In this review I will not cover all technical aspects of the Kemper. I will look at it from a beginner’s point of view and will tell about some troubles I had at first and the solutions I have found. If you are looking for deeper look on the Kemper there are many detailed reviews on Youtube and online-magazines and of course you can also visit the homepage of Kemper
Meanwhile I play electric guitar for twenty years and I made experiences with many different kinds of amplification. I started with a Transistor-Combo. I combined the Transistor-Combo with a Tube-Preamp. Later I bought different Tube-amps. Next I broadened the range of tones with many pedals. Then I had a long phase with the first modellers before I came back two or three years ago to a real Tube-amp. And again I started to buy pedals. So the circle was closing, but two months ago I purchased a Kemper Profiling amp. The Kemper is based on a new concept. While the digital modellers like my old Line6 Pod try to recreate the sound of Tube-amplifiers, the Kemper promises an exact snapshot of the amp, as if you take a picture from the reality with your favourite digital camera.
The machine is quite complex and can discourage people, which are not familiar with complex electronic devices. In the beginning I very much missed something like an Easy guide to the Kemper, so I will try to create one here to help other beginners with the profiler, because (and I can tell this in advance) it’s totally worth it to go through some tries and errors. My perspective is from a home-recording and practising player, so don’t expect any help for live-use from this article. The times of playing live are over as I have a wife and two little children, which deserve my full attention and time. I will also not tell anything about profiling amps yourself. When I bought the Kemper on eBay for a good price I hoped for a breakthrough in recording brutal Metal-sounds, so immediately when the item arrived I stepped through the presets and searched for a decent rhythm tone. Though many of these free presets are fine I was more impressed after I had purchased some commercial profiles from The Amp Factoryand Topjimi
And this is my first advice for the Kemper:
- Before you give up try some commercial profiles. There are also many free ones, which are also great, but you will need some time to find them and the danger is, that you are already frustrated before you have found a profile, which blows you away and is free.
I bought 5150-profiles from The Amp Factory and it happened the first time, that I stopped at one sound ( 5150 3d+ channel) and practised with this sound for a few weeks. I think I had never before so much fun with practising. You may ask yourself, how I amplify the Kemper at home. Well I dedusted my old AER Bingo (meanwhile the model is named “Compact”), a 60 Watt acoustic amp, and plugged the Kemper into the preamp. The AER also allows to go directly into the power-amp, but I never got good results with the power-amp alone. Keep in mind, that the Kemper sounds best, if you amplify it with a fullrange box. A tube amp might also work, if you switch off the cabinet simulation of the Kemper, but why not use all benefits from the profiler? A tube amp is heavy, the AER is just 8 Kilos. Second advice:
- If you are not happy with the sound through a guitar-amplifier or other gear try to amplify the Kemper with a good fullrange-box or headphones
What struck me while practising was the direct response, the dynamic range (as far as a high-gain sound can be dynamic) and most important, the hard to describe “Feel”. It just feels right, the frequency response, the reaction, everything. An amplifier is an underestimated part of the chain. Many players are buying guitars, but an amplifier is able to change probably more. To sum up I feel I play better since I practice with the Kemper. And how often you feel, that you are playing better? If you find a profile with the Kemper and it makes “Click” just this one profile would be worth the purchase. For this one sound I would be ready to buy a Kemper … Period. Time to create page one of my easy guide. If you want to use the Kemper just with stock profiles you need just these steps to start:
If you want to install commercial profiles you purchase them (there are many more sellers than the two mentioned above) and normally you will get a Zip-file. Before you go on you have to download and install the software “Rig manager”, which you get here. Then you unzip the profiles, start the rig manager and just drag the unzipped folder into “Rig manager”. In “Rig manager” you get a kind of Explorer-window to arrange and sort your profiles. In the beginning you just have to know three things. You can drag the profiles, which are shown on the right side between the folders on the left side. “Local library” means the location on your harddrive. “Rig exchange” is the collection of free sounds available in the community of Kemper-users. “Kemper” just appears as soon as you connect via USB and shows the content on your device.
Okay, so I have found one sound or a few more and go on with practising and this could already be the end of the story, but remember I wanted to record.
We want to keep it as simple as possible. At first you have to connect the device properly.
