Is amp profiling the new Napster? The Kemper profiling issue.Written by Helmut Watterott
Is Kemper Profiling the new Napster?
I was watching a video on Youtube the other day and the vlogger was using a Kemper. A person who was very happy with his wee Kemper and I was impressed with the sound. Then he went on to how he purchased a few profiles from some site because he couldn’t achieve a good profile. And with that the whole Kemper debate came back to me.
I would suggest we get this debate back on track. In my opinion there is no debate but many would argue otherwise.. Well here is my soap box moment.
So I can buy a Kemper, copy the tone of any amp I can get my hands on and then Voila, I am the owner of a Rectifier, Suhr, Hughes and Kettner, whatever I can get my hands on, regardless if I purchased it or not. And for some reason many don’t see a problem with this.
Before I piss anyone off let me start by saying I love the idea and understand the concept for designing it. And used ‘morally’ I really don’t think there is a problem… BUT, we all know the human condition don’t we.
I guess my problem is not with the concept but with the resulting behaviour and expectation of our consumer society.
In my opinion it is however facilitating intellectual theft. But worse, it plays into our modern consumer expectation and ease of access to anything special. To own the coolest shit for peanuts.
Those that defend the Kemper and its kin argue that you can’t steal a tone. Basically saying that ‘tone’ can’t be copyrighted or owned. They also go on to argue that this has been happening in many different ways for decades in the shape of amp copies, pedal copies, cheap copies from the Chinese market and hey, even from respected pedal builders.
I have seen this mentioned many times in the debates of how Bugera, Line6, Joyo and many more have been copying ‘amp tones’ with no one blinking. I would argue that there were surely people who were/ar skeptical about the moral implications.
But please let us not forget that most ‘copies’ are BASED on a tone and that the cheap examples are usually pretty pish. Resulting in the person who might be buying it to always strive for the real thing, and hopefully for their sake, one day fulfil that dream.
Compare that to the Kemper or other modern profilers who recreate tones so accurately it even fools the snobbiest of self professed audio-files.
I was also extremely surprised at the overwhelming support for this theft. Which kinda surprised me. Especially when such a big part of the community has issues with cheap copies from the East. It seems hypocritical.
So here are a few questions to arguments I have seen:
A ‘tone’ may be impossible to copyright or owned… ok?! Not sure that is true but for arguments sake let’s go with it. Did you ever ask yourself how that tone was achieved? Why you want that specific tone?
Let me answer that. It is because some genius, in many cases in a garage or something spent months and a lot of mula to design a circuitry, choose the right valves, caps, diodes, amount of coils in the speakers, magnet choices, shielding and specific tone curves to create a tone. That is how.
There is definately a huge percentage of intellectual property, knowledge and creativity that went into the sound you are trying to capture. No matter what pedals you hammer the amp with, the guitar you use or how you set your tone controls, that tone would not have been possible without the base which is the amp design. Want proof? Use a different amp and try to get the same sweet tone you are gunning for.
Personally I really don’t understand the argument of how an amp tone can’t be considered something that can be owned or protected.
ONLY ‘purists’ are against it because they want to see an amp with 4 pre-amp tubes and 4 power amp tubes, nothing else is good and want to live in the dark ages. Nothing else but analogue is good enough.
Maybe, but then why are you profiling those same amps? In fact that is the best that can be profiled at this point in time!?
How are you going to legally challenge this ‘tone ownership’ issue in court?
Really not an argument to me. This is not a legal argument, not yet. It is a moral one. And we do not need a court to rule on something before we as a society deem it moral or immoral.
But here is the real reason for digging up this topic again. Our insane modern expectations and greedy consumerism (pointing fingers at myself here too btw).
