Monday, October 29, 2007

Musical Equipment Review : Digitech GNX4 Workstation

Hey Guys! This is my first Musical Equipment review, and probably the only one I will do for the next 2 years. I have decided to review my most used piece of equipment in this post, which is the Digitech GNX4 Workstation. The Digitech GNX4 workstation was is a sequel to the popular GNX3 Workstation (which is surprising the sequel to the GNX2 and GNX1!). The GNX series was designed to cut down on the average musicians equipment clutter and to just simply the musicians setup.

If you have ever watched a live performance you undoubtedly see that the guitarist and bass players have several boxes at their feet that they hit with their feet at times. These boxes, known as stomp boxes, are distortions and effects, which are used to alter the tone to their particular preference. Most professional boxes go for $200 plus each, while middle of the road is generally 75-150. Generally a guitarist will have distortion, delay, compressor, noise gate, tuner, Wah, and Chorus maybe a flanger or phaser for novelty, each of these effects connected to each other between the guitar and the amp. Now thats a lot of equipment to setup move and lug around, so many create a pedalboard as seen above. Some companies have started producing "set" pedalboards which have several effects set up and the ability to create presets, the downside is that you cannot add to variety of effects that the company chose to put in the machine, but you have the convenience of having it all in one secure package costing quite a bit less then buying all the effects separately. all combined electronically in a rugged metal box.

The GNX series does not only cut down on the stomp boxes, but also on the amps! Thats right, it models amps and simulates the sound so that you don't need to lug around your amps to every gig, this is known as Amp Modeling, and although it is frowned upon by some who say that its not "real", it provides a healthy alternative to buying several different amps (which can range from $500 or $5000 each).

The GNX series
is a combination of an amp simulators, and pedalboard all combined electronically in a rugged metal box.



THE EVOLUTION OF THE GNX SERIES
GNX1
The original GNX1 come out in 2001 with a retail of $499 U.S. The GNX1 included Amp Models, Cabinets, an effects board, Jamman, Rythemn Trainer, and 24 presets, but the real innovation of this unit was the powerful amp warping feature, which is discribed on the official Digitech GNX1 Page as follows:
"The GNX1™ is much more advanced than the conventional amp modeling processors to date. Thanks to DigiTech’s AudioDNA™ DSP Engine and the software power provided by GeNetX™, the GNX1™ allows the musician to literally create their own amp model, their own speaker cabinet, their own signature sound. The GNX1™ provides several of the most popular amp models and speaker cabinets to choose from and GENETX™ provides the tools and technology to “warp” the characteristics of these components together into your own “Hypermodel”. Imagine having the ability to create a completely unique amp/cabinet combination that only your imagination could envision, until now."

1.Product Page for the GNX1
2.Audio Demo of the GNX1



GNX2
The next generation, the GNX2, was released only 6 months after the original and added more effects, stompbox models, an acoutic guitar simulator, more amp models and cabinets, more presets, and a talker effect, added a microphone jack, all once again for around $500 U.S.
1.Product Page for the GNX2


GNX3
The thrid generation the GNX3, was released a year later in July 2002. The new version has surprisingly fewer amp models, but more presets, a drum machine to replace the rythemn trainer, and added a very inovative on bord 8 track recorder, which doubles as a Jam Man, which generally sells from $300-400 US. Also added was a memory card slot. The retail price of the GNX3 was once again around $500 US.
1.Product Page for the GNX3



GNX4
The GNX4, released in 2004, took the GNX3's model to the next level, not adding too many huge new innovations but working off the gnx3 model and adding in the detail, adding more Amps, adding Bass Amps and Cabinets, more presets, they made the GNX unit compatible with up to 2Gig compact disc with allows for more recording time and adding 80 more presets bringing the total number of possible on board presets to 240. They adding a USB connection for studio quality sound recording along with XLR outputs. They enhanced the drum machine to sound better, to include several new drum patterns, or to even make your own, and added the ability to choose from 8 drum kits. The GNX4 also adds better pedal assignment and accessibility. Along with the following software:
Pro Tracks PLUS
Lexicon Pantheon Reverb Plug-in
Cakewalk Pyro Express CD burning
BIAN deck 3.5 SE Mac recording
X-Edit Editor-Library
The GNX4 was designed not to replace the GNX3 but to give some useful utilities and compatibility options, for those who are willing to pay for it. The original price of the GNX4 was around $600 US.

1.
Video Demo for the GNX4, Just click the video link
2.Product Page for the GNX4
3.Audio Demo for the GNX4

GNX3000
The next line in the GNX series GNX3000, which employees three times the amount of amp models(43), along with and increase to 25 cabinets models, but loses the the 8-track recorder (and the Jamman feature), also loses the CF card slot altogether, adds some more stompboxes, lowers the amount of potential presets from 240 to 195, and they made it more skexy by having it in black! The GNX 3000 was meant to improve the sound of the GNX series and broaden the stock amp models and sound, but was not designed to replace the GNX4, but rather to provide an cheaper alternative, for those who don't want so many bells and whistles or onbord recording. In reality this unit replaces the GNX3 more then GNX4. The price tag on the GNX3000 is a very reasonable $400 US, making it the cheapest at release of the series.
1. Sound Demo for the GNX3000
2.Video Demo, just click the GNX3000 option
3. GNX3000 Product Page


THE SEARCH

I have gone through 3 multi-effects pedals, the first is the discontinued RP-300A and RP-100, but this unit was my first serious amp modeler. I realized that I am probably never going to be a rock star with thousands of dollars to blow, and as such I would have to resort to either very few amps and effects, or get a pedalboard which gives you a broader range of sounds with a cheaper price tag, so I decided to see what was out there.