Fortunately the Kemper is blessed with a very flexible output-section. If you press “Master” the display is showing the output-options. I think it’s most comfortable to hear the guitar with reverb and delay on the monitor, while you record at the same time without reverb and delay to still have flexibility in the mix later. Therefore I choose “Mod Mono” for the Monitor-Out, which goes now to my Boss BR-600 and “Master Mono” for the “Main outs”, which I connect with the AER. “Mod Mono” grabs the sound before Reverb and Delay within the Effects-section, so you get the effects “X” and “Mod” on the recording, but no reverb and delay. If you want to record stereo you would have to choose “Mod Stereo” for the Main Output and record with the main output, while you could go with “Master Mono” to your Monitor.
At last I connect the recording device with another input of the AER Bingo to hear the playback. One of the many advantages of the Kemper compared to a real amp is the possibility to record without headphones. Before I had carefully adjusted the recording level on the recording machine (a Boss BR-600). I had bought the Kemper mostly to record Metal and I started with a TAF 5150 Profile. I connected my BC Rich Chuck Schuldiner equipped with a Dimarzio X2N to the input and recorded some rhythm and lead-stems. But after inspecting the results I was not happy with the sound. The recording can uncover problems, which you are not recognising, when you are using the Kemper as a practising device. I registered a few problems with the recorded sound:
- Sometimes very harsh clicking attacks
- A subtle modulation effect, though I wanted to record the pure amp-signal
- Too much distortion
The manual was not really helpful, because it’s more a kind of reference-manual just listing all functions. So I read many threads of the very good Kemper-forum and solved the problems piece by piece. It was easy to remove the modulation, because it was just an effect, which I had forgotten to switch off, so we take a look at the interface and I show you, where and how you can manage effects and we also learn here something about the general habits of the user interface.
It’s a great idea and option, that you can switch off single effects and all effects at once per section. You can put what you like into the Stomp-slots A, B, C, D, also in every order you want, while The buttons in the Send-Section are reserved to specific effects. Only the secret X-Button can be occupied by different effects. If you want to change one of the effects or want to dive deeper into the parameter-jungle you press the button longer, for an example “A” in the stomp-box section, and the display shows you immediately the choosen effect and the parameters, which you can easily adjust with the endless knobs below the display, while you have also direct access to some parameters with the knobs below the effects-section.
So back to my modulation-problem: I switched off the send-section, where a Modulation-effect was active and the Modulation faded away.
I read in the user-forum, that slight modulation-effects can also be caused accidentally by the noise-gate, so if you still hear artifacts in recordings try turn down the noise-gate, which also has a dedicated knob on the left side. All in all this problem was not hard to solve.
Now I still struggled with the strange behaviour of harsh artifacts in the attack and this time I needed much more time to find a solution. The manual did not help and I took another long voyage to the User-Forum. Soon I was sure, that the problem could be caused by the input section and I learned as much as I could find about the parameters “Clean sens” and “Distortion sens”. You find the two parameters, if you press the button “input” a bit longer, in the left area of the display.
In my opinion those two parameters are most crucial for a successful partnership with the Kemper. After I had read the manual, some forums and watched Tutorial-videos I was still confused about the function of the Clean-Sens Parameter. Some people say it’s just a kind of Balance-control between the Clean and Distortion-sound of a profile. So if you work with different amounts of gain you can balance the volume between clean and distortion. Others say it’s an Input-Level-Control and that you should adjust the level while you are hard strumming on your guitar and adjust it until the little LED above the Input-Button is not touching the red area anymore. Orange and Green is okay, but you should avoid the color red. I also found this advice in the manual. And a third party says the Clean-Sens is the Input-Control for Clean-sounds and the Distortion-Sens control is the Input-Control for the sounds with gain. You see, this is a confusing topic …
I am very far away of being a technical expert for the Kemper I will just tell you my opinion and my experience here. My goal was to record High Gain sounds, therefore the balance-function of the Clean Sens is not interesting for me, but what’s about the input-level? I play a guitar with a high output PU (DiMarzio X2N) and I had already adjusted carefully the “Clean-Sens”-Parameter until the red light disappeared. But the artifacts in the recorded sound remained. So as a next step I lowered “Clean-Sens” more and the harsh and strange attacks disappeared. In my opinion Clean-Sens is functioning as an Input-Level adjustment preventing to override the AD-Converter and the effects are more substantial than Kemper is telling you in the manual. We come to my third advice:
- If you register strange artifacts in your recordings like over-accented attacks, harshness or just if you are not totally happy, try to lower “Clean-Sens” more than recommended by the manufacturer
Since I turned “Clean-Sens” a bit more down the artificial parts of the sound disappeared. But there was still too much distortion.
