It isn’t every day that a product has a chance to to truly disrupt an industry. The Line 6 AMPLIFi is one of those. It could change the way I listen to music and the way I play it. This device is both a modeling guitar amplifier and a Bluetooth speaker system. But the big question with the AMPLIFi is whether it lives up to the hype. Let’s take a look.
If you haven’t heard of Line 6, you’re probably not a musician. The company was one of the pioneers of digital amp modeling. This is a technique where an amplifier is digitally scanned and its attributes are recreated by a computer in software. Early attempts were so-so, but there have been generations of refinement since then. Later generations of modeling software and amps can pretty accurately recreate not only the sound, but the dynamics of dozens of tube amplifiers. And not only the amps, but effects pedals as well. It’s not completely exact, but it allows for amps that are far more versatile and sound way better than the crappy solid state amps I had to use as a kid. These amps, being mostly solid state (there are tube modeling amps as well), are much easier to maintain. The tube amps I owned in my 20s cost me a fortune.
Line 6 has offered its technology in computer software called POD Farm, floor and rack-based preamps called the POD series, and full on amplifiers like their 4th generation Spider and DT-series amps. They have also branched out their digital technology in other areas. A couple years back they released digital wireless systems in the Relay guitar and XD-V microphone systems. Recently they also started making professional PA speakers called StageSource. The sound in these can be reconfigured whether they’re being used for PA, music playback, stage floor monitors, acoustic guitar performance, electric guitar from a floor preamp, or keyboards. They even have sensors and an internal accelerometer to change the sound whether they’re vertically pole mounted or horizontal on the floor. Quite frankly, Line 6 is the tech company for music geeks.
The AMPLIFi comes in two models, 75w and 150w. Both amps feature a 5 speaker array, but in the 75w model there is a 8” loudspeaker and in the 150w model there is a 12” speaker by noted British guitar speaker company Celestion. This is the company who’s made most of the speakers found in Marshall Amps, Hiwatt, Orange, and most of the other guitar amps people actually want. The 5-array system is used both for guitar and for music. While playing guitar, the 4 drives assist the main loudspeaker. As a Bluetooth speaker, the loudspeaker acts as a sub. To make this amp, Line 6 leveraged all its technology from the Spider amps to the POD Farm software to even the StageSource PA speakers. Its DNA has a little bit of everything.
Like all guitar amps, the AMPLIFi consists of three parts, a preamp, a power amplifier, and the speaker(s). Since all 3 components are together, it is known as a combo amp. Specifically a top-loaded 1×8 or 1×12 combo. The Pre-amp is all digital. Like I said while introducing Line 6, this is a modeling amp that uses computer programs to emulate the sound of an analog tube or solid state guitar amplifier. Then there is the power amp which is solid state. The speakers I already told you about. AMPLIFi’s outer shell mostly seems to be a hard plastic. It’s similar to what Line 6 uses in the StageSound PA speakers, yet it also has a 60s combo amp feel to it. Its look is both classic and modern at the same time. It works.
AMPLIFi has two inputs: a ¼” on the top for a guitar cable and a 3.5mm jack on the back. The ¼” goes through the preamp, the 3.5mm goes directly into the power amp. There are two outputs on this amp: a ¼ headphone jack and a Type-A USB port, The headphone jack could also be used for a line out to a mixer if you have a DI unit. That said, given the unique speaker setup, you’d probably want to mic it instead. The USB port is currently non-functional, but Line 6 says there will be uses for it down the line. The power cord is also on the back. It’s your standard power supply-type cord and the power button is right above it. This is the one poor design choice on this amp. I would have preferred power be on top. I had to fish for it a couple of times. The last port is an Ethernet jack. Before you go and try to hook it to your network, don’t. This is for Line 6’s FBV MK II series of floor boards. There’s also one glaring omission, there is no jack for an additional speaker cabinet. I can understand this, but I was kind of hoping for an AMPLIFi 4×12. It certainly has enough power to go on stage. Just not enough speakers.
