Two of the hottest items in the guitar universe right now are the Neural DSP Quad Cortex and the Kemper Profiler. These are premium amp modeler and multi FX units that have a lot of players wondering why anybody bothers with analog pedals anymore.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Guide, we will be putting these two rigs head to head, comparing them apples to apples in order to give our readers the clearest possible picture of which would be the best choice. For this test we used the same guitar throughout – our Fender Jim Root Telecaster, and we profiled our Bugera V22 Infinium.
The Kemper Profiler was announced in late 2010, and went on sale in 2011 as the world’s most advanced profiling amplifier. While other profilers and modeling amps have been introduced since then, none have really challenged the Kemper for all out superiority, that is, until Neural DSP announced their first physical product – the Quad Cortex.
The Quad Cortex was introduced as a stompbox only, while over the years, Kemper has released rack mounted units and stompboxes alongside their original amp head design, which has made their lineup incredibly versatile. Check out our full review here.
Price wise there isn’t a huge difference between the Kemper and the Quad Cortex. The Kemper range starts with the Kemper Profiler Stage stompbox, which typically retails around $1700. At the upper end of the Kemper range is the Profiler Power 600W Amp head, which can usually be found for a shade under $2700. The Neural DSP Quad Cortex on the other hand, is the only hardware that Neural DSP sells, so there’s only the one unit, which normally retails at around $1850.
As far as useability is concerned, the Quad Cortex is leaps and bounds ahead of the Kemper. It may technically be an unfair advantage given how much newer the QC is, but it’s so incredibly intuitive. While of course, you get more out of it by reading the manual and learning the setting properly, we found we were able to get in and scroll through the preset amps, cabs, and mic position settings without any trouble.
The Quad Cortex comes with a fantastic 7 inch LED touchscreen which gave us control over pretty much every feature of the unit. The Kemper has a much smaller LCD display, which is not a touch screen. All of the controls on the Kemper are adjusted with physical buttons, switches and dials. Some people prefer this, but the lack of a large display does impact the useability, and the sheer number of controls on the unit can definitely be a little intimidating to those new to profilers.
We found that the Quad Cortex’s much more graphic interface made modifying presets and adjusting tones a much simpler task. The information is presented in a much more familiar format, in fact, it was much like looking at a real amp or pedal, and this was very helpful for getting sounds dialed in. The Kemper, on the other hand does offer just as much control, but you do need to study the manual in more depth to get the most out of it.
If you are planning to play live, the Quad Cortex is pretty much plug and play, ready to go. It’s a floor unit with sturdy stomp switches built in. The Kemper is also available as a floor unit, but if you’re running a rack unit or the amp head, you will also need to budget in the separate foot controller if you want to be able to control your Kemper on stage mid-set.
On both the Kemper and the QC, we found that saving new profiles was really straight forward. As mentioned, we did love the QC’s clear display and guided profiling process, but profiling on the Kemper is actually just as easy. Prompts are given on the display screen as to what step comes next, which really takes the difficulty out of it.
Capture quality is probably the single most important aspect of a profiler. The FX and the presets are all great extras, but a profiler absolutely must be able to accurately mimic the sound and feel of the original amplifier. We profiled our reference amp clean and with high gain to see if distortion interfered with the quality of the end capture result.
We started off with the Quad Cortex and a clean capture of our Bugera V22. If you’ve never profiled an amp, be aware that it’s a very loud process! After letting the Quad Cortex do its thing we played some riffs and licks to compare tones between the reference and the profile. Tonally, we couldn’t hear any difference at all, the profile was close to perfect, although the profile’s volume did come out just a little lower than the reference.
Next, we created a new profile with the Quad Cortex, although this time we cranked up the gain on the reference amp. The QC really did a phenomenal job with the high gain capture here, we couldn’t tell the difference at all between the real thing and the profile.
The Kemper was next up. We repeated the same process as we had used for the Quad Cortex, starting with a clean capture and then a dirty capture. With the rig set up for a clean profile, we started the process. Our first observation was that the Kemper took longer to profile than the QC did. The initial profile was a little thinner sounding, but after we used the refine feature the tones were close to indistinguishable.
Finally, it was time to do a high gain profile using the Kemper. The initial profile was actually quite disappointing. It had very little bottom end and sounded weak compared to both the reference and the Quad Cortex profile. However, after refinement, the Kemper dirty profile was about a 95% match for the reference. It lost some of the organic tone of the tubes, but it was absolutely a usable capture.
Next we took a look at the built in FX for both units. The Quad Cortex came preloaded with 70 FX presets distributed in 32 blocks. The signal chain layout allows for 4 parallel sets of effects, which led to some great stereo tricks when using multiple delays. The Kemper, on the other hand, came with 78 different effects distributed over 12 blocks.
If you’re looking to profile effects individually, the Quad Cortex is the only viable option. The Kemper can technically profile pedals, but in doing so it captures the entire rig. The Quad Cortex on the other hand uses Neural DSP’s Neural Capture technology, which allowed us to save the amp and pedals as separate blocks, which gave us the option to use the pedals in other signal chains.
The Kemper does have more available FX out of the box, but we found that the presets were pretty uninspiring. The QC’s range of pre-loaded FX were, on the other hand, really good. We were also able to directly connect a Jim Dunlop Cry Baby and effectively control a wah effect, which was really impressive.
As with the amp profiles, though, there are significantly more user created and profiled FX available to download for the Kemper. Although, as the QC community grows, more and more FX are being made available on the Quad Cortex app.
If an on board looper is important to you, you’ll be as disappointed as we were to find that the Quad Cortex has no such feature. The Kemper, on the other hand, does feature a built-in 60 second looper. You can still include a looper pedal in your signal chain and run it through the Quad Cortex, but this is a notably missing feature in our opinion.
When it came to playing feel, we did feel that the Quad Cortex had the edge on the Kemper. The Kemper wasn’t bad by any means, but the QC’s more accurate profiling, combined with the improved user interface makes the overall playing feel much more like using a real amplifier.
It’s not only the interface that makes the QC user experience better, but also the feature set. With the Quad Cortex we were able to set up a full stereo rig, and even run 2 different rigs simultaneously, something that just isn’t possible with a Kemper.
Although, in the Kemper’s favor, we did find that the preset amp profiles were much better out of the box. This is to be expected given how much longer the Kemper Profiler has been on the market, and won’t necessarily be the case forever as Neural DSP will almost certainly refine the Quad Cortex with future updates.
Final Thoughts on the Neural DSP Quad Cortex vs. the Kemper Profiler STAGE
It’s always tough to directly compare a product you know and love so well against a new competitor. The Kemper has been a mainstay of so many huge acts over the last 10 years, and we have no doubt it will continue to be popular. With that in mind, the Quad Cortex took the industry by surprise when it was announced at NAMM, and for the first time, gave players a genuine alternative to the Kemper.
In direct, standalone comparison, we found that the Quad Cortex is a much more capable unit than the Kemper. We preferred the user experience, and found that its profiling abilities were faster and overall more accurate. This is taking nothing away from the Kemper, however – this is a unit that was eons ahead of its time when it launched, and still holds up against more modern devices tonally, but shows its age a little with its outdated UI, and its significant bulk.