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kraftybob

Help Me Understand Why FRFR Is So Different

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I should start off by saying I have never played through an FRFR speaker.  I don’t play out (yet), don’t play through a PA, etc.  My setup consist of the Helix LT 4CM into a DSL40C so I’m either using all tube amp and Helix for effects only, or other presets I use a preamp in the Helix and route My signal to my effects return.  
 

I understand that using an FRFR is different than an amp (mic’d amp vs amp in the room).   But why does it seem so difficult for many people to get a good tone, or not like how their FRFR sounds when pretty much all music we listen to is a recorded/mic’d amp - downloads, CD, vinyl, live/PA, etc., pretty much everything we hear is not an “amp in the room.”   If anything I would think it would be easier to get a good and/or similar tone as the artist they’re playing because your more closely replicating how the song was created. 
 

It would seem to me the odd man out is actually the amp. Yet just about everyone treats the FRFR as being “different”, and “you have to get used to it because it’s not an amp in the room”, when actually it’s closer to the original recording that everyone knows so well.

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When you play through an amp, you are playing through a device designed to take the output of an electric guitar and make it sound good. 

When you play through FRFR, you are playing through a system that is designed to deliver a full audio spectrum. 

A guitar amp and a speaker designed for guitar is a very different thing. 

Guitars sound good where most of the frequencies are limited to say (depending on the particular amp) 100Hz to say 5KHx. 

The FRFR system is probably trying to deliver say 40Hz to 20kHz. 

Not only that but the FRFR system is trying to be as flat as possible over that range, the guitar amp will have a tendency to be mid heavy. 

As you can see, this is because a limited frequently range with a mid bump makes guitars sound good. Even what we describe as a glassy Strat sound has little need for anything above 5.5K. 

Traditional recorded guitar is a mic (also with noticeable bass roll off and limited high end) on a guitar amp. Not slightly FRFR. 

So why bother with FRFR?

Well if you want to reproduce as accurately as possible different guitar amps, pedals etc, you need a system that itself is not colouring the sound. 

What a lot of people struggle with is that in order to get a great guitar sound, they will need to throw away a lot of the potential frequency range available. 

Distortion that sounds musical does no have any high frequency. Guitar amps sort that because they have limited frequently response, FRFR systems require you to make that sort of decision.  Every time you hear someone complain that the Helix distortion is harsh, you can pretty much guarantee they need to EQ their total range to get back that guitar amp limitation. 

Hope that helps. 

 

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To expound a bit on what's been said, guitar amps are special purpose devices whereas FRFR speakers are general precision devices.  The fact is  most people have never heard an amp in the room because the amp has been mic'd either for recording purposes or live performance purposes.  Regardless of what wall of amps one might see in a concert, that's not what the audience hears.  They hear the mic'd version of those amps that been processed through a mixer and fed to them via FRFR speakers...not the amp in the room sound.  Which is actually a good thing.  If they were listening to the amp in the room with no mic'ing the sound would vary based on where they were relative to the speaker cabinet.  If they're right in front of the amp and centered on the cap the sound will be pretty harsh.  If they're 40 degrees off center from the cap of the speaker, the sound will be darker and more muffled.  That's the natural behavior of simple cabinets which FRFR, through engineering, overcomes.  Most FRFR speakers will sound the same across an axis of around 140 degrees or more in their vertical/upright position because that's what they're designed to do in order to give a wide audience the same sound.

This is why you see the cabinets/IRs/Mic  and mic positions as a significant aspect of the modeling signal chain.  Although some cuts are sometimes necessary because of the full flat range, generally in most cases of live performance and studio work the engineers have spent a lot of time figuring out what type of mics, combinations of mics and placements of mics are necessary to produce a good and even approximation of the sound you get from an amp, without the limitations of an amp cabinet.  Helix provides these same facilities so you can accomplish the same things that are done in studios and live concert performances in order to achieve the same results.  The benefit being that, with a good FRFR system positioned correctly on stage, or using IEMs you will hear very nearly the exact thing your audience is hearing.  In my experience this makes it easier to achieve a good stage blend with the band as well as an equally good or better blend for the FOH.

In short from my experience the benefit of FRFR is simply being able to achieve a studio quality sound in a live performance, which is something I've wanted to be able to do economically for 50 years.  The value being the precision, clarity and articulation you hear through a good stereo system when you play a professionally produced recording even in a live environment.  It's not just the modeling that's allowed us to achieve these things, it's the advances in live performance DSP enabled speakers over the last 15 years or so in a price range that's achievable for the average guy.  It's not quite the plug in and play scenario of the traditional amp, but in my opinion it's worth the effort to be able to achieve the performance quality required nowadays in almost all big concert level performances, even if you're playing at the local neighborhood bar.  Not so much for my benefit, but for the benefit of the audience.

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6 hours ago, kraftybob said:

But why does it seem so difficult for many people to get a good tone, or not like how their FRFR sounds when pretty much all music we listen to is a recorded/mic’d amp - downloads, CD, vinyl, live/PA, etc., pretty much everything we hear is not an “amp in the room.”   If anything I would think it would be easier to get a good and/or similar tone as the artist they’re playing because your more closely replicating how the song was created. 