The controls are located up top and operate as you’d expect for a traditional guitar amp. You have drive, 3-band treble/mid/bass EQ, FX, and reverb controls. There’s a tap tempo button for delay effects. Hold it and it becomes a tuner. Lastly, there is a channel select button. AMPLIFi has 4 preset channels. There are also a couple of exceptions to what you’d expect. First, is the Bluetooth pairing button. It’s on the left hand side of the combo if you’re facing it. On the right hand side, there is a large master. This has two mode functions denoted by white or red LEDs. White is the guitar level. This is similar to the volume knob on a traditional guitar amp. The red function controls the overall volume of the amp. This is what you use when you want to control music volume. It has a secondary function that I’ll tell you about later when I give my impression of AMPLIFi as a guitar amp.
I said there were 3 components to a guitar amp, with AMPLIFi there are 4 with the 4th being the AMPLIFi iOS app. We’ll talk about that and its music player function next.
AMPLIFi As a Stereo System
The AMPLIFi app is your primary interface for both music and controlling the amp. It works on both the iPhone, 5th Gen iPod touch, and iPad. While there are advantages to using the tablet, some of which I’ll get to later, it’s fully useable on the smaller screen. I’ll let one fly right away. You’ll want to use AMPLIFi in Do Not Disturb mode. All notification sounds will come through the speaker and receiving an email while you’re blasting your tunes will just about burst your eardrums. For viewers asking about an Android version, Line 6 is exploring it, but there’s nothing imminent. There’s a lack of a consistent audio infrastructure on the platform that makes it much more difficult (and expensive) for Line 6 to develop an app for this product. This is also probably why you haven’t seen AmpKit or Amplitube come to Android. You can still use it as a traditional Bluetooth speaker if you wish though, but you won’t get the full benefits that AMPLIFi offers through the iOS app.
By default, it goes right into your music library on your iOS device. When I say on your device, I mean just that. It can’t be on your Pandora, Spotify, or even through iTunes Home Sharing. You can access those services for playback in their own apps, but they won’t do you any for tone matching purposes. The MP3 or ACC has to be physically (I mean digitally) on your device. If you’ve moved away from buying music, you might want to get used to buying the songs you want to listen to on the AMPLIFi. When you start a song, you’ll notice two things: You’ll see a list below the songs, and when you play the music it sounds really frickin’ good. I’ll get to the list in the next section, but let’s talk about playing music.
The AMPLIFi app leverages the AMPLIFi’s modeling technology and 5-speaker array. According to my ears, the mix is much more authentic to what you’d experience at a concert. It really brings out the bass and drums. Most Bluetooth speakers push these well into the background. Here, they hit you like a ton of bricks. More importantly, the tone is unbelievable. This is how the artists mean their music to be heard. You can have a great music player or a kick-ass set of speakers, but companies don’t have an intimate understanding of how Vox AC30 or a Marshall JCM800, or a Mesa Dual Rectifier sound. Line 6 does. You won’t be able to listen to music through a traditional Bluetooth speaker after hearing AMPLIFi. It’s like having a concert at your house.
There is one major drawback to this app as a music player, it does not play in the background. You switch apps, it stops. You can play your music in the iOS music in the background, but it doesn’t sound anywhere near as good. Also, like I said a little bit ago, you’ll want to keep it on DND while using this. That means you will not receive notifications, or calls while using an iPhone, while Do Not Disturb is on. You’ll really want to have a 4” iPOD Touch or an iPad Mini just to act as a remote for the AMPLIFi.
One last note, on the the physical input. The 3.5mm line-in sounded alright. Once again, you’re not going to get the benefits of the iOS app, but it’s not taking full advantage of AMPLIFi. It actually goes direct to the power amp. The input volume also seemed rather low and there is no level control for that. If you’re going to run it from your iPhone or tablet, I would advise running an in-line pre-amp. That’ll give you a little more control over the input’s sound. Still, on AMPLIFi, Bluetooth is definitely the way to go. There’s also the 1/4″ headphone jack. I found the sound coming out to be not up to the rest of the app’s standards. Its the one part of AMPLIFi that sounds like a cheap solid state amp.
A Guitar Amp Like No Other
If you take the AMPLIFi at face value, it’s interesting, but nothing special. It’s a modeling amp with 4 presets and you really can’t add more, even with the floor control units. There are 4 standard units, a recreation of a 60s Blackface Fender, a Marshall JCM-800, a Soldano for lead tones, and a Vox AC-30. They are also laden with effects. You have full control over the amp itself, but you have very little control over the digital effects chain. You can control the reverb, tap tempo delay, and one attribute on an effect with the FX control knob. If this was all AMPLIFi was, you’d probably get a better value out of of Line 6’s own Spider line or a Peavey Vypyr VIP. Fortunately, its not. Not even close.
