Since the first mention of the AX8 unit back in February of this year, details from Cliff and FAS have been trickling out of the FAS forum. In April, we learned a little more about the unit, but there still wasn’t too much detail and it seemed like there were many decisions yet to be made by FAS.
However, over the past week or so, we’ve learned more about the AX8 than ever! We recently saw the rear panel for the first time, and today we finally got word on the price!
Just to be clear, the AX8 is an unreleased product that is different than the currently available FX8.
In this post, I will attempt to aggregate all FACTUAL information about the new and unreleased AX8. I will try to update sections as more confirmed information is available. I am SO excited for this product!!!
Update Nov 11 – A recent thread on the forum asked if the AX8 will include the Synth block. Cliff responded:
I’m pretty sure it has the Synth block.
This may not seem like a major addition, but it does confirm that the AX8 possibly has features and blocks that are NOT included on the FX8 currently. Many people believe the AX8 to simply be an FX8 plus Amp Modeling, but this quote shows that it just might not be…
Update Oct 9 – I found some quotes from Cliff on TheGearPage.net, a popular forum usually focusing on technical aspects of music gear.
The AX-8 and FX-8 uses the same converters (CS4272-CZZ) and op-amps. The circuit design in the FX-8 is necessarily much more complex to support true-bypass switching (without pops and clicks) and to optimize the outputs for use in 4CM.
The AX-8 removes the dedicated true bypass switching circuitry and simplifies the output design to save money. The cost savings is used towards an extra DSP. – Cliff
Regarding the Switch Layout View:
The AX-8 uses assignable switches. So rather than a dedicated Looper control mode, you can choose which Looper controls you want on the assignment page. Most people don’t use all the Looper controls so this system is more flexible. For example Larry Mitchell was saying that all he uses is Record, Play and Dub. That leaves five switches that can be used for other things. – Cliff
And this is from August, commenting on the production process in general:
We do not use “China parts”. Our Contract Manufacturer (who is located in the USA) buys the parts we specify from domestic distributors. Typically Arrow, Avnet, Mouser, Digi-Key, etc. Many of those parts ARE made in China as well as Mexico, Taiwan, Vietnam, etc. There are virtually zero electronic component factories in the US. All the major electronic manufacturers have set up factories outside the US because labor is far cheaper and tax laws are more favorable.
We also specify premium grade parts unlike most manufacturers in this market space. I challenge anyone to compare the components used in our products to the components used by other manufacturers. We always use reference-grade converters, op-amps, film caps, etc. because it matters and you can hear it. We don’t choose the lowest bidder, we choose the best quality.
Our sheet metal and related chassis components are sourced from China as there are really no good sources of sheet metal fabrication left in the US. It’s also the most labor intensive part of production but has no bearing on the sound quality.
We will be announcing the price soon along with a waitlist. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the price. We were able to keep the price down by careful design which leveraged as much automated assembly as possible thereby keeping labor costs to a minimum. My personal philosophy has been to do whatever it takes to keep jobs in this country. I’d wax more about this but I don’t want to risk infringing upon the no political talk rules. – Cliff
Update Oct 8 – Below is a collection of recent quotes from FAS about new facts regarding the AX8
Question: “Can the Ax8 run a stereo UR cab and the AxII HD reverb? If it can run the high definition reverb, how much CPU is left for other blocks?”
Yes, with ease. – Cliff
Question: (Paraphrased) Is the sound/quality of modeling from the Axe-Fx II XL+ and AX8 the same?
Identical. – Cliff
Question: are the specific editable and deep-editable parameters for Amp X, Cab Y and the 6 Stomps / EFX identical in the AX8 and the XL+ ?
Mostly. A few superfluous parameters have been removed (Speaker Size for instance) but 99% of the deep stuff is there. FWIW, the effects are not limited to six. You populate the grid as you would on an Axe-Fx. You could have 10 effects in addition to amp and cab. You then assign the footswitches as desired. – Cliff
The AX8 uses the same (audio AD/DA) converters as the Axe-Fx II. We put the money where people can’t see it but where they can hear it. – Cliff
USB Audio is confirmed to not be a feature of the AX8. The USB port will be used for AX8-Edit as well as backups/updates, and USB MIDI functions. Cliff mentioned that USB Audio requires different hardware (meaning that just because there’s a USB port, USB audio isn’t automatically available).
