The Kemper Profiler and Fractal Audio Axe-FX are two of the most widely popular modeling/profiling amps for modern guitar players.
Both are incredibly complex and capable amplifiers, which begs the question:
Which one is the best?
Each have their pros and cons, so to help you to decide for yourself, here’s what we’ll cover in this Axe FX vs Kemper comparison:
- Live Use
- Price & Value For Money
- Pros & Cons
Ready? Let’s get started…
1. Design: Axe FX vs Kemper
The first thing you need to know about these two amps is that the technology they use is completely different.
It’s like comparing an electric guitar to an acoustic one.
Well, sort of.
The Kemper is a profiling amplifier (given away by the fact that it’s called the Kemper Profiler).
That means that the tones the Kemper creates come from real-life amps.
The idea behind the Kemper is that it allows guitarists who have a bunch of really nice analog amplifiers to capture the sound of a specific setting on their amp, and then take all of those tones with them wherever they go.
In a nutshell, profiling works by sending a digital signal through your amp, cab, and microphone, and then recording that impulse response to be stored on the Kemper. This impulse response represents the tone of your rig.
Of course, the Kemper comes with a number of great impulses that others have already created, so you don’t actually have to record your own amps. You can just download someone else’s!
Design: Axe FX
The Axe-FX, on the other hand, is what is known as a modeling amp, which essentially seeks to replicate the sound of analog amplifiers and effects through digital means.
That means that Fractal’s engineers have spent months in the lab crafting algorithms to accurately represent the sound of gear you know and love, from Marshall JCMs to Vox AC30s.
When you dial in a tone in the Axe-FX, you’re not playing through a profile of an actual amp, you’re playing through a simulation.
That said, the Axe-FX does have a number of cab impulse responses, meaning the speaker cabinet selections are profiles, it’s just the heads that are digital.
To some, the impulse response approach of the Kemper seems a bit more legit, since there are actual amplifiers involved (whether yours or not), which to certain guitarists sounds more natural.
However, you’re limited by the amp profile you’re playing through in that you can’t really change the amp settings.
For example, if you’re playing through a high-gain 5150 patch, you’re not going to be able to dial back the gain for a cleaner sound; you’ll need to choose a different impulse.
On the other hand, digital modeling has come a long way in recent decades, and the Axe-FX patches do sound pretty damn good.
Plus, it’s a lot more versatile, as you’re able to directly edit the amp settings.
So, the Axe-FX wins in this category.
Design Winner: Axe FX
2. Tones: Axe FX vs Kemper
Tones: Axe FX
The tones the Axe-FX is capable of are nearly limitless – the unit comes with 260 amp models and 2200 cabs.
That said, if a new amp gets released that you really want to try out, you’ll have to wait until Fractal releases an update with that model.
The Axe-FX offers a variety of microphone types and angles that you can apply to any cab and amp combo.
You can also set up different scenes within a single patch, which is kind of like having different settings on your amp and pedalboard that you can engage in just one click.
With the Kemper, you either create your own impulse responses by profiling your actual amps or simply download some cool patches from the internet.
Because so many people have the Kemper, there are literally thousands of amp patches on the profile database, giving you access to pretty much every amp in the world.
Of course, you’ll need to wade through a bit of crap to find one that works well, since anyone and everyone can contribute (there’s a rating system that helps you to identify great patches more easily).
Kemper has also worked with a bunch of really high-profile artists to create pro-quality rig packs that you can access.
Sometimes, though, you’ll need to pay to access these profiles, which ain’t so good for those of us prone to a bit of Gear Acquisition Syndrome.
Tones: Bottom Line
This one is really a tie.
In terms of quality of tone, both the Axe-FX and the Kemper are professional quality devices.
The difference comes down to usability. The tones of the Axe-FX are more flexible, but that inevitably means a lot more tweaking.
With the Kemper, it can be a lot quicker and easier to dial up a nice tone just by browsing through a few of the highest-rated patches.
Tones Winner: Tie
3. Interface: Axe FX vs Kemper
On the front of both units, you’ll see a few knobs and buttons, some LED lights, and a central LCD display.
The setup is quite different though.
The Kemper is designed more like a ‘real’ amp, with gain, volume, and EQ controls where you’d expect them.
The Axe-FX, by contrast, fully embraces the digital approach, and is more focused on multi-function buttons and rotary encoders.
The displays are a bit different, too.
The Axe-FX has a multi-color display (where talking about the Axe-FX III here, as previous models didn’t have this), which while pretty can be a little cramped, because the Axe-FX gives you so much stuff to tweak.
The Kemper takes a simpler approach, with a monochrome display which, while less seductive, is actually a bit easier to grasp.
Both amps come with software platforms that allow you to edit amp patches on your computer.
