Neural DSP Quad Cortex
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
If you're interested in the #NeuralDSP #QuadCortex then this article is for you. It covers the main considerations including a pro and cons list in the summary, and also a list of all the amps and effects the unit comes with according to the Neural site.
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Neural are a company who’ve been making great leaps into the world of guitar plugins for recording and live use, including models of fantastic amps like the Fortin Cali, and also some truly beautiful sounding cabsims.
While most of these are aimed at the heaver side of the market with artists such as Joe Duplantier from Gojira, Tosin Abasi from Animals as Leaders and Dick Lovgren from Meshuggah using the products, Neural also cater for those after clean and edge-of-break-up tones with the Archetype Cory Wong plugin.
These are available as limited period free trials by the way, so you’ve got nothing to lose by checking them out.
All this work has lead naturally to the development of a hardware unit that utilises the best of Neural’s extensive tone knowledge: The Quad Cortex.
As Neural quote Alan Kay: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” Neural have taken this seriously and put a lot of time and R&D into this unit, and it is pretty damn good.
Okay, here’s one of the main selling points of the Quad Cortex: it has a ton of processing power – 2GHz Quad-core SHARC. This is fantastic if you’re really into effects and you set up very complex signal paths, as this unit will handle just about anything you can throw at it.
Personally, I have a pretty minimalist approach and am always more interested in core tone than processing, but knowing I can create patches without worrying about running out of power is very cool.
This is where the Quad Cortex has the power to shine for me, and it is connected to the previous comments about processing power.
It has the potential to be hugely versatile. In theory you can have your entire band running through just one unit. In the band I play with, we have two guitarists and a bass and we can set up three separate signal paths with the ins and outs available and go straight into the desk. I mean that’s pretty damn cool right?!
The only downside to this is that you’re then pretty limited in the number of effects blocks you can use per instrument, but just the ability to do this is testament to the versatility and power available.
Oh also if you’re concerned that this unit is aimed at the heavier side of music, well yes it does this in spades, but there are some great clean amp models too.
Here is where we get serious. There is no point in any unit if the tones aren’t good enough, period. That, for me, is THE deciding factor.
The good news is that they are great. The Quad Cortex combines the approach that different modellers and profilers have used over recent years, in that we have loads of modelled amps built on Neural’s algorithms, like a Helix or Axe FX, but the unit can also ‘capture’ amps just like the Kemper. Now this has basically been proprietary to Kemper for a number of years, but other companies have seen how accurate this can be and are catching up. In fairness to Kemper, it’s taken a decade for other companies to do this with anything approaching the quality of the Kemper.
The Cortex can even captures pedals with very good accuracy, which the Kemper doesn't offer. So in order to try this out, I took a few of my favourite pedals and my trusty Two Rock Studio Pro amp and captured them. Here’s the result:
And here's a video of the capture of the amp itself:
So, using just the models that ship with the unit, it’s very easy to get a great clean, break-up, crunch or lead tones, and of course it does metal with aplomb; but you can also then capture your own tones that you love and take them with you on the Quad Cortex.
However, if you don’t have loads of amps and pedals you can capture, don’t worry as there are also already many, many captures and pre-sets available for download via the App – more on this later.
For a list of the amps models the unit has on purchase, see the bottom of the page.
Another massively useful tone shaping tool is the approach Neural have taken to the cabsims. Firstly, there is no doubt the Cortex has an incredible choice in cabs with Neural claiming it is shipped with one of the most extensive IR collections on the planet. Then we can also change the mics, the mics position, panning and other parameters to really get the tone we want. Oh and if you aren’t really a tweaker (as I’m not), many of the IRs sound awesome without any adjustment.
Built in Effects
Now we’ve looked a little at the core sounds, let’s move onto the effects. These are all completely usable, functional and do the job they are intended to do. However, when compared to a unit like the Kemper which has over a decade of updates behind it, they are lacking in quality and variety in my opinion. For me, this is especially true with the reverb and delay effects which on the Kemper are absolutely beautiful.
The thing to keep in mind here though, is that the Cortex’s effects are still good and will get better over time. In fact, Neural have recently added a decent Shimmer reverb and also improved their algorithms so they are less demanding on the processors.
The number of effects you can have for each pre-set though is huge due to the processing power and number of blocks available.
My favourites at the moment are the tape delay, shimmer and cave reverbs, vintage chorus, the improved flanger, the Bad Horse wah, and the analog octave, which tracks pretty well and sounds great.
