Orange's iconic coloured amps can be seen adding guitar grunt on stage to the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Eat World and Bloc Party. Now Orange is doing the same for your home computer, encasing a powerful desktop PC in one of its distinctive cabinets.
The valve-driven guts of its regular amps is replaced with a potent set of components, coupled with an impressive bundle of music software, to provide a micro-studio in a cunning orange shell. If you're a keen guitarist looking to step into the world of recording -- and you want to do it in style -- the Orange OPC might be just the thing you're after.
Design and build quality
The OPC will be instantly recognisable to any guitarist who's spent more than a few minutes browsing for a new amp. From the front it looks exactly like Orange's classic Tiny Terror practice amp -- the iconic orange covering is present here, as is the beige front. So it can sit in the corner of your room as a badge of honour for your guitar-playing skills.
The case is made from the same wood you'd find in the amp, giving it an extremely sturdy feel and adding to the illusion that it's really an amp. It also makes it pretty weighty so I wouldn't recommend you moved it around too much. There's a handle on top, but I still found carrying it across London to and from the CNET UK office a chore -- although the same could be said of any desktop PC, and indeed most guitar amps, so it's not much of a complaint.
The only way you'd realise that the OPC isn't actually an amp is if you turned it round. On the back you'll find all the ports, inputs and fan grilles you'd expect to find on any PC. There's two USB 3.0 and five USB 2.0 ports (of which one is positioned on top for quick access), two HDMI sockets, VGA out, an eSATA port and inputs for a 5.1 surround sound system. There's also coaxial and TOSLINK digital audio outputs for feeding high-quality sound to home theatre systems. A slot-loading DVD drive is situated on top as well.
You'll also spy two quarter-inch stereo inputs for hooking up an external device like a mixing desk, as well as two quarter-inch stereo outputs for connecting a pair of studio monitors. On top are two quarter-inch inputs, one for a guitar lead and one for a microphone as well as volume, treble, middle and bass controls for when you're playing aloud.
Sadly, there's no XLR input for a microphone, so if you're hoping to record vocals with a phantom-powered condenser microphone you'll need to get a seperate amp. Given that the OPC is specifically aimed at guitarists, rather than vocalists, it's not a surprising omission.
Alternatively, you could get hold of the TC-Helicon VoiceLive Play and sing your heart out through that. You can apply a plethora of effects to your voice such as reverb, distortion or T-Pain style auto-tune and record directly onto the OPC. It's going to set you back an extra couple of hundred quid, but there's a lot of fun to be had with it.
The OPC is just a computer tower, so you won't get a monitor with it. With VGA and HDMI outputs though you can easily hook it up to your existing display or invest in a twin set of 24-inch monitors for some fancy-pants dual-screen editing. You do get a keyboard and mouse, but they're standard pieces of kit, so you might want to upgrade to something more lavish.
Using the OPC for guitar
Although it might look exactly like a guitar amp, the OPC is primarily a PC, just in a cunning disguise. Rather than being packed full of traditional valves and proper guitar amplifier speaker cones, which give that trademark warm sound, the inside is stuffed with processors and fans and uses two 6.5-inch JBL speakers on the front.
You therefore won't get the same rich tube-driven sounds as you would from a regular Orange amp, but the high-quality speakers and wood casing provides a considerably more authentic tone than you'd achieve with regular computer speakers. You wouldn't want to use it for a live gig, but it's perfectly suited for practising in your home -- you might want to warn your neighbours first though.
Of course, the benefit of having PC internals is that the amp functions exactly as a regular computer. Your guitar sound is created digitally from software, rather than from physical hardware.
The software at the heart of this process is Amplitube 3 by IK Multimedia. It's an extremely potent piece of software and retails at nearly £200 by itself, so it's rather impressive that Orange has bundled it as standard with the machine.
Amplitube 3 is a guitar modelling application that allows you to create virtually any guitar sound by selecting different amp heads, speaker cabinets and stomp boxes to make a completely custom tone. There's a massive amount of pre-built digital rigs to choose from, all of which can be endlessly customised with effects. This even extends to choosing what mics are 'recording' your chosen cabinet and whereabouts in the room they're positioned -- exactly the same choices you'd make in a professional recording studio.
