If you read my earlier review of Virtual Guitarist IRON by UJAM then you'll know I'm not a fan of guitar VIs for a number of reasons; most of them because I don't really feel convinced either by their sound or indeed the amount of work you have to do to get a sound even close to using the real thing. In the past it was easier to get the mics up and to get the guitar parts recorded than it was to spend time programming the parts for a guitar VI, so it felt pointless even bothering.
UJAM proved me wrong with their first virtual guitar instrument IRON, so much that I gave it the Editor's Choice Award.
As far as I was concerned I would take even more convincing with an acoustic guitar emulation, even if they got the sound right then the playing is always a dead giveaway... enter Amber.
Amber, like its rock sibling is built around sounds, patterns and some stuff to tweak the sound aimed at making it easy to get parts down quickly. Amber ships with more than 50 styles, over 600 phrases, multiple effects and sound shaping controls. In terms of playing you not only get the styles and patterns but also the ability to change the feel by pushing or pulling the beat as well as adding swing from 0-100%. You can also choose to play the patterns in half or double time.
The sound tweaks offer different microphone positions, tone and some stereo tricks as well as some sparkle, echo, reverb and chorus. In fact there's enough of a sonic palette to ensure plenty of variation to cover any genre.
Amber In Use
It took me about 10 minutes to master the trick/art of playing Amber with the phrases, styles and chords mapped across the keyboard over 6 octaves. UJAM have helpfully created the phrases with genre suggestions and although those style names are a helpful start I found going off-piste will give you the maximum amount of flexibility.
You can play the parts in live and record them via your DAW sequencer, although I found step programming the phrase changes both quicker to do and more accurate in playback. In terms of chord flexibility I found Amber to be intuitive and rarely did it throw a hissy fit when I gave it odd chord shapes to interpret, even better it responded as I expected when playing things like a descending G pattern. For example as a guitar player I would play an open G then descend the low E finger down to the F# instead of playing an open D, then to an Em shape and then to a C in the second position. Amber played as I would expect it to on my guitar and did not sound like a piano being played with an acoustic guitar patch.
UJAM had already won me with their first Virtual Guitarist IRON but I have to say Amber raises the bar considerably, it is hands down one of the most convincing acoustic guitar emulations I've ever used. You may recall at the start of this review that I said it was easier for me to record my acoustic guitar than use emulations in the past, well UJAM have turned the tables with Amber, I still love my Taylor 414 acoustic but if I need to get a great sounding acoustic guitar onto a track then I'm increasingly reaching for Amber, it is quite simply remarkable.
Hyperbole? Well I've recorded several tracks using Amber and not a single person has spotted that it's not the real thing, some of the tracks have been listened to by top producers and engineers and not one of them has called fake. In fact I can't think of another VI that tries to emulate the real thing that pulls if off as effortlessly as Amber. UJAM aren't playing the 'Martin played through a 414' or '1957 vintage played through a mic some producer used on an album in a classic studio' route, instead offering a great sounding guitar that you can tweak quite considerably. I happen to prefer this approach and to be frank 99% of the people who use emulations of famous stuff have never heard what the manufacturer claims it to be, so in some ways that whole game is irrelevant, it either sounds good or it doesn't.
If I have any negative things to say about Amber then I'd like to see a random feature on the push and pull, you can program it yourself via MIDI CC but a slider offering random timing would put the icing on the cake, it's the only thing I find I add afterwards to really trick people into thinking it's a real guitar.
So who is Amber for? Composers, Producers and dare I even say recording guitar players who want to an an extra guitar to their recording arsenal - but don't take my word for it download the demo and try Amber for yourself.
It goes without saying this is the easiest Editor's Choice Award I've given in a long time.