The problem with complex devices like the Kemper is, that you have so many options. Less distortion could be possibly achieved by lowering “Gain”, lowering “Distortion Sens”, lowering “Amp volume” etc. I would explain “Distortion-Sens” as a possibility to regulate the output of your Pick-ups. It’s not a gain-control of the amp. The Gain-control can be reached with the dedicated control in the lower left area of the interface. The results of this two methods are different. In my opinion an amp-profile delivers sweet spots, where the profile sounds best. When I lowered or raised the gain the profile lost often punch or definition like also a real amp could react. The distortion-sens is more like swapping the PU. You are keeping the sweet spot of the amp, but with less output of the guitar (Don’t mix the term “output” up with the output meant for “clean sens”, which is more the headroom of a digital device). So the output is not regulated in real, it’s created inside the the Kemper. Anyway it was much easier to achieve a desired sound with the “Dist Sens” control than to lower the Gain-control. Fourth advice:
- In my experience it’s often better to lower or raise “Dist Sens” than to play with the “Gain”-control to achieve less or more distortion.
If you are playing with one guitar it’s very useful to lock the input-section. That means that your settings are secured even, if you are selecting a new profile. If the Input-section is unlocked your settings get lost, when you change the profile, but can be saved with a single profile. The “Lock” feature is controlled with the button on the right side and shown with a lock-symbol on the display.
For modern metal I highly recommend two other features of the Kemper: The noisegate works like a breeze, much better than any pedal-noisegate in my opinion. I could not reproduce the problems described by others, that the Noisegate is sometimes causing a slight modulation, it’s working very precise and is not downgrading the sound. Second I tried the “Transpose”-feature, which is hidden in the effects-section (Push “X” in the send-Effects section and choose transpose with the “Type”-control) and was blown away by the sound-quality. I “tuned down” from standard E to C and though I register a very little latency (Perhaps caused by the processing) the sound is very playable and I am very sure, that nobody will hear a difference compared to a downtuned guitar. So with a Kemper you can burn all your 7-string and long-scale guitars. Before you light them all up it’s good to know, that the results with clean sounds are not that amazing in a recording situation and sound a bit artificial, but for Metal-rhythm, the feature is awesome.
If you have modified a profile it’s important, that you save your sound, because otherwise the Kemper is loosing your creation, when you choose another profile. The Saving-process is very easy: Press “Store”, afterwards you can replace, rename or store it as a new “Rig”. If you are confused by the two terms “Profile” and “Rig” there is an easy explanation. A “Profile” is just the pure profile of an Amp. A”Rig” covers all tweaking done with the Kemper, the effects, pedals, EQs etc. Therefore you save “Rigs” inside the machine.
I also recorded Clean-sounds with a Fender Vibroverb-profile and it seems, that the Clean-profiles are not so sensitive and don’t need so many careful adjustments like the High-Gain-Profiles. The Clean-sounds worked right “out of the box”. But here I discovered, that I miss exactly one thing from the Kemper: A good Spring Reverb Unit is missing for some decent Surf-sounds. Here Amplitube still defends the first place in the digital area with its Simulation of the Fender Reverb-Tank.
To sum up I am very impressed by the Kemper. Modern Amp-simulations like Amplitube can not compete with the realism and the authentic feel of the profiles. The machine is nothing less than a revolution. It was never so easy to record professional guitar-sounds. I am already thinking over to sell my pedals and my amps …
- Phantastic sounds
- Endless amount of available sounds, free and commercial
- Very flexible Input and Output-options
- Logical user interface
- “Noisegate” and “Transpose”
- As a recording device not to beat
- Needs adjustments depending on the guitar
- Some Functions are confusing
- User manual not always helpful
- No good Spring-reverb
- The unit is not looking like an amp. It looks more like a medical device for a cardiogram