I’m careful about the investments I make in my project studio; I can smell hype from several miles away, and I’m not lulled by the siren song of some artist I like endorsing a revoltingly over-priced piece of gear.
I simply want something that is solid, dependable, flexible, and doesn’t dent the bank account too much.
That said, I want to share with all of you guitarists out there a purchase I made recently that I was 100% satisfied with, and believe me—I’ll never try to sell hype to you on this blog!
The Noble Quest for Guitar Tone
After recording my guitars for a year playing through a good solid-state amp miked with a Shure SM57, I had arrived at some very usable and organic tones by experimenting with mic placement, layering and a little post-EQ.
However, my guitar tracking sessions weren’t very flexible; as someone working in a project studio—often times at odd hours of the night—cranking the amp up loud enough to get a good signal-to-noise ratio and saturation in those wee hours could provoke unfathomable wrath from my wife.
I thus set my eyes on the world of modern hardware amp modelers.
The guitar tone solution for my project studio needed to meet the following criteria:
- sound quality as close as possible to mix-ready
- tone that is consistent and easily reproduced
- little effort to tweak
- convincing high-gain amp sounds
- clean tones with rich analogue-esque fx
Although I’m the guy that wrote You Don’t Need Expensive Music Gear, I found myself sizing up used modelers like the AxeFX II; I was really, really pining for that all-in-one project studio guitar tone solution.
Unable to bring myself to pull the trigger on these monstrously expensive units, I happened upon a demo of the Mooer GE200 on tone-god Ola Englund’s channel, and was blown away by what I heard.
To be fair, Ola could plug his guitar into an electrified cat turd and make it sound heavy. Knowing this, I did some careful research on the GE200 before I decided to take a gamble and purchase one.
I’m really glad I did.
Allow me to rattle off some of the GE200’s features:
- $290 USD List Price
- 70 effects
- 55 amplifier models
- 25 speaker cabinet models
- Loads 3rd party impulse responses (IRs)
- 200 fully editable preset/patch spaces
- Flexible rearrangement of the signal chain
- USB connectivity
- Mooer Studio patch editing software
- Expression pedal
- 52 second looper
- Rhythm machine with 40+ drum patterns
- One 1/4″ mono input
- Two 1/4″ mono outputs (L and R)
- 1/8″ headphone jack
- 1/8″ AUX stereo input
- 1/4″ EXP2 stereo input
I’ve always been more interested in how guitar gear sounds in a mix versus solo.
So, without gabbing on, let’s hear it!
The clips below are the GE200 recorded direct into Logic Pro X—totally raw and untreated—with no clever EQ or fancy processing whatsoever.
First up we have some crystal-clear chords and emotive leads in a 90’s-esque alt-rock segment.
Any guitar gear demo made in the last 5 years would be remiss without addressing this burning question—does it djent?
Well, it certainly does my version of it, at least.
Here is some tight, modern metal riffage on a 7-string guitar at the very low tuning of GCGCFAD. You can also hear how the unit is capable of some enveloping, atmospheric clean tones:
That high-gain tone has just the right amount of punch and bite, while maintaining the clarity and tightness of the lows.
Finally, here are some layered, clean ambient guitars for an ethereal effect:
The cleans shimmer and have enough body to give them gravity in the mix but not gum up the mid range.
While I’m showcasing my personal stylistic tastes here, this unit offers a broad scope of tone options for players of all styles.
Totally Rippin’ Amps
The GE200 includes 55 amp models in total. These models are inspired by amps all across the spectrum. You can dial in a wide variety of tones including crystalline cleans, contoured crunches, articulate high-gain, and face-peeling extreme distortions.
While it seems the hard-rock or metal-guitarist was kept very much in focus during the development of the GE200, players of all flavors can find excellent tone is this unit. For instance, the box has some stellar sounding lightly-driven amp models that could satisfy the blues and classic rock pickers.
Most of the amp models and preset patches required little to no tweaking on my part, giving me some solid tones to play with right out of the gate. I quickly found my new go-to amp in the “Powerbell”, and some slight adjustment and matching it to a new cabinet made it perfect for me.
On the Amp screen, you have the essential controls available over the amp’s settings: Gain, Bass, Mids, Treble, Presence and Master. Most of the amp models are split up between distorted (DS), clean (CL) or over-driven (OD) tonalities, so that you can play that amp as it would sound clean or dirty.
