BIAS FX review – Positive Grid bring the BIAS brand to the virtual pedal board and effects rack

Download from iTunes App Storebias fx logo 2OK, this is going to be a review of BIAS FX… but, if you are new to the whole iOS guitar amp sim thing, then I think a bit of context is quite useful here. Those in the know already… well, feel free to flip forward to the ‘Plug the gap’ section…   Otherwise, keep reading and you will get there in a minute :-)

Guitar tones are a very personal thing. While the electric guitar has played a not insignificant role in defining the sound of music over the last 60 years or so, that ‘sound’ is actually a very diverse one. Get a dozen guitar players in a room and ask them to define their perfect guitar rig – from instrument through to speaker cones – and the odds are you will come up with a dozen very different answers.

I promise....  I'll get to the new BIAS FX review in a minute :-)

I promise…. I’ll get to the new BIAS FX review in a minute :-)

This is, of course, a good thing. However, for the keen guitar player, it often means a desire to own more than one of everything… and sometimes many more than one. More than one guitar, more than one amp, definitely more than one stomp box and quite possibly more than one speaker cab.

Now, if your guitar playing earns you a healthy living, you could, of course, get all ‘collector’ and actually buy one (or more) of almost every electric guitar, amp, cab and effects unit you can find (kind of like Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, although admittedly, he does tend to stock his storage warehouse with gear of a classic nature and vintage vibe)… but for the rest of us mortals, we have to make do with more modest gear collections.

Unless, of course, we choose to embrace the ‘virtual’ guitar rig popularised by the likes of Line 6, Roland, Zoom, Digitech and the like…. and eventually also transferred over to the software world in products like Guitar Rig, ReValver, POD Farm, AmpliTube, Eleven and a bunch of others. Cost isn’t the only attraction of this approach though; there is also the convenience they can provide, particularly in a home/project studio environment where cranking your 100 watt valve amp is likely to tick off your neighbours, their neighbours and much of the neighbourhood.

Not all guitar players are comfortable to buy into the whole ‘virtual guitar rig’ idea but, if you happen to be an iOS-based music maker, the odds are you are also open-minded about virtual everything when it comes to recording technology. And, fortunately, we have a very good crop of virtual guitar rig software that has either evolved from, or been inspired by, the equivalent desktop modelling products.

Line 6 Mobile POD; now ready for use with any audio hardware.

Line 6 Mobile POD; now ready for use with any audio hardware.

I’ve reviewed most of these on the blog over the last couple of years or so – AmpliTube, Mobile POD, ToneStack, Flying Haggis, Amp ONE, AmpKit+ – and they all have something to offer depending upon your needs, budget and all-round guitar tone geekiness.

On the gird

You can, of course, add the combination of JamUp Pro and BIAS Amps – the combination of apps made by developer Positive Grid – to that list. JamUp Pro is a sort of ‘all in one’ package. It includes amp, cab and stomp box modelling in much the same way as most of the other apps mentioned above.

JamUp Pro's main user interface....

JamUp Pro’s main user interface….

However, Positive Grid took the level of tone geek gratification to another level when they introduced BIAS Amps. While this app could be used as a stand-alone sound source to play your guitar through, its real purpose was to let to actually design your own virtual amp – change the valves, tweak the component settings, mix and match different preamp types with different tonestacks with different power amp settings – and all this could be done without the fear of death by electrocution (a distinct possibility for most of us with a soldering iron and a real amp, even if we could afford to blow up our prized Marshall, Fender or Mesa Boogie).

I think it’s fair to say that BIAS Amps was a bit of a hit with iOS guitar players. Indeed, I think it is also fair to say that it deserved to be a hit because it provided a level of geeky tone control that, to that point, was not really available in any mainstream virtual guitar rig whether iOS or elsewhere. BIAS Amps was, quite simply, a very novel product.

BIAS Amps - want to change your virtual valves? Go on then....  and no danger of electrocution :-)

BIAS Amps – want to change your virtual valves? Go on then…. and no danger of electrocution :-)

Oh, and it also helped that is actually sounded very good indeed. As I said at the start of this post, guitar tone is a very personal thing… and for my ‘personal thing’, under iOS, more often than not I turn to either Mobile POD (I’m a long-standing Line 6 user whether it’s modelling, amps or guitars; I just think their stuff sounds excellent) or BIAS Amps. Your mileage may well vary – and I’m more than happy to use any of the others apps I’ve listed above when the occasion suits – but these two would be my own ‘go to’ apps for virtual amp sounds.

The other neat element of BIAS Amps was that it worked with Positive Grid’s other iOS guitar amp; JamUp Pro. Amp models created within BIAS could easily be transferred to JamUp Pro and placed within a wider signal chain including stomp box effects. This worked very well and users could also share their BIAS/JamUp Pro creations via PG’s own ToneCloud system.

