Marc Gallo, the creator of Studio Devil's Virtual Guitar Amp plug‑in (reviewed in SOS August 2008), has returned with a virtual bass amp. Similarly priced ($69) and available as a download for both PC and Mac, Studio Devil's Virtual Bass Amp (SDVBA) supports VST, AU and RTAS formats. The guitar plug‑in, originally a PC‑only affair, now also supports the wider set of formats. Given the low price, I was impressed with what Virtual Guitar Amp offered and, although it's not in the same league as a top‑notch desktop modeller like the Pod X3, I've subsequently used it on my laptop setup because it offers a no‑fuss means of getting a range of tones down in a very convenient fashion.
Unsurprisingly, SDVBA sticks with the same basic formula. The graphics follow the same styling, and the black brushed‑metal look is very 'bass amp‑like'. Looks aside, the feature set is suitably different, tailored as it is for bass. Instead of the multiple preamp models, SDVBA offers a single preamp. This is not as limited as it might first seem, because the Boost, Bright and Deep switches all tweak the basic preamp sound in the ways you'd expect. The preamp EQ, which features a sweepable mid section, is augmented by a very nice seven‑band graphic equaliser, which can be toggled on/off as required.
In between the preamp and the graphic EQ sections of the signal chain is the power amp stage. As might be expected, the Drive knob acts as a master volume control, with low values more suitable for cleaner sounds, while higher values sound a little more 'cranked'. The Limiter knob does what is expected and can be driven quite hard for a crunchy sound. As advised in the excellent PDF manual, the small LED associated with the limiter is not a warning light: it just means the limiter is doing some work, so you should feel free to push things into the red! If you find that the overall output level from the plug‑in gets a little hot, then balancing the Drive and Master Level control from the graphic EQ will soon resolve this. Finally, the Cabinet switch can toggle between 4x10 (punchy), 1x15 (deeper) and DI (cleaner) models.
If anything, I think SDVBA does a better job than the original guitar amp plug‑in. If the latter had a weakness, it was in the level of noise when using high‑gain sounds. In general, bass sounds don't get to that level of distortion and, while SDVBA can get a little hissy if a lot of high‑end EQ is used, for most of its tonal range, it does an excellent job. The small number of supplied presets offer a good starting point too. For example, 'Bass Devil' is warm, solid, slightly overdriven and a great rock tone, 'Slap It' does exactly what you might expect (although I rolled a little top end off to get rid of that hiss) and 'Growl n Snarl' is great for a Stranglers impression.
Providing your audio interface is capable of low enough latency for real‑time use, SDVBA is a very convenient way of getting a solid range of bass tones and the plug‑in format makes 're‑amping' (recording a dry DI track and passing this back through an amp — or virtual amp — to tweak the sound as required during the mix stage) a breeze. If you want to try before you buy, a fully functional demo is available for download from the Studio Devil web site, and is well worth checking out for bass sounds on a budget. John Walden