Finding a killer amp model that compliments your playing style is just one step, the final tone can be sabotaged or limited by a sub-par or mismatched speaker cabinet.
Mooer starts you off with 24 cabinet models pre-loaded. I was particularly impressed with the “Citrus 412” and the “Rec 212”, which by using my Sherlockean powers of deduction appear to be modeled from an Orange 4×12 and a Mesa Boogie Rectifier 2×12 cabinet, respectively.
The Cabinet screen lets you adjust the virtual mics by selecting microphone class, distance from the speaker, and position around the axis of the speaker cone. These are parameters which, if you’ve ever fought the tedious battle of recording a real guitar amp, have some pretty important effects on your final tone.
If after all of that tweaking you still can’t find the cabinet sim that is working for your guitar chain, then don’t fret (lame guitar pun, I know)!
By implementing impulse responses (or IR’s) as the format for speaker cabinet emulation, the GE200 essentially opens the door for unlimited tonal customization.
The free Mooer Studio companion software allows the user to upload any third-party IR in .wav format. There are hundreds of free IR’s circulating the web, and there are also some very fine and affordable IR packs for purchase, like these at Wilkinson Audio.
Legendary speaker vendor Celestion has also gotten in the game, offering these IRs taken from some of their famed models like the V30’s.
The GE200 has 70 high quality effects including all the time-honored flavors of chorus, delay, reverb, phaser, wah, flanger, tremolo, pitch shifter, EQ and compressor.
Many of the effects may not satisfy analog snobs (this is a digital modeler, after all), but I found the FX most important to me like delay, chorus and reverb to be very rich, contoured, and easily tailored to my style.
The noise gate on this unit deserves a special mention here: the gate is air-tight, even with a screaming high-gain amp loaded. Additionally, following the gate up with the GE200’s Yellow Compressor allows for firm control of dynamics without squashing your tone into fuzz.
The expression pedal is also very versatile, and the GE200 allows you to assign the expression pedal’s role for every patch, for example whether you want it to control volume or a delay parameter.
Chain of Command
The entire signal chain of the GE200 can be rearranged however you like using the Chain screen. Simply drag and drop the blocks representing the different components (e.g. amp, cabinet, fx, etc.) in any order. This is a simple degree of freedom that can make a big difference; just try telling Devin Townsend that it “doesn’t matter which order the delay and reverb are in.”
The casing for the GE200 is a brushed metal chassis with a slim profile. Unlike many Multi-FX units I’ve owned in the past which had a hollow, plastic sort of heft, the GE200 has good weight and density.
All editing and tuning happens on a generous display which is clear, bright and easy to read from a standing height, even for us near-sighted players.
The foot-switches feel sturdy and have the right amount of sensitivity to being stomped.
Playing with the expression pedal is effortless and comfortable, even if it is noticeably shorter than a traditional, standalone wah-pedal.
Overall, this thing feels like it could survive being stomped and kicked around over the course of many performances or studio jam sessions.
Deep Tweaking and Connectivity
Bending over and twisting knobs to edit patches just kind of sucks, even if the GE200 is an awesome piece of gear with an intuitive control surface. Luckily, the engineers at Mooer are keeping with the times by offering a freely downloadable companion software called Mooer Studio.
Connecting your unit by USB to your Mac/PC allows for easy modification of patches, renaming and saving. You can even import/export patches to share with your bro who has his own GE200, or the online community of GE200 users.
If you’ve never been into tweaking patches or find you just aren’t good at it, professional guitar tone designers like Choptones offer some tasty third-party GE200 preset packages for sale.
The unit can also serve as an audio interface for direct recording into a DAW (Logic, Pro Tools, Reaper, etc.). This direct in capability can also be used for recording a raw signal alongside your effected signal so that the uncolored DI signal can be later re-routed or re-amped.
Playing with Yourself
I was very happy to discover the looper function on this unit. On my newer guitar-based instrumental project, I’ve been writing a lot of rhythm+lead parts, and when jamming through my amp the looper allows me to compose guitar parts in the moment without having to launch and set up my DAW environment to record.
Using the looper isn’t exactly intuitive at first, so you’ll need to read the instruction manual to get it down.
The looper allows for ~52 seconds of recording and playback, and what I thought was incredibly useful was the fact that you can record using one patch, but play over the loop using a different patch.
Playing through a real amplifier gives an immediate feedback in the form of zero latency, and a sense of physical immersion from vibrations of the amp. This creates a very visceral experience that is unique to the live amplifier and one which many guitarists have a hard time giving up for the sake of digital “in-the-box” convenience.