When I set out to find a new pedal, I first looked at the GNX series because I was pleased with my previous Digitech products. I started reading user reviews at Harmony Central,watching the video demos, reading and participating in the forums, reading the manuals, and listening to what the average user was making on their pedal. I had the opportunity to try out several other multi-effects, and amp modeling units, such as the leading competitor the Pod XT-Live, which has nice sound which is in my opinion comparable with the GNX4(with tweaking).

Now I won't lie to you, I was taken in by the GNX4 partly because I loved all the accessories and I'm a fool for the "All In One" deals. When I go out to buy something of this magnitude, I usually go for high-end merchandise, and the ones that I think I will be using 20 years from now (though I am not even 20 yet), a 'one-time-fix' deal. At the end of this search there were 2 choices that were really in the foremost of my mind, those were, the Digitech GNX4, and the Line 6 POD XT LIVE.
The overall impression I got while comparing these two units was that for out-of-the-box sound, the best choice would probably be the POD XT LIVE, for recording and studio work the GNX4 was the unit. If your interest in using the pedal as an effects board Digitech has put some cool effects that Line 6 just doesn't have in their model but Line 6 does have a LOT of effects, but not as good of quality if you ask me, I'll call this one a tie. If you were interested in tweaking the sound, the GNX4 was a more powerful unit with the Amp Warping ability, providing endless possibilities in sounds. This is what sold me on the GNX4, I was interested in creating my own sound, creating my own Amp and Cabinet, I was very impressed with the online community and the possibilities, and I was very interested in the Jamman and recording. So finally after months of research, I walked away with the Digitech GNX4.



The GNX4

So now having had this unit several months, and have gotten past the novelty phase, what do I have to say about it?

Amp Modeling

Ok lets get down to the hard facts. This pedal was made to Sound like Amps, you can pick the amp you wish, and then select a cabinet, then you can mess around with the Gain, Treble/Middle/Bass Frequency and levels, Sound is very subjective, and on amp models it is even harder to gauge, you start asking questions like "Is it realistic?", and "Is my amp corrupting the sound?". This unit is meant to emulate a particular amp (or a "new" amp) so the sound you hear is a product of 3 things 1-Guitar, 2-Pedal ,3-Amp, so to have a fair test of the pedal we have to uniform number 1 and 3.

1-So for number 1, to compare you need to be playing the amp and the pedal with the same 2-guitar!
3-As for number 3 you can either plug in the said amp model into YOUR amp, or simply use headphones for the pedal!(make sure the settings are uniform as well, or at least fool around with them to see how close you can get)

Ok so this is done... Does it sound exactly like the real thing? Doubtful, maybe similar, maybe true in some cases, maybe very close in others, but no amp modeler (that I have seen) can duplicate the exact true sound of an amp. But personally I don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to through around buying amps, and this is a great realistic(enough) alternative. If this was it for amp modeling in the GNX4 then it would be just another pedal, a average unit.

Having said this the power in the GNX4 is that you can "warp" the existing amp models to produce differant models and makes, or to create your own original sounding amp. I think that the GNX series is THE leading pedal for amp modeling, or at least in some regards. Digitech has online sound communities, which is very, very powerful source, you can create and share presets, songs,and amp models. This allows for a collective progression in Amp Modeling, the seeming initiator is a man named mike, who on the community is known as Guitar3456. Guitar3456 studied and analyzed the sound waves and patterns that amps made, and used the GNX4's warping capabilities to more accurately emulate different amps, and improve the existing amp models. He says on the forum
"When users were dismayed early on by the GNX4 basic models and posting their disappointment for firmware revisions (at the Digitech Sound Community), I thought it would be nice to have a huge library (of amp models). The problem was getting the specs to follow the amp which you cannot do with one basic model. So I sampled them (GNX4 amp models) to identify their shortcomings. That's when I decided to sample real amps and compare them using an analyzer. When I pushed further, I found that my GNX4 was awesome compared to other amp modelers (allows you to warp multiple amp models to obtain realistic results). Local guys started coming over for customizing their pedal. So one thing led to another and the Ultimate endeavor came to life. Months and months of work, equipment, rentals..."

He did this on his own for quite a while turning out awesome presets and amp models, he became the heart of the GNX community, until digitech hired him. Now he has been put to work and has with Digitech created 3 "Supermodel Discs" which hold : "
Over 1000 total presets/folders of Amp Models, organized by Mfg/ Amp Type, including patches and custom hypermodels of various settings..best yet, they are easily adjustable. You'll have so much !! There are over 200 model variations and presets just for Marshall
Dozens of Amp manufacturer models and presets. Arranged from A to Z. These include the hypermodels of various settings like Clean, Crunch ( various), Lead (various) and many other of the full feature models as well. Things like Variac, Power Break, Ultra Mode, Modified amp models, Custom amp models, Artist Models, and much more...
Acoustic Guitar and Amp Models of Larrivee, Ovation, Guild, Takamine, Carvin, Peavey and more..
Custom Models of Guitar Amp Cabinets ranging from 8's to 4x12 Stacks. From single series to 1960's ,1960A's ( full stack), Randall, Carvin, Mesa, and more...
Custom Signature Amp Models...Slash, Zakk's Custom 1987 JCM800,
Dozens of Artist preset patches from A to Z. Country, Jazz, Blues, or Rock...in there!! From Classic Page, Hendrix, Trower, Angus, BB, Holdsworth, Methaney, Rockabilly, Chuck Berry, Clapton, Creedence, to hard rockers like Dimebag, Slash, Lifeson, 80's metal and so much more... It get's even better...
Bass Guitar Sims including, Jazz, Precision, Rickenbacker, 5string , and more...
Ultimate Users rewards. This grants you 2 full years of Automatic Updates, new Presets, Amp Models. Users will be subscribed as of purchase date and will automatically receive any future presets, modeling etc via email. How's that for service !!"
Thats not all, currently on the GNX4 community there are 1252 down loadable presets, and
1174 GNX3 presets (compatible with the GNX4), 1095 GNX2 patches, and 803 GNX1 patches, and 450 GNX3000 patches, so all in all on the community alone you can get almost 5000 free presets for your unit.


Effects
Although the POD XT live does have more effects then the GNX4, their quality leaves something to be desired, even in the most basic features such as compressors, and delays. While i am impressed with the variety of effects it boasts, and its effects versatilities I cannot say that I have a great desire to find more effects to employ, I am perfectly happy with the effects given in the GNX4.

The GNX4 effects are as follows:

Flanger, Auto Flanger, Tremolo, Phaser, Auto Phaser, Virbrato, Rotary Speakers, YaYa, Auto YaYa, SynthTalk, Wah, Envelope(Auto Wah), Chorus, Pitch Shifting, IPS(Intelligent Pitch Shifting), Whammy, Talker, Detune, Delay, Reverb, Compressor, Noise Gate, Presence, EQ, Pickup Simulator, Distortion, Overdrive.

Most with serveral variations, versions and customizable options. Overall the I have been very pleased with most effects in this box.






Compatibility and Flexibility



Now when it comes to Flexibility, this unit stands in a class all of its own. Unlike a home made pedalboard the GNX4 is electronically based and connects to the internet which can provide updates, patches, and additional software. The USB and various outputs on the rear end makes this unit compatible with almost any system. And w Also its its various inputs you can record jam session (with a guitar, bass and piano) directly onto the computer in real time through a reliable USB port, so not only is this unit a powerful practice and creating tool, it is also a studio tool. This is a very flexible and compatible tool.
Reliability Durability and Customer Support

The only trouble I can think of that I had with this unit, was that once it froze up and wouldn't change presets, I rebooted it and it worked fine after. It seemed to be an internal error and it did no noticeable damage to the unit. The unit itself is surrounded by about 1/8 inch of sheet metal, the only two concerns I would have, would be that if you dropped it that the board in it would break or jumble something, or that the plastic knobs, though I have never heard of them breaking, if you kicked them with a shoe I'm not sure how they would hold out, other than that this thing is a tank. The customer and online resources are great, they answered all my email within 24 hours, the forum is great, the people seem willing to help.

[UPDATE - December 2, 2010] - Having had the GNX4 for around 4 years I have had two issues with it concerning reliability and durability:
1 - For some reason the on-board tuner no longer displays the chromatic notes (a,a#,b,c,c# etc.) when it shows if the tone is flat or sharp. It does still accurately show if the note is flat or sharp but does not display what the note is, so as long as you are close to the note you can tune it properly. There may be something wrong in the settings that I just don't know about. I think that if I were to format the machine that it would have a high likelihood of fixing the problem but I don't want to do that.
2 - Sometimes it seems that the sound dies down a bit, it sounds almost like there is a annoyingly strong compressor or noise gate issue (though it is not), I'm not sure what is wrong but a hard reset of the system usually works, but this would not do for any live work. Keep in mind that my system is getting older and has seen some rough times, maybe some wires are lose due to it being dropped or shipped.  

Overall
Overall I am very pleased with this unit. It is rather expensive but I believe it is worth it. If it was stolen I would probably wait for the GNX5 or whatever they are planning to produce to replace the GNX4. Once again the stock sound of the GNX4 leaves something to be desired, but with tweaking or even better the supermodel series this unit is extraordinary. For those who compose, play alone a lot, or are interested in recording I would recommend this unit. For those who wish to use this purely for jamming or live use I would recommend the GNX3000, or a cheaper option of the Pod XT Live.

[UPDATE - December 2, 2010] - The GNX4 and the GNX series are not discontinued

1 comment:

Losprophet said...

I'm rather taken with the GNX3000, simply because it is just so darn skexy!

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