We forget all the hard work, knowledge, creativity and time that goes into developing products. We now want ALL the amps in one box regardless of the possible consequences to the wider industry and economy. Please have a wee looky at the Ruokangas Guitars Youtube videos which address the pricing of handbuilt guitars today:
Guitar Price Talk 2 - The Ethical Footprint - follow up
Ruokangas Guitar Price Talk - first video
Gear in the digital Age - Kemper, Two Notes, Bias, Line6 etc.. - EytschPi42 (Someone who also sees it my way and has been part of the debate from day 1. This video also makes some great points about competitors like Two--Notes etc)
Completely agree with the man. And personally I did not see the need for his second follow-up video.
For me, personally, I would be fine with Kemper usage under the following criteria:
- Kemper or end user pays some sort of license (I know, very difficult)
- If you own the amps/cabs you are profiling and using it only to make these tones portable
I use Amplitube and most of their models are licensed, I guess there is a model under which this can be done. Happy to be corrected on this as I am not 100% sure how and if all are licensed.
Owning a Kemper and profiling a few amps is probably not the end of the world, I would agree. But we already have people abusing and profiting from this concept without the original amp makers seeing any benefit. People who profile tons of amps and sell them online. Do they pay the builders a piece? Should they? I think so!
Do we realise that this ‘everything on the cheap and at our our fingertips’ is exactly the kind of behaviour that is ironically deteriorating our economy?
And this is why I mentioned Ruokangas. I like the points he makes about the value of things.
For those harping on the legal side of the ‘tone’ ownership. Let us turn back the clock a wee bit to Piratebay and other file-sharing sites. These were all closed down because they facilitated file and music copying, they themselves didn’t really hand them out, but they made it possible.
I am also convinced that the lack of statements from the amp builders has more to do with the difficulty in the ‘legal’ side of things and that they probably just don’t have the cash (or lobbying power) in the same way the music industry had to fight the likes of Napster. Hell, maybe they are not seeing where this may end. They might also be weary of seeming too 'corporate' by attacking potential customers.
Maybe, in the future, you will only be able to have access to a Marshall JCM800 sound in the shape of a profile. Imagine that. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration but you never know.
Over the last few years I have gotten to know some top pedal builders. Essentially they do the same thing as amp builders. They use their electronics knowledge to build guitar effects pedals. Obviously they build distortions, overdrives, boosts, delays, chorus etc. All types of circuits that have been done before. Some of the pedals are based on existing ones or ‘inspired by’. These are people who use their own time and knowledge.. and most of all love for the trade to build new and exciting versions of existing effects. Many of you reading this will know, or possibly will have purchased from similar builders. How would you feel if someone suddenly had access to that same product, similar yet unique tone they built without the builder having any benefit from it.
And lastly, before any capitalist comes in here and proclaims junk like ‘that’s just business’ or it’s a dog eat dog’ and all that nonsense. Remember that it is all a point of view. Once it happens to you or a family member/friend, you will probably see it very differently.
Lastly, look up the meaning of Ubuntu. And for those that don’t agree.. Fuck you. There is nothing to agree or disagree, just your own view on how to live in a society.
A few more arguments came to light over my latest research into comments around this subject that I wish to address. One is that profilers don't copy the amp and cab but only a snapshot of that cab at specific settings. That might be so but I am unsure whether that changes the fact that the base intellectual property has been copied. There are also arguments that software and hardware amp simulators are more guilty in regard to the 'copying' accusation as they sometimes mimic digitally or the whole signal path of the amp. Where a profiler just takes an impulse response to achieve a similar tone.
I personally see the end result as the main problem. The accuracy at which the Kemper achieves the ‘real’ sound.
There also seem to be some companies who work closely with amp builders, or at least have conversations with them. What I mean by that is that they asked if it is ok to profile their amps. Some are even licensed. When you have the agreement of the main owner of a piece of work then it is an agreement. So it can’t be compared with the likes of a Kemper who does not even have a discussion with the builder.
I am unsure whether I am able to restart the debate or change anyone's mind but a few things I don’t want back in the discussions are:
‘Others do it too’ not relevant
‘There is no intellectual property in the tone achieved by an amps design’
‘It is new and progressive’ - Not when it just copies existing stuff, and in many cases old stuff.