that you back it up with a tube amp modeling.
The AX8 is a highly durable piece of equipment. Therefore, if you keep your software updated and you do not mishandle or bang it around, it will always give you top level performance and still look aesthetically appealing.
What Types Of Music Is this Best For?
The Fractal AX8 amp model can perform well with any type of music. However, there are some genres that this amp does superbly and will always impress when applied. Among them is progressive metal and rock. This tool is also perfectly functional when applied by the guitarist in neo-soul, R&B, blues, and worship music. The AX8 can be used in basically any music genre performance, and is perfect for bands that perform live and are always on the road. It is also perfect for pit orchestra performances for theater productions. If you play gigs that you almost always have to plug in DI, then the Fractal AX8 is the best equipment for you.
Ease of Use
The lay out of the Fractal AX8 is similar to any other multi-FX or MIDI controller unit, which makes it pretty easy to use.
Located on the top side, are eight footswitches. Each one of these footswitches has three LEDs representing the three separate functions each switch can be assigned.
On the edges of the amp, there are six controls, one for master volume and the others for resonance, presence, bass, mids, treble, and drive.
The AX8 also has an LED screen and several soft-push buttons that allow you to make more detail adjustments to your settings.
Another pro of the AX8 is it has a wide range of effects. These effects versatile and include delays to extreme modulation, natural sounding spring reverbs, and all the others that you can find in a high-end dirt pedal.
Apart from that, you can also tweak all these effects separately. Some of the tweaks you can make include sequencing your effects, changing their ADDR curves and frequency parameters among others. This means that with the AX8, there is limitless capability to what you can create.
The AX8 also gets points on it build quality. Because it has been designed with an emphasis on live use, which means it will also be on the road a lot, the AX8 is highly durable.
The AX8 features aircraft aluminum panels and a solid steel chassis, allowing it to not only be light in weight, but also strong enough to survive a bit of rough treatment.
There is also no mechanical contact between the footswitches and other components, which prevents them from wearing out.
Other than that, the AX8 is water proof, therefore, you don’t have to worry about damage caused by accidental spillage of fluids on the unit.
There isn’t much to complain about the Fractal AX8. However, it has a few limitations that we have to mention.
The first one is when compared to the Axe-Fx II, the AX8 doesn’t have the same complement of effects. Other than that, you can’t run dual amp signal chains on the AX8.
Also, because the AX8 has hundreds of different cabinets and amp models, it takes longer to set it up with the pre-sets that you desire. However, you can connect it to a computer and achieve this more easily and much faster.
In the past, it would have cost you more to enjoy the amp modeling experience that they are known for. However, this changed when they introduced the AX8. This unit offers the effects and amp sims you would get on their more expensive units for you to use when you connect straight to a Full Range Flat Response (FRFR) cabinet or a PA system.
What makes this unit one to die for is it uses the Axe-Fx II core modeling engine, which makes it possible for the AX8 to produce the same quality of sound as the former unit.
With 512 onboard presets, the AX8 is a potent multi-FX pedal. Other than that, the fact that you’ll get the amplifier and cabinet blocks, including those for effects makes this unit a must have.
With a build that is rock-solid, this amp lays out its eleven footswitches in a manner that is very easy to access. The best thing is that all the switches can be assigned, making your experience on the stage as pleasing as possible. Therefore, we highly recommend it.