ToneStack review – Yonac’s guitar amp sim and its Motherload of virtual kit

Download from iTunes App Storetonestack logoI did a quick launch day review of Yonac’s ToneStack a few weeks ago when it first appeared on the App Store as I’d been lucky enough to get access to a pre-release version of the app and had spent a couple of days experimenting with it. Overall, I was very impressed and, as the app was launched with introductory pricing of UK£2.99, I’d have no hesitation in saying the base app represents excellent value for money… and, incidentally, that introductory pricing is still available as of the time of writing.

While that initial review contained a broad overview of what the app is about, the key features supplied with the base app and some initial reactions to how it works and sounds, I did promise I’d follow up with some further thoughts. This is worth doing on three grounds. First, I’ve now spent more time with the app so I’ll perhaps offer a more considered opinion (still very positive by the way). Second, I can fill in some additional details on some features that I didn’t really cover in the initial review. Finally, as I’ve now had access to all the additional amp, cab and effects that are available as IAPs (effectively the full ‘Motherload c.1.0’ IAP that is currently priced at UK£34.99), I’ll offer a few thoughts on what that has to offer.

ToneStack - Yonac's take on guitar amp modelling.

ToneStack – Yonac’s take on guitar amp modelling.

Other than a brief re-cap below, I’ll not repeat too much of what appeared in the first review – I’ll take that as read – so hop over there first and then pop back here….  I’ll wait for you :-)

Back for more

…  are you back then….? Good. Let’s start with that (very) brief recap. If you have used any of the other popular iOS guitar amp modelling apps such as BIAS (OK, maybe BIAS is somewhat different), JamUpMobile PODAmplitube or AmpKit+, then the basic format of ToneStack will be instantly familiar. You get a collection of modelled guitar amps, speaker cabinets and stomp box effects that you can combine in a very flexible signal chain to build your ideal guitar tones.

There is a preset system for storing tones, an ‘onstage’ mode for using the app live (and comprehensive MIDI support if you have a suitable MIDI floorboard hooked into your system to control the app). There is also all the usual extra facilities you might expect given the obvious competition; a tuner, an audio file playback system (the Tapedeck) and a built-in recording feature (inStudio; initially 2 tracks but expandable up to 8 tracks).

The onStage mode and MIDI support will be great for live users.

The onStage mode and MIDI support will be great for live users.

The initial asking price delivers you 6 different amps, 6 matching cabs (these can be mixed and matched with the amps) and 20 different effects. However, from day 1 there are a range of IAPs available either for individual items or various bundles (including the ‘Motherload’ bundle at UK£34.99 that gives you everything currently available). The basic collection is pretty impressive and you can coax a huge range of tones from the very sensible selection of included amp models…. tone-geeks will obviously get a kick out of some extra ‘toys’ to play with though so an IAP or three might be very tempting.

The app is universal, launched with both Audiobus and IAA support and the Audiobus support includes State Saving, the ability to chain as many virtual components as your CPU can handle, support for MIDI Clock and the very interesting ABY pedal (found in the Utility category) that provides a signal splitter so you can send the same guitar input signal to two completely different signal chains.

Rock school

So, in spending more time with the base app, what additional things have I learned over the last few weeks? Well, the first thing to say is that I’m still impressed with the sound. The six amps and cabs provided by default allow for a pretty good range of tones. You can do various types of ‘clean’ with almost any of the amps by choosing the right virtual channel, although the ’59 and ’65 Verbmaker are probably the best bets for this territory.

All the amps are pretty versatile including the Bear Republic although it excels at high gain settings.

All the amps are pretty versatile including the Bear Republic although it excels at high gain settings.

Crunch is perhaps best served by the Britannia and Bristol City models (and no prizes for guessing the basis of these models based upon the graphics used). Again, there is plenty of scope here to go from ‘just breaking up’ blues through to classic ‘rawk’. My only additional comment here would be that the models perhaps don’t respond quite as well as (for example) my Line 6 hardware amp modeller to rolling off the guitar volume. On my desktop modeller, this does clean up the tone much like a ‘real’ amp responds. In fairness to ToneStack, I’m not sure most of the other iOS amp modellers really capture this with any great detail either.

