Kemper finally have a floorboard version of their groundbreaking Profiling Amplifier. Has it been worth the wait?
With the all-in-one floorboard seemingly having become the preferred format for a large part of the digital guitar-amp simulator market, it's no great surprise to see Kemper finally joining Fractal Audio Systems, Atomic, Line 6, Boss, Headrush and others, with an integrated floor-based unit of their own. Spotlight and drum roll, please, for the Kemper Profiler Stage!
Although the Profiler Stage is just the latest implementation of a successful, mature product line, there may still be readers unfamiliar with what makes this technology interesting, so perhaps a little context is worthwhile. Christoph Kemper's Profiling Amplifier was something of a revelation when it was launched in 2012. Uniquely among digital guitar-amp emulators, the Kemper's 'profiling' process offered the potential for users to replicate the sound of their own amps and speakers, rather than just having versions programmed by manufacturers of guitar-amp modellers. The Kemper device generated a series of test signals and analysed the result when played back via the amp/speakers under test. The resulting data — the 'profile' — would set the parameters within the Kemper's digital audio engine to act upon a guitar signal in the same way as the amp and speaker (and, of course the mic or mics used for the profiling) and thereby be able to sound the same or at least very similar. At a time when some other guitar-amp modellers were painstakingly trying to replicate the behaviour of individual electronic components, it seemed almost too simple to work. But work it very much did. There was no denying that a good Kemper profile sounded and 'felt' a lot like the amp it was taken from. With the wholly encouraged and facilitated sharing by users of profiles, and ever increasing expertise brought to bear on the profiling process, the Kemper world grew rapidly, to the point where Kempers can now be seen to inhabit many a pro touring stage and studio control room, as well as having a huge following among semi-pro and enthusiast guitar players.
One might naturally think that a profile taken at a single setting of an amp would inherently limit the potential for altering it — for example, if you have some loose 'flubby' bass in the profile itself you wouldn't just be able to trim back the pre-distortion bass to take it out, because that fundamental behaviour would be 'baked in' to the profile. That is essentially true, but there are now so many good profiles available that you could just find one that already has the primary characteristics that you want, and then you simply wouldn't need to make such corrective adjustments. Getting the best out of a Kemper does, therefore, require a slightly different approach to using a conventional modeller.
The boldly original form factor of the first Kemper Profiler soon came to be affectionately known to many as the 'toaster'. It wasn't boldly original without purpose, however. Contrasting with the limited and somewhat cryptic interfaces of most of the modelling-based processors of the day, the Kemper devoted much of its large control surface to dedicated knobs and switches. Sure, it was deep, and in its own way also slightly unfamiliar in places, but by and large, just like with real amp, you could learn where all the most important controls were, and they would still be there the next time you went looking for them.
The original Profiler eventually evolved a rack version, with both rack and 'toaster' also having the option of an integral Class-D power amp. Combined with the ability in software to disable the speaker cabinet emulation in the feed to the integral power amp, this allowed users to send a complete speaker-emulated signal to the PA whilst using a regular guitar speaker cabinet on stage, or indeed just use a powered Kemper like a 'normal' amp, driving a speaker.
A comprehensive footswitch, the Kemper Remote, to facilitate foot operation of the major functions in live performance, was next in the range, and now we have the Kemper Profiler Stage: a complete Kemper Profiler housed in what looks rather like an expanded version of the foot controller. And it is complete: despite a slightly diminished physical control set, it will still profile and it will do anything that any of the other models will do. Something I've very much admired about the Kemper way of doing things is that, seven years on from the launch, there is, as yet at least, no 'Kemper 2.0' to make early adopters feel like they are no longer 'full members of the club', and new facilities in software run on all versions of the hardware. Now, there's a customer-service lesson some other digital product manufacturers could do with learning!
At 470 x 250 x 75mm, a Profiler Stage is about the size of many a conventional guitar pedalboard that might hold about five or six standard-sized pedals. Notable by its absence, however, is an integral expression pedal — an almost universal inclusion in other floor units at the moment — but I'm with Kemper on this one. Given that the Profiler Stage can work with up to four expression pedals, if you really want one (or four!), it's very easy to add them, but you can't take an integral one away. There's also no integral power-amp option for this Kemper, now or probably ever, given the dimensions, so you will always need a powered cab or separate power amp.
The whole thing feels very solid and stage-worthy to me, without being excessively heavy (just over 10lbs). Some early recipients may have had the odd hardware issue, but this one seems rock solid in every way. There were several OS updates during my time with unit, but I'm now finding nothing that isn't behaving as expected and was happy to gig test it.
Two banks of six...