 

Because the music we listen to was recorded/mixed/mastered by professional engineers that know how to capture the tone of an amp with mics, compressors and EQ's. Guitar players often don't realize what goes into to making that tone "after the amp".... and it's an art in and of itself. 

 

Let's say a guitar player has dialed in the amp to sound good in the studio (and even live).... here are the next stages most guitars players are blissfully unaware of, yet are vital to completing the chain "as we hear it".

  1. Mic choice
  2. Mic position, angle and distance
  3. Multiply that by multiple mics in different positions (this is optional, but a standard technique in the studio)
  4. Mic Pre-amp / often accompanied by filters (LPF/HPF)
  5. Compress (like it or not, there is compression on everything we hear, it does effect the tone)
  6. EQ... as in "channel strip EQ" on a mixer. 
  7. Season with additional effects as needed.... reverb, delay, doubling, etc... etc...

Steps 1, 2 & 3 (if used) are extremely important... it is the fundamental EQ for the rest of the chain!

Steps 5 & 6 can be swapped if preferred. 

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I think a lot of it is related to the Fletcher Munson effect. The louder the volume, the more sensitive our ears are to treble and bass, and the less sensitive they are to the mids. This can happen with traditional guitar amps, but guitar amps are more self-limiting as far as what frequencies they can produce. An FRFR type speaker can produce a lot more treble and bass, so when people start turning up, suddenly stuff starts sounding more thin and more boomy. So people in turn start blaming the modeler.

 

One easy thing people can do is create their presets at gig volume. I realize that might not be possible all the time, but if you can get some volume at home, you’ll find that things translate better live.

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Thanks for the replies and they make perfect sense.  I guess it’s not as easy as dialing in the amp and going to town.  I forget how much more goes into it.  Again, I appreciate you guys taking the time for the detailed responses. 
 

Earlier this year I was starting to connect with another guitarist and a drummer and then COVID hit and put a stop to that.  Now that the stay-at-home orders are easing up we’re talking about starting up again and the idea of going FRFR is intriguing to me.  I struggle with this because I really like the tone I’m getting going 4CM into my amp but 1) my DSL weighs about 60lbs, plus anther 30lbs or so for my 1x12 extension cab and my back is not in the best shape, and 2) if the audience is not hearing the tone I am on stage what’s the point of hauling my amp around? It’s what they hear that matters.  Sure stage volume/tone, but all things considered that’s dropping down on the priority list.
 

Decisions, decisions...

 

 

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1 hour ago, codamedia said:

 

Because the music we listen to was recorded/mixed/mastered by professional engineers that know how to capture the tone of an amp with mics, compressors and EQ's. Guitar players often don't realize what goes into to making that tone "after the amp".... and it's an art in and of itself. 

 

 

What's often not mentioned or recognized that much is that due to the advances in live performance gear, these techniques have become just as prevalent in live concert performances as they have been in traditional studio performances.  You don't have to watch very many live performance videos of popular bands these days to notice the production polish of the music.  The bigger bands now travel with a considerable backstage technical and sound crew in order to be able to provide a live performance that easily equals the sound of their studio release.  There's no better example of this than the videos from Jeff Lynne's ELO tour captured in the video documentary 'Wembley of Bust'.
 

 

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12 hours ago, kraftybob said:

...if the audience is not hearing the tone I am on stage what’s the point of hauling my amp around? It’s what they hear that matters...

 

 

 

Congratulations! You have achieved more self awareness and common sense than every tube snob on earth. Most of whom will go to their graves constantly muttering about the inferiority of digital gear, whilst blissfully unaware (or willfully ignorant) of the fact that the guy in the mezzanine isn't hearing all that close-proximity "tube-y-ness" anyway...;)

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So many on target and accurate comments here already. I have used an FRFR for years now for the primary reason, as has already been mentioned, that I want to hear on stage what my audience is hearing. With that said I also need to hear a tone on stage that inspires me to play as well as providing an excellent tone to the FOH.  I also prefer an FRFR's ability to more faithfully reflect the amp/cab model I have selected.  However, that has involved quite a learning curve centered mostly around dialing the EQ and high/low cuts in properly. Also proper mic selection and its attendant parameters and countless other tips and techniques that help with preset design.  I'm delighted with what I can get out of the Helix to an FRFR but it was definitely a journey getting here. Conversely the extremely limited frequency range and the particular frequency response of a traditional guitar amp and the inherent interaction between guitar, effects, and and amp obviates the need for much of the gyrations required for FRFR.

 

Plugging my Helix into a guitar amp or my PowerCab+ usually gets a good tone so much more quickly than dialing in my FRFR.  I can get just as good a tone eventually with the FRFR, it just usually requires more effort. I confess that even after all these years spent with modeling I do not quite understand why an IR or cab model does not take care of more of the tonal heavy lifting when using an FRFR.   I can't help but think there are still some gains that need to be made in modeling technology which will get us closer to a plug 'n play situation when using an IR or cab model out to FRFR.  I definitely would not be above using something like an enhanced IR for dummies that instantly rendered a guitar amp-like tone through my FRFR.