Desk work

Having introduced BIAS Amps for the iPad and iPhone, Positive Grid then did something quite ambitious; they launched a desktop version of the software. This was ambitious because (a) there is already some very good – and very well established – amp modelling/virtual guitar rig software available for Windows and OSX desktop computers. Unlike the ‘still in its infancy’ iOS platform, where new music apps have a chance of finding an audience still looking for that killer app of a particular type, on the desktop, there are already a number of killer apps around.

It was also ambitious because, (b), at the time, very few music app developers from the iOS world had taken an app initially developed for iOS and attempted to port it over to the desktop. To Positive Grid’s credit, BIAS Desktop captured the essence of BIAS Amps for iOS very well. I was lucky enough to review the app for Sound On Sound magazine and it sounds just as good on my Mac as it does on my iPad.

BIAS - now available for a desktop OS near you....

BIAS – now available for a desktop OS near you….

In addition, the desktop version added a significant new feature – amp ‘capture’ – in that you could record the sound of a real amp into the software and then get the software to attempt to customise an existing model so that it sounds like the captured amp. While the process is not fool proof, it is quite a trick and, in principle at least, similar to the Kemper amp modelling hardware that costs… well… arms and legs.

While BIAS Desktop was, therefore, a bit of a triumph in technical terms, it was missing one obvious feature compared to the iOS version; JamUp Pro. And, as such, while you could design and use your various amp models via the software, you couldn’t then drop them into a complete virtual guitar rig with stomp boxes and rack effects. Compared to the established desktop competition, while they might lack the amp design and amp capture elements that BIAS Desktop provides, on its own, BIAS Desktop wasn’t really a ‘complete’ virtual guitar rig solution.

Plug the gap

Positive Grid were obviously very well aware of this issue and, not that long after BIAS Desktop made its debut, the solution was announced; BIAS FX. There were few details of how the two pieces of software might fit together but BIAS FX was going to provide the stomp box and rack-style effects that BIAS Desktop needed to flesh out their virtual guitar rig in software.

However, Positive Grid also made it clear that BIAS FX would be available for iOS and, unsurprisingly given the developers iOS heritage, it was to be the iOS version that appeared first. And, with the occasional trailer to whet the appetite over the last couple of weeks, BIAS FX duly made its first appearance on the iTunes App Store on April 28th… with the desktop version due to follow at some point later in the calendar year.

BIAS FX - ready to rock :-)

BIAS FX – ready to rock :-)

Obviously, the assumption would be that the iOS version is likely to provide a very clear steer as to the features and format of the desktop version when it does appear. So, now the iOS version is with us, just what does it have to offer?

FX fix

BIAS FX for iOS has a launch price of UK£22.99, is a 300 MB download, requires iOS8.0 or later, is compatible with iPad 2 or newer (and, of course, the newer the model, the better the performance) and includes Audiobus , IAA and MIDI support (the later for remote control of some of the app’s key features).

Included within the base app are models of 12 amps (taken from BIAS Amps), 22 effects pedals and 5 rack processors. The App Store description implies that these have all been pretty much designed from the ground up and are based upon component-level modelling to create the most analog sounding end result currently possible.

A dozen different amp models are included within the app.

A dozen different amp models are included within the app.

Other key features include full integration with BIAS Amps, the options to run dual amp channels and effects chains, a ‘live’ mode for preset selection when gigging or playing with others, a ‘pedalboard’ view that allows you to see – and edit – all the controls within the current combination of amp/effects, the option to add other effects apps into your signal chain (providing they support IAA; BIAS FX will host them) and options for selecting different output modes to suit where your audio out from BIAS FX is going whether that’s to your guitar amp, a mixer or just a set of studio monitors.

The 12 supplied guitar amp models go from squeaky clean through to 'insane' levels of gain.

The 12 supplied guitar amp models go from squeaky clean through to ‘insane’ levels of gain.

In terms of the included amps, the models range from very traditional squeaky clean (the 77 Silver Tone model) through to ultra hi-gain (the 04 Insane 5153 model) with plenty of classic blues and rock coverage in between (the 69 Plexiglas model for example). There is also a model dedicated to acoustic simulation (turn your electric into an acoustic… well… sort of) and, in the GK 800, an amp for use with a bass.

Each effect groups offers you a selection of different stomp box or rack effects.

Each effect groups offers you a selection of different stomp box or rack effects.

The stomp boxes and rack effects are organised into sensible groups by type and cover gates, compression, boosts, drive, EQ, modulation, delay and reverb types. A quick look at the graphics used will soon reveal some fairly obvious ‘influences’ on many of the effects and there are no prizes for guessing which specific stomp box hardware is targeted.

The app includes some 'drive' pedals if you need to tailor your overdrive, distortion or fuzz sounds.

The app includes some ‘drive’ pedals if you need to tailor your overdrive, distortion or fuzz sounds.

Needless to say, with 25 pedals to choose from, most options will be covered in some form or other… but I won’t be too surprised if, at some stage in the not too distant future, we all see some additional effects being offered via IAP for those that want even more. That said, in my own ‘live’ rig (you know, real pedals with a real amp), I manage with four so having 25 to choose from seems like a lot of options to start with anyway.