The Noise X! pedal is a useful tool if you use high gain settings...  and the Bit Mistress has a great attitude :-)

The Noise X! pedal is a useful tool if you use high gain settings… and the Bit Mistress has a great attitude :-)

Rounding off the default amp set are the Leeds and Bear Republic amps and associated cabs. Both of these are (obviously) intended to get you into higher gain sounds but they are also both surprisingly versatile. As both feature dual channels with independent gain controls you can easily dial in a wide range of tones and, whether you want classic rock, modern rock or a touch of metal, then it can be found here. Yes, once you wind the gain up towards the top end of its range then you do need to stick a bit of noise control in at the start of end of your signal chain (I used the Noise X! pedal as the first item in my own chain and this cleans things up quite nicely) but, again, this is no different from any other amp modeller app (or even most real amps).

Hey, good looking…

The user interface of ToneStack follows a fairly conventional approach in terms of the key visual elements. It looks great and all the key controls are of a suitable size (on the iPad at least; things are obviously a little more ‘compact’ on the iPhone) for very easy use.

That said, after spending a little more time with the app, there are a couple of operational tweaks I’d love to see. First, I’d like both the main equipment panel and the signal chain overview panel just above it, to be more easily ‘swipeable’ to scroll left/right. I must admit that I find the scroll bar beneath the main panel a bit counter-intuitive as you have to move it in the opposite direction to that you would use if you could actually swipe.

The app includes a nice tuner options also.

The app includes a nice tuner options also.

Equally, if you have a complex signal chain (perhaps using a dual chain setup via the ABY splitter pedal) then you can end up with more devices than you can actually see in the panel….  but getting it to scroll without also moving an existing item to a different position requires a bit of finesse.

Finally, I think the ‘tap and hold’ time in the upper, overview, display is just a tad on the long side before the FX Browser window appears; a double tap option would be nice but that’s used to bring the tapped object centre-stage in the lower portion of the display (which is a very useful feature). Anyway, it might be nice to be able to adjust the tap and hold time slightly….

I want more…

While the base app with its six amps, associated cabs and selection of stomp box effects is an impressive bundle for the very modest launch price of UK£2.99, if you are a dedicated tone-hound, then I suspect the various iAPs available within ToneStack are going to prove very tempting. The Store contains a whole range of options for both individual items (each amp/cab combination is UK£2.49 for example), bundles (UK£6.99 for a bundle of 3 amps, cab and around 5 effects for example) or, for the fully committed, there is the Motherload v.1.0 at UK£34.99.

Having bought the app and loved the sound, how long before you need the Motherload IAP? Not essential but very desirable.... :-)

Having bought the app and loved the sound, how long before you need the Motherload IAP? Not essential but very desirable…. :-)

The latter opens up everything that is offered in this first release. It adds a further 18 amps and associated cabs, 50 effects and the 8-track recorder options. In short, this is a heap of virtual equipment that ought to keep even the most retentive tone-tweaker happy for a very long while. As with the base app, I was able to give all of these additional features a run through via a beta-version of ToneStack…  so, is the Motherload worth a pop?

The array of amps is impressive. While you can’t always guess the exact model based upon the combination of graphics and label, the broad inspirations are obvious. What we get here, therefore, are various Marshall, Vox, Orange and Fender inspired amp models plus a few more esoteric offerings. Again, you are simply adding to your tonal choices so I guess it depends upon just how many flavours of ‘rock’ you like to use but there are some great tones to be had here and I particularly liked the two Orange inspired amps (Citrus Peel and Tangerine) that sounded great with a humbucker-based guitar; warm, overdriven and suitably classic rock :-)

With the Motherload installed you get a total of 24 different amp/cab combinations to mix and match between.

With the Motherload installed you get a total of 24 different amp/cab combinations to mix and match between.

Via the FX Browser, all the effects are organised into logical groups. By the time you add in the Motherload option, you end up with 18 items in the Distortion, OD & Fuzz group so, almost whatever style of virtual grunge you want, you will have an option. I’m more of an overdrive personal than a fuzz or distortion fan so, again, I particularly liked the Orange Juice, Austin Strangemaster, Compulsive OD and Clean Boost pedals. However, if you want something a little more aggressive then the Metal Monger or Muffin Pie are both very good and with enough tonal control that things don’t have to get too fizzy.

The Motherload also brings a huge number of distortion and overdrive options.

The Motherload also brings a huge number of distortion and overdrive options.

The Filter group offers you 13 effects that include various EQs, a number of wahs and various other ‘filter’ pedals. Of the latter, I particularly liked the Magellan Filter that could conjure up all sorts of rather nice auto-wah style results.