Please head to the bottom of the page to see the list of effects.
Ease of Use
As with any modeller, there is a learning curve. However, the Cortex is very intuitive and you’ll be able to get some great sounds and pre-sets up and running without even looking at the manual. As I’ve compared it to the Kemper a few times, I might as well again here and say that it is easier to use in some ways mainly due to the large touch screen, which makes editing, adding blocks, adjusting parameters etc a doddle.
I love the different modes available for live use: Stomp Mode, Scene Mod and Pre-sets.
assigns each footswitch to a block in your signal path, meaning you simply turn effects on and off much as you would with a traditional pedal board.
allows you to assign each footswitch to a specific ‘scene’ in which any block can be active or not in the one rig, and all parameters can be saved to that specific scene. This is seemless switching so there is overspill between changes (if you want it) which allows for very organic and natural sounding transitions with no gaps in sound.
this allows you to simply change between up to 8 different pre-set rigs. The main difference from Scene Mode is that you can have totally different effects, amps etc in the signal path. Imagine Scene Mode is like having one actual pedal board and amp set up and you’re swapping between settings, whereas Pre-Set mode is like swapping the entire pedal board and amp.
The switches themselves all feel of good quality built from stainless steel, and the unit is solidly built to high standards using aluminium. The 7” touch screen could be a little more sensitive, but is perfectly serviceable.
The number of ins and outs is impressive and incredibly easy to assign with the well-thought-out display which is accessed by just swiping down on the screen.
In fact, I can’t think of much not to like here, unless you’re not into the whole floor unit concept.
Having an app is a cool thing. At the moment, the Cortex Cloud is only used to download and upload captures and pre-sets, store backups and IRs. It is pretty clunky though as you have to ‘star’ anything you wish to try, then download it to the Cortex to actually demo it. This would be much better if you could demo captures and pre-sets without having to download them, then you could just keep the ones you connect with rather than downloading possibly hundreds, then having to delete them all.
There is also very little housekeeping apparent on the Cloud, so often I’ve downloaded a pre-set to discover the actual amp or pedal capture is missing so you can’t even use it. Whether these have been amended or deleted after the pre-set upload by the author, I don’t know.
29cm x 19cm x 4.9cm
This means it fits on a small pedalboard easily. I have mine set up with a Seymour Duncan Powerstage 170 into a real cab, 2 Dunlop DVP4 mini expression pedals, a Ditto Looper and a Line 6 G10 S wireless on a pedalboard measuring 62 x 32 cm. With this set up, there’s not much I can’t do!
Here's a diagram using the Templeboard Planner: https://templeplanner.com
Ins and Outs
2 Dual combo inputs – TS, TRS and XLR
2 Effects Loops – can also be used for extra input or output jacks
2 1/4” mono output jacks
2 XLR output jacks
1 Headphone ouput
Midi in out/through
2 Expression inputs
USB audio transmission, firmware updating, Midi etc
All audio connectors are Neutrik.
A fantastic first foray into the hardware area of amp modellers and multi effects. An offering that truly rivals other established brands such as Axe Fx, Kemper and Helix.
Well built overall with a very useful touch screen, solid enough feeling knobs and very well thought out software.
· Great sounding
· Lots of effects
· Can capture your favourite amps and pedals
· Versatile in / outs
· Small format
· Wifi connectivity for updates, sharing pre-sets etc
· Can be used as an interface via USB transmission
· It has an App
· Only in a floor board style format
· Effects are limited and the quality is not as good as competitors –Yet.
· Runs hot with cooling slots along the side, but also poorly placed ones on the bottom – these are likely to be blocked when using the Cortex on a desk and limits positioning on a pedalboard.
· Clunky App
If considering this, look closely at the Kemper Stage or Heads as the more established brand has had a decade of improvements added, and after that long is still one of the best units out there.
But the Neural DSP Quad Cortex is a wonderful unit which is only going to get better.