Don’t I know you?

The main user interface for BIAS FX is neat, tidy, easy to use… and more than a little ‘familiar’. The whole ‘signal chain overview with single component zoom’ view is one found in a number of different virtual guitar amp sims… but the BIAS FX take is going to be particularly familiar to JamUp Pro users. And if you havn’t already asked yourself the question of where BIAS FX leaves Positive Grid’s JamUp Pro then now perhaps you should, especially if you own that app already…. it’s a point I’ll come back to later.

The top strip of the main display is taken up with access to the preset system, options for sharing and saving presets, access to the ToneCloud system and then, on the right end of the strip, options for switching between ‘signal chain view’ (the default) and ‘pedalboard view’. The latter is a novel features as it replaces the signal chain view with something that looks like a miniature version of the virtual pedalboard you have created.

Thew preset system is well organised and makes it easy to configure your various patches.

Thew preset system is well organised and makes it easy to configure your various patches.

The neat thing here is that you can actually edit all the controls on your amp and effects here within a single screen. Yes, some of them are a tad on the small side so you need nimble fingers to do it with any finesse (and decent eyesight to read the labels on the controls) but, even if you just use it as a place to switch individual stomp boxes on and off, it’s a nice alternative to seeing things spread out along the chain.

The virtual pedalboard view provides you with access to all the effects controls on a single screen...  providing your fingers and eyes are up to the task :-)

The virtual pedalboard view provides you with access to all the effects controls on a single screen… providing your fingers and eyes are up to the task :-)

Also located top-right is access to the Settings menu. This contains all the usual things such as latency settings, background audio, input and output tweaking and, useful if you have a suitable MIDI floorboard that you can hook up to your iPad, MIDI Setting options. If you are brave enough to put your live tone in the hands of Positive Grid, BIAS FX and your iPad, then this will obviously be something you would wish to explore, whether it’s for changing presets of toggling effects on/off as you play. External MIDI hardware permitting, it looks like BIAS FX has this particular featured in hand.

BIAS FX Settings menu....

BIAS FX Settings menu….

The final control in this upper strip is an intriguing one. Tap on the icon/button with the little ‘A’ in it and up pops a list of all the IAA compatible effects apps you have installed. Want to slot Turnado or Flux:FX or DFX or Vandelay or Johnny into your virtual guitar rig as an alternative stomp box/rack-style effect? Well now you can…. and you can place it anywhere within the signal chain that you wish. And, no, you are not limited to a single effect…. keep going until your iPad falls over or your guitar tone is so bonkers that you have no idea what you are playing.

Oooh...  you can add any IAA audio effects app into your signal chain...

Oooh… you can add any IAA audio effects app into your signal chain…

I tried adding a few of my favourite IAA audio effects apps via this route and it seemed to work pretty well. You get a ‘quick switch’ button within BIAS FX so you can easily pop over to the effect app to tweak it’s settings and, if the app’s IAA spec also includes IAA switching controls, then you can get back to BIAS FX equally easily. Note that you only see these apps in the signal chain view; if you switch to the pedal board view they are not shown… but are still active.

This whole IAA effect app hosting seems to be well implemented and it is most certainly not something available in any of the virtual guitar rig competition. Nor is it something that’s easy to do in your real-world of hardware guitar amps and stomp boxes…. If you are into getting creative with your guitar tones and you already have a collection of iOS audio effects apps at your disposal, this is a rather neat way of being able to integrate them into your guitar tones.

You can position your IAA apps anywhere within the signal chain and multiple apps are also allowed.

You can position your IAA apps anywhere within the signal chain and multiple apps are also allowed.

And, rather wonderfully, this all seems to work with the BIAS FX preset system. I didn’t yet test this to exhaustion but saving a preset or three that included IAA apps, they did seem to restore quite happily, including re-opening the apps if required. It’s not perfect in all regards (for example, it doesn’t recall the preset used within the IAA app itself) but, within the confines of what’s possible with current IAA technology, it’s impressive stuff.

Bottom end

Along the bottom of the display you get a combination of input and output level meters as well as access to the tuner, a metronome (great for the more technical players to practice their scales and arpeggios against), the options to switch to ‘Live View’ and access to the Output Settings panel.

Live View will be familiar to JamUp users but the implementation here is more flexible as, not only do you get a bank of four presets that you can easily switch between (plus large arrow buttons to move up/down through the banks of four presets) but you also get on/off buttons for four groups of effects; drive, mod, Delay and reverb. If your preset features any of the effects from these four groups (or multiple examples from a group, tapping one of these buttons with switch that effect off (and then back on again).

BIAS FX includes a 'Live View' mode for easy patch selection and switching key effects on/off.

BIAS FX includes a ‘Live View’ mode for easy patch selection and switching key effects on/off.

