While the cost seems expensive for a guitar amplifier, when you consider all you get with the Kemper, it’s quite a bargain.
Ever since the original Line 6 POD hit the scene, guitarists have been searching for a away to capture virtually the sound of a real amplifier through a mic’d cabinet. The last 20 years especially have seen some incredible advancements on that front, particularly with products such as the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx and Kemper Profiling Amplifier with this review focusing on the latter.
Let’s be clear from the outset. The Kemper amp isn’t a “modeling” amplifier, technically speaking. The Kemper instead strives to “profile” specific amplifiers through a complex process that captures not only the amplifier’s tone but the sound of the specific microphone and cabinet used, creating a virtual “snapshot” of a specific amplifier setup. With recent firmware updates, the Kemper has improved upon this process even more so. I’m focused specifically on reviewing the Powerhead version, which is the Kemper amp with a 600 watt digital power amp included.
The Kemper Powerhead contains all the features of the celebrated Kemper Profiling Amp with the addition of a 600 watt power amp. The stock Powerhead contains 200 included profiles, though many other profiles are available directly (and for free) from Kemper. 1000 amp slots are available. There are over 40 onboard effects including overdrive, distortion, compression, chorus, flanger, phaser, flanger, digital delay, pitch shifting delay, reverb, pitch shifter, compressor, noise gate, and EQ. And the list is continually expanding.
To facilitate the profiling process as well as interfacing with external gear, the Kemper contains a wide range of ins and outs. There is a 1/4″ instrument input on front with alternative 1/4″ input on the rear. Both XLR and 1/4″ FX returns are included.The outputs include a master output (XLR and 1/4″), 1/4″ monitor Out, Direct Output/Send, Headphones, and a 1/4″ powered output. S/PDIF In/Out, USB, MIDI In/Out, and Ethernet are also included. Finally, for interfacing with expression pedals and other switching devices, there are two TRS inputs. The amp weighs approximately 14.3 lbs.
The Kemper PowerHead offers the same capacity to create individual profiles of specific amplifiers as its predecessor, the original Kemper Profiling Amplifier. The profiling process is exactly the same. You take the Kemper’s DI signal to the input of the amplifier you wish to profile, mic the cab, and run the mic’s XLR out into the Kemper’s XLR return. The amp sends some funky sounding test tones and “voila,” you have a profile of your original amp. The Kemper’s profiling process is so spookingly accurate that even “real” amp companies have started offering profiles of their own amplifiers (Dr. Z, for example). What sets the PowerHead apart from the original Kemper profiling is the inclusion of a 600 watt class D digital power amp. While this may seem excessive, keep in mind that clean headroom is crucial with an amp like the Kemper, so the extra wattage is welcome.
Upon receipt, I immediately profiled several amps in my personal collection, including a Dr. Z MAZ 18 Jr NR, a Carr Rambler, and a Mesa/Boogie Mark V combo. The capacity of the Kemper to capture the essence of these (and any) amplifier is downright spooky, and if you have a mic/cab setup that you like, the Kemper can mirror those tones as well. Newer Kemper firmware allows you to separate the sound of the amplifier from the cabinet so you can use your profiles with your own cabinets more transparently.
I have to be honest though and say that I prefer purchasing quality 3rd party profiles, my favorite being the ones by Michael Britt (MBritt) and, as of late, Dr. Z amplifiers. There is both an art and a science to making a good Kemper profile, and I personally would rather let the experts do the heavy lifting. Personally, the Kemper is my main gigging amp, and the MBritt profiles comprise the bulk of my virtual amp collection. And not only can you profile amps, but you can snag profiles of overdrive, distortion, and boost pedals as well.
While the Kemper’s effects don’t get as much press as, say, a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx, I’ve found the Kemper onboard effects to be more than passable. For over a year, the Kemper was my main amp in a local cover/variety band, and I used solely the Kemper’s built-in effects along with a handful of MBritt profiles. I used a Behringer MIDI controller for a while, but purchased the Kemper foot controller when it became available, which made setup and tear down a lot of easier. Since that time I’ve incorporated more pedal effects into the Kemper setup, and the onboard routing makes this extremely easy. For studio use, the Kemper is an engineer or home studio hack’s dream. The built-in DI lets you record a dry signal for reamping as well as the Kemper tones. Very nice.
It’s a good time to be a guitar gear junkie. While the cost seems expensive for a guitar amplifier, when you consider all you get with the Kemper, it’s quite a bargain. And technically speaking, the Kemper hasn’t changed a lot since its initial introduction, so who knows what future iterations of this magical musical toaster will hold.
Name of Gear: Kemper Profiler Powerhead
List Price: $2,225
Manufacturer Info: Kemper; kemper-amps.com
Pros: Wide range of sounds; powerful profiling amplifier; portable; wide range of effects; relatively inexpensive (given the sonic versatility)
Cons: Steep initial learning curve