Paul White tests Digitech's latest GeNetX amp modelling technology, which includes a Warp control allowing you to morph between amp and speaker models in real time.
The Digitech Genesis 3 is a guitar recording preamplifier based on the technology developed for the Johnson J Station and Johnson guitar amplifiers. Rather than replace the J Station, it now sits above it in the range, offering considerably more features at a correspondingly higher price. Digitech have, however, dropped the Johnson name and reverted to the parent company brand name, which seems odd given that Johnson was becoming established as a quality brand.
Physically, the Genesis 3 is a stylish desktop unit moulded from some kind of tough plastic, with a generous complement of physical controls on the top panel and all the connections on the back. Power comes from an included mains adaptor. Like most guitar preamps, there's a mono high‑impedance input and stereo line‑level outputs, but a 44.1kHz S/PDIF output is also fitted as standard, with a degree of digital level trimming available. Additionally, there's a stereo input for a CD player enabling the guitarist to jam along to CDs or other material. A pair of DIN sockets function as MIDI In and MIDI Out/Thru connectors, with the MIDI In socket doubling as a connection point for the optional Control X foot controller. In addition to enabling patch and parameter control, MIDI is used to hook up to a computer for editing, and also to handle patch loading and dumping via System Exclusive.
From what I can tell, the amplifier models (there are 16 altogether) are very similar to those found in the J Station, with equivalents of all of the famous Class A and Class AB models from both sides of the Atlantic, plus an electric‑to‑acoustic transformation. Speaker cabinet and amp model selection are now both available via dedicated front‑panel rotary switches, and the numeric read‑out of the J Station has been joined by a large, six‑character display that allows patches to be named, albeit sometimes cryptically by necessity.
The effects section of the Genesis 3 is a huge step forward compared to any competing product in this price range and seems to offer much of the functionality of a Digitech rack unit, including the ability to generate musically correct harmonies in real time. Compression, gating and reverb are always available as separate effects and now five of the front‑panel knobs are dedicated to direct effect‑parameter editing, which means much less menu trawling.
Finally comes GeNetX, Digitech's new technology that makes it possible to morph between two different amp/speaker models, creating a new 'Hypermodel' derived from them both. This is a true morph, not a crossfade, and it can be saved for use as it is or morphed again with another patch to create yet another new sound. In fact each patch on the Genesis 3 comprises two amp/speaker setups, where the centrally located Warp knob can be used to morph between the so‑called 'red' and 'green' settings in real time — the colour of the LEDs surrounding the Warp control changes correspondingly. Pressing the Warp knob steps between the two component sounds and the morphed sound. If the Control X floor controller is purchased, the Warp function can be assigned to a pedal. There are 48 factory preset patches showing off the capabilities of the machine, along with 48 user memory locations. Editing software is available for free download from the Genesis 3 product page on the Digitech web site.
The front panel of the Genesis 3 looks a little busier than you might expect from a device of this type, mainly because so many functions have direct knob control. The five effects controls are incorporated into the display section, along with the Tap‑it and Edit buttons and the Amp Save and Store buttons — both these button pairs may be used together to access the Assign and Utility functions of the machine. A set of six effects LEDs show what effects are running in the current presets and, in Edit mode, they show which effect is active for editing via the physical controls.
The effect controls, P1 to P5, are labelled Speed/Amount, Depth, Mod Level, Delay Level and Reverb Level. In addition to editing, they may also be used to make real‑time adjustments during performance. In Edit mode, their new functions are shown in the display when the knob is moved. A further data wheel in this section is used to select patches during performance and to change parameter values when editing.
Five further knobs provide the usual amp functions of Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble and Amp Level, but there's still no sign of a dedicated Presence control. That leaves the three large knobs at the centre of the panel, the left of which selects amp model while the right‑hand one selects the speaker cabinet model to be used with it. The central control is for Warp, and all three knobs are surrounded by status LEDs so that the settings and selections are clearly visible. Note that Warping doesn't morph between effects settings, only the amp and speaker models, and thus a single patch will comprise two amp/speaker models but only one effect configuration.
