Fractal Audio Systems came into existence in 2006 with the Axe – Fx series of preamp and effect processors release. Ever since the electric guitar became a presence in the music industry, guitarists experimented with creating new sounds from the stock options available from the instrument.
That process led to the creation of different amplifiers that added effects like overdrive, tremolo, reverb, and chorus. As the development process continued, the effect pedal became another option to produce a signature tone.
From distortion to wah-wah and everything in between, the guitar has become more of a conductor of audio bliss than a simple instrument through those efforts.
Fractal Audio Systems is leading the development processes for the next generation of guitarists, with the Axe – Fx series leading the way with its unique approach to sound modification.
Axe – Fx III Mark II
The Axe – Fx III Mark II comes in a standard and turbo version to deliver an all-in-one processor for guitars and other instruments. It uses the CYGNUS amp modeling technology from Fractal Audio to produce one of the best preamp and FX options available today. It’s a completely redesigned platform that delivers an industry-best rating for raw power.
Fractal Audio offers one of the world’s most powerful processors with its Axe – Fx III Mark II preamp/FX platform. It’s compatible with any electric guitar, including electric-acoustic and bass. You can even equip other instruments to it with a suitable connection.
This updated model provides the latest CYGNUS modeling technology, making other versions of Fractal Audio equipment a popular choice for the serious guitarist. It went through thousands of UltraRes speaker cab simulations to ensure the quality meets or exceeds your expectations.
The Fx III Mark II even comes with state-of-the-art FX algorithms to ensure you can play and experiment at your leisure. It comes backed with the most raw power that Fractal Audio has produced to date, along with the most feature upgrades ever offered to customers.
It is a vision in creating a new platform that sounds better and does more while being easier to use. The Fx III Mark II comes with four processors, a standard and turbo version, and a complete redesign from previous versions to enhance efficiencies.
The turbo version offers a 25% increase in clock speed. That makes it one of the best investments in raw processing power that you can find in the industry today.
Hardware for the Axe Fx III Mark II
The hardware incorporated into the Axe Fx III Mark II is designed to streamline workflows to ensure musicians can work within or outside of their comfort zones. That journey begins with the beautiful high-contrast, full-color display that provides 30 times the resolution of previous releases.
This display works with five endless-rotary push encoders that are new to the design, allowing the controls to do different things on each page. You can choose from the various labels to show the dynamic functions.
Through this redesign, the Axe Fx III Mark II delivers a user experience that feels more intuitive from the start. You’ll also get more information from the various modifiers and meter animations to take more control over your music.
Creating a Focus on Audiophile-Quality Sound
Fractal Audio achieves an improved sound quality with the Axe Fx III Mark II by creating an audiophile-grade signal path for the preamp.
You can hear the difference in the updated model with its lower noise floor and impressive clarity. There is even a better audio performance through USB than what you’ll get from most of the dedicated audio interfaces available today.
Computer audio integration with the Axe Fx III Mark II now includes a 24-bit/48k 88 interface to provide a pro-quality sound pin in almost any environment.
The setup allows users to record multiple tracks of processed audio simultaneously. That includes a DI. There are also newly improved workflows to assist with re-amping while simultaneously monitoring the different backing tracks. You can even add re-processed guitar sounds through the unit while dialing into a specific sound you like.
All these options occur within one of the most rugged designs that you’ll find out there today. It can handle life on the road while delivering an excellent addition to the busiest recording studio. The entire unit comes housed within a steel enclosure that features a one-piece anodized aluminum faceplate.
Why Is a Preamp Useful for the Electric Guitar?
Why invest in a preamp when you can directly plug your guitar into the audio interface? It’s a fair question, and some musicians might even say that you can save your money by avoiding this investment.
The preamp’s purpose is to boost any of the low-level signals from the guitar to the standard operating level of the recording gear.
Some signals are below the nominal operating level for the system, which means more gain is necessary to create the intended result when playing. Guitars can often need a boost of up to 30 decibels, and even line-level instruments like a synth can need some help.
Today’s home studio gear often operates at a nominal level of 4 dBu, but the average electronic instrument functions at -10 dBu or lower. The preamp creates the necessary equalization to ensure the sound comes out as intended.
That means musicians need a preamp for almost any sound source. It doesn’t need to be an external device to achieve a positive result because most interfaces come with this technology anyway. Anything that comes with a guitar or amp is usually good enough for beginners and student learners.
The Axe Fx III Mark II is more for the professional artist who makes a living making music through gigs, recording, and various public appearances. The audio interface takes any sound to another level, ensuring that the listener experiences your complete expression.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Dedicated External Preamp?
The Axe Fx III Mark II provides an external preamp that delivers several potential benefits for the modern musician. Here is an overview of what you could achieve when investing in this technology.
- Gain Improvements. A built-in preamp rarely delivers more than 60 dB of gain when you have a low-output instrument to play. Some products require 70 dB or more, which an external preamp is more than capable of delivering.
- Better Sound Quality. Musicians experience this advantage when playing at the highest gain settings. Most products sound fine when operating at 40 dB to 50 dB, but the audio becomes more veiled once you go beyond that figure. The sophisticated circuitry found in the Axe Fx III Mark II helps you retain complete transparency at the highest gain.
- Less Noise. Some preamps deliver extra noise when recording from a quiet source. You’ll want to review your data sheet with this potential benefit.
- More Sonic Character. When adding an external preamp to your setup, you’ll notice that your guitar delivers a more individualized sound. The depth and dynamic flow improve dramatically, creating a special flair that gives unique tones from any era – or something special that you’ve created for yourself.
- Additional Features. Adding an external preamp ensures that you have access to the more sophisticated options that are necessary to create your music. Pad switches, phase reverse, and low-cut filters are choices you’ll find more often on higher-grade equipment options.
Should I Invest in an External Preamp?
Student learners benefit from having an above-average built-in preamp to help them understand the different sounds and tones they prefer. Advanced students and pros benefit from having an external preamp to access increased audio variety. The Axe – Fx III Mark II is the best choice available today for those who earn a living from their music.
For a long time, I wasn’t the biggest fan of using an external preamp. I always felt like it was a waste of money, especially since my budget was tight back in those first days.
Then I came across the equipment from Fractal Audio Systems. It changed my entire perspective of what a guitar could do. My music went from something generic and amateur to a level that began catching the attention of people who could help me start a career.
That’s not to say I stopped writing bad songs or poor chord combinations. You have to live and learn through the trial-and-error process sometimes as a musician.
I would say that a preamp makes sense to have when you’re ready to take the next step forward in creating sound variety. If you haven’t taken the first step yet with your playing style or recording work, it’ll make more sense to invest in that infrastructure before searching for a great preamp.
When you are ready to see what your guitar can do, the Axe – Fx III Mark II will get you there.