Again, this view doesn’t give you buttons for on/off on every effect in your signal chain but, in a live use context where you are using the iPad’s screen for all this stuff rather than a MIDI floorboard, it is most certainly better than nothing and the buttons themselves are large enough that they are easy to use.

The Output Settings panel is also a nice touch. It allows you to tweak at which point of the amp modelling your audio output will leave BIAS FX’s virtual amp. This means that you can, for example, bypass certain elements of the modelling if you actually going to send your iPad’s output into a real guitar amp rather than, for example, into a mixer (and on to the PA). Again, for live use, this ought to make using your iPad in combination with your ‘real’ amp an easier proposition. Equally, you could just roll up to the gig with your iPad and connect up to the house PA system.

The Output Settings panel offers flexibility for getting your BIASFX audio out into the wider (louder) world.

The Output Settings panel offers flexibility for getting your BIASFX audio out into the wider (louder) world.

The chain gang

The main portion of the screen, by default, shows the signal chain view that is familiar to JamUp users (or, indeed, users of a number of other guitar rig sims). Here you can add new items to the signal chain (via the ‘+’ button located on the right) or tap and drag to move items to different locations in the signal chain. You cab also toggle individual effects on/off by tapping and dragging them up/down slightly.

Note that you can place items in any order so, if you want a stomp box either pre- the amp or post- the amp, then that’s fine as is the possibility of multiple instances of the same pedal/effects unit. To delete an item, tap and hold and a ‘Trash can’ icon will appear so you can then drag the item to the trash.

Tapping on any item in the signal chain brings it into focus at the base of the display for detailed editing.

Tapping on any item in the signal chain brings it into focus at the base of the display for detailed editing.

If you tap on an item in the chain this is bought into focus and a larger version of that item then fills the lower half of the display. It’s here that you get the best view for adjusting the individual controls on each effect.

In the calm of your sitting room (or studio space), this is all very easy to work with, although touchscreen controls might be a bit more of a faff in a sweaty gig when you need to make adjustments on the spur of the moment. That said, BIAS FX is no different from any other guitar rig sim in that respect and Positive Grid have done a very good job of making this element of the app as smooth as it might possibly be.

If you tap and then release an existing item in the chain, the ‘Choose’ option will appear under it and you can then tap this to look at alternative items to replace it with. The amp item offers a couple of extra features in this regard. First, if you do the tap/release gesture on this – and you also happen to have BIAS Amps installed – you will get an additional option to ‘Edit in BIAS’. This allows you to automatically open the current amp within BIAS so that you can tweaks its insides or make adjustments to the cab/mic modelling settings. There is also a BIAS icon/button shown on the right of the screen when the amp model is in the focused item; this also takes you straight to BIAS.

If you also own BIAS Amps, then you can, of course, switch to that app for detailed editing of the amp itself.

If you also own BIAS Amps, then you can, of course, switch to that app for detailed editing of the amp itself.

The further option is the ‘+’ icon that appears under the amp within the chain graphic. If you tap on this, you automatically create a dual amp setup with a signal splitter to the left and a mini mixer to the right. You can, therefore, run two separate (and different) amps and you can also place effects devices into the split signal chain so that they only apply to one amp rather than the other.

BIAS FX offers flexible signal chains including a dual chain option.

BIAS FX offers flexible signal chains including a dual chain option.

This whole feature is well thought out. The Splitter allows you to switch between either of the channels or to have both on at the same time. The mixer provides level, pan and delay knobs for each channel. These mean you can easily balance the output of your two amps to produce the required blend and pan them together or spread them across the stereo field.

The Splitter allows you to route the same guitar input to two different amps/effects combinations.

The Splitter allows you to route the same guitar input to two different amps/effects combinations.

The delay option means that you can add just a hint of delay (up to 3ms) between the two signals and, if you are panning left/right, this can enhance the sense of stereo spread and that what you are actually hearing is two guitars playing identical parts; very effective.

The Mixer allows you to balance your dual signal chains to suit.

The Mixer allows you to balance your dual signal chains to suit.

As mentioned earlier, you also get the option to drop IAA effects into your signal chain. The potential here is huge and, if you own a few of the more creative iOS audio effect apps, the option to drop these into your virtual guitar rig is going to open up all sorts of interesting possibilities. Again, this is a novel and very attractive feature of the new app.

Make some noise

In use, BIAS FX has performed very well in my testing to date via my iPad Air 1/iOS8.3 test system. It went belly up on my once (the first time I tried to access the ToneCloud system to download some other user presets). There is, apparently, a know bug here that an update is already in hand for. It did, however, only hit me once and, after that, ToneCloud – which is another excellent feature – worked very well indeed. It is already well stocked with some useful preset content and the small ‘pedalboard view’ graphics you see are a useful indication of what you are about to get if you choose to download.

In terms of sounds…. well, JamUp Pro was good, BIAS Amps was better and, if anything, BIAS FX raises the bar again. The amp models are, of course, based upon the technology within BIAS Amps but, to my ears at least, Positive Grid’s re-modelling of the various effects units provided here has moved on from when JamUp first appeared. This is perhaps not surprising (you would expect things to bet better rather than worse) but I do prefer the BIAS Amps/BIAS FX combo to that of BIAS Amps/JamUp Pro.

