Metal guitarists who write and record music at home often face the challenge of capturing the powerful, aggressive, and crushing tones associated with the genre. Thankfully, there are several options available to achieve those modern sounds: real amps, digital amp modelers, and amp sims.

In this article, we'll delve into the differences between these three approaches and explore the best options for modern metal guitarists. 

Before we dive in, let's establish some common ground and discuss the basics of these options. Understanding their strengths and limitations will help you make an informed decision that suits your needs, budget, and tonal preferences. Let's get started!

Note: This blog post is primarily focused on metal guitarists who write music at home. While these options can also apply to live performances and studio settings, our aim is to focus on providing guidance for those in a home recording environment.

Comparing Real Amps, Amp Sims, and Digital Amp Modelers

Each approach to obtaining metal guitar tones has its own strengths and considerations. Let's compare the three options—real amps, amp sims, and digital amp modelers—to help you make an informed decision:

Sound Quality and Authenticity

Real Amps: Real amps have a unique sound and feel that many guitarists find unparalleled. They produce organic tones, driven by analog circuitry, that can add depth and character to your playing. The EVH 5150, Mesa Dual Rectifier, and Friedman BE 100 Deluxe, for example, are renowned for their distinct metal tones and legendary status in the rock and metal community.

Amp Sims: Amp sims have made significant advancements in emulating the sound and response of real amps. With meticulous modeling and convolution technology, they can deliver highly realistic and convincing tones. Some of the best options currently available are the Clairvoyant Amp Suite, Neural DSP, and Bogren Digital as they offer a range of amps dedicated to metal genres, allowing you to explore various high-gain options with accuracy and flexibility.

Digital Amp Modelers: Digital amp modelers, such as the Kemper, Quad Cortex, and AxeFX, strive to replicate the sound and behavior of real amps through sophisticated algorithms. They utilize profiling techniques, impulse responses, and advanced processing to capture the essence of different amplifiers. While they may not perfectly replicate the tactile experience of a real amp, they offer a vast selection of amp models, effects, and editing capabilities in a single unit.

Fun fact: Metallica uses AxeFX live.

    Convenience and Versatility

    Real Amps: Real amps require physical space, maintenance, and can be cumbersome to transport. However, they provide an authentic playing experience and can be the preferred choice for live performances and studio recordings that demand an amplified sound in a natural environment. Sometimes there really isn’t anything like feeling a speaker pushing the air through a room.

    Amp Sims: Amp sims are highly convenient and portable. They allow you to access a wide range of amp models and effects directly on your computer, making them ideal for home recording setups. With amp sims, you can experiment with different tones and tweak settings without the need for physical equipment (besides an interface), saving both space and money.

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    Digital Amp Modelers: Digital amp modelers combine amp modeling, effects, and control options into a single unit. They offer the convenience of a versatile all-in-one solution for live performances and studio work. With digital amp modelers, you can access a plethora of amp models and effects, customize your signal chain, and store presets, making them ideal for metal guitarists who require versatility and flexibility in their tone-shaping process.

      Cost and Budget

      Real Amps: Real amps can be a significant investment, especially when considering high-quality models like the EVH 5150, Mesa Dual Rectifier, and Friedman BE 100 Deluxe. They often require additional expenses for speaker cabinets, tubes, microphones, and maintenance. Real amps are a long-term investment for those who prioritize the tactile experience and organic tones they provide. 

      Amp Sims: Amp sims offer a cost-effective alternative to real amps. The Clairvoyant Amp Suite, Neural DSP, and STL Tones mentioned earlier provide a range of amp sim options at various price points. Amp sims eliminate the need for physical equipment, reducing costs and allowing you to experiment with different tones without breaking the bank.

      Digital Amp Modelers: Digital amp modelers like the Kemper, Quad Cortex, and AxeFX can be a substantial investment upfront. However, they offer a vast collection of amp models, effects, and deep editing capabilities within a single unit. Digital amp modelers provide a cost-effective solution compared to purchasing multiple real amps, making them an attractive choice for those seeking versatility without extensive financial commitment.

        Final Considerations

        When choosing between real amps, amp sims, and digital amp modelers, it's essential to consider your specific needs as a metal guitarist. Here are a few additional factors to keep in mind:

        Tonal Preferences: Consider the specific metal tones you want to achieve. Real amps can provide unique sonic characteristics, while amp sims and digital amp modelers offer a vast range of options for sculpting your ideal metal tone.

        Recording Environment: If you primarily write and record music at home, amp sims and digital amp modelers offer a convenient and cost-effective solution. They eliminate the need for miking up real amps, allowing you to capture professional-quality metal tones directly in your DAW.

        Live Performance: If you perform live frequently and value the tactile experience of playing through a physical amp, a real amp or a digital amp modeler might be more suitable. Digital amp modelers provide the advantage of having multiple amp models and effects readily accessible on stage.

        Budget and Future Expansion: Consider your budget and long-term goals. Real amps can be a significant investment, while amp sims and digital amp modelers offer more cost-effective options. Additionally, digital amp modelers often receive firmware updates that introduce new amp models and features, expanding their capabilities over time.


        Remember: there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing the best option for your metal guitar tones. It ultimately boils down to personal preference, convenience, budget, and the specific sound you want to achieve. Experimenting with different approaches can help you discover your unique metal sound and unleash your creativity as a guitarist.

        If you'd like try out our Clairvoyant Amp Suite, click here to start your free trial!