While most gear-loving guitarists will agree that the Fractal Audio was a game changing piece of equipment (there's really no denying it), not all players want to give up their favorite amps. That led many guitarists to use the Axe-Fx as and Fx-only device (Steve Vai being one such player). This desire to use the Axe-Fx as a rack-mounted pedalboard is likely what led Fractal to create the original FX8, an effect-only solution in convenient pedal format. It hasn't taken Fractal long to update the FX8 to the Mark II version. Let's take a look and see how this powerful digital pedalboard stacks up to the competition.
The FX8 Mark II contains pretty much any effect you could imagine. There are over 34 overdrive/distortion/fuzz effects alone. A slew of modulation and time-based effects are present, including advanced delays and reverbs. A more comprehensive (and alphabetical) list should offer a glimpse into the depth of effects available:
- Graphic EQ
- Looper (4 minute stereo/8 minute mono)
- Megatap Delay
- Parametric EQ
- Pitch Shifter
- Ring Modulator
The dimensions are roughly 16" x 4" x10" with a weight just shy of 12lbs.
The FX8 is designed with serious interface options, and devotees of the so-called 4-cable method will be pleased to know that the FX8 was designed from the ground up with interfacing with your favorite amp's effects loop, though it will also do just fine when plugged straight into an amp's front end. Two relay and two footswitch jacks are also standard as are MIDI in and out.
A USB jack is included for firmware updates as well as interfacing with your computer via the FX8-Edit software.
The FX8 also has powerful preset capability, with 128 presets available as well as "XY" switching with many effects (allowing you to switch between two different effects states). You can also use "scenes" within a particular preset, allowing you to switch different effects on and off simultaneously (sort of like a virtual loop switcher).
Improvements on the Mark II version over the original FX8 include lower noise (though the FX8 was already super quiet) and and 18dB instrument input pad for guitars with loud pickups or with loud pedals placed in front of the FX8. The switch layout also makes more sense on the Mark II (numbered from bottom to top like the AX8). There also user-assignable F1, F2, and F3 switches.
And though it's not a technical description, the powder-coated steel build falls into the "built like a tank" category.
The original FX8 was best understood as a floor-based Axe-Fx without the "Axe" part, i.e. effects only. The FX8 Mark II is a slightly improved version of that concept. It was surprising that Fractal released an updated version of the FX8 not too long after they released the original FX8, but the improvements, while relatively minor, are welcome. The layout is improved, and the noise floor (already low) is even lower.
Although I personally prefer amp modeling these days, I have a decent collection of "real" amps, and the FX8 Mark II plays nicely with all of them. I tend to use amps as pedal flatforms, i.e. loud and clean tones primarily, so the 4-cable method isn't terribly appealing to me, but I did test it with a PRS Sonzera 50 and Mesa Boogie Mark V 35 combo. Using the 4-cable method, I was able to place effects like overdrives and compressors before the preamp stage and time-based effects like delay and reverb after, and the results were stellar. The tones sounded professional and quiet, and when I integrated the amps' drive channels in lieu of the FX8 drives, it was very quiet, and I could sense no added no noise whatsoever.
While some might consider it blasphemy, my favorite set-up was when I paired the FX8 with a Kemper Powerhead through a Port City 2x12 OS Vertical cabinet. I love my Kemper and often prefer it for live gigs, though the Kemper's effects are overall noticeably not as useful or powerful as the Fractal effects. One exception is that I prefer the Kemper's de-tuning effect for virtual key changes. The Fractal's pitch shifter has noticeable latency in comparison to the Kemper. Regardless, combining the best of both worlds is a powerful setup. The ease of setup with the FX8 Mark II is super easy, especially if you use the free FX8-edit software, though it's pretty simply to make changes using the LED-equipped knobs if need be.
Guitarists and bassists can be pretty picky when it comes to their effects. In the past, all-in-one units have been treated with a certain degree of skepticism and rightly so. If anything the FX8 will forever up the ante regarding integrated effects units. There's simply not a bad effect in the bunch, and the I/O options are without peer. For someone who wants world class effects in a relatively small package, the FX8 Mark II is sure to satisfy.
Name of Gear: Fractal Audio FX8 Mark II
List Price: $999.99
Manufacturer Info: Fractal Audio; fractalaudio.com
Pros: Incredible value; high quality effects; superior I/O options
Cons: Harmonizer latency