I liked the octave pedal...  Royal Blood impression anyone?

I liked the octave pedal… Royal Blood impression anyone?

There are some very cool effects amongst the included collection and, while there will be some users who would much rather have 50 stomp boxes to choose from rather than 25 (!), there is plenty of choice. I do like the various compressors and, under the ‘drive’ options, the key options are covered from overdrive to fuzz to distortion. Both the delay and reverb rack units are also very well featured. Both sound great and I’d be quite keen to experiment with using the reverb as a send effect within my iOS DAW.

The rack-styled stereo reverb sounds very good indeed.

The rack-styled stereo reverb sounds very good indeed.

On a technical front, I had no particular issues using BIAS FX within either Audiobus or via IAA. Using Cubasis as my recording destination, BIAS FX worked smoothly via both routes; whatever your preferred iOS workflow, the app seems happy to play ball.

Equally, I had no issues with the link between BIAS FX and BIAS Amps. I was easily able to switch back and forth (as I could with JamUp Pro) to work on my amp/cab model within BIAS Amps and then simply drop that amp back into BIAS FX to use within my signal chain. Amps of your own design, once imported into BIAS FX, then appear in the amps list when you go to choose an amp for your signal chain…. so this list of choices can easily be grown from the stock of 12 amps supplied with BIAS FX.

BIAS FX seemed quite happy sat within Audiobus.

BIAS FX seemed quite happy sat within Audiobus.

Perhaps my only comment here is that while you can tweak your standard amp controls within BIAS FX, you can’t make adjustments to your cab settings. For that, you have to flip over to BIAS Amps. Whether that functionality – changing cabs, switch mics/mic positions – will ever make it over to BIAS FX or not, I don’t know… but I’m sure tone tweakers would find it useful if it did.

It would be nice to see if the wah pedal could be controlled via MIDI. Answers in a comment please if you get the chance to test it :-)

It would be nice to see if the wah pedal could be controlled via MIDI. Answers in a comment please if you get the chance to test it :-)

I didn’t (yet) get a chance to explore the MIDI features so I’ll reserve comment on those… However, if they work as advertised, then those with a suitable MDI pedalboard ought to be able to get some basic hands-free control. It would be nice to be able to control the virtual wah pedal via this route. I assume this can be done but if you happen to have already put this to the test, then do feel free to leave a comment below :-)

BIAS FX also worked smoothly via IAA when used with Cubasis as my IAA host.

BIAS FX also worked smoothly via IAA when used with Cubasis as my IAA host.

Side-by-side with Mobile POD… well, I’d still be hard pressed to really pick a favourite… There are amp models within the Line 6 app that I turn to on a regular basis and I suspect that I still will. However, BIAS FX sounds hugely impressive; these are tones I’d happily use in any context and, through some decent studio monitors, they sound very convincing indeed.

For those new to mobile-based guitar rig sims, I’ll make one qualifier here; the quality of what you get out does depend very much on the quality of what you put in. Playing competence aside, any guitar amp sim will sound better if your audio input signal is a high quality (free from noise) one. As such, the better the audio interface you can hook up to your iPad, the better the results you are likely to get in terms of guitar tones. This comment would apply to any virtual guitar rig software but, if you want to get the best out of BIAS FX, then put the best signal into it that you can. Do that and the app can really deliver some great sounds.

BIAS FX seems to keep a lid on the high gain noise well...  and the Noise gate can help clean things up further still.

BIAS FX seems to keep a lid on the high gain noise well… and the Noise gate can help clean things up further still.

BIAS FX does cleans very well but, if I think it has a real sweet spot, then it is for rock and metal tones. One thing I did notice – and my comment above about input signal quality is important here – is that BIAS FX seemed a little less prone to unwanted hiss when using higher gain settings. No, you can’t get rid of all that noise (it is, after all, present in the real thing) but BIAS FX seems less prone to it and the Noise Gate pedal can do a decent job of cleaning things up also as it offers a useful noise reduction mode as well as a gate mode.

It takes two?

OK, so BIAS FX is very easy to use, has some excellent novel features and sounds great… but what about a bit of wider context? If you are happy with the 12 amp models supplied, then you can easily use BIAS FX on its own without any other app required for your virtual guitar rig needs. However, for the tone geek, BIAS Amps is such an attractive proposition, that I suspect temptation would prove too great and you would end up with both apps.

On the iPad, I think this ‘two app’ approach is a perfectly sensible route for Positive Grid to have taken. While BIAS Amps can be used stand-alone, its job is really as an amp designer rather than a full-on performance tool… and this latter job is where BIAS FX now fits in the picture. And, on the iPad, this means that you get two – presumably streamlined – apps with one for each specific task, rather than a single ‘mega app’ that combines both functions and would, while running, presumably chew up more of the limited iPad resources. You can choose to run both at the same time but, in a gig situation, you could just run BIAS FX with, presumably, a somewhat lower resources overhead.