Included in the software are a whole bunch of Orange amp models, specifically designed to mimic their real-life counterparts like the Tiny Terror. If that's not enough, then you can buy extra model packs from brands like Fender.
The sounds available are incredibly realistic and it's possible to lose entire days just flicking through rigs and playing a few riff ideas, inspired purely by the different tones available. A few clicks can take you from a sparkly clean guitar sound to a meaty, skull-crushing distorted tone that would make even the most hardened of metal fans quake in their leather boots.
I was astounded by the quality -- and sheer choice -- of the sounds. I selected a slightly crunchy indie-style tone with a decent serving of room reverb and found it nigh on impossible to tell that this wasn't in fact a full guitar amp sat in a beautifully set-up recording studio. This was especially so when I used them with the excellent Sennheiser HD 650 open-back headphones.
Orange has gone to great lengths to make sure that every component complements each other and that no corner has been cut when it comes to sound quality. This means that no signal noise or distortion from the electrical inputs can be heard when playing -- something that can become an issue on cheap guitar inputs. What you're left with is the pure guitar sound you want.
It's not just for strumming a few tunes though, the amp also includes recording software in the form of Mixcraft 3 (for the novice recording artists), and Studio One (if you want a bit more control). Both programs allow you to record the sounds created by Amplitube in multiple tracks, letting you build your sound up layer on layer.
It also comes with a drum pattern creator for laying down some beats. If, as I do, you have a digital drum kit like the Roland TD-9KX, then you can plug that directly in to record your own beats. Alternatively, if you use a mixing desk, you can mic up a live kit as well as record your vocals, acoustic guitar and anything else that takes your fancy.
It's important to bear in mind though that there's a certain learning curve when it comes to recording. The Amplitube 3 software tries to make everything as straightforward as possible, but recording tracks involves ensuring that the right input channels are selected and that both the recording software and Amplitube are communicating properly with each other using ASIO drivers. It's not always a user-friendly experience and total beginners might find themselves referring to the various online guides.
It doesn't take a long time to get started though and once you're up and running, you'll quickly learn all the tips and tricks that'll get you well on your way to cutting your first single. Next stop: stardom.
If your computer is going to be recording and editing high-quality audio files, you'll need it to be packing a decent helping of power. Thankfully then, my review model came with a quad-core Intel Core i7-2600K processor clocked at a nippy 3.39GHz, along with 8GB of DDR3 RAM. Those are some spicy specs so I had high hopes for its performance.
I hauled its orange frame down to the CNET UK testing dungeons and unleashed my set of benchmark tests on it. The PCMark05 test returned a very healthy score of 11,639. That's roughly the same as the Toshiba Qosmio X770 gaming laptop, which I found to be an extremely potent beast. So it's great to see the OPC racking up a similar score.
It performed equally well on the Geekbench test, where I was given a score of 14,294, which is roughly what the menacingly powerful Alienware X51 gaming desktop achieved. That really bodes well for what you can accomplish with this orange box.
I found performance to be extremely swift, with general browsing and multi-tasking being handled without any hiccups. I ran several browser windows, each with numerous tabs open with programs such as Spotify running in the background. There was no noticeable slowdown -- that 8GB of RAM really helps with the multi-tasking.
When it comes to editing music, I found that it was easily able to cope with slicing and dicing high-quality tracks, even when the recording was over 20 tracks deep. Typically, a song will begin as guitar tracks, then laying drums, bass, vocals, piano, synth tracks and more guitar over the top to build up the sound. All these tracks are being rendered in real-time so it can become very demanding of a computer's engines. Luckily, the meaty Core i7 processor was up to the task.
There's no dedicated graphics card inside so if you want the OPC as a gaming machine then you might be disappointed. On the 3DMark06 benchmark test it achieved just under 5,000 points, a considerable amount below the X51's 21,762. Unlike the X51 though, the OPC really isn't designed for gaming so I can't hold that against it. Orange tells me, however, that it's now available with an AMD graphics card on board if you do fancy some fragging in between your fretting.
Not only does the Orange OPC look the part with its orange covering and classic grille, it also sounds spectacular, thanks to the impressive Amplitube modelling software on board. If you're a keen guitarist looking to get into home recording, then this is definitely worth a look.