When the Genesis 3 is first switched on, it comes up in Performance mode, where the display shows the name and number of the current preset. The LEDs to the left of the main display show what effects sections are being used in the preset and the five effect knobs work as per their legending for the direct adjustment of the key effect parameters. Rotating the Data knob steps through the presets and, initially, the user banks are filled with duplicates of the factory presets, so there's no risk of losing anything when experimenting. As is so often the case, the presets are designed to show off the versatility of the machine, rather than being very useful in a typical performance, so you'll probably want to get into tweaking them or creating your own sounds as soon as possible.
However, before you start editing patches, there are certain setup functions that you may want to deal with first. For example, do you want to use the Genesis 3 in mono or stereo mode, and will you be plugging it into a guitar amp or DI'ing it? These details are taken care of in the Utility menu, accessed by pressing the Amp Save and Store buttons at the same time. Included here is a tuner, which turned out to be nicely sensitive, and you can adjust the reference pitch from 440Hz if you need to. Tap‑it and Edit work as up/down keys to move through the various utility options.
The Genesis 3 doesn't have a bypass mode like a regular effects unit, because that would make little sense in the context of amp modelling. Instead, the individual effects can be bypassed using the effect edit functions, and the amp and speaker models can be bypassed individually using their Direct settings.
Digitech claim to have made the editing as simple and intuitive as possible, but, because of the Warping function, things may not work in quite the way you imagine, so it's useful to work through the clearly explained examples provided in the manual while you find your way around. Once you've done this, the operating system does indeed seem friendly and intuitive, but if you just dive in without consulting the book then you could find yourself scratching your head, especially if you've already learned how to use a J Station.
The main thing to remember is that each patch comprises two amp channels, red and green, and that you select between the channels when editing by pressing the Warp knob. Amp and cabinet models are then selected directly using the rotary switches and the amp parameters changed by adjusting the gain and tone knobs at the bottom of the unit. Note that, like other digital devices using regular pots for parameter control, the knobs won't necessarily be pointing in a direction that corresponds with the sound you hear. In this case, you need to move the knob through the last stored value to update the parameter. This is one area where the Behringer V‑Amp scores a lot of points, as it uses continuous controllers surrounded by LEDs, so you always see the correct settings.
In addition to selecting a cabinet, it's also possible to tune its resonant frequency over a two octave range — you need to press and hold the Warp knob for two seconds or more to access this mode. To create a Hypermodel, it's necessary only to adjust the Warp knob to produce the best combination of the red and green channels, and this may be saved using the Amp Save button. Nine amp/speaker Hypermodels can be saved in this way, but note that the saved Hypermodel doesn't overwrite the patch you were working on, it simply resides in one of the nine memory locations for use as a new amp model when editing.
In Performance mode, the LEDs show which effects blocks are active in the current patch. Pressing the Edit button changes this, though, such that only a single LED flashes to represent the particular effects block being edited. Successive presses of the Edit button step through the available effects in a preset. If an effect LED is extinguished in Performance mode, Edit mode can be used to bring it back to life. Whichever effect is selected for editing, the five effect knobs may be used to edit it directly. When a knob is turned, the parameter name appears in the main display window and its value shows in the numeric window. If you sit and look puzzled for a few seconds, the display starts to show the knob functions in sequence to help.
Genesis 3 has a very elaborate effects system optimised for guitar use, with some effects prior to the amp model and some coming after it. The pre‑modelling effects include Pickup Simulation (humbucker or single‑coil), Wah‑wah, Compression and Whammy — the latter lets the P3 knob or the controller pedal be used to create pitch‑gliding effects. The Whammy effects block can also be used for a number of other pitch‑shifting effects, though these appear directly after the amplifier and speaker modelling in the processing chain. The first of these is Digitech's IPS (Intelligent Pitch Shifting), which can generate real‑time harmonies according to the key specified by the user, one of four musical modes and a choice of 14 harmony intervals. Normal fixed detuning and pitch‑shifting are also provided.
