Ah, the Neural DSP Quad Cortex, the proverbial golden child of the guitar modelling world. As we approach the two-year anniversary of my ownership, I find myself in a love-hate relationship with this awesome device.
Let’s start with the good bits. The touchscreen and rotary stomps are nothing short of a revelation. Navigating through the menus is as smooth as a hot knife through butter, and the visual building process is so intuitive it’s like playing with Lego blocks. But alas, this is where the honeymoon period ends, and the reality of living with the Quad Cortex sets in.
Two years after its release, the Quad Cortex is still a promising teenager that hasn’t quite grown to its full potential. The most glaring absence? Plugin support. In their infinite wisdom, Neural DSP promised support for their software plugins, a feature that had many of us salivating at the prospect. Yet, here we are, two years later, and the only thing we’ve received is a vague assurance that development is ongoing.
I think Neural DSP seriously underestimated how difficult it would be to support their plugins on the Quad Cortex. The architectures are not the same, which they also appear to have learned with Apple silicon throwing a spanner in the works for many software companies. Until recently, many of the Neural plugins were not properly supported.
As a developer myself, I can sympathise with Neural DSP on this. I wish they would have been more upfront with the complexity of the task. And it would have bought them a lot of goodwill if they provided development updates that actually provided more detail than “we’re working on it” – I want to know what challenges they’re facing with the architectures, how they’re planning on making it work, will future new plugins be supported on the QC or will they always need to be ported?
Meanwhile, Neural DSP seems more interested in wooing the Apple Silicon crowd with their plugins by porting them over to support Apple Silicon lately. They claim that separate teams are working on the plugins and the Quad Cortex, but for a company of their size, it feels like a misallocation of resources. It’s like watching a chef focus on garnishing the plate while the main course burns in the oven.
Once again, I understand Neural was, first and foremost, a software company. Those plugins probably fund the company and keep it running. I would also imagine the margins on the Quad Cortex have fallen with the pandemic driving up the cost of manufacturing, shipping and cost of the components themselves (which a teardown video confirmed were high-quality components).
And then there’s the missing desktop editor. We got a tantalising glimpse of it in April 2023, and since then, nothing. It’s as if Neural DSP is a magician who showed us a trick and promptly forgot how to do it. Every other modelling device has a desktop editor. It’s not rocket science; it’s a remote-control app. Even the open-source community managed to cobble something together.
We have known since the beginning the desktop editor would be a remote control app and not a standalone. This makes sense, given there is no standalone preset support, and everything has to use Neural DSP’s closed-off walled garden cloud.
And then you have a laundry list of effects and amps that were promised at launch but are still conspicuously absent. It’s like buying a Swiss Army knife and finding out that half the tools are missing. This is perhaps the thing that bothers me the least. What we have is good enough, and we also have support for captures to add more devices.
When we bought the Quad Cortex, we knew we weren’t getting everything all at once and were buying a somewhat early access device. But, two years later, I would have thought Neural would have gotten their affairs in order and worked out some of these issues now.
I understand that Neural DSP is a small company, and Rome wasn’t built in a day. But waiting two years is a long time for a pizza, let alone a fully-functioning device. Their communication has improved, but if you go back over the last couple of years, you will see there was a period of time when it felt like Neural DSP forgot how to speak to its customers.
And it’s not just me. Some artists who were once poster children for the Quad Cortex, like Mike Stringer from Spiritbox, have jumped ship. It’s like seeing the captain of the Titanic take a lifeboat and leave the rest of us to play the violin. I actually bought the Quad Cortex because of Mike Stringer’s QC playthroughs on YouTube, and I was sad when he switched. I asked him why, and one of the reasons was the lack of a desktop editor.
In due time we will hopefully see these issues resolved. But, competition is nipping at the heels of the Quad Cortex. Competitors are catching up. The Headrush Prime is a good example of a competing modeller which is more affordable, just as capable and has more features. It has a colour touchscreen, supports loading songs, capturing amps and effects and a plethora of other features that the Quad Cortex once only had in a single device.
It’s sad to see Neural DSP squandered their first-mover advantage with the QC. The quality of what we have is high, but for most consumers, some of these still missing features will ultimately be the deciding factor when they hit the checkout button. The QC should be the flagship product of Neural DSP, but at present, it feels like a niche early access device.
Don’t get me wrong; I still love the device. But it’s clear that Neural needs to either hire more people or learn to prioritise better. It’s like owning a Ferrari, but the engine keeps stalling. It’s still a Ferrari, but it’s not going anywhere fast. And that, my friends, is the frustrating reality of living with the Neural DSP Quad Cortex.