Quad Cortex: Two Weeks In

My Quad Cortex arrived fifteen days ago. I’m still in the honeymoon phase but I’m getting a better idea of what the device can (and can’t) do. My initial assessment still stands: “Lotsa fun, lotsa potential, lotsa work yet to be done.” It’s definitely not a mature product but there’s some great stuff in there.

I’ve been through one firmware update that went smoothly enough. Kick off the download and keep playing. When the system is ready to apply the update, the fun stops for a bit. It’s not super quick but it’s not horrible. At this time, it doesn’t seem to need to spend time rebuilding presets like the Helix does. That’s a frustrating aspect of Helix updates: after the software’s updated, I want to check out the updated functionality, not watch the device spin through 1000+ presets to update them. I get why they do it but it’s still kind of a drag.

This week I’ve started to dig into creating presets for my go-to sounds and to dial up sounds for the songs I’ve been wanting to record with the QC. It’s been a combination of delight and frustration: delight as the results have been phenomenal and frustration as a learn to navigate the tool and run into gaps in feature and function.

While a lot of the examples use separate paths for different scenes, I’ve found that to be inefficient in terms of management of DSP resources and setup effort. Blocks get duplicated and muting unused paths is tedious. As a result, my new approach is…my old approach with Helix. With the ability to create long signal paths with no loss of quality and the ability to bypass any block in the chain, I’ll have multiple amps and cabs in series and just bypass the ones not used in a particular scene. That way, if I’m using the same compressor, cabinet, delay, reverb, etc., I can reuse the same block across scenes. In the future, I’ll only use parallel paths for parallel processing, not for scenes.

As I gain experience building presets, it’s getting easier. Not only am I figuring out how I want to approach building presets, I’m also remembering my preferred amp models, captures, and effects. Another thing that’s making things easier is the ability to select the default settings for a block. Once you decide how you like to dial in a particular amp or effect, you can save the settings as the default so the next time you select that device, you’ll start with the same setting.

As much fun as I’m having with the Quad Cortex and looking forward to recording with it, it’ll probably take a few updates before I’d consider it gig-ready. For gigging, there are two features (supposedly on the way) that I’d need:

  • Auto Engage – Turn on a block (e.g., wah) based on movement of an expression pedal. Having gotten used to it, there’s no other way I’d want to engage a wah or whammy block.
  • Hybrid Mode Gig View – Currently, the QC’s gig view can be set to display 8 presets, 8 scenes, or 8 stomps. Hybrid mode will display four of one type in the top row and four in the bottom row. Generally I use scenes but sometimes I want to kick on a stomp without having to change modes.

While those are my most anticipated enhancements, performance features aren’t the only aspect that is immature.

  • Cloud functionality
    • Flaky uploads – This is most likely an infrastructure issue but uploading a backup or content such as a preset or capture fails more often than one would like. Probably a matter of scaling the infrastructure appropriately but whatever the root issue is, it’s frustrating.
    • Metadata – As the amount of cloud content grows, identifying assets of interest (captures, presets) becomes more challenging. While searchable tags is a nice start, structured metadata (e.g., device(s) captured, settings, creation date, etc.) would make it much easier to find things.
    • Library Management – The challenges with cloud assets don’t end after you find them. Managing a growing portfolio of IR’s, captures, and presets is not going to be fun without better tools to organize and manage them.
  • Clean up some interactions – While the touchscreen is a usability boon, the UI still would benefit from some refinement. Most noticeably, there is no way to enable / disable a block from the grid view. That’s a common enough operation that there should be some convenient gesture (swipe, double tap, long tap) to do it. Also, it can be frustrating to copy block settings across scenes / presets.
  • Continue adding blocks / effects – A number of items got pulled from the initial list due to schedule considerations. Now that the QC has been released, it’s time to clear the backlog. Effects like plate reverb and multi band compressor as well as amp models and captures need to be developed.

As I mentioned at the start, the honeymoon continues. I’m still surprised by how much stuff I can put into a preset without it working hard. It sounds amazingly good. Creating great sounding presets is not hard and it gets easier as you build out your favorites and set block defaults. The device is not without its faults but most are tolerable in a brand new product. Retailers are still a week or so away from getting their initial stock so we’re still in the very early stages of the product’s life cycle.

Neural DSP has done a wonderful job so far with the product. They focused on the critical features needed for success (physical design, great sounds, etc.) and now need to shift that focus to developing the QC into a mature product. Hopefully updates will be in the Goldilocks Zone: not too slow but not too fast either. I’m looking forward to seeing where the product goes from here.