Revisiting the Strymon Iridium (vs Axe-Fx 3)

laxu

Rock Star
Messages
3,616
WeAreNotTheSameIridium.jpg


I had a Strymon Iridium a year or two ago and liked it just fine back then, but did not have a good usecase for it at the time. Now I have a pedalboard that could use a direct and cab sim solution. I considered the Tonex for this role but the app put me off and I don't think profiles are for me. So when someone was selling a used Iridium for a very good price, I jumped at it!

I had a few hours to give it a spin vs my Axe-Fx 3 Mk2. While I did not expect the Iridium to be as good as the Axe-Fx 3, I just wanted to see how close it could get. I need to record some clips maybe over the weekend and update here.

Disclaimer:

The Strymon Iridium sounds/feels great and takes pedals well. It doesn't matter if it is as good as <your favorite modeler or real amp> or not. I would gladly recommend it for anyone looking for a good sounding, simple and compact modeler.

This is mainly a "out of curiosity" test. If that does not interest you or you don't feel like reading this long ass post, other threads are found behind your web browser's Back button! ;)

The setup:​


I set up a preset so I can swap between Axe-Fx 3 Amp block and Iridium at the press of a button. OUT 3 -> Iridium input, Iridium output in stereo -> IN 2. I used the Fractal cab sims and reverb with the cab sims on Iridium disabled, for no other reason than easier switching. No high/low cuts were used on cab sims.

I dialed the Fractal model to my liking (rather than using default settings) and then tried to match the Strymon. For the Fender and Vox models I went for an edge of breakup type sound and a classic rock drive for the Marshall models.

Guitar used: Schecter Coupe hollowbody with Tesla Filtertron pickups.
Output devices: Genelec M040 studio monitors and Sennheiser HD6XX headphones.

Round #1: Strymon Round vs Deluxe Verb Normal.​

Cab sim: York Audio DXVB Mix 01 (Deluxe Reverb 1x12 Oxford speaker)

Strymon says the Round model is based on a Fender Deluxe Reverb's Normal channel.

I've seen several YT videos where they plugged into a real Deluxe Reverb's Vibrato channel for comparison so this is the classic mistake a lot of YouTubers seem to make - not doing any research and then complaining the wrong amp channel does not sound the same. The second one is pointing the knobs at noon and expecting identical results to some other device.

When using the Fractal model as reference, I could get the Strymon to sound quite close. To achieve this, I had to turn the mids knob down a bit from noon and turn up the treble a bit more than on the Fractal model.

There is one key difference though - the low end. On the Fractal Deluxe Reverb and Super Reverb models when you push up the volume, the low end starts to distort especially when using a 7-string guitar. The Twin model stays cleaner much longer and the Iridium's Round model behaves closer to the Twin even though otherwise I feel it's more like the Deluxe and Super. Whether this is preferable or not is up to you, I don't particularly love that low end distorting even if it is more accurate to the real amp.

If someone wants to compare it to the UA Dream, Superdanger Studios has a great video on this where they had to turn the Iridium mids to zero to make it as scooped as the Dream.

Round #2: Strymon Chime vs various Vox-based models.​

Cab sim: York Audio VX30 212 BLUE Mix 05 (Vox AC30 2x12 Celestion Alnico Blue speakers)

According to Strymon, the Chime model is based on a Vox AC30 Top Boost's Brilliant channel.

I tried a number of the Vox-based models on the Axe-Fx 3:
  • Class-A 30W TB (Vox AC30 Top Boost)
  • Class-A 30W Bright (non-TB AC30 Bright channel)
  • AC-20 12AX7 Treble (Morgan AC-20 Deluxe 12AX7 Treble channel)
I first tried matching to the Class-A 30W TB model but really struggled with this. The Strymon was always darker and missing that top end "zing" to it. Looking at Yek's wonderful guide to Fractal Amp models, I found this note from Fractal's Cliff Chase that perhaps explains why I had so much trouble:

“Note that the particular AC30 used for the model has this scratchy high end. This is reflected in the high Dyn Pres value. It's a hand-wired version and that can lead to this type of sound as the parasitics cause boosting of the very high frequencies when the amp is driven hard. The obvious solution is to turn Dyn Pres down.”

