Ask any seasoned musicians, or even any music lover this question: “Do tube amps sound better than digital simulators?”. You are likely to get an enthusiastic affirmation that indeed, tube amplifiers are superior. What is more Rocknroll than a 100 watt Marshall cranked up? Not much. In a live setting amplifiers push a lot of air, and the sound of heated, distorted vacuum tubes can be perfection in the right hands.
Small inroads were made at first. Manufacturers made solid state amps with no tubes. By the late 1990’s companies like Line 6 were producing digital modeling amps that approximated different analog sounds. Still, like any technology, it took time to grow, improve, and become reliable. The irony is for much of the last 30 years or so, you paid a premium for amps that utilized vacuum tubes. Any other electronic device that attempted to come to market using tubes would be laughed at.
Another set back that that faced digital products was the terminology itself. “Modeling”, “Simulator”, etc. all allude to the fact that what you are getting is somehow not the real thing. Not a great leg to stand on marketing wise. You don’t see Pepsi calling themselves “Coca-Cola Cloning”! But let’s face it, a “real” amp is a heavy thing. Not fun to lug around to gigs, etc. When an amplifier blows on stage, there is no re-booting it.
As I’ve talked to various prominent record producers and engineers it has become apparent that most of them have at this point embraced digital plug-ins and modeling software. The fact is, these digital sounds have gotten good. They simply sound great. Processing power has increased exponentially, and much of what we are hearing nowadays is actually digitally produced. As time goes by, newer generations will naturally begin to reference computerized sonic qualities as a benchmark. It seems inevitable. One day, there will be a twenty five year old artist, with genuine talent, mentioning in an interview that he “really wanted to make a roots record, and capture that vintage ‘Line 6’ sound”.
Before you lament the potential loss of the sonic quality of the music of our age, keep in mind that musicians who first heard a distorted amp viewed it as a problem, not a solution.