Kemper’s (known as the Rig Manager) is designed around searching for and loading up new amp profiles, and then editing patches in greater detail than would be easily achievable on the front panel.
The Axe-FX has a software platform called Axe-Edit III, and it’s a bit sexier and more intuitive to use than the Rig Manager.
Axe-Edit is definitely the place you want to be editing your patches, too, as opening up that interface on even a 13” laptop screen is miles easier than trying to fiddle with your settings on that tiny display.
Ease of Use
The Kemper definitely wins the ease of use category on the physical front, but the Axe-FX takes the medal when we’re talking about software editors.
Interface Winner: Tie
4. Formats: Axe FX vs Kemper
Formats: Axe FX
The Axe-FX III is only available in 3U rack unit format. It’s designed for use in a studio or touring rack setup.
This adds an extra cost for Axe-FX users, as you’ll need a rack unit to mount it in. You’ll want a fairly large one too, as you’ll also need a power amp (more on that soon), and at least one unit’s space in between the two devices for cooling purposes.
The Kemper is available in three different models: a 3U rack-mounted unit, a floor unit, or a head model that is designed to sit atop your cab.
The controls on the stage and rack unit are limited compared to the head model, however the trade-off is a more compact device.
The head is still pretty small, though, and could easily be your carry-on luggage.
Both the head and the rack unit models are available either powered or unpowered, meaning you can use a Kemper Profiler as an all-in-one rig.
Formats: Bottom Line
The Kemper has more options, so it’s a sure winner in this category.
Plus, the head model is available in both black and white, which is just a nice little touch for anyone who concerns themselves with the aesthetics of their unit. And who doesn’t? The Kemper is gorgeous!
Formats Winner: Kemper
5. Effects: Axe FX vs Kemper
The Kemper offers a decent selection of effects such as delay and reverb; all the standard stuff you’d expect.
It even ships with ACCESS™ VIRUS™, an effect that turns your guitar into a synth.
It’s fairly limited in terms of effects, though, at least compared to the Axe-FX. You don’t have a lot of room to change the order of components in your signal chain, and it has far fewer options in general than it’s amp-modeling rival.
Effects: Axe FX
The Axe-FX, by contrast, offers more than 200 effects units, and gives you free reign over pretty much every aspect there is to tweak.
You can throw any effect before or after the amp, in an effects loop, or run various effects in parallel rather than one after the other.
The variety of effects chains you can create in the Axe-FX is virtually endless, making it a great choice if you love to spend hours in their bedroom fiddling away.
Effects: Bottom Line
The Axe FX is the clear winner when it comes to effects units, offering more types of effects and more flexibility when it comes to editing them and chaining them together.
Effects Winner: Axe FX
6. Flexibility: Axe FX vs Kemper
When it comes to the Kemper, the value really lies in the sheer number of patches you can access and download, that sound great right out of the box.
Tweaking those patches, however, is not really the Kemper’s specialty, meaning it doesn’t offer a tonne of flexibility, compared to the Axe-FX, at least.
Flexibility: Axe FX
The Fractal Axe-FX is built for flexibility; it’s the reason many guitarists love it.
This unit even goes as far as giving you the ability to adjust things like transformer matching, power supply sag, and cathode follower compression, none of which are things you’d ever have access to tweak with a real-life amp.
Flexibility: Bottom Line
If you’re looking for flexibility, go with the Axe-FX.
You can still keep things simple if you want.
For example, you can access both Actual controls (what the real amp model actually has) and Ideal controls (a more in-depth feature set for further tonal tweaking) for any amp.
Flexibility Winner: Axe FX
7. Live Use: Axe FX vs Kemper
Live Use: Axe FX
Though the Axe-FX can definitely be used in a live context, it’s clearly designed for the studio.
For one, Fractal doesn’t offer a unit with a built-in power amp, so you’ll need to pair the Axe-FX with something else suitable.
You’ll also need a foot controller to use it live.
They do offer two controllers (the FC-6 and FC-12 models), but they’re what you’d expect for a digital modelling amp controller: just a bunch of plain multi-function buttons.
Live Use: Kemper
The Kemper, on the other hand, can be bought as a floor unit (the Stage model) for live performances, and both the Rack and Head versions of the amp are available with power-amps built in.
You’ll need the Kemper Remote to control these two units wirelessly, but it’s a very user-friendly control with it’s on screen built in, and, dare I say it, a slightly more inspiring design.
Live Use: Bottom Line
We’d be going for the Kemper for live performances, for sure.
It’s much more user friendly in this context, with a better controller, and power amp options to drive your cab as loud as you’d like.
Live Use] Winner: Kemper
8. Price & Value For Money: Axe FX vs Kemper
Price & Value For Money: Axe FX
The Axe-FX comes in at just under $2500, which is no small chunk of change.
