The Best Guitar Processor to Buy: Fractal Audio FM9 vs Axe-FX 3

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A Guitar processor is that type of device that you just can’t go without — it is that essential to an electric guitar playing.

Previously we have already compared some of the best offerings when it comes to the guitar processors  — and now we would like to elaborate on that comparison by bringing another contestant.

Today, we are stacking two products from Fractal Audio: FM9 and Axe-FX 3 to see which one is the best to buy right now.

The Comparison Table

To start the comparison off, we list all of the notable features that those products have in a table. This way it will be easier for you to get a clear understanding of what those products are.

For more detailed overviews, continue reading the article.

Product Fractal Audio FM9 Fractal Audio Axe-FX 3
Performance features 4 DSP cores Dedicated microcontroller for non-processing tasks
Sound features 280 amp models, 2200+ cabs 400 amp models, 2000 cabs
Storage 1024 locations 1024 locations

Fractal Audio FM9 — Everything You Need

FM9 is one of the latest guitar processor offerings from Fractal Audio — released in the summer of 2021, it came as a long-awaited update to the FM3 model.

The device is a true swiss-army knife that does it all: it can act as an all-in-one amp modeler, effects processor, foot controller, and an audio interface for both professional and amateur musicians.

Design

Here we have a pretty basic build. FM9 offers a large display along with a ton of controls that are easy to navigate and tweak. Compared to the previous FM3 model, here the set of controls is expanded with the addition of more footswitches. 

Now, the pedal has 9 footswitches, and each of those has its own vari-color LED ring.

On the top portion of the front panel,we can see an LCD display that is used to indicate the current function of the processor.

The ports selection on this device is great — it gives you almost everything you might want. There are 1/4” instrument input, two stereo pairs of 1/4” jacks, and the main stereo output even features XLR and 1/4” outs. The headphone jack is here as well: it is worth mentioning that some of the first FM3s did not have it.

The processor allows you to connect an external switch or expression pedal using the FASLINK II port, and you also get 48k SPDIF and 5-pin MIDI in and outs.

FM9 offers a built-in audio interface for sound recording.

Features

The base of Fractal Audio FM9 is a system called amp blocks with each block having 4 channels. Those channels can run more than 280 amp models. Fractal Audio has also enabled FM9 with their entire cabinet collection: so, the user gets more than 2200 cabs to play with.

For those wanting to upload their own impulse responses, the guitar processor offers 1024 locations.

When it comes to the sound controls, FM9 surely delivers. Users get access to 57 overdrive pedals, 50 reverbs, and many delay variants. Other effects offered include chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, wah, EQ, filter, and pitch.

Positive
  • Great sound control.
Negatives
  • No features that stand out.
Fractal Audio Axe-FX III

Fractal Audio Axe-FX III — A Serious Piece of Equipment Capable of Supporting Any Project

Being a successor to Axe-FX II which was released in 2011, the current update brings the newest technology to provide the user experience of a whole new level.

Now, the users can try out the updated user interface, a huge colorful display, and a more ergonomic front panel. The hardware internals has also been updated to handle heavy workloads: now, the processor is twice as fast as Axe-FX II.

Design

In terms of the design, there is nothing that strikes the eye, but the functionality is all here. The front panel has carrying handles, between which are all of the controls.

On the left portion of the front panel, you have an LCD display with a resolution of 800×600. To the right, you can see an array of LED indicators that display the status of inputs and outputs. Beneath those are knobs that control the input and output levels.

On the front, there are also audio jacks for headphones and the instrument, and a power switch.

When it comes to the ports, Axe-FX III has everything you could ask for — and even more. There are XLR combo jacks, L&R 1/4″ inputs and outputs, FASLINK II Connector, USB, AC Power, MIDI in, out, and thru.

Features

Fractal Audio has managed to deliver the beast-like performance with this bad boy: the non-processing tasks are performed by the microcontroller, with the rest of the workload done by two 1GHz ‘Keystone’ Digital Signal Processors.

There are also Burr-Brown op-amps in the signal path that ensure perfect signal-to-noise ratios. The dedicated USB port lets the players use it as an interface for the DAW.

You can access hundreds of virtual amps on this guitar processor using 400 presets, starting from vintage Marshalls, Fenders, and to near-mythical Dumbles. You also get around 2000 virtual cabs to tinker with.

Positive
  • Great performance.
  • Superb stereo.
  • Good range of effects.
Negatives
  • Might be difficult to navigate for less-experienced users.

Buyer’s Guide

Here’s how you choose the best guitar processor: you analyze what you need to do, then you purchase the one that helps you with that. Simple.

To elaborate on that, you can look for the following feature in the best guitar processor for you:

  • Size. Make sure that you get something that has everything you need in terms of ports and controls but has a manageable size. It must fit well in your setup, and be compact enough if you plan to travel with it;
  • Display. It has to have a good resolution so the text on it is readable. Also, the brightness is very important for seeing the information during live shows;
  • Controls. That is exactly why you’re getting a guitar processor, right? So, check if the device you purchase has everything you plan to use;
  • Sound quality. To check the sound, go to the brick-and-mortar store and try the processor out. If that is not possible, try looking for demos on YouTube;
  • Connection capabilities. Depending on how you are going to use the processor, it needs to have certain ports. So, purchase the product that connects to all of your devices.

Conclusion

The guitar processor market can boast a wide selection of solutions for every type of guitar player. Whatever the style you prefer, whatever the presets you like to use — there surely is a device that will fit right in with your effects setup.

When it comes to our two contestants, both of them offer a great variety in terms of sound control that might be ideal for seemingly everybody.

Yet they still differ in some regard.

So, if you are looking for something that will cover most of the effects while still striking a good balance in terms of usability — FM9 will be a perfect fit for you.

On the other hand, Axe-FX II offers the best performance, great sound versatility, but fails to offer a clear way to navigate the abundance of settings — this is a true power station for experienced musicians.

FAQ

Fractal Audio FM9How many Amp and Cab blocks are there?

You have two amp blocks and two cab blocks for each preset. You can seamlessly switch between them too.

Fractal Audio FM9Does the FM9 have Global Blocks?

Unfortunately only Axe-FX II has those. But with FM9-Edit you can easily copy and paste one block across any number of presets to do batch updates.

Fractal Audio FM9Can the FM9 connect to a tube amp via the 4 cable method?

You can use separate outputs on the FM9 for that.

Fractal Audio Axe-FX IIICan the Axe-Fx III load presets from the FM9?

You can import FM9 presets using the editor software.

Fractal Audio Axe-FX IIHow do I update the firmware of my unit?

Install the Fractal-Bot software on your computer, then go to the support page, select your device and download the firmware file. You will find the update guide in the text file inside the zip.

Fractal Audio Axe-FX IICan I overwrite factory presets?

Factory presets sit in regular presets slots that can be overwritten.

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