So I pivoted to trying out other models. My favorite Vox type model in the Fractal is actually the AC-20 12AX7 Treble, based on a Morgan AC-20 Deluxe. I have found it to be a pretty close match to the Victory VC35 head I had for a few years.

The Strymon got reasonably close to both the non-Top Boost and Morgan models. The Strymon model could have a brighter starting point for the high cut control to be more effective so it doesn't get too dark quickly. The Fractal models had a bit more of that "chime" sound to them that made them preferable for me.

Round #3: Strymon Punch vs various Marshall Superlead models.​

Cab sim: Fractal 4x12 Pre-Rola GB 57 + 121 (1965 Marshall 4x12 straight cab with pre-Rola Celestion Greenbacks)

Strymon modeled the Punch amp model on a Marshall Super Lead model number 1959. Unfortunately there is no further info on which channel, if it was jumped etc.

I tried all the Fractal "Plexi" models as well as the 1987X and 1959SLP models. The 1959SLP (Marshall Superlead 100W reissue) was the closest because it has the least gain out of the Fractal Superlead models.

I had to go check some YT videos of real Marshall Superleads because I wondered if I am doing something wrong getting this level of gain from the Fractal models vs Iridium but nope, real Marshalls are all over the place with some being far higher gain than others.

If I set the Fractal model in a way most people do - more treble volume than normal volume, it sounds very different. Instead for the Strymon and Fractal to sound close, I needed to run the normal volume higher than treble volume on the Fractal model.

When I did that, roughly the same EQ gave me very similar results.

Notes and observations on the Iridium.

  • Changing the stock Iridium cab sims is highly recommended. The stock ones are alright, but the unit sounds so much better with some York Audio etc put in.
  • Using brighter cab sims would be a good idea to get more range for the Strymon EQ controls.
  • I wish the Iridium had a presence control. I feel that would extend its capabilities a lot.
  • It can get midrangy pretty easily. I felt I wanted to turn the mids down more often. This would definitely help it cut through live though.
  • The gain knob is most useful at the 2nd half of its travel. I felt most of the time I wanted to turn it up quite high. I need to try more guitars with it.
  • It takes pedals really nicely. I gave it a spin with my DIY Browne Protein and those sounded nice with all its amp models.
  • The Iridium room reverb sounds good, but I feel it's mostly useful for headphones. I wouldn't use it live and would recommend instead using a separate reverb pedal.
  • Switching between cab sims on/off is cumbersome as it's a powerup mode feature. Wish you could instead just hold one of the buttons when it's on and toggle it.
Let's not forget the Strymon Iridium was released in 2019 and has received nothing but a few functionality bug fixes since then. Strymon did a pretty good job with it when several years later it still sounds very good. The feature set is 90% there too where it's versatile but simple while also being remote controllable via MIDI if needed, with multiple presets available via Strymon Multiswitch Plus or MIDI. It can even be used as a cab sim only unit, even though you have next to no features for that usecase.

Strymon almost never does any feature updates, so unfortunately we won't see any improvements until they make an Iridium V2 - which might not happen anytime soon when they only recently replaced their up to 10 years old smaller pedals.

If you got this far, here's cats and dogs for your troubles:

White Cat GIF
White Dog GIF
 
Last edited:
Nice, thanks for the writeup! Reminds me of a similar one i read a while ago comparing the Iridium to the HX Stomp, and having the latter coming out very favorably.

I think most of the appeal of the Iridium is its WYSIWYG nature, and the fact that's a small pedal designed to integrate well with existing rigs. It does an amazing job at that, and sounds great to boot.
 
I just wish they’d add an 800, 5150, Dual Rec.

Presence - depth controls, cab sim switch, and a couple reverbs would be pretty much awesome in that form factor. (Price point)
 
Have you ever heard the AA Recto model? :wat

Yeah. It's... ok? Certainly not AA Brit 800 / Hot Brit level, but perfectly usable.

I still prefer Helix models much better but, in many ways, i think the Amplifirebox is an Iridium better than an Iridium.
 
Yeah. It's... ok? Certainly not AA Brit 800 / Hot Brit level, but perfectly usable.