BIAS FX has some nice compressor options.

BIAS FX has some nice compressor options.

This does suggest a couple of questions however. First, where does BIAS FX leave JamUp Pro that, up to this point, was Positive Grid’s ‘performance app’? Second, when BIAS FX Desktop is launched, will it adopt the same ‘two app’ structure?

I’ve no insider knowledge on either of these questions so whatever comments I might make here would undoubtedly just be speculation on my part. That said, in terms of the first question, it is difficult to see the logic behind Positive Grid continuing to support for JamUp Pro alongside BIAS FX other than to keep existing customers happy.

BIAS FX could easily be seen as ‘JamUp Pro 2’ or ‘JamUp Pro MAX’; the label is, in a sense, simply a choice about branding and I can absolutely understand why Positive Grid have chosen to stick with the ‘BIAS’ branding. The new app has also has enough unique features to warrant it being something other than just another upgrade to JamUp. Still, I suspect there will be some (many?) existing JamUp Pro users – especially those that might have invested heavily in IAPs – who are wondering quite what might happen to their favourite guitar amp sim over the coming months. Hopefully, Positive Grid will be able to reassure them…   and possible devise a means by which JamUp Pro users might get hold of BIAS FX at some kind of discounted price (perhaps through an App Bundle?). Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the company approach this….

I’ll also be interested to see how the desktop version of BIAS FX is structured. As explained above, it’s easy enough to make the case for two apps on the iPad but, with desktop computers generally well able to cope with the stresses of software bloat, it might be a more interesting challenge for the ‘two app’ approach to be sold to guitar players on the desktop. I can see the concept; amp design + virtual guitar rig, but the two could also be welded together into a single piece of software.

The ToneCloud system means there are plenty of user presets already available for the app.

The ToneCloud system means there are plenty of user presets already available for the app.

I’ve no idea which way Positive Grid might go with this (although I suspect the two app approach is more likely) so, again, it will be interesting to see…. Either way, I wish them luck with creating a significant dent in the desktop market place because it would be great to see one of the leading iOS developers being able to make that transition and succeed.

Upgraded model?

This is perhaps a bit of a side issue given that this is a review of the technical merits of BIAS FX but it is an issue that a release like BIAS FX throws into sharp relief.

I’m sure lots of iOS guitar players will, like myself, be hugely impressed by what BIAS FX has to offer. What I’m less certain about the response BIAS FX will receive is from the dedicated JamUp Pro user community and, in particular, those JamUp Pro users who have, to this point, used JamUp exclusively and perhaps invested heavily in IAPs for that app. While I’m sure they will be also be impressed by what Positive Grid are offering in BIAS FX – and it is very impressive – they might also want to know whether they are going to get some sort of incentive as a loyal JamUp customer to be able to access that newer technology.

I’ve made the point before that the App Store pricing model is just slightly bonkers. It is weighted very heavily in favour of us as users through the low pricing structure (which makes consumers resistant to anything that breaks out too far from that) and free updates. None of this makes it easy for developers unless they are selling massive unit numbers. From this perspective, I’ve every sympathy with developers – Positive Grid included – as they try to obtain a suitable return for their investment in developing our favourite iOS music apps.

When using IAA apps within BIAS, you can easily flip back and forth between the app and BIAS FX for editing purposes.

When using IAA apps within BIAS, you can easily flip back and forth between the app and BIAS FX for editing purposes… as shown here for Johnny.

What we actually need is a decent upgrade system within the App Store. This is, of course, in Apple’s hands and not those of Positive Grid (or other iOS music app developers). Taking BIAS FX as an example – although the argument could easily be applied to any app – if the App Store made it possible for this first release of BIAS FX to be marketed as an upgrade from JamUp Pro, with a ‘full version’ and ‘upgrade version’ pricing approach, this would be much easier for both the developer and the user to make sense of.

For existing users, it would allow them to consider whether the upgrade represented a good deal for them…. and it would give the developer a much easier route by which to take their loyal customer base with them.

This is, of course, exactly how it works in the desktop computer universe anywhere outside of the Mac App Store…

Whether Positive Grid will add further virtual kit via IAPs, as supplied, there is already plenty of choice within BIAS FX.

Whether Positive Grid will add further virtual kit via IAPs, as supplied, there is already plenty of choice within BIAS FX.

To repeat, I don’t know whether Positive Grid consider BIAS FX to be an ‘upgrade’ from JamUp Pro or not but, either way, they are somewhat constrained by how the iTunes App Store allows significant upgrades – and that’s a term that itself is difficult to define – to generate a serious return on investment for the developers. Here’s hoping that Positive Grid can find a way to navigate the pricing options offered by the App Store in order to keep their enthusiastic JamUp Pro users content.

