Friedman Amplifier Plug-In Collection by Brainworx and Universal Audio (UAD) BE-100 and DS-40 (Dirty Shirley)

The Friedman UAD / Brainworx bundle gives you two modded Marshall emulations: the BE-100 based on the venerable Plexi and the DS-40 on the JTM 45.

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NOTE: After upgrading to 8.5.1, for whatever reason, these two plugins are sounding much better, great in fact. The crazy noise problems have vanished. Now, I would say these are both killer-sounding plugins. Maybe this year I can luck out and get them on sale.

I'll leave the original review up for archival purposes.

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Summary
Overall grade: C-
Pro: Good tone
Con: noise, price
What beats it? The ENGL Retro

Based on the YouTube official demo I was 90% sure I would end up buying these plugins, however, my experience during the two-week trial period led me to conclude that these were the wrong amp sims for me. Clean and mildly driven sounds were good but what I was interested in were the cranked tones and this is where these plugins let me down.




I've been messing around with the demo of this plugin since its arrival and my impression is that the sounds are pretty mediocre. The YouTube demo had me stoked about the potential as I was looking for something better than the Softube junk that came with my Apollo to use on Console inserts but I'm not getting many pleasing sounds with my guitars (Fender, PRS, Suhr, etc.) in my room or with headphones, though, I have gotten a few useable sounds but literally only one patch that sounds good. $250 for one good (but not great) sound doesn't seem like much of a deal to me.

90% of the IR signal chains are more or less unusable due to their weird and extreme tones and the amp emulations themselves are mostly harsh, frizzy, and brittle on the top, boxy and ultra-wooly in the mids, and murky and undefined in the bottom. Cabinet emulations are limited as well -- no 2X12, for example, and nothing in the way of open-back vs closed back options. These plugs strike me as something that would satisfy a "they all sound the same to me" producer looking for guitarish sounds to hide behind vocals but I suspect many guitarists might object to these tones.

Here is a sample of what I'm talking about: proceed to 3:30 in this track. This is a Suhr Modern into the BE-100 on a factory preset + a bit of HPF to drain of some of the low end and make it sit in the mix better. Usable, but not pretty in my opinion.

I will say that the less saturated settings are better than the highly distorted sounds and the more you mangle the patches with other effects in the inserts the more usable they become but I'm not feeling any sort of plug-and-play euphoria like I do when I plug into a Bogner Shiva for example or even into my Positive Grid Bias plugin.

When I finally found one awesome lead patch (one of the presets) on the BE-100, the noise was so extreme, even with the gate on, that it was unusable. You expect noise with a Strat into a hot rodded Marshall but this was beyond anything I'd ever experienced before. How bad was the noise? Imagine plugging a Strat into two fuzz pedals, cranking your amp, and then standing right in front of one of those old style CRT monitors. Very frustrating.

The great benefit of these (and the Softube half stack) is the non-discernible latency when playing through the UAD Console and that's why I was excited to give them a spin. However, with a powerful machine a person should be able, with some care, to track live in the DAW without crazy latency and, in the event that doing so is not possible, the crappy Softube plugin will serve to provide some dirty guitar sound that can be re-amped later. Or, I may spring for the ENGL Retro 100 amp plugin instead. I don't think the problem here is with Brainworx as I found the Retro to be a much better sounding emulation with much less noise at high gain levels.

Of course, your milage may vary and these plugins will make some folks happy (hey, some people actually drink Coors beer, go figure). Happily, you get a full two-week demo to try them yourself and make up your own mind. If I could grab these Friedman/Brainworx/UAD plugs for maybe $100 I'd reconsider using them for scratch takes and re-amping later but I think I'll stick with what I've got for my Console inserts or go with the Marshall Softube plug which sounds a lot better without all the crazy noise. If I had no other guitar plugins at all to work with I might be tempted but, again, for the asking price UA isn't getting my money.