Next comes a Gate block (though both the compressor and gate side‑chains are fed from the very front of the processing chain) followed by Chorus/Modulation, Delay and Reverb blocks. The signal may be tapped off directly after the gate to provide a dry output, if required, via a Utility menu selection. All six effect blocks may be used at the same time, though only one effect within each block can be used at once. For example, if the Chorus/Modulation section is giving you a chorus effect, you can't have flanging at the same time.
Mostly the effects are what you expect from a stand‑alone multi‑effects processor, and include rotary‑speaker simulation, auto‑panning and some interesting vowel filters based on Digitech's Talker technology. Several variations on this type of formant filtering are on offer, including some that react to picking intensity or to the optional foot controller's expression pedal. The Delay block includes an analogue‑emulation mode where the repeats decline in quality as they are recycled, and a ducking delay is also available so that the delay level increases during pauses or quiet sections. Finally, the Reverb block provides ten different reverb simulations (including spring), with control over pre‑delay, decay time and damping. In general, there is less control than on a typical studio rack, but rather more control than you'd expect from a guitar processor of this kind.
It only took me a few minutes to get used to the operating system of the Genesis 3 and the range of guitar sounds you can get out of it is more than impressive. It's always arguable as to how close any amp models are to the real thing, but they all sound in the right ball park and are very playable. Even the acoustic simulation isn't bad if you want that DI'd acoustic pickup sound, though I don't think I'd use it for recording. The speaker simulators work well in producing a sound that cuts through without becoming fizzy or edgy, and being able to tune each cabinet provides huge scope for customising sounds — the effect of tuning is quite radical as you can make the same cab sound like a huge throaty stack or like a little practice amp.
As with the J Station, mildly overdriven sounds come across very convincingly, as do heavy overdrive sounds. When it comes to clean sounds too, both the J Station and the Genesis 3 seem ahead of the competition in delivering that elusive sparkle. There's still some way to go before the feel of a really nice valve amp is emulated to perfection, but when you take the convenience factor into consideration, there's not much to complain about. The audio output is also gratifyingly quiet.
GeNetX morphing lets you go even further in creating new sounds, and though some morphs can be pretty ugly (acoustic guitar and dirty stack for example), others work very nicely and provide a useful tool for fine‑tuning sounds. With the optional Control X floor controller, you could put clean and dirty sounds in one patch and move smoothly between them with the pedal.
On top of this immensely flexible amp modelling, there's the ability to change the characteristics of your guitar pickups before they go into the amp model, and of course that marvellously comprehensive effects section. Some preamps only allow you to have compression if you forego something else, but here all six effect blocks are always available. There are choices to be made within each block, of course, but compression, delay and reverb are always there, regardless of what other effect you call into play.
The IPS pitch‑shifting is based on earlier Digitech products that themselves cost much more than this little box and this one works pretty well — the pitch‑tracking is faultless, providing you only play monophonic lead lines. I especially liked the analogue delay variation, and the compressor is also more than competent, but if you need a little added weirdness, you can always call up some of those radical vowel filters and get your guitar to really talk. It's also good to have a sensibly wide choice of reverb types, rather than just spring and room.
In the final analysis, guitar amp modelling is barely out of its infancy, but already it provides a very real alternative to miking up an amp, as long as you aren't a stickler for absolutely authentic tone and feel. The Genesis 3 can get very close to all the trademark rock sounds, both clean and dirty, but the morphing capability of GeNetX makes it possible to come up with completely new tones, which may appeal to more forward‑looking players. For the price, it's hard to fault Genesis 3, as it combines some of the best amp modelling around with a very generously appointed effects section and, just like the manual says, it is very easy to use. The S/PDIF output is great for soundcard users or for integration into other digital systems, and the CD input is useful for learning new parts against a CD backing. There's also a phones output for rehearsing without driving the rest of the family mad, so maybe on that basis alone you could get them to buy it for you?