In summary

BIAS FX is, undoubtedly, a bit of a triumph. It sounds great, has plenty of features to work as a stand-alone app, offers some flexible and novel signal chain options for building your custom (virtual) guitar rig and integrates brilliantly with BIAS Amps and ToneCloud. Fans of BIAS Amps – and dedicated iOS guitar-heads – will, I suspect, lap it up regardless of what other guitar amp sims they own already. Some JamUp Pro users might have a more difficult decision to make but, to me at least, BIAS FX is a step up – technically and sonically – from JamUp Pro.

To re-iterate, guitar tone is a very personal thing and there are some excellent competitors to BIAS FX on the App Store. That said, if you are just making your first steps with mobile virtual guitar rigs, BIAS FX is undoubtedly a brilliant piece of software and would be a great place to start. I can’t, of course, decide for you whether you need the app, or whether you can justify buying another virtual guitar rig if you already own one (or more). However, from a technical, sound and value for money perspective, I would happily recommend it without reservation.

BIAS FX



BIAS  – Amps! – for iPad



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    Comments

    1. Hi All… as a follow up to the review, note that Positive Grid have put some information online in the last few hours outlining how they see the relationship between BIAS FX and JamUp Pro…. this might help you see the the reasoning behind the thinking and approach adopted….

      http://www.positivegrid.com/2015/04/all-you-need-to-know-about-bias-fx/

      best wishes, John

    2. Awesome Awesome Awesome review John! Just skimmed it. Gonna read indepth in a bit.

      I can download from the cloud in Bias FX, but………. I get an error when I try to upload my FX rack to the cloud. Network error. Is there anyone else getting this error? I’ve tried multiple times.

      Thing is, I’ve got a couple of really heavy thrash presets to upload. A must for everyone ya know. ;)

      The sound quality in this is even better than JamUP, which I didn’t think was possible. I was always impressed with JamUp’s quality of FX. This, if possible….blows it out of the water.

      • Hi Jayson… thanks for the kind words. In terms of the ToneCloud upload, I managed to do this OK although it did take a little time. Downloading also worked fine…. Best wishes, John

    3. ElectricWombat says:

      Thanks for that brilliant review John (as always)! I finally feel completely satisfied to have the vale of mysticism surrounding ‘Bias FX’ removed; and it genuinely looks like a game changing addition to the IOS platform! It will be wonderful to see and hear diverse examples of its use begin to appear now that it’s available to the masses.

      Positive Grid don’t appear too interested in developing an iPhone version currently (which I can understand as the desktop version is the next release priority later this year); but it might appear in due course as it would be strange for it not to with Bias already being represented on the iPhone platform.

      Consequently (as David remarked in a previous thread) ‘JamUp Pro’ will continue to be a useful complimentary FX solution for iPhone users in the foreseeable future; which is somewhat reassuring! It’s all very exciting news anyway, thanks once again for creating a really detailed enlightening review! :)

    4. Hey,

      Anyone know in The virtual pedalboard screen, if you swipe the screen to the left, there is another screen that slides in, kinda like an inner component view of? I don’t know the Amp, or pedal board. What is the use of this screen? Anyone know. Some FX show up there and others don’t.

      • Bit of a late reply but the area to the right is where rack style effects are shown (as opposed to pedal style effects). If your active preset contains none of the rack style do-hickies, you’ll see an empty rack.

    5. MojozArt says:

      In regard to MIDI, you can long press on any knob and a popup will appear that enables you to manually assign or teach the CC#. For the Wah pedal position, press on the foot pad. Currently, this is the only Wah parameter that can be controlled. There is no way to assign a CC that switches Wah on or off, but there is for many of the other pedals: long press on their red enabled light.

    6. MojozArt says:

      Update: The Wah can be toggled via MIDI from Live View. The bottom row of cells in Live View are MIDI-assignable, and each cell can be programmed to toggle an effect or group of effects. I expect even more MIDI control will be forthcoming.

    7. Ramati Avraham says:

      You can control the wah using Roland expression pedal connected to midi Bluetooth controller

    8. Great review, John!

      So…I just purchased Jamup Pro (at $4.99, thankfully).

      I was planning on purchasing the all-access pack (when it goes on sale, of course) but, should I apply those funds to BIAS Fx instead????

      Is the sound that much superior???

      Thanks, as always!

      • Hi Scott, both JamUp Pro and BIAS FX sound good…. but I think most of those who have used both would probably feel that BIAS FX is the better app in terms of sound quality/fidelity… This isn’t much of a surprise as PG have reworked the modelling pretty much from the ground up for BIAS FX… Whether you need both perhaps depends upon what you are using the apps for…. If it is just for some personal practice through some earbuds then maybe you wouldn’t really worry which of the two you were using…. However, if it is something more critical – and with playback through a better reproduction system such as studio monitors or a decent PA – then I suspect BIAS FX will give the better results all other things being equal. Not sure if that helps? :-) best wishes, John

    9. Also, should I consider purchasing the Jamup all-access just to be able to import those effects to the BIAS FX module???

