Review: Fractal Audio Axe-FX III Mark II

Subscribe to Mixdown Magazine


Review: Fractal Audio Axe-FX III Mark II

Words by Mixdown Staff

Independent Music | Expect to pay: $3,963

Key Features: The world of amp and effects processing as we know it today simply wouldn’t exist without Fractal Audio. Considered as titans within the modelling sector, the brand’s run of Axe-FX rack units essentially laid the blueprint for what should be expected from a high-quality, tour-ready processing rig, and their influence over today’s market speaks volumes.

However, amp and effects modelling has come a long way since Fractal’s era of glory, with the sector being saturated with a number of units that squeeze all the power of a rack-unit into a compact, pedal-sized format for live use. While Fractal have already countered such efforts with a killer floor unit of their own – the dynamic FM3 Amp Modeller/Multi-FX – it’s in their rack units where their best work tends to emerge, as exemplified by the smorgasbord of tones offered by their latest entry into the Axe-FX range, the Axe-FX III Mark II.

With two military-grade floating-point ‘Keystone’ DSPs being used to power the main audio engine, it goes without saying that the Axe-FX III Mark II is Fractal’s most powerful offering to date. The 800×600 colour display is powered by a dedicated graphics processor, while USB and user interface tasks are handled by a 16-core microprocessor, meaning that there’s some pretty sophisticated components under the hood – sophistication that’s immediately obvious when you plug in a guitar and begin to dive into its features.

Boasting room for a staggering 1024 presets, more than 250 effects sub types and 2,048 user and factory cab simulations, the extent of Axe-FX III Mark II’s tonal versatility is near infinite, with new features such as the five-knob display system and parametric EQ making tone shaping more immediate than ever. There’s even contributions from famous Axe-FX users such as John Petrucci and Chris Boderick in addition to James Santiago, Celestion and and York Audio, while other new features include a powerful Pitch effect block with harmoniser, doubling and whammy modes, as well as a real-time analyser, five minute stereo looper and more.

The extent of the Axe-FX III Mark II’s power is only demonstrated further by the array of ints handouts on the rear of the unit, with two stereo balanced outputs with ground lift pads, two stereo TRS outs, an instrument input and three stereo inputs accompanying MIDI in/out/thru, USB, expression inputs, AES and SPDIF all being on offer within its 3U steel chassis.

Mixdown Says: There’s a lot to dive into with Fractal Audio’s latest take on the Axe-FX range, and while it may look like a daunting task at first, it’s an incredibly rewarding unit to use, and features some rather intuitive editing capabilities to help you along the way. Once you wrap your head around it, you’ll be blessed with some of the most flexible, incredible sounding amp, effects and cab models available today, upholding Fractal’s status as titans within the realm of digital modelling.

However, it’s the pure tonal delight of the Axe-FX III Mark II that really takes the cake here. The accuracy of each amplifier model is absolutely astounding, and makes it truly difficult to discern whether or not you’re even modelling in the first place. The dynamic response offered by the tube amps is so authentic that it’s actually a little bit startling, and there’s not a single model that drops the ball here.

Meanwhile, the plethora of cab sims included in Axe-FX III Mark II are all very usable and sound great, and the smattering of effects are well-designed and true to the sounds of their original inspirations. The inclusion of artist presets is a nice touch too, particularly if you’re a fan of some of the players who’ve contributed patches.

We found that the delay and reverb algorithms were particularly impressive, but the assortment of rare studio rack effects and stompboxes bundled inside this thing ensure you’ll be gobsmacked by just about any tone you choose to peruse. There’s even a range of vocal effects such as Formant Shifters and Vocoders for you to explore, ensuring that the Axe-FX III Mark II isn’t just a tool for your axe.

Overall: With Axe-FX III Mark II, Fractal Audio reaffirm their place atop of the profiling and processing throne. It’s powerful as hell, loaded with some of the best digital profiles you could ever get your hands on and is built like an absolute tank – without a doubt, it’s the best unit of its kind on the market today.

Find out more via Fractal Audio.