Let me preface this by saying I've always been that guy who no matter what gear he had was never truly satisfied with his tones so I've always kept selling the old stuff and buying the new stuff. I've had some of the best tube amps and some of the best modelers along with the Kemper which doesn't really fit either category.
After taking a - for me at least - pretty long break from daily guitar playing (2 years), I've decided this won't do and got a few guitars to spark my interest again. I also got some studio monitors and a reasonable interface and while I thought I was happy with this setup, I couldn't really get anything to sound really exciting for me.
I was looking around a lot, trying to decide what to get. Living in the EU makes the Axe III almost impossibly out of reach (also while I absolutely understand the pricing, you still need a foot controller for the Axe if you are like me and like to play these things like a real amp and pealboard) so I've narrowed it down to the Kemper Stage and the Helix. The Stage is basically the toaster with the same UI and everything and I always thought it was pretty outdated. And let's face it, the Helix is brutally eye candy, feels modern, and has everything feature-wise you would expect from a modeler today. I also had a short fling with Helix Native and while I wasn't totally happy with it, I kept going back to it because I really liked the interface and managed to get some tones I really really enjoyed playing with.
So I pulled the trigger on the Helix and while I was waiting for my delivery I accidentally found out about the Powercab. I fell in love with the thing without even listening to tone demos on YouTube, just the concept of being FRFR and kinda a traditional guitar cab at the same time left me without any doubts that this is exactly what I wanted. I got a 112 Plus.
The first time I've plugged the two of them in, got setup level-wise and started listening to factory presets (yes, I know, they're really pretty terrible) in FRFR mode I was pretty happy with the sound, similar to my studio monitors but obviously sounding bigger and more exciting. But the real reason I got the Powercab was the speaker modeling so I turned off the cab on one of the factory Plexi patches, went to the next preset on the PC, "Vintage"...
... and I was like "what is this absolutely ridiculous muddy submerged tone?!". I was totally shocked how bad the PC sounded. Every note coming out of it was muddy, lifeless, without any definition whatsoever. It was so bad that I couldn't hear when I turned on an OD pedal or felt almost no difference with adjusting the knobs on the amp model. I tried LF Raw and LF Flat too but they also sounded pretty much like the models. I was totally disgusted with what I was hearing and decided to wait until the next day when I have more time and I'll just update my firmwares for both devices. That was also a very interesting bad trip with my laptop throwing BSODs around mid-update but I eventually got around to updating both the Helix and PC.
I was hoping I'd hear something much better after that. I've read up on both the Helix and PC prior to them arriving and noticed that many people are complaining about inconsistencies, and how firmware updates or resets would solve these sometimes.
Well, nothing really changed. I still kinda liked the FRFR sound but absolutely hated the speaker emulation sounds. So I was like f this, let's go basic and loaded up a single amp block with one of the amps I've always loved for lead sounds in Native - Archetype Lead.
Needless to say it sounded pretty bad to me. I tried tweaking parameters but I quickly realized that nothing in the Amp block helps and also it's not something low/high cut would fix either.
I'm personally not big on EQing. I always believed that when you want to sell a product you would probably program the presets, especially the first few ones to be the best sounding presets in the whole unit. But at this point I was like I either try and see what I can EQ out of the PC or I just go ahead and sell it right away. The way it sounded at that point was very far from what I've had in my mind and also if I really wanted something like FRFR then I had my pretty fair sounding studio monitors.
So I went ahead and put a Cali EQ after the Archetype Lead amp block and started making 2-3 db cuts and boosts. I've pretty much ended up with what I would set up on my actual Mark V amp back then (basically the smiley curve) - and at this point I immediately heard the PC come to life. It started to sound like the tone I remember from my V30 cabs back then - mind you it's not a 212 or 412 tone by any means but I've definitely started hearing the speaker character and also thought for a 112 it sounds pretty punchy and low endy. At this point I could also hear pretty much any small change I made to the amp settings and even put a TS before the amp for that super fluid lead tone. I started feeling much happier and calmer, having realized that if I spend enough time with my EQ settings I'll be able to get a really good tone eventually. I started fine tuning the EQ I made, and I had an idea. With the Native I wasn't really happy with the Placater Dirty. I couldn't dial the bass end out, it always sounded way too muddy and flubby to me. Now, loading up the Placater Dirty in place of the Archetype Lead and going to the Greenback simulation on the PC I started grinning how good it started to sound.
So yeah. Very long story short, EQ saved the Powercab for me. I've read a lot about it in different forums, watched a few YouTube videos too but nobody ever really mentioned how lifeless it sounds out of the box and that you really need to EQ the devil out of it (and into it) to get a similar tone to real guitar speakers.
At this point I'm really happy and I hope that on day 3 - tomorrow - I'll have the time to keep fine tuning my EQ and get it just right for the amps I'd enjoy using.
TL;DR: hated PC speaker simulation first, Cali EQd on the Helix after the amp, now I'm really happy with my tone.
What are your mileages?