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9 hours ago, HonestOpinion said:

Plugging my Helix into a guitar amp or my PowerCab+ usually gets a good tone so much more quickly than dialing in my FRFR. 

You bring up a good point. I don’t know much about the Powercab (I initially thought it was just another FRFR), but I’ve read that if you use the built in speaker models that it sounds more like an amp in the room. But doesn’t that then defeat the purpose of using an FRFR in some regards because what you’re hearing is different than what the audience hears through the PA?

 

I also read that some guys disable the speaker modeling on the cab and use IR’s/cabs in their Helix. Why not just get an FRFR then?

 

Another question is why use IR’s in the Powercab vs in the Helix?  Does that offload some DSP to the cab?

 

Finally, is the speaker in the PC a flat response guitar speaker and not a full range/PA type of speaker?

 

Maybe I need to start a new thread for this topic but just curious about the Powercab vs FRFR. 

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Loading IRs in Powercab can reduce the DSP load in Helix. That's more critical for HX Stomp as it saves a block as well as reducing DSP load. An HX Stomp with Powercab 112+ is a very nice, simple and usable rig.

 

Put putting the IR in Powercab limits your signal chain as you can't put modulation, delay and reverb blocks after the IR. This shouldn't really matter as Powercab should be running clean and IRs are linear processors, meaning it shouldn't matter if an effect is before or after the IR. But anything that generates harmonics (e.g., distortion) will sound different before or after an IR.

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On 6/26/2020 at 10:30 PM, kraftybob said:

But why does it seem so difficult for many people to get a good tone, or not like how their FRFR sounds

 

Speaking for myself, having just got a Helix and Powercab112+ months back after playing through tube amps for years, mainly a Mesa Boogie Mark IV, I've had nothing but success, for the most part, with getting good sound.  Whether out of the Powercab in Flat mode, out my Fishman SA330x PA w/sub, or JBL monitors.  Maybe my ear isn't as well trained or something but I know what I like and what I don't and I love this setup.

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4 hours ago, kraftybob said:

Finally, is the speaker in the PC a flat response guitar speaker and not a full range/PA type of speaker?

 

It's a coax speaker (full range)....

  • When using the power cab in FRFR (full range) mode, full range is used
  • When loading IR's in a PowerCab Plus, full range is used
  • When using speaker simulation in the PowerCab or PowerCab Plus... the high frequency driver is disengaged and it's more like a normal guitar speaker.... at least that is my understanding (I don't own one)

It's all about choice and versatility. Just like the Helix itself, multiple options are provided to accommodate a larger market, not necessarily for a single user to use everything included. 

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11 hours ago, kraftybob said:

You bring up a good point. I don’t know much about the Powercab (I initially thought it was just another FRFR), but I’ve read that if you use the built in speaker models that it sounds more like an amp in the room. But doesn’t that then defeat the purpose of using an FRFR in some regards because what you’re hearing is different than what the audience hears through the PA?

 

I also read that some guys disable the speaker modeling on the cab and use IR’s/cabs in their Helix. Why not just get an FRFR then?

 

Another question is why use IR’s in the Powercab vs in the Helix?  Does that offload some DSP to the cab?

 

Finally, is the speaker in the PC a flat response guitar speaker and not a full range/PA type of speaker?

 

Maybe I need to start a new thread for this topic but just curious about the Powercab vs FRFR. 

 

I love the flexibility of the PC+ and the control and close integration with the Helix. When I want to run in FRFR mode I can do that for a dead-on emulation of another amp and cab. Btw, I mention amp and cab in the same breath as many combo amp models just don't sound very true to the original unless you get the cab emulation right. When I just want an easy guitar amp tone requiring minimal preset tweaking and to quote the old cliche that amp in the room feel and sound, that is there as well. If I want to switch to acoustic I have the advantage of a full range coax speaker(in essence an FRFR) that can render a great acoustic tone. If you want to mic your cab the coax speaker means a single mic has a better chance of capturing a good mix Just a very flexible solution, especially once you get your Helix presets set to really take advantage of the PC+.  It gives me the ability to quickly and easily switch back and forth between an FRFR and a traditional guitar cab approach. An embarrassment of riches. Sort of the best of both worlds. I am sure we will see more of these hybrid FRFR/guitar-amp solutions in the future but right now I think the PC+ is the best(only?) one out there.  At least when it comes to built-in integration with the Helix.

 

As you say you can offload some DSP to the cab. Particularly useful as amsdenj pointed out for something like the HX Stomp with fewer blocks and DSP to spare than the LT or Helix Floor.

 

Late to the party responding to you but the PC+ uses a coax speaker with a high range driver mounted directly over the traditional guitar speaker which can be disabled depending on the PC+ setting you select. When the driver is engaged, you have an FRFR. With it off, you have a traditional cab with the added capability of modeling different traditional guitar speakers if you choose to engage it. I like having the options.

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