Kemper Digital Profiler Amp – Review
Let’s start with the basics: the Kemper is not a traditional modelling amp. A traditional modeller gives you a pre-defined idea of what a particular amp sounds like. Then it allows you to tweak it to get you closer to the sound you want.
This is not the method that Christoph Kempers’ machine follows.
The Kemper instead takes a snapshot of an amp called a profile. Through a clever algorithm and blast of sound the Kemper replicates the characteristics of an amplifier and allows you to have that sound without the amplifier being present.
That’s enough of the mechanics – you want to know how it sounds and what it can do.
My Kemper arrived with plenty of sounds already on it. Packs of profiles from Kemper themselves, Ola Englund, Keith Merrow etc all bundled in. So don’t worry about having to own a bunch of amps to profile as a lot of the work has been done for you. We’ll start by looking at how the amp reacts to your playing.
I’m using one of the stock profiles here, a DR.Z Carmen Ghia profile by The Amp Factory. I haven’t changed the gain or EQ settings, just added a little delay.
The first example here shows the difference you get when you add a little pressure to a strum. I’m using the bridge pickup of an Epiphone Les Paul plus top standard and a Stoneworks 2mm jazz plectrum. 3 strums of an open D major each with increasing amounts of pressure digging into the strings.
This second example is the neck pickup with the volume rolled right back to clean it up, then the same passage through the neck pickup with the volume up full.
As you can hear, this thing will have no problem reacting to your playing at all. I think this is one of the biggest ticks in the ‘pro’ column for the Kemper; it reacts just like a tube amp would.
Keeping the same profile and guitar as before let’s get into what you can do with a profile to get the sound in your head. (In the spirit of transparency, one small change was made here. I had to order a new cable as mine died during this review. However it was replaced by the same make and model of cable from planet waves and so shouldn’t affect this test.)
I’ve dropped the gain here for a clean base sound but the EQ is the same as above for the first sample.
For the second sample, as the picture shows I’ve boosted the Bass, Mids, Treble and Presence. Here’s the difference in sound:
As you can hear, the EQ section makes a big difference while keeping the same character of the amp. For me this is a big feature of what the Kemper does, that other modellers miss. It gives you a model of the amp, not just of one sound from that amp.
All the Gain!
No doubt some of you out there are gain hounds and want to know if this thing can replace your beloved 5150…let’s find out.
This profile by Keith Merrow is based on Jeff Loomis’s 5150 sound. It‘s pushed with a Tubescreamer, replicated here by the ‘green scream’ overdrive effect on the Kemper. The profile also has a little reverb on by default. Plenty of gain available here for the modern metal aficionado.
For those of you with actives here’s a video from a while back using this profile with my EMG equipped SG.
Then again, maybe you prefer something with a little 80’s vibe. This JCM800 profile by The Amp Factory gives you the range to go from Van Halen through any 80’s hair band. When pushed a little more, it will start to enter thrash territory.
This is a part of the Kemper that really shines for me. The buttons on the top allow you to assign effects to a profile. The effects are all on board and cover a wide range, but today we’re just going to look at the basics. You can assign delay, reverb, chorus, phaser, tremolo, wahs, octave effects, overdrives, distortions, rotary type effects, filters, eq’s and extra noise gates. This is on top of the Kemper’s constant noise gate, which can lead to some interesting clipping effects.
I’ve set up a backing track using a clean version of the DR Z profile we used earlier. I added reverb, chorus and phase. This forms a rhythm track over some drums. The lead take is using the same profile slightly pushed as before, with delay, reverb and a clean boost to push it into a Gilmouresque sound.
Just for fun I’ve included a sound sample of one of the latest updates from Kemper to the delay section. This is the crystal delay, and it creates an almost church-organ-sound behind the chords I’m using here, which for Amazing Grace feels incredibly appropriate.
That’s NOT all folks:
Honestly, I could talk for days about the Kemper and this review really does only cover the basic functions that you’d expect from a tube amp. When you think about it though, that’s the real trick behind the Kemper. It can be used to achieve all sorts of things you can’t do with a ‘real’ amp – for example, there’s a feature for all lovers of a legato sound out there where you can dial out the pick noise from your sound. However, even if you only use the Kemper in the most straight forward way, it does exactly what you’d want from an amp.
The inbuilt tuner is great. I’ve since ditched my trusty boss TU2. In fact, I’ve ditched all my pedals and now simply switch effects with a Behringer FCB1010 midi board with an updated chip. Kemper do make their own pedal board, but it didn’t exist when I bought mine so I’ve stuck with the Behringer.
The Kemper also has multiple outputs for recording, including spdif for re-amping. Everything I recorded here came straight into my interface and into Ableton via the XLR output on the Kemper. No post processing and unless otherwise stated or shown in pictures, all the eq’s remained stock .
The Kemper also has a mode called Performance mode (this doesn’t make it go faster,) which allows you to save profiles and assign them to your pedalboard for switching. This makes getting your sounds together for a set really easy as you can have the profiles you need assigned to a bank within the Kemper for each song.
Every profile I’ve used here comes as stock with the Kemper but between the stock profiles, the rig exchange (a free profile sharing section of the Kemper website) and commercial profiles, I’ve yet to find a sound I need or want with this that I can’t have within minutes.
It’s an expensive piece of kit, there’s no getting around that. The powered version of the Kemper which I own costs around £1,600. The Behringer board was another £100 or so, and then the updated chip was another £20 so all in all around £1,700 for a live rig. This sounds like a lot of money, because it is. However, if you think that a mesa dual rectifier will set you back around £2,500 then the Kemper starts to make more sense. I can’t count the number of £2,500 amplifiers I have in that little box next to my desk. It’s probably me just trying to convince myself but suddenly £1,600 looks like amazing value for money.
If you guys reading this are thinking about a Kemper, I hope this review of its more open functions helps, but I can’t stress how much you need to get up close to one to discover everything that it contains. If there’s one nearby and you can access it, I strongly suggest you set aside some time and have fun exploring all the sounds this box of tricks can give you.