Review: Boss Katana-Air

The Katana-Air is certainly an amp to try out if you’re looking for lots of options in a lunch box–sized combo.
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The Katana-Air is the latest model in Boss’s Katana series. Despite being, at a shade over 13 inches wide, the smallest in the line, this mini combo is big in the features department. For starters, the Air in the name refers to its built-in wireless capability. The amp comes with a small transmitter powered by a lithium-ion battery that’s charged when you place the unit into the docking port on the amp’s top panel (it can also be charged using a standard micro-B USB cable).

To use it, simply plug the transmitter into your guitar’s output jack, power up the amp, and enjoy the freedom of playing without a cable. We tested the unit out to beyond 100 feet, and the 2.4GHz connection was rock solid. The transmitter automatically powers off when you put the amp in Standby mode, and its motion-sensing function brings it and the amp back to life when movement is detected, such as lifting the guitar from its stand. You can, of course, use a regular guitar cable if you don’t wish to go wireless.

Powered by the included 13-volt DC adapter, the Katana pumps 30 watts into its pair of three-inch speakers. It can also be powered by eight AA batteries (not included), which provide about 12 hours of run time and a maximum output of 20 watts. As the manual points out, you can use optional rechargeable NiMh batteries in place of standard AAs, but a more elegant solution would have been to equip the amp with a lithium-ion rechargeable battery for the power section.

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The Air-Katana offers a lot of sounds, which begin with a selection of amp models (acoustic, clean, crunch, lead, brown) that are selected with the knob for amp type. Gain, volume, bass, middle and treble controls come next, followed by the effects section. There are three controls here — boost/mod, delay/FX and reverb — and each has a corresponding button to choose the type of effects that the knob can sweep through. For example, the button under delay/FX selects digital delay, analog delay, tape echo, tremolo, T-wah and octave. The knobs themselves adjust the depth of the selected effect, while the tap button, situated below the master volume control, sets the delay times. Altogether, there are a total of 15 effects to choose from, and up to three can be selected simultaneously.

There are also three “tone setting” switches, two of which toggle though the Channel A and Channel B presets, while the third button labeled “panel” bypasses the presets, allowing the amp to respond to control settings in real time. Worth noting is that you can overwrite the factory presets with your own sounds by pressing and holding the A or B buttons for one second. And it’s just as easy to return to the factory sounds, if you so choose.

Bluetooth streaming is another of the Katana-Air’s capabilities. In addition to allowing you to play music from your phone or other device though the amp (which can also be done via the aux-in jack), the Bluetooth connection lets you use the Boss Tone Studio app on your smartphone or tablet (iOS or Android) to edit sounds and manage the library of tones that are available (visit boss.info for details). Furthermore, a USB port on the back makes it possible to record the Katana directly into a computer.

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This pint-sized package is surprisingly loud, and the amp models have impressive tube-like character and feel. The effects sound very good as well, and the stereo presentation gives them lots of depth and spaciousness. I was able to use the Katana for rehearsing at lower volumes, but I wish it could be plugged into a larger speaker cabinet, as it definitely has the power to be a gig-worthy head. The Katana’s range of sounds, from super clean to massively overdriven, makes it suitable for all sorts of styles, and the only other thing that would make it more useable in performance situations would be foot-switching capability. Running a pedalboard into the amp worked fine, but with so many sounds available onboard, it would be nice to at least be able to toggle between the channels. Otherwise, the Katana-Air is certainly an amp to try out if you’re looking for lots of options in a lunch box–sized combo.

SPECIFICATIONS

Katana-Air

CONTACT boss.info
PRICE $399 street

CHANNELS 2
CONTROLS Amp type (clean, crunch, lead, brown, acoustic) gain, volume, bass, middle, treble, BST/Mod (knob and button), delay/FX (knob and button), reverb, master and tap button for delay
POWER 30 watts; 20 watts on battery power (uses eight AA batteries, not included)
EXTRAS Reverb, delay, modulation; Rechargeable wireless transmitter; Bluetooth streaming; 1/8" headphone out; 1/8" aux input; USB
SPEAKER
Two 3” drivers
WEIGHT 4.14 lbs
BUILT China

KUDOS Wireless operation. Great-sounding amps and effects
CONCERNS No external speaker jack. Wish it had a rechargeable battery for the amplifier section

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