Sep 16, 2016

Bias FX Demo Review and First Impressions

Bias FX software
A look at the excellent user interface of Bias FX

Last night after watching a series of increasingly enthusiastic favorable reviews of Bias FX software by Positive Grid, I decided to see what I could experience myself.  Unfortunately, the $200 for the (mostly) full software just isn't in my budget for gear now, but thankfully they do make a demo version available for free on their website here.

How did my experience stack up to the fawning reviews available?  Read on to find out...

First impressions: I installed Bias to the VST plugins and attempted to load it with Audicity, the workhorse of free DAWs.  It didn't work, but surprisingly, I could run Bias FX on its own without too much trouble.  I downloaded REAPER and I'll be sure to try it out in that DAW once I get the hang of the program in general first.

Ran into several problems immediately with getting it to function correctly and recognize input devices.  This part of computer programs makes me long for the simplicity of a guitar input jack, but I eventually sorted it out without too much difficulty.  I'm using an M-Audio FastTrack recording interface, a pretty cheap and simple interface that works well enough for these purposes.  I was first able to make it function by putting the output through the FastTrack's headphone output but encountered some frustrating latency - noticeable milliseconds of lag between playing and hearing the sound of Bias come through the speakers.

I assumed (wrongly) that this was the program being rather taxing on the CPU and just taking some time to process.  I played around with it for probably an hour like this and was pretty satisfied.  The lag made playing properly in time more difficult but had a surprising effect best compared to an "out of body experience" (weird, I know, to describe audio lag in such a way, but when you've been guitar-ing for years, the little things can throw you off) and felt like I was listening to someone else play.  Shortly after coming to full appreciation of the hidden values of latency, I discovered that I could in fact make it play through the computer's normal audio system if I only changed the sampling rates to match.  Boom, latency fixed.  This made it both much more useful and much more "normal" feeling and by the same token, less interesting.  Don't get me wrong, some of the settings still sounded at least as good as Fender FUSE, probably better for high-gain stuff, but it now felt kinda normal.

Anyway, regarding the preset selection, I was pretty happy with what the demo had to offer.  I wish perhaps there was a somewhat better organization method to it, or perhaps I just need time to get used to it and tweak it to preferences, but in general I found it decent.  There are a few dozen "rock" presets and a few dozen "clean", as well as a couple "artist" presets, notably a few from Tosin Abasi and a jumble from Neil Zaza.  The presets can vary quite wildly, sometimes in a good way... sometimes not so much.  The high gain and "djent" models were surprisingly good, although I question how "biased" I may be when I sometimes listen to albums produced by djenters using Bias.

The free demo version has limitations such as restricted access to certain amps and presets, and also an interruption once every five minutes to remind you that you are on a demo version.  Overall the demo is fairly permissive, enough that I appreciated their (calculated or not) generosity of sharing the demo, but might consider paying the $200 to unlock the full version.  $200 is quite inexpensive compared to some competitors (such as Kemper), but still a significant uptick from the $120 that can get you Fender FUSE and an actual amp with it.  Ultimately it's a reasonable demand for what looks to be a pretty open and expressive tone sculptor with a fantastic user interface.  Maybe someday you'll be hearing my raves about Bias crowd out those about Fender FUSE, we'll see.

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