Line 6, the well-regarded guitar gear manufacturer who were recently acquired by Yamaha, has a new guitar amp that's going to give tube traditionalists a migraine. Bluetooth?! iOS app? Say what? OK, but let's not be luddites for the hell of it. What's Line 6's new Amplifi got to offer?
Line 6 isn't exactly new to making weird guitar gear. It has been using digital modelling in its gear—from amps to pedals—for decades, so really this new weird amp is only the latest.
Like Line 6 predecessors Amplifi uses "amplifier modelling" DSP that allows the amp to sound like everything from a Fender to a Marshall. In fact, its crazy software lets you add a dizzying number of effects—delays, distortions, etc—to the mix. For the first time on a Line 6 amp, you control the sound modelling from an iOS app, which looks quite a bit like apps that have been available for pedal accessories for a while. Indeed, none of this technology is new—the Amplifi simply combines it all into a single consumable package. Your customary tone, volume and gain controls will remain on the amp's body, as well as a knob that lets you adjust the mix of wet and dry signal so you can blend your heavily modified sound with the clean.
Like it or not, this type of digital sound modelling is only going to grow in popularity, especially as the technology improves. No matter how enamoured you are with the sound of your vintage Music Man amp, or your Tube Screamer distortion pedal, it's going to be increasingly difficult to argue against every possible sound you could ever want if it fits in your pocket.
And there's technology that has been around before, the Amplifi is the first guitar amp I've ever seen that's got Bluetooth built in. Besides letting you connect the app that controls how your amp sounds, this also turns the whole thing into a Bluetooth speaker.
This seems like a handy addition. Lord knows I've never have handy the cable I need to plug in an iPod or my computer when I want to play along with something. And hey, if you throw a house party, easy, really fracking loud speaker system.
Speaking of speakers, the Amplifi's array is probably its weirdest facet. Traditionally, combo amps are big speaker boxes with power and circuitry up top. If there's more than one speaker, consider the classic Fender Twin, the speakers are usually identically matched. The Amplifi tosses this formula out by using a 5-driver array more akin to what you'd see in a stereo speaker system. You've got the two big drivers in the middle, but they're complemented by two high-end drivers and two mid-range drivers. Which is weird!
I have to admit, this makes me queasy. I like my Twin just the way it is! But at the same time, it sort of makes sense that a product, which uses so much digital sound modelling, would benefit from the little flexibility afforded by distributing the frequency load to speakers appropriately designed for shorter bands. On the other hand, it's not going to make this the easiest amp in the world to repair. If having two big 12-inch speakers in amps before had an advantage it's that they were both easy to replace, and you knew exactly how they were going to behave.
The Amplifi comes in two models: 75 watts and 150 watts. There's no retail price set just yet, but when there is you will be updated.
Ultimately, Line 6 hasn't really made a product for purists or nerds at all here but for consumers. It's a complete "experience" much the way that other products you buy these days are. It's more than a really loud speaker box. You're not expected to come to the table with much else—except for a guitar and maybe some chops to make the thing sing. The Amplifi is not for everyone, but Line 6 is one of those companies that has been doing digital long enough that they might actually pull it off. I'm certainly excited to give this amp a try—even if I'm not going to get rid of my Twin and my pedal board any time soon. [Line 6]