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Native Instruments Guitar Rig Session Software & Hardware Review

Guitar Rig Session is an inexpensive and portable alternative to higher-end recording interfaces

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Native Instruments Guitar Rig Session is the wallet-friendly version of the award-winning audio software plus hardware. The package includes the Guitar Rig Session I/O, a powerful audio interface with 24-bit/192 kHz converters, Guitar Rig 3 XE, Cubase LE 4, Kore Player and Pop Drums Kore SoundPack, providing a useful tool for studio and live use.

The USB interface is built into a small black aluminum chassis and provides a mic in, 2 Hi-Z line/instrument inputs, and headphone and stereo outs to run into a pair of powered studio monitors or mixer. You are also provided with a line/instrument switch and a 48V switch to run a phantom power microphone. This unit is also powered via USB, so you won’t have to worry about forgetting the extra power supply. The converters on this unit are clear as a bell, with no noticeable latency. I was able to jam for hours without the sound quality dropping, which can be a problem in cheaper audio interfaces. The mic input sounds good as well for capturing the sound of your amp or to record vocals.

Guitar Rig 3 XE is equipped with 6 guitar and bass amps, 12 matched cabinets, 21 effects including time-based, modulation, distortion, volume and modifier effects, two sync-able tape decks for recording ideas, and a tuner and metronome, making for one powerful virtual rack. The possibilities are endless in Guitar Rig, the versatile software can achieve guitar and bass sounds from jazz, country, rock to metal. The 150 presets that NI provides in this package will keep you wailing away for hours.

While not being the real thing, the closeness in tone quality to a valve amp is almost unreal. The most impressive feature of this software is the ability of adjusting the power supply (50- 60 Hz), Variac, Sag, Response, Voltage, & Bias, allowing you to tailor the sound of the amps tubes to your liking. Now you can be your own amp tech without years of electronics school, or the worry of blowing your tubes.

The 12 matched cabinets are a whole other beast in themselves, with 2 sliders (A-B Mic,Dry-Air), and volume control. Create the space that your cabinet is in by cross fading two microphones, one being a condenser, the other a dynamic mic. Simulate the distance of the mic from the speaker by adjusting the Dry to Air. Add multiple cabinets to the same head and adjust their volumes independently. These 3 features can help you create some interesting cab arrangements, from huge and roomy to tight and punchy.

Plug In
Guitar Rig also works as a plug-in for multitrack software. Players can record dry/direct and customize their tone later. The package comes with Cubase LE 4 which is a user friendly multi-tracking interface. I was up and running in no time, recording riffs directly into Cubase. Normally I would have to be in a studio and spend hours experimenting with mic placement and different cabs before even getting to tracking. Now I can track guitar, bass, vocals and even keys in the comfort of my studio apartment.

Not only is Guitar Rig Session great for recording it is also has a powerful live use, especially for solo traveling musicians such as myself. I can now board a plane with my laptop, interface, guitar and midi pedal to play live via direct input into a PA. I tested this out running a stereo out into my keyboard set-up at home and was able to get a great tube sound with no latency! Running Guitar Rig I can blend the guitar’s audio with prerecorded tracks in Ableton, Logic, Cubase etc, providing more personal control over the mix. This is especially useful when playing a small cafe that doesn’t have a sound guy.

The Final Mojo
Guitar Rig 3 can be a tough pill to swallow for a tone purist/vintage gear enthusiast. I didn’t spend years of research and thousands of dollars on gear to have it sit at home while I gig through a computer—I still prefer the real thing. But it does provide a great alternative to borrowing another guitarists gear when far from home. Used in the studio or for practicing, Guitar Rig is cheaper and sounds better then any practice amp I know of, provided you already own a decent computer. That coupled with the extra Kore Player and Pop Drums for programming keys, synth, bass, drums etc., this is a great tool for hobbyists and professionals alike. If you already own a great interface, I suggest picking up the software-only version of Guitar Rig 3 XE ($99); you will not be disappointed.
Buy if...
you want an excellent guitar plug-in/audio interface at a wallet-friendly price.
Skip if...
you already have a good audio interface with more I/O and a set of microphones.

Street $199 - Native Instruments -