Trying to nail the guitar tones of the players that inspire you can be a tricky and time-consuming process, but if there’s one thing you can say about digital modeling, it has made it easier to access the “hardware” that helped create the tones we dig. Line 6 has been a key player in the modeling game from the get go—not only as inventor of the digital modeling guitar amp and creator of POD, but also through the massive effort the company put into building a system called GuitarPort Online. This was years ago, but it still sounds cutting edge: A library of player-generated tone presets that could be accessed online by players who wanted to improve their chops or just have fun by jamming along with a huge number of songs that Line 6 had either licensed or re-recorded. GuitarPort Online was ahead of its time and, ultimately, the subscriber base wasn’t there to sustain it, but Line 6’s Custom Tone library of user-generated sounds has continued to grow in an online environment where players can share their presets and connect with other users—all at no cost.
Fast forward to 2014, and Line 6 has now made it possible to access these tones via an iOS app called AMPLIFi Remote, which has the uncanny ability to use the metadata from the song you are streaming to query the Custom Tone database. Line 6 calls it “Tone Match,” and when your AMPLIFi Remote-enabled iOS device (see specs for compatibility) is connected via Bluetooth to the AMPLIFi 150 or 75 amplifiers, you now have a complete system that you can plug your guitar into and jam along to your fave tunes with authentic tones.
Setting AMPLIFi Remote aside for a moment, let’s dive into the amp itself. AMPLIFi 150 is a compact (22.5" wide x 9.5" deep x 16" high) hi-fi system that is designed to deliver detailed stereo sound and deep bass using multiple speakers: two tweeters, two mid-bass drivers, and a custom guitar speaker—a 12" Celestion in our 150-watt review model. The smaller 75-watt AMPLIFi uses the same tweeters and mid drivers, but with an 8" unit to handle the low end.
Designed to also be a stand-alone guitar amp, AMPLIFi has a 1/4" input, a set of top-mounted controls (Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, FX, Reverb), and a master Blend knob for adjusting the overall volume or balancing the levels between your guitar sound and the song you’re jamming to. Also on the top panel is a Bluetooth button (used for syncing to your iOS or Android device), a button for toggling between four user-definable presets, and a tap-tempo button for setting delay times (tempos can also be tapped in directly on your device’s screen). Around back is a 1/4" headphone jack and an 1/8" Aux In jack, an FBV jack for use with a Line 6 footcontroller (not included), and a USB port.
Using AMPLIFi 150 to play along with tracks is straightforward: Load the free AMPLIFi app on your iOS7 device, establish a Bluetooth connection with AMPLIFi 150, make sure you’re in a wi-fi hot spot, and you’re ready to rock. Scroll though your music library using AMPLIFi Remote’s “Artists,” “Songs,” “Albums,” or “Playlists” search buttons, select a song you want to jam to, and your guitar tone will automatically change to sound like the guitar on the track. Pretty amazing!
I put it into practice initially with three distinctly different songs: “Purple Haze,” “Sultans of Swing,” and “Message in a Bottle,” and AMPLIFi Remote responded with realistic tones that nailed their signatures such as the grunting fuzz and ringing Octavia in “Purple Haze,” the plucky, bell-like timbres of Mark Knopfler’s Strat, and the juicy analog chorusing and delay on Andy Summers’ meaty tone—which also had a noise floor so realistic it sounded like the real pedals were hooked up.
AMPLIFi Remote came up with nine matches for Radiohead’s “My Iron Lung,” which made it easy to find a good one for the ring-modulated guitar intro and another preset that worked well for the heavier sections. Taming the delays a bit made it all good. In case you’re wondering, AMPLIFi Remote doesn’t track changes in guitar sound (say from clean to distorted) that might occur throughout a song, but who knows what the app might bring in the future? How about being able to remove the original guitar part once you have it down?
On other tunes by AC/DC, Jeff Beck, and Eric Johnson, AMPLIFi Remote proved that you can simply let it do most of the heavy lifting (you’ll likely always need to do some fine tuning) while you concentrate on playing the parts. The app also provides an edit function where you can go in and affect things quite radically by selecting from an large assortment of amplifiers and speaker cabs; distortion pedals, delays, reverbs, and modulation effects (including some crazy filter, pitch, and synth models). Also available are compression, EQ (4-band semi-parametric), and an adjustable noise gate. The models in AMPLIFi Remote stand up well sonically and they all have variable parameters: The amps give you control over Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence, and Volume. For the speaker cabinets it’s Early Reflections and Mic Type/Position. In the effects department the controls are more varied. For example, you get Wave and Mix on the Saturn 5 Ring Mod, while the Analog Chorus offers Mix, Depth, Bass, and Treble. For the Tube Echo you can adjust Time, Mix, Feedback, Flutter, and Drive. Needless to say, with over 100 effects to choose from you could spend lots of time spelunking for sounds in that section alone. It’s easy to get lost in the micro tweaking capability that AMPLIFi Remote offers, but being able to get things sounding the way you want is a real benefit of the app, especially if you want to use the AMPLIFi 150 for