The AX-8 was built to a price point with quality of sound the primary consideration. It’s primary use is as a live performance product. A color LCD and USB audio were not deemed pertinent for the intended application. Had those been included the price would be much higher than $1399. – Cliff
UPDATE Oct 5 – A short video from Gear Gods was just published, and in it FAS staff talk about the features of the AX8! I’m going to just list some tidbits shared in the video as I watch it below:
1 Amp, 1 Cab
Many effects will have only 1 block available per preset (he said “types” instead of block instances), but Delays, Drives and “stuff that’s common” allow 2 (maybe more?)
Same Amp Models, Processing
512 Presets, 512 User Cabs
Separate Footswitch Grid (in addition to the Layout) – allows you to assign any effect that is in the Layout to an available switch – you can choose to add them to the grid or not.
“Global Amp Knobs” always available for the amp – Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, etc.
(It seems Joe misspoke slightly about the Master and Level knobs in the video – Master is probably the MV of the Amp that controls Power Amp distortion, as well as some Volume, and Level is the Output Level Parameter to balance that Amp and overall Preset volume like we normally do. He said “Level is the output of the unit,” but I think that is a mistake as there is still the “Main” volume knob near the bottom of the control panel.)
3 Function Switches – “Fully Programmable” – Predefined set of functions, but you can change them – including “Sticky Preset, Sticky Scenes, Single Preset, Bank Up/Down, Preset Up/Down”
“Every effect has XY settings” – either press to hold, or assign XY activation to a Function switch (similar to the current FX8 option)
Note that these impromptu interviews are usually sprung on the presenters suddenly and they are trying to talk as quickly as possible, so some details may be misspoken (like the Master vs Level mentioned above). But I think most of it was accurate! Thanks Joe and Cooper for presenting in that video!
Fractal-Quality Amp Modeling and Effects in a Floor Unit
Made in the USA
“Waiting list opens this week. Units should start shipping before end of month.”
Dimensions & Weight
“Dimensions and weight are the same as the FX-8.”
From the FX8 Manual:
Dimensions: 16.35” x 3.96” x 10.00” (415.29mm x 100.6mm x 254mm)
Weight: 11.5 lbs. (5.2 kg)
“Same high-quality, low-noise design as Axe-Fx II XL+. True differential I/O to the converters, not the single-ended stuff used in consumer-grade gear. Silent Switch technology from the MFC-101 Mark III. Humbuster I/Os.”
Blocks and Effects Included
At this time it is unknown exactly what blocks the AX8 will include. We know for a fact that there will be an Amp and Cab block, since this is an Amp Modeling device. (Some are guessing that it might have all the effects of the FX8, but that is pure speculation and we don’t know any details right now.)
“Same grid as Axe-Fx II; Same factory amps and cabs as Axe-Fx II; 512 user cab slots, 512 preset slots; Most importantly it has Quantum and the “Fractal Sound.”
Judging from the 8 switch layout and what we know from the FX8, there will be 64 Banks of 8 Presets each, and viewing the LCD screen in the AX8 Teaser video, they will be referred to as B:01 – 64 P:1 – 8. Presets seem to include 8 Scenes each, meaning a full Preset might read as “B:01 P:1 S:1”.
As far as how many blocks it can run at once, Cliff stated the following:
“Depends on the effects but typically 8-10 in addition to amp and cab. The amp and cab block use very little of the main DSP. The amp runs in a dedicated DSP and the cab processing runs in an accelerator. Therefore most of the main DSP is available for effects.”
“[An accelerator is a] DSP unit dedicated to performing a defined task. In this case it performs convolution. The difference is that a “DSP” as we commonly call them is really just a microcomputer optimized for Digital Signal Processing. The term DSP most correctly refers to any device that does signal processing using numerical computations. That device can be an FPGA, ASIC or fixed hardware unit. In the AX-8 it is a convolution processor.”
As mentioned above, the AX8 will have the same 12 x 4 Layout grid as the Axe-Fx II for placing and routing blocks.
“The eight main footswitches are assignable per preset. A screen shows you at glance what each switch controls. The function switches are configurable globally.”
The AX8 teaser video shows the LCD screen in the “Switch Layout View” called the “FX” Page that appears very similar to the FX8 main screen.
He also stated
“The next page is the Layout grid which is just like the Axe-Fx II”
which you can see in the screencap (similar to the Recall and Layout screens on the Axe-Fx II).