      You are the best iOS music blogger by far!!!

    10. My burning question was not answered in your review —shocking! :)

      When using Bias FX to record into Cubasis, how noticable is the latency? I most often record into Auria using Auria’s IAP plugin of JamUp, since using the seperate JamUp app via Audiobus introduces too much latency for my taste. This is not ideal since the IAP version of JamUp is pretty limited. I would love to have the options and variety of a Bias FX/Bias combo, but not if every note I play gets lost in the circuits and grabs a beer before finally ariving at my monitors or headphones.

      • Hi ZenLizard…. Good question…. but also, perhaps, one that’s quite difficult to answer…. or, at least, one with many answers. When using just BIAS FX and Cubasis, I didn’t find the latency to be an issue at all. This will, however, I suspect, depend upon your iOS hardware (i.e. what generation of iPad), perhaps a little on your audio hardware, and what other apps (workload) your iPad is also dealing with…. The other thing is that some folks do just seem to be more sensitive to this than others… I have a drummer friend who swears to me that he can ‘hear’ latency when I can’t…. I guess maybe his sense of timing – and what’s ‘tight’ and what’s not – is just more highly developed than mine….
        Anyway, not sure if that helps…. but, for my money, it is fine providing your iPad is one of the newer models (I’m still on an Air 1 here) and you are not also running a bunch of other stuff at the same time…. Best wishes,
        John

        • Thanks John, I decided to finally pick up Bias FX and tried it via IAA with Cubasis this afternoon, and I can live with the latency I was getting. I guess I’m like the drummer you describe – I notice even the tiniest amount of latency. I had to learn to deal with it in the early days of desktop DAWs but I never learned to like it.

          It is probably worth mentioning that I got these results inputting my guitar into a Focusrite Dock and an Air 2, iOS 8.4. I used more pedals than I probably will under normal circumstances and split into two signal paths (something I KNOW I will use often). I haven’t tested it yet but I would guess that adding IAA effects into Bias FX will increase latency to some extent.

          For those who own Bias and like it I will highly recommend. Bias with Bias FX is a definitive step up from the Bias/Jamup combo in terms of sound quality and versatility.

          • Hi ZenLizard… thanks for this. Yep, any additional processing you put in the signal chain will add a little bit of latency…. guess you just have to suffer with it if you are particularly sensitive to this…. For guitar players, this is one of the ‘cons’ of using in-the-box amp modelling as opposed to a dedicated modelling hardware unit or a real amp… I certainly don’t get any sense of latency when using my hardware Line 6 POD unit… but inside the that unit there is still some computation going on to do the modelling work…. Anyway, glad you are enjoying the sound of BIAS FX…. Best wishes, John

    11. Brilliant demo ! And nice playing :) I use Bias amp, JamUp and Yonac ToneStack, in addition to GB amps, which I find quite interesting. Yonac’s is a great puece of software, with realistic amp sims and tons of effects. Well done Jim, thanks for your input to the modeling iOs community ! \m/

    12. Hey, great article man. Thanks for it. I downloaded the demo version of Bias Desktop and I have to say it must be the most realistic sounding guitar emulator I’ve ever tried. It’s great. It’s still not exactly like tube amps but it is really close to what tube amps sound when recorded. I will be buying this software soon.
      Thanks again.

      • Hi Exequiel… thanks for the kind words…. and here’s hoping you can get hold of yor purchased copyt soon and make some great tones :-) best wishes, John

    13. Marino DelaRosa says:

      I was seriously considering BIAS FX. But I couldn’t understand, why with all of their extraordinary sounds, would they not put as much expertise in developing and creating their guitar tuner. I must be honest in saying that it doesn’t perform very well. I don’t really need the tuner as I’m a very experienced guitar player and I have various other options of this sort, but to me it shows consistency. Anyway in the mean time I discovered TH3outloud and decided that in the money/ performance catagory it wins extremely well. Sorry BIAS FX .

      • Hi Marino…. Do you mean the THM plugin for Auria or the desktop version of Overloud? I looked at the Auria plugin when it was first released and it is very good…. but obviously only for Auria users. I’ve not tried the desktop version so I’d be interested to hear your views if you have…. Persoanlly, I find the tuner in BIAS FX OK but maybe my ears are just not very good from standing too close to too many drum kits :-) very best wishes, John

        • Marino DelaRosa says:

          Desktop version…. seriously???

          • Marino DelaRosa says:

            Desktop TH3onerloud performs excellent with Windows10 64bit. It has a chromatic tuner. I’m using my BOSS ME-25 as an interface. I just begin with a very clean dry preset. My Boss ME-25 has a built in tuner, and when I use it at the same time as the tuner on the TH3, the TH3 is perferct, I had tried it with BIAS FX, and the tuner on the BIAS FX was about a whole step and a half off. But I’m sure it’s just a minor problem. I also got a lot of pops and cracks with BIAS when I used it with Reaper. THANK YOU very much for your replies sir.
            Best Regards…- Marino

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