There are 16 effects in the Modulation groups with various flangers, phasers and chorus varieties to choose from. I have to admit that modulation effects are not generally my thing but I did like the Bit Mistress effect (wonderfully weird) even if I was mostly attracted initially by the name :-)

The other groups – Pitch Mod, Delay & Reverb, Dynamics, Rotary and Utilities (which just contains that very useful ABY splitter pedal) – all contain some both useful and, occasionally, off-the-wall stuff. Needless to say, all your routine effects are catered for so don’t worry about not having a suitable reverb, delay or compressor as the Motherload means you are fully stocked. I really liked the Cosmic Echo and, of those more left-field effects, I particularly enjoyed Dual Harmony, Octave Maker and Rotarybox.

Red lights

As with a number of the other iOS guitar amp sim apps, ToneStack does offer a ‘studio’ option – called inStudio – if you need it. This is obviously part of the Motherload bundle but you can add it on its own as a separate UK£2.99 IAP if you wish. What you get is a fairly straightforward 8-track audio-only recording deck with level, pan, mute and solo controls for each track.

If you just want something to use to work up a few guitar-based chord progressions, or to lay down some chords to practice against, then this works absolutely fine and it very simple to operate. However, if you really want to get into full demo recording – including vocals, synths, drums, etc. – then you would probably be better served by one of the dedicated iOS recording apps; inStudio does it’s job well enough but it is not really a fully-fledged DAW.

For basic 8-track recording needs, the inStudio options is a usefull addition.

For basic 8-track recording needs, the inStudio options is a usefull addition.

In summary

I really do like the sound of ToneStack. Even with the base app – with its current UK£2.99 launch price tag – there are plenty of options and the ability to create almost any combination of effects in the very flexible signal chain – including those dual chains via the ABY splitter effect – is really very good indeed.

If you are just starting out with iOS guitar amp sims, ToneStack is most certainly a decent place to kick off and, at the launch price, is an absolute bargain. Of course, if you get hooked, then the Motherload does come with a somewhat larger price tag. However, I really do think it offers decent value for money. For newbies I’m not sure I’d suggest it was an essential extra but, if you work with the base app for a while and decide it is for you, then the Motherload offers an impressive array of additional options to explore.

In total, the Motherload option provides you with some 50effects pedals to explore.

In total, the Motherload option provides you with some 50effects pedals to explore with the Filter, EQ and Wah options shown here.

In the course of reviewing the various iOS guitar amp sims for the Music App Blog, I’ve obviously been lucky enough to try them all. I can honestly say that I also use them all on occasions. However, the apps I personally reach for most often are the JamUp Pro/BIAS combination and, when I have my Line 6 Sonic Port to hand, Mobile POD. Both of these setups now feel like old friends and, because of that, I can usually get to the tone I need very quickly.

In contrast, ToneStack still feels like a new guitar buddy might….  and I’m still working out quite how I interact with it to get the best from it. However, so far at least, I’m very impressed. Whether my ‘new buddy’ will replace either of my ‘old buddies’ I’ll have to wait and see…  but I’m enjoying the ride while I work that one out.

The bottom line here, however, is that I ToneStack is good enough to stand up against my personal weapons of choice….  and that in itself is a recommendation. Keen (app addict) iOS guitar players will probably just want to add it to their collection anyway but, if you are looking for a first guitar amp sim app, ToneStack is a very worthy competitor for the best of what’s already out there.

ToneStack



 

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    Comments

    1. How does it sound in comparison to Amplitube?

      • Hi Dean, that’s a tricky question :-) Guitar tones are such a personal thing…. so, while I might like X, the next person might well prefer Y…. and as all these apps are constantly being tweaked by their developers, things will also change over time. If AmpliTube was the only iOS guitar amp sim on my iPad/iPhone, I’d be more than happy to use it…. but I’d say the same about ToneStack and I do like the options that the signal splitter pedal offers in that app. My own personal choices tend to be BIAS and Mobile POD but then I’m lucky enough to have an iPad stuffed full of these apps to choose from and not everyone is in that position…. I think I’d then go to ToneStack after those two… but, again, that’s just what suits me…. Not sure this really helps? Best wishes, John

    2. hey iphone 5 user with all said programs and ampkithd link still using my jam 1st though.

      Amplitubes amp modeling is good but much more limited than jamup and amp kit and tonestack but still they do all sound good. The program that has the most fun per feature is definately yonac but under the right circumstance maybe positive grid. that looper in jamup is a lot of fun and I cant help wonder why everyone else ignored this and didnt try to bring a looper to their software. Still love them though. if you know what you are doing you will get professional results everytime and be satisfied.

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