That said, with 260 amp models built, you’re looking at $10 an amp!
In addition, when you consider the tone-shaping capabilities and in-built effects unit, the Axe-FX becomes a unit that offers great value for money compared to traditional guitar amplifiers.
Price & Value For Money: Kemper
The price of the Kemper varies depending on the unit you buy. Comparing apples with apples, the rackmount version of the Kemper will cost you around $1800.
That’s quite a bit less than the Axe-FX, and even the Head version with built-in poweramp comes in a few hundred dollars less than Fractal’s offering.
Of course, the Axe-FX seems to offer more in the way of both breadth and depth of available sounds, so this price difference makes sense.
The Kemper represents pretty good value for money for guitarists who are looking to capture their own collection of amps and take it on the road with them, but not so much for those who are looking to endlessly tweak their tones.
Price & Value For Money: Bottom Line
On the whole, the Axe-FX represents better value for money, despite being more expensive.
Price & Value For Money Winner: Axe FX
9. Pros & Cons: Axe FX vs Kemper
Axe FX Pros & Cons
- Hundreds of amp models
- Endless flexibility
- More effects than you’ll ever need
- Physical interface can be a bit clumsy
- No power amp included
Kemper Pros & Cons
- Available in three different formats
- Easy to get set up quickly by downloading patches
- Can come with a power amp
- Physical interface is similar to a regular amp so it’s easy to get the hang of
- Sometimes have to pay to get new patches
- Fewer effects than the Axe-FX
- Less control over tonal shaping once you’ve selected a patch
Conclusion & Takeaway
To summarize our findings in this Axe FX vs Kemper comparison, here are the winners for each category:
- Design – Axe FX
- Tones – Tie
- Interface – Tie
- Formats – Kemper
- Effects – Axe FX
- Flexibility – Axe FX
- Live Use – Kemper
- Price & Value For Money – Axe FX
Overall: Axe FX
Taking a birdseye view of the two amps, you can see that the units are built of different needs.
The Kemper is a great unit for guitarists who have a collection of guitar amps already, and who want to accurately capture their sonic footprint and take that on tour with them, without lugging around a truck full of gear.
Sure, you can still get great value out of a Kemper if you don’t have your own amps, but you’re ultimately limited to the profiles created by others.
The Axe-FX, on the other hand, is really the tone-shapers dream, with thousands of amp/cab combinations available.
If you spend more time in-studio than you do on a stage, and you’re looking to get the world’s collection of amp sounds right at your fingertips, then the Axe-FX is your guy.
Products Comparison Table:
Spec / Feature
Width: 19.00in (482.6mm)
Height: 5.16in (131.1mm)
Depth: 11.530in (292.87mm) including front handles and rear jacks
8.57″ x 14.88″ x 6.81″ (21.7 x 37.8x 17.3 cm)
15 lbs 2.4 oz (6.87 kg)
11.73 lbs (5.32 kg)
Three stereo inputs: 1 with XLR/1/4″ combo
jacks, two with balanced 1/4″ inputs.
Front Input: 1/4″ TS unbalanced, dynamic range >108dB, impedance 1 MegOhm
Alternative Input: 1/4″ TRS balanced with ground lift, dynamic range =105dB
Return: XLR balanced, 1/4″ balanced with ground lift, dynamic range =105dB
Four stereo outputs: one pair with XLR outs, one pair with
both XLR and 1/4″ outs, and two pairs with 1/4″ outs.
Humbuster technology on all 1/4″ outputs
helps reduce ground loop noise.
Front panel headphones output.
Master L and R Outputs: XLR balanced, 1/4″ TS unbalanced with ground lift max. output level: XLR +22dBu, TS +16dBu
Monitor Output: 1/4″ TS unbalanced with ground lift max. output level: +16dBu
Direct Output/Send: 1/4″ TS unbalanced with ground lift max. output level: +16dBu
Output Dynamic Range: >108 dB
Output: 1/4″ TRS stereo, 33Ohm
Control and Data Interfaces
8×8 USB Audio interface
MIDI-over-USB between Axe-Fx III and a computer is
10× faster than the same connection on Axe-Fx II.
MIDI IN, OUT and THRU ports.
Midi: 5-pin DIN connectors for In/Out/Thru
Switch/Pedal: Two 1/4″ TRS, each for mono/stereo switch or expression pedal (10kOhm min, 100kOhm max. impedance)
Network: RL45 connector
USB: USB 2.0 (FS)
compatible device, USB-A and USB-B connectors
Digital Inputs and Outputs
S/PDIF In/Out 44.1 kHz (24-bit) with RCA Phone connectors (Master only)