Nice little amp, eh? The orange vinyl, that old crest on basketweave speaker cloth, the white control panel with its quirky graphics and amber jewel light, the sturdy black strap… stop, dear reader. You’re not just barking up the wrong tree, you’re in the wrong forest. Because the Orange OPC may be aimed at guitar players but it is not – repeat, not – an amplifier. It’s a computer in disguise.
You might have seen adverts for the OPC knocking around over the past few months and wondered exactly what it was. Well, it’s a Windows PC that’s been put together in the factory of a well-known British amp maker. The bit that makes this more than just a marketing gimmick is that it’s been specifically configured to excel at recording, and comes complete with a handy suite of guitarist-friendly software.
So let’s get straight to the nerdy part, with apologies to anyone who still uses a ribbon typewriter and hasn’t got a clue what any of the following numbers mean. The processor is a more than adequately speedy 3.1GHz Intel Dual Core, the hard drive is 500GB – enough to store the complete works of Shakin’ Stevens several times over – and 4GB of RAM should keep things running smoothly under testing conditions.
The native soundcard brings plenty of ins and outs and promises much lower latency than you’d ever get through a standard Windows device, while behind the basketweave grille lie a stereo pair of ‘studio quality’ 6.5" JBL speakers.
As a bonus, there’s a proper graphics card for those who can’t get through the day without a quick blast of Fifa 12 between guitar takes, and connecting to the net via Wifi is a doddle. A keyboard and mouse are included, as well as all the necessary cables, and as long as you have a suitable monitor to hand then you could easily load up the likes of MS Office and turn this into your main home PC. Just to recap, then: this is not an amplifier.
The first thing to do is plug in all the peripherals. The rear I/O panel scores a black mark for its unnerving wobbliness, but you’re unlikely to be shoving things in and out very often. Maybe we need to stop thinking about amps and judge this piece of 21st century hardware on its own terms – even if the cabinet itself is, in vintage Orange style, immaculately built.
Once you’ve flicked the switch by the power lead then pushed the main on/off button, the OPC boots up quickly and takes you straight into the land of Windows 7. At this point, anything as old-fashioned as a guitar plugged into the main input will not make a sound – you’ll need software running to generate tone. Anyone who tells you this computer can double up as a practice amp should be pushed into the nearest ditch, because it can’t – or no more easily than a standard PC with a jack input and a speaker attached. But do keep the volume control low during boot-up to avoid some loud popping noises as the drivers punch in for work.
So, the software. We’ll start with IK Multimedia’s hugely popular AmpliTube 3, an amp/FX emulator with 51 stompboxes and 31 amps, including extra Orange models. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by AmpliTube’s convincing sounds and versatility – there are 46 cabs to choose from, 17 rack effects and 15 mics, which can be paired up and moved around in virtual space. Now we do have a practice amp of sorts, although there’s not a lot of power to send through those little JBLs: you may struggle to keep up with a toddler on biscuit tins. You’ll also have to disable the ambient mics in AmpliTube, or bypass the cab stage, unless you want to hear a room within your room. The ultra-low latency is impressive, though.
As a standalone application AmpliTube is easy, fun and quite inspiring, but it’s as a plug-in within a multitracking DAW that emulators like this earn their disk space – and the OPC comes with two of them. The only downside is that, while both work fine, neither is likely to appear at the heart of a pro studio near you any time soon. PreSonus Studio One does pretty much everything you could ask of it while Acoustica Mixcraft 5 is not entirely dissimilar in terms of functionality, but as someone who works with Logic Pro 9 every day, I have to say they’re both chuffing dreadful to use.
There’s also the Lite version of the EZdrummer sampler – handy if you don’t have access to a real kit but want something a little more realistic than a synthetic boom-tack-boom-tack to play along to (mind you, the version installed on our review machine was so ‘Lite’ it didn’t even have rack toms or crash cymbals) – and finally some LickLibrary stuff for teaching yourself to be Joe Satriani. It’s not anyone’s fantasy software collection, but you’re welcome to upgrade at your leisure – which also goes for the hardware, so long as you can find a way past the rather daunting back panel.
If you plan to pair up the OPC with an external soundcard for multiple-source recording, however, be warned that it doesn’t have any FireWire inputs.
This is a solution to the problem that Windows PCs are essentially designed for creating graphs and spreadsheets, not rock’n’roll. You might argue that such a solution already exists thanks to the creative endeavours of the late Mr Jobs, but even the most powerful Mac would still need a little outside help to bring it up to this level of guitar-compatibility – and they’re not cheap.
There are gimmicky elements to the design – the amp-style EQ knobs on top have no place on what is effectively a studio monitoring control panel – and one cracking DAW would have been more useful than two clunky ones. But while the OPC may seem like a strange collision of two very different worlds, it could be the start of something extremely cool.