Some more detail about the FX and Layout page functionality:
“The page shown assigns the switches to the desired effects. But you can have more than 8 effects in a preset. For example, you could have 12 effects in a preset. You then assign which of those effects you want to be able to switch on and off via the footswitches.”
You can also see that the 3rd page is labeled “Move” – which should be similar to the Axe-Fx II “Move” page for moving blocks around the grid – as well as a page labeled “MIDI.” We know that the FX8 has dedicated MIDI functions for controlling external gear, such as Program Changes and Control Changes per Preset and Scene. Hopefully the AX8 includes similar functionality.
Note that because the AX8 has a dedicated “Switch Layout View” and a Layout Grid like the Axe-Fx II, the order of items on the Switch Layout View has nothing to do with the actual order of the Blocks in the Layout. So even though the screencap above shows Delay and Reverb before the Amp block (left to right, top to bottom), that doesn’t mean it’s actually before the Amp in the actual routing and layout design of the blocks. This is a feature that many are hoping will come to the FX8, where currently, the order of the blocks in this similar screen does represent the connection order of the blocks.
When asked about running separate signals to a PA System and On-Stage Monitors, Cliff said
“Unbalanced to monitors, XLRs to mains. Or use FX Send and echo to the send. Same as an Axe-Fx.”
So we can guess that there is an FX Loop block with similar functionality as the Axe-Fx II as well.
When being compared to the FX8 as “superior,” Cliff had this to say:
“The AX-8 is not “way more powerful” than the FX-8. No one from the company ever said that. The AX-8 has one additional DSP that is DEDICATED to amp modeling. If you don’t use the amp modeling the AX-8 has the same power as the FX-8.
As we stated recently we are working on a firmware release for the FX-8.
The AX-8 will not work as well as the FX-8 in 4CM. It is not designed for that. It will do 4CM, as will most digital processors but the FX-8 is the only processor of which I’m aware that is truly optimized for 4CM. That optimization requires a lot of expensive circuitry. The op-amps used are very expensive and there’s dozens of them just to support the 4CM stuff. Add to that relays for true bypass, metal film capacitors, etc., etc., and you end up with an expensive design.
The FX-8 and AX-8 are built on the same code base. There is a single folder that is used to build the common elements for both products. Enhancements to one automatically enhance the other. All this work we’ve been doing for the AX-8 will improve the FX-8.
The AX-8 will be much more popular than the FX-8. That should be obvious. Most people want the amp modeling. If you don’t care about the amp modeling then the FX-8 is the better product and the whole reason for having two different products.”
Some forum members were fortunate to hear and try the AX8 at the LA Amp Show on Oct 3 & 4 in California. Here are some things they said regarding the AX8 – told to them by FAS – but we don’t have official confirmation from FAS about these statements:
“I believe that Cliff said yesterday that it does not act as a audio interface.” – “Moke”
Note that the AX8 does have a USB jack on the rear panel, but it seems to only be used for Firmware/File loading and AX8-Edit connectivity. 2-channel USB audio interfaces can be found for under $99 at most Music Supply stores, using the Analog outs of the AX8 for recording. The Axe-Fx II is a better choice for recording if USB recording and Reamping is important to your workflow.
In regards to Switch functionality, forum member Moke also stated that you can change the functionality of the switches among Stomp/IA mode, Preset Select and Scene Select mode, similar to how the FX8 currently works. As stated above, the Switches are assignable per Preset, most likely in addition to this “Function” selection.
Various pictures posted by forum user “scottburrow” can be seen here: http://forum.fractalaudio.com/lounge/104972-heading-amp-show.html
“When I designed the AX-8 I designed a product based on my 25 years playing as a pro and what I used 99% of the time during a gig. Even with the Axe-Fx II 99% of the time I dial up an amp, a cab and a few effects. What I care about most is a great tone. The Axe-Fx amp modeling algorithms are the best in the world. I wanted to design something portable and affordable enough to get those algorithms into the hands of a lot more players.” – Cliff
Even more quotes from Cliff can be found on the Axe-Fx II Wiki at this link: http://wiki.fractalaudio.com/axefx2/index.php?title=AX8:_amp_modeling_and_multi-fx_pedalboard#AX8:_Fractal_Audio_quotes
I’ve chosen to primarily include more recent information in this post, as it’s possible things have changed since quotes from February or April. With the waitlist launching “this week,” we are sure to find out more details very soon!
Check out the Fractal Audio Facebook Page for videos posted from the Amp Show: https://www.facebook.com/fractalaudio?fref=ts