Bluetooth streaming, multiple speakers, a zillion sounds stored in the cloud to make your own: Line 6’s latest device makes a startling bid to change the world of guitar amps. Review by Martyn Casserly
Description: 150W 1×12″ modelling combo with four high and mid frequency drivers and Bluetooth capabilities
Contact: Line 6 – 01788 566 566 – www.line6.com
Sometimes you come across an idea that’s so staring-you-in-the-face-obvious, you wonder how no one has ever thought of it before. Line 6’s Amplifi range is just such a thing, combining a guitar amp with the capability to stream audio wirelessly from other digital devices.
There have been plenty of practice amps over the years that could play music from your stereo or iPod if you plugged them in, but they all had the same problem. Whereas Sony or Denon might design their music systems to fit with the look of a modern home, most amp manufacturers have no such aesthetics in mind. This meant if you wanted to use the considerable grunt that your 30-watter offered to blast out Pink Floyd at neighbour-irritating volumes, it would involve a dirty great black box sitting in your living room, usually adorned with shiny metal or bulbous plastic edges, a row of dials, and some lead plugged into the top of it and trailing off towards your hi-fi. Not really ideal.
The Amplifi 150 is completely different. The design itself is arguably the smartest we’ve ever seen on an amp. Minimalism replaces the gaudy efforts that have gone before, with the square metal grill that surrounds the front and sides being elegant while still retaining a sense of power. A two-tone cloth is ensconced beneath, with the black and red hues separated by a discrete silver band.
It looks more akin to a Bowers & Wilkins speaker than a guitar amp. Even the sunken control panel is understated, acting as a built in carry handle while also containing six small, black control knobs for the EQ, drive, and effects, with a larger one for volume and (when depressed) blending the signals between guitar and anything sent via Bluetooth.
This last part is what makes the Amplifi 150 so compelling. Built into the rig is a Bluetooth receiver that allows you to pair the amp with your mobile phone, tablet, or computer to stream audio from your collection without the need for cumbersome leads. It sounds great, too, thanks to a specially designed speaker layout that includes a 12″ custom Celestion speaker, plus two high and two mid-frequency drivers. This allows the amp to separate signals into clean and effected ones, giving you a wet/dry stereo output from a single cab; very nice. Streaming is solid on iOS but Android did suffer a few glitches that we hope get ironed out soon via some driver updates.
Playing along with your favourite songs is easy; just hold down the Bluetooth button positioned next to the control panel, look for the amp on your device, then once they’re connected you can control the tracks remotely. The Amplifi comes loaded with just four presets, which is considerably less than we’ve grown accustomed to over the years, but of course there are hundreds of options available through the Line 6 software. This, though, is where we hit the major snag in the system.
To get anything like the kind of performance you’d expect from a modern practice/performance amp you’re going to need an iOS device such as the iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad. It also needs to be running iOS 7, so that rules out the first generation iPad models. If you have got one then it turns the Amplifi into an excellent, fully-featured monster, but if Android or Windows Phone are your platforms of choice this is going to be a hard sell until a relevant app is released. Android is now so strong in the technology marketplace that this policy of iOS-only seems unnecessarily restrictive, and we’d like to see it addressed quickly.
With the iOS app installed you gain access to over 70 amps, 100-plus effects, and a live editor so you can control your amp settings from your phone
or tablet. There are also cool features such as tone matching, which will analyse a track that’s playing and search for guitar tones that match it. These are drawn from the huge library online that has been created by Line 6 and users from around the world. You can even create one yourself and upload it via the app so that others can share in your brilliance.
In the end this is still primarily a guitar amp, so it needs to be able to cut it when you plug in, and thankfully that’s not a problem. As you might expect from Line 6 there is plenty of good tone on offer, with the real gold found once you start tweaking the settings to get closer to that sound in your head. The 12″ speaker gives a glowing account of itself, with decent levels of body and clarity, and the additional drivers help keep a balanced sound when you jam along to tracks. Edgy blues sting nicely, classic rock tones are beefy once you’ve found the sweet spot, and heavier distorted tones relay the required fizz.
The four presets are a good mix of heavy and clean, but you wouldn’t want to rely on those alone. You can program or download new ones to replace them though, so if you think four is all you need then this could be ideal (just remember that you’ll need an FBV MkII foot controller to swap channels on the fly). Volume is a little loud for the home unless you set it very low, but as this is a digital amp that doesn’t really affect the tone quality that much.
Gigging is definitely on the menu, but in a weird way you might not want to take the Amplifi out, as scratches would spoil the smart styling. This makes us wonder whether a 30W option, rather than the current 75 or 150 ones on offer, would be a better choice.
Tags: Amplifiers, Amps, Home, Reviews
The simple idea behind the Amplifi is genius. Having a dual-purpose amp could save you money on a hi-fi system while giving you an excellent rig to play through in the home or on the road. The iOS caveat is a large one though, with the functionality being severely crippled without one of those expensive Apple devices on hand. Still, if you have the equipment already then the Line 6 Amplifi is a hugely impressive way to put it to good use.