The following preset amp models are provided, and I've listed the real amps on which these sounds are based alongside:
- BLKFAC: Fender Twin Reverb
- BOUTIQ: Matchless DC30
- RECTIF: Mesa Dual Rectifier
- HOTROD: Mesa Boogie MkIIC
- TWEED: '57 Fender Tweed Deluxe
- BRTCMB: '63 Vox AC30 Top Boost
- BRTSTK: '78 Marshall Master Volume
- CRUNCH: Overdriven Tube Combo
- HIGAIN: Johnson JM150
- MODGAN: Marshall JCM900
- FUZZ: Vintage Fuzz Pedal (unnamed)
- BASSMN: '59 Fender Bassman
- ACOUST: Flat top acoustic simulation
- CLNTUB: Clean Tube Combo
- BLUES: Overdriven Blues Combo
- HIWATG: Hiwatt 50 stack
The available speaker cabinet models are:
- AM2x12: American 2 x 12
- BR4x12: Marshall 4 x 12
- V 4x12: Vintage 30 4 x 12
- BR2x12: Vox AC30 (Jennings) 2 x 12
- TWD112: '57 Tweed 1 x 12
- BL2x12: Blonde 2 x 12
- FN4x12: Fane 4 x 12
- GR4x12: Greenback 4 x 12
- BQ4x12: Boutique 4 x 12
- AM4x10: American 4 x 10
- 65 112: Deluxe 1 x 12
- JAZ115: Pro 1 x 15
- GEN412: GeNetX 4 x 12
- GEN212: GeNetX 2 x 12
Nine user memories are also available for both amp and cabinet models; these are used to store morphed amp and speaker models created with the GeNetX morphing function, called Hypermodels. These Hypermodels are constructed by first selecting or creating a preset to function as one component of the morph, then you create the second component by editing. You can't start from an empty preset, but you don't have to save the finished patch back in the same location as the patch you first selected for editing. Once a Hypermodel has been saved, it may be called up and used as the starting point for another morph.
The Digitech GNX2 is based on exactly the same technology as the Genesis 3, and offers all the same facilities (and more), but it is packaged as a guitarist's pedalboard with six footswitches and an assignable pedal. This pedal also includes an inbuilt 'toe' switch so that applying extra pressure to the pedal in its down position switches between controlling whatever parameters are assigned to it and wah wah. An extra mic input can be used for controlling a Talker effect, and an output socket allows this mic signal to be fed on to the front‑of‑house console.
The operating system has been somewhat revised, and effect editing is aided by rows of printed parameters below the five control knobs. A string of LEDs down the side of the matrix shows which effects are switched on for the current patch. When editing, all you have to do is look along the row to see which parameter the knob above relates to. On the down side, the discrete amp select, speaker select and warp knob are gone, so you have to use the same five edit knobs and a single data entry wheel for pretty much everything.
The front four footswitches are mode‑dependent and may be used to select presets, change amp channels or turn individual effects on and off. They also access the tuner, the bypass mode and the 'Learn‑A‑Lick' function, a neat facility that lets you record a short section of audio, then slow it down. The upper pedals serve as Up/Down switches for accessing things like the user banks or the Learn‑A‑Lick speed, and for toggling in and out of Effects mode.
The GNX2 also includes a few features not found in the Genesis 3, including a rhythm trainer based upon simple sampled drum phrases that you can use to jam along to. However, the most relevant for the player is probably the addition of ten stomp‑box models for adding distortion before the amp modelling stage. The pedal models are: Screamer, Rodent, DS Dist, Dod 250, Big MP, Guy OD, Spark DRV, Grunge, Fuzzy and Zone. You might expect these distortion pedals only to be useful for creating shreddy metal sounds, but, in reality, combining a mildly overdriven pedal with a slightly overdriven amp can sound extremely tasteful. My only real reservation about this model is that it uses an external PSU, and the way in which it is connected to the unit does not inspire confidence for live performance.
- Exceptionally flexible amp and speaker modelling.
- Excellent onboard effects.
- Clear user interface.
- Some effects not fully usable without optional floor controller
This must be the current UK best buy for compact, budget guitar modelling preamps, if you're prepared to spend just a little more for quality.