Just off topic one sec -
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Amp / Effects Model Lists
Lists of Amps, Cabs and Effects that are on the Neural Site for the Quad Cortex. This is correct as of July ’21 and we expect it to grow with successive updates. Items like a looper, more reverbs – e.g. plate etc. However, as of July ’21 not all of these are actually available e.g. reverse reverb
Amp Models the Quad Cortex Ships with:
1. Double RVB Normal: Fender® 65 Twin Reverb® 2. Double RVB Vibrato: Fender® 65 Twin Reverb® 3. Rols Jazz CH120: Roland® Jazz Chorus 120 4. UK C30: Vox® AC30® 5. UK C30 Top Boost: Vox® AC30® Top Boost 6. UK C15: Vox® AC15® 7. UK C15 Top Boost: Vox® AC15® Top Boost 8. BF DLX RVB Normal: Fender® Blackface Deluxe Reverb® 9. BF DLX RVB Vibrato: Fender® Blackface Deluxe Reverb® 10. BF Super RVB Normal: Fender® Blackface Super Reverb® 11. BF Super RVB Vibrato: Fender® Blackface Super Reverb® 12. BF Prince RVB: Fender® Blackface Princeton Reverb® 13. Vishnu: Bogner® Shiva® Clean Channel 14. Hiw103: Hiwatt® DR103® 15. Captain 50 Clean: Morgan® SW50® Clean 16. California Star 100W Ch1: Mesa® Boogie Lonestar® 100W Channel 1 17. California Star 100W Ch2: Mesa® Boogie Lonestar® 100W Channel 2 18. British Plexi Bright: Marshall® Super Lead 100 Bright 19. British Plexi Normal: Marshall® Super Lead 100 Normal 20. British Plexi Patch: Marshall® Super Lead® 100 Jumpered 21. Plexi 50 Bright: Marshall® Lead 50 Bright 22. Plexi 50 Normal: Marshall® Lead 50 Normal 23. British Plexi 50 Patch: Marshall® Lead 50 Jumpered 24. British 2203: Marshall® JCM800® 25. British UB Rhythm: Marshall® Jubilee® Rhythm Channel 26. British UB Lead: Marshall® Jubilee® Lead Channel 27. British TM45 Bright: Marshall® JTM 45 Bright 28. British TM45 Normal: Marshall® JTM 45 Normal 29. British TM45 Patch: Marshall® JTM 45 Jumpered 30. PV-505 Rhythm: Peavey® 6505 Rhythm 31. PV-505 Lead: Peavey® 6505 Lead 32. EV III Blue: EVH® 5150 III Blue 33. EV III Red: EVH® 5150 III Red 34. California Rectifier Orange: Mesa® Boogie® Dual Rectifier® Orange 35. California Rectifier Red: Mesa® Boogie® Dual Rectifier® Red 36. California Tremo Orange: Mesa® Boogie® Trem-O-Verb® Orange 37. California Tremo Red: Mesa® Boogie® Trem-O-Verb® Red 38. D-Cell Herb Ch1: Diezel® Herbert® Channel 1 39. D-Cell Herb Ch2: Diezel® Herbert® Channel 2 40. D-Cell Herb Ch3: Diezel® Herbert® Channel 3 41. D-Cell H4 Ch3: Diezel® VH4® Channel 3 42. D-Cell H4 Ch4: Diezel® VH4® Channel 4 43. FreeBe 100 Clean: Friedman® HBE100® Clean Channel 44. FreeBe 100 Rhythm: Friedman® HBE100® BE Channel 45. FreeBe 100 Lead: Friedman® HBE100® HBE Channel 46. Uber: Bogner® Uberschall® 47. Solo 100 Lead: Soldano® SLO® 100 Lead 48. Solo 100 Crunch: Soldano® SLO® 100 Crunch 49. California 2C+ Lead: Mesa® Boogie® Mark IIC+ Lead 50. California 2C+ Clean: Mesa® Boogie® Mark IIC+ Clean
Some Cabsims the Quad Cortex Ships with:
1. 412 California Vintage: Mesa® Boogie traditional straight with UK Celestion® V30 2. 412 D-Cell = Diezel® straight guitar cabinet with Celestion® V30 3. 412 EV = EVH® straight guitar cabinet with Celestion® G12EVH 4. 212 Tweed = Fender® 2×12 with Celestion A-Type speaker 5. 412 British 1960 = Marshall® 1960 with UK made Greenback G12M-25 6. 412 British 1971 = Marshall® 1960 with Pulsonic-era Greenbacks 7. 412 California Oversize = Mesa® Boogie Oversize with UK made Celestion® V30 8. 412 Godzilla = Zilla Cabs® Oversized with Celestion® Creamback G12H-75 9. 412 British Silver = Marshall® 1987 Silver Jubilee 2551B with Celestion® G12T-75 speakers 10. 412 Crush = Orange® PPC412 with UK Celestion® Vintage 30 11. 412 Ubercab = Bogner® Uberkab guitar cabinet rear-loaded with Celestion® Vintage 30 and G12T-T75 12. 212 Sur = Suhr® 2×12 with Celestion® V-Type speaker 13. 212 UK C30 = Vox® AC30 combo with 60s Silver Bell with highly sought after Pulsonic cones 14. 410 Bass CL = Ampeg® SVT-410HE 4×10 bass cabinet (not sure what speakers they use) 15. D410C Darkglass® = Darkglass® D410C loaded with custom Eminence® ceramic drivers
Bass Amplifier Models the Quad Cortex ships with:
1. Bass Super Valve Ampeg® SVT® 2. California Bass 400 Mesa® Boogie® Bass 400+® 3. Bass Flip-top Ch 64’ Ampeg® B15 – 1964 Channel 4. Bass Flip-top Ch 66′ Ampeg® B15 – 1966 Channel 5. Bass Flip-top Patch Ampeg® B15 – Jumped 6. G400K Gallien Krueger® 400RB® 7. British Bass 50 Bright: Marshall® Super Bass® 50 Bright 8. British Bass 50 Normal: Marshall® Super Bass® 50 Normal 9. British Bass 50 Patch: Marshall® Super Bass® 50 Jumpered
1. Fuzz Pi EHX® Big Muff Pi® 2. Chief BD2 Boss® BD-2 3. Chief DS1 Boss® DS-1 4. Chief MT Boss® MT-2 5. Chief OD1 Boss® OD-1 6. Chief SD1 Boss® SD-1 7. OD250 DOD® 250 8. Freeman BOD Friedman® BE-OD® 9. Round Fuzz Ge Dallas Arbiter® Fuzz Face® 10. Myth Drive Klon® Centaur® 11. British Blues Marshall® Blues Breaker® 12. British Governor Marshall® Guv’nor® 13. Compulsive Drive Fulltone® OCD® 14. Octofuzz Octa Fuzz® 15. Rodent Drive ProCo® Rat® 16. Rage Boost Range Master® 17. Green 808 Ibanez® TS808® 18. Exotic Xotic® BB Preamp®
1. Darkglass® Microtubes B3K® 2. Darkglass® Vintage Microtubes® 3. BDDI: Tech 21® Bass Driver DI® 4. Soviet Fuzz: EHX® Russian Big Muff® 5. Animate Fuzz: Human Gear® Animato® 6. Brass Matters: Maestro® Brass Master®
1. Jewel Comp Diamond® Compressor® 2. Legendary 87: 1176® 3. Dynamic Comp MXR® Dynacomp® 4. Solid State Comp SSL® Bus 5. Super Symmetry Darkglass® Super Symmetry® 6. Hairlow Bogner® Harlow® 7. Neural Compressor
· Tape · Analog · Digital · Multitap · Ping-pong
1. Room 2. Ambience 3. Hall 4. Cave 5. Shimmer 6. Plate 7. Modulated Reverb 8. Reverse Reverb 9. Swell Reverb 10. Singularity Reverb 11. Interstellar Reverb 12. Spring Reverb
1. Vintage Chorus 2. Dual Chorus 3. 8 Voice Chorus 4. Vibrato 5. Tremolo 6. Tremolo/Panner 7. Flanger 8. Phaser 9. Rotary
· Analog Octave · Polyphonic Octaver · Detune · Digital Octave · Wham: Whammy® · Intelligent Pitch · Drop
Wah and Envelope
1. British Wah: Vox® Wah 2. Crying Wah: Dunlop® Wah 3. Crying Bass Wah: Dunlop® Bass Wah 4. Bad Horse: Morley® Bad Horsie® 5. Crying Wah From Hell: Dunlop® Cry Baby® From Hell 6. Fuller’s Bonnie: Fulltone® Clyde 7. MXC404 Wah: MXR® MC404 CAE 8. Crying Clyde Wah: Dunlop® Cry Baby® Clyde McCoy 9. uTron Auto Wah: Mu-Tron® 10. Love Meat: Lovetone® Meatball® 11. Guitar Auto Wah
1. Parametric 2. Graphic 6 Band 3. Graphic 10 Band 4. 3-band 5. 4-band 6. Peak/Notch 7. Low Pass 8. Highpass
· Volume pedal · Slow Gear / Swell · FX loop · Noise Gate · Tuner