I still prefer Helix models much better but, in many ways, i think the Amplifirebox is an Iridium better than an Iridium.
Hot Brit is :chef So is the Plexi and the 800. The Recto has some weird eq curve that sounds super honky in a terrible way.The Mark model in it is dumb as well. I agree with you on the AFB. Though I will never go back to AA land. No real desire for a multitude of reasons.
 
@laxu Excellent detailed writeup! I've been wondering on and off about the Iridium for so long; your thoughts have been super helpful 🙂
 
Last edited:
I just wish they’d add an 800, 5150, Dual Rec.

Presence - depth controls, cab sim switch, and a couple reverbs would be pretty much awesome in that form factor. (Price point)
I actually got pretty righteous high gain sounds by pairing the Strymon Riverside with Iridium back when I had the pedal the first time. It's not a one box solution, but it is a solution.

A few more reverb types would be nice for sure.

I actually just found a feature I did not knew existed: The Strymon Impulse Response Manager has level, treble and bass controls for each IR, even per channel for the stereo ones.
 
I actually got pretty righteous high gain sounds by pairing the Strymon Riverside with Iridium back when I had the pedal the first time. It's not a one box solution, but it is a solution.

A few more reverb types would be nice for sure.

I actually just found a feature I did not knew existed: The Strymon Impulse Response Manager has level, treble and bass controls for each IR, even per channel for the stereo ones.

The Riverside goes hard as a distortion box. Really versatile pedal. I liked it as everything from a boost, OD, to distortion.
 
I had a Strymon Iridium a year or two ago and liked it just fine back then, but did not have a good usecase for it at the time. Now I have a pedalboard that could use a direct and cab sim solution. I considered the Tonex for this role but the app put me off and I don't think profiles are for me. So when someone was selling a used Iridium for a very good price, I jumped at it!

I had a few hours to give it a spin vs my Axe-Fx 3 Mk2. While I did not expect the Iridium to be as good as the Axe-Fx 3, I just wanted to see how close it could get. I need to record some clips maybe over the weekend and update here.

Disclaimer:

The Strymon Iridium sounds/feels great and takes pedals well. It doesn't matter if it is as good as <your favorite modeler or real amp> or not. I would gladly recommend it for anyone looking for a good sounding, simple and compact modeler.

This is mainly a "out of curiosity" test. If that does not interest you or you don't feel like reading this long ass post, other threads are found behind your web browser's Back button! ;)

Dude. Excellent, EXCELLENT write up! I love long form reviews and comparisons!

TOTALLY agree on the Iridium and what you're seeing. My high level thoughts having compared it side by side with the Fractal:
  • Overall it sounds very good and takes pedals really well, just like the Fractal IMO
  • I love having physical knobs and switches, it's just so much more fun to use than screens
  • Stock cabs are very good, aftermarket is more different than better
  • The amps are generally dark/mid heavy and I really wanted to be able to add in more high end and cut the lows, especially on the Punch model
  • Room reverb does indeed sound great with headphones
  • I would much rather have a footswitchable boost (or alternate gain setting) instead of favorite vs manual
I did end up selling the Iridium primarily because I couldn't get enough bite/clarity and cut some of the lows in the Punch model. But I could easily recommend it for people who don't like digital modelers. The Iridium plus a good drive pedal out front, then into some delay/reverb would be a really nice direct setup.
 
I really wish they had thought to add an aux in on the Iridium. That would make it the perfect travel companion.

Part of me wonders if it would be worth having a Super Iridium with like three programmable channels and maybe a fourth boost. And adding in things like an effects loop. But then part of me wonders if that's complicating something that shouldn't be complicated.
 
Part of me wonders if it would be worth having a Super Iridium with like three programmable channels and maybe a fourth boost. And adding in things like an effects loop. But then part of me wonders if that's complicating something that shouldn't be complicated.
You are basically describing the Revolt, and it has an aux in too. Just no IR capabilities.
 
It means how modelers react to having pedals in their inputs. Some of the earlier devices were notably bad at this; nowadays, pretty much any modeling product reacts to pedals just like the real thing would.
Variable impedance input-related?
 
Back
Top