Add in the AMPLIFi iOS app and you have a bit different animal. You can modify your 4 presets and find new ones in app. There are over 70 amp models to choose from and a vast array of virtual speaker cabinets, and effects pedals. The virtual effects react like the real ones would and changing around the positions of the effects will change your sound. For better or worse, its as complex as a real pedal board. It’ll play nice with real pedals too. My BOSS Superdrive mixed very convincingly with the amp and virtual pedals. I could literally play with this amp all day for the next 10 years and not completely understand what it can all do.
I found the sound of the amp models to be fairly close and the dynamics are programmed into the virtuals models. The array of sounds I could get on my ESP Eclipse 256 by just the guitar’s volume and tone knobs was impressive. The Fender-esque American clean could go from crystal clean to some nice blues overdrive without ever touching the amp itself. That’s with the guitar’s stock ceramic pickups that are more suited to rectifier metal. It can do that, too. Using the recto-type setting and my personally favorite, the Peavey 5150/6505, I was able to get great high gain sounds. The medium gain Marshall-type sounds were pretty amazing too. If you want something, this amp has basically every amp I’ve heard from the classic British Marshalls, Hiwatts, and Oranges to the American Fenders to the ultra-high gain models like a Bogner Ubershall or Diezel to even boutique models like the Budda. There’s even Roland-type cleans and an acosutic model for use on your electric-acoustic or Piezo bridge equipped electric. On top of that, Line 6 even made some stuff up for some nice in-between sounds.
The next two features absolutely blew me away. First, the aforementioned dual purpose volume knob. White is your amp model volume and the red is your overall volume. Your amp model reacts based on the mix volume. Meaning if you’re on a British Marshall-type model, and you have the volume all the way up on the white, it’ll behave like a cranked Marshall. The red knob controls the overall volume of the amp. If you’re not playing music while playing guitar, which you can do BTW, this works a lot like a THD Hotplate connected to an old tube amp. The physics are different, but the effects are the same, you get that cranked amp sound anywhere from bedroom volume to all the way up. However, unlike most solid state amps which break up at higher volume, the AMPLIFi sounds its absolute best turned all the way up.
The last feature is the primary function of the app. While playing your music, you’ll be given a list of presets below the song information. I had some songs where the suggested tone was fantastic. Others, it was ballpark and you’ll probably have to play around with it. You can save a tone as a favorite or even Modify it and resubmit to the cloud. This preset library will only get better as AMPLIFi gets into more players’ hands.
Much Promise, But Still Needs Tweaking
The amp’s versatility is beyond impressive, but it’s not without its faults. First off, like I said in the opening to this section, you get 4 presets on the amp. At current, you can’t switch banks for more sounds. An upcoming floor unit of the AMPLIFi line, the AMPLIFi FX100 has the ability to switch banks and store more presets. It would be nice if there was a way to expand the AMPLIFi combo’s stage versatility. Line 6 has done something similar before linking their floor POD units to their amps. However, the FX100 doesn’t have an Ethernet jack for the foot controllers. That leads me to my next concern. While the existing foot switches like the FBV MkII Shortboard and Express work, they’re not exact in capability for the AMPLIFi. On the shortboard, there are functions that just don’t work. A floorboard specifically for the AMPLIFi-series would be a welcome addition.
The biggest concern I have with AMPLIFi is the app-based management of the amp. The iOS app is great for choosing tones based on songs, but if you want full manual control it might drive you nuts. There is no way I can find to create a pre-set from scratch or search for a preset without playing a song. You have to modify an existing preset. The app itself is primarily designed for song playing and tone discovery. That’s how it starts up. The management features feel tacked on. In addition, the app has a pretty flat design for controlling amp and effect settings. If you want faux knobs, this might take some adjusting to. Instead there are 0-100% meters.