When tracking with the GE200 directly into my DAW, the feel doesn’t reproduce that of an amplifier, of course, but is still much, much more gratifying than a pure software modeler like Amplitube, BiasFX or Guitar Rig.
The GE200 has a very satisfying feel—palm mutes feel deep and powerful, leads and solos stream out like threads of silk. It just feels good to play through this thing!
For live playing or jam sessions, pushing the GE200 through an amplifier can have mixed results. Be aware that simply going through the clean channel prevents this unit from really shining, as you’d essentially be voicing a speaker cabinet model through an actual speaker, muddying your sound.
The best results I have achieved for jam sessions is to route the GE200 through the effects loop of my solid state amplifier with a very neutral sounding cab model engaged.
What Mooer most likely had in mind in terms of amplification was the growing trend of performing musicians who route their amp modelers like AxeFX or Helix directly into a PA, bypassing the amplifier/cabinet combo altogether. With this direct-to-monitors scenario, the GE200 really soars.
Mind the Gap
“Gap-less switching” is a big deal for live playing; a moment of muteness after stomping the footswitch to call up a new patch is a moment too long in a live situation.
The GE200’s patch switching is perceptibly instantaneous, as I notice zero gaps in the sound when stomping to the next tone.
The unit does not feature an “FX tail”, which means if you’re playing a lead tone with a very sustained delay or echo, the tail of that sound will be killed when you call up a new patch.
Room for Improvement
I’ve only run into a couple of problems with this unit, and mostly with the firmware before updating it. Mooer is incredibly helpful in making sure your unit has the latest firmware with all the bug fixes and improvements.
Regarding sounds, this unit has enough amps, cabs, and effects to keep me happy, probably indefinitely. The only tones I found lackluster were the GE200’s Mesa-modeled amps. A Rectifier done right is a force to be reckoned with, but the analogs to the Mesa sound on Mooer’s unit fall short, sadly, as I feel they lack punch, grind and clarity compared to other amp models like the Powerbell (modeled after ENGL’s Powerball, most likely).
MIDI connectivity of the higher-priced units is also very attractive to performing guitarists, as many players have MIDI events sequenced to automatically switch the patches on their units during live sets. If Mooer ever ventured into this territory on future modelers, it would be well worth another hundred bucks or so on the price tag.
In a Class of Its Own
The bazillion dollar question is “how does it stack up against the big boys like AxeFX, Kemper and Helix?“, and my honest answer is I don’t really know, because I haven’t owned any of those units.
I can say this—the GE200 took my productions to a brand new level, and I’m someone who has done years of experimenting with software, pedals, amps and IRs for guitar tone.
I actually got very excited listening back to my first recordings. I instantly had the tone I had always heard in my head, and I only needed to do very subtle EQ adjustments to sit it down firmly in the mix.
If the higher-end modelers are better, they aren’t better by any amount that would be appreciable to the casual listener (aka your potential fans). Only audiophiles or people steeped in music production would perceive a difference between the GE200 and something like a Helix in a fully produced track.
Note: For what it’s worth, there are some great videos on YouTube comparing a guitar track routed through the GE200 with the same track spit through the heavyweights like AxeFX II, Helix and Kemper, and I have to say the GE200 more than holds its own, and even outshines those juggernauts in many instances. See this video here if you don’t believe me.
Crack Open the Piggy Bank
I’ll just throw the price-tag at you right now—I paid ~$290 USD for mine, brand new. You can get them a bit cheaper lightly-used or refurbished on awesome sites like Reverb.com.
The GE200’s price-tag is several hundreds of dollars lighter than “The Big Boys” by Fractal, Line 6 and Kemper.
At this price point, the GE200 is absurdly good.
Mooer’s GE200 simply kicks ass.
Although I touched on a good bit of this unit’s capabilities, any owner should spend some real time with this to explore the bottomless customization options allowed by third-party IRs, chain manipulation, and the dedicated editing software.
It’s honestly a godsend for project studios in need of a crushing high-gain, rock or metal tone on a real world budget. This unit bridges (and in some ways surpasses) the gap between Multi-FX “toys” and high-end amp modelers.
I’m very impressed by this unit, and I know Mooer will only continue to perfect their amp modeling technology.
If you play any style of rock or metal, the GE200 is a solid investment for your project studio.