The Devil’s in the Digital Details
In the last few years digital amp modeling has improved by leaps and bounds. It is a tough market to crack for forward thinking manufacturers, especially when the target customers to which they are trying to sell are backward thinking. Yes, we guitar players are obsessed with yesterday; vintage tone, relics, reissues and glowing glass bottles are the things that excite us. It takes a different approach and a lot of guts to attempt to give us what we want in the digital domain and a few brazen companies have risen to the challenge. The most recent—and one of the more affordable modern modeling heads—is today’s subject in review, the Yamaha THR100HD.
At the heart of this powerful and flexible head is Yamaha’s proprietary Virtual Circuit Modeling (VCM) technology. As opposed to the tonal approximation based algorithms of the amp modeling past, VCM replicates the feel and response of tubes and circuits with component level modeling. I was first privy to the breadth, depth and realistic tube amp feel of VCM when I purchased my THR5 a few years back and it still resides in my home studio and in my kitchen. In short, my THR5 disarmed the digital skeptic in me and left me waiting for the bigger gig-ready version with baited breath. The THR100HD certainly doesn’t disappoint.
The Two-Headed Modeling Monster
The head arrived with the matching THRC212 cab. The 2x12 cab can handle a whopping 300 watts through the pairing of a Legend and a Tonker, both by Eminence. These high-powered speakers were chosen for their relatively flat frequency response and high headroom. Due to the fact that the THR100HD is essentially two amps in one, the cab can be run in single or dual mode. The latter routes each amp to each speaker for a compact stereo rig experience. This is an incredible feature that allows the user to mix and match endless pre and power amp combinations.
To kick things off, I set one preamp up to the Lead—the Marshall-like tone topography—and the other to the Crunch, which is of the Vox variety. I then went round the back of the amp and scrolled through the 6V6, EL84, KT88, 6L6GC and EL34 power sections, testing each individually at gigging volume. The power amp behavior is the hardest thing for modeling amps to get right and I was amazed at how accurate the amp not only sounded, but also felt with each variation. What’s more is the ability to choose between Class A or Class AB for a tighter or softer bottom end. It was a blast pairing complementary tone stacks and smearing different gain structures together. The American Clean and Modern preamps responded as well as the British ones, with all the artifacts we know and love from their glass-bottled ancestors. I was also surprised at how my drive and fuzz pedals injected smoothly into the front end—just like the real deal.
What We Like:
This amp has everything we need and nothing we don’t, right out of the box. With the software installed, I realized I could change the built in boosts to compliment each preamp type. I was also delighted to see that lovely Hall reverb that I enjoy so much on my THR5. The Spring, Plate, Room and Hall algorithms are all pulled from Yamaha’s legendary SPX series, so they are a cut above most built-in digital verbs. This didn’t stop me from plugging my Eventide H9 MAX into the effects loop and using my Surface Pro 4 to control both the amp and effects on the fly. This is what future tweaking is all about. Oh, and both the XLR outs and headphone jack have selectable speaker emulated impulse responses both from Yamaha and third party developers. I would love to hear this two-headed dog in a triple-threat against Kemper and Fractal.
I would prefer to have the boosts and verbs dial-selectable on the unit itself. Also, my biggest gripe here is the need for a TRS cable for stereo effects in the loop. I would have preferred two separate sends and returns.