Having the AMPLIFi app as the ONLY way to manage this amp is less than ideal. Especially when you have to patch it over Bluetooth. It’s very slow and has a tendency to drop off at a moment’s notice. That happened during the 45 minutes or so it took me to update the firmware and the results could be dire. Line 6 needs to get that USB port working and enable management via a Mac or PC. The ability to upload and create amp models via the Mac to AMPLIFi would be greatly appreciated to. The iOS AMPLIFi app should enhance the operation of the AMPLIFi, not be a noose around its neck. As current, it’s a bit of both. The need for this was demonstrated towards the end of my review process. If you’re left without access to Line 6′s cloud services via either a website error or your iDevice just not getting signal, you’re back to a 4-preset amp with top mounted physical controls. In fact, if it can’t connect back to Line 6, the app just doesn’t work at all. You’re not able to listen to music or change the settings on virtual effects. In my mind, this is a critical flaw of this amp as is. It needs to be fixed.
Pricing and Availability
The AMPLIFi 75 costs a pretty uniform $399 at most online music stores. The 150-watt version comes in at $100 more at $499. It’s a bit difficult to compare the pricing because there is simply nothing comparable on the market. They’re about $100 more than model amps with a similar wattage, but the speaker configuration is different, but other modeling amps can’t play your music.
I had a bit of a discussion with a Twitter user when AMPLIFi was first announced. I had proclaimed that this might be this year’s most interesting music gadget or something to that effect. This user steadfastly, stuck to the Kemper Profiling Amp, a $2300 piece of rack gear that makes sound profiles of real amps. The Kemper is a better piece of equipment, but it’s also a reminder of how we guitarists can lose sight of the big picture. I’d love to have a Kemper, I’d love to have a $20 – 30,000 collection of amps to use it with. That’s not where 99% percent of us are at. We need something that will give us good tones at a volume we can actually practice at that will make playing fun. When I had my 5150 2×12 playing was no fun since I was never in a situation where I could actually play it. It just sat in a corner and used up a lot of space. It was heavy, fragile, and expensive to maintain. This is where AMPLIFi comes in. It makes playing fun again and when you’re not playing music, you can listen to some. It’s not the Kemper, but it’s something I really wish I had when I was trying to play in the mid ’90s. I might have been interested enough to be at least a decent guitarist instead of a mediocre one. Spending thousands of dollars on minute differences in gear doesn’t matter, it’s what gets you to pick up a guitar instead of watching another YouTube video. Unless it’s our YouTube video of course, then watch away.
I’m going to use a baseball analogy here, so bear with me. AMPLIFi is a bit like that elite prospect who is just coming up to the majors. You see its potential, but it’s still a bit raw and you know it’s going to take a little while to fully reach it. There is a lot to like about this amp. It sounds great both as an amp and as a music player. When used with the app, it’s the best sounding Bluetooth speaker under $500. As a guitar amp, it has its issues, but the power of tone discovery makes up for a lot of it. Almost every flaw this amp has is based in software or has a potential fix already built into the hardware. Line 6 can fix that. The areas where they can’t fix, like sound and on-amp controls, they really don’t need to fix.
The Line 6 has the potential to be not a good product, but a great one. It’s just not there yet. If you’re looking for a modeling amp for the home, I’d hold off and consider this one. I’d also recommend the the 75w 8” model unless you play live. The 150w model was a bit bigger than I expected it to be. AMPLIFi is a glimpse into the future. I have now seen what guitar amps will become and how the next generation will learn to play. If you’re willing to deal with a few rough edges, that future is here now.
- Phenomenal Sound, both as an Bluetooth speaker and as an amp
- Looks right at home as either a combo amp or on a bookshelf
- Easy to use top panel
- Almost all of amp and effects models to choose from in app
- Good Value for the Money
- Nothing else like it on the market
- Almost all cons are based in software – they can be fixed
- No amp management outside of iOS app
- iOS app requires persistent connection to Line 6 Cloud to work at all
- Sound quality isn’t as good outside app
- App will not play in background
- App will only play, and grab presets, from music on device
- Bluetooth can be finicky at times
- Firmware upgrades over Bluetooth from amp, slow
- No current functionality of USB-out port
- Current Line 6 foot controllers don’t fully match this amp’s capabilities and don’t play well when using the app with the amp
- Only 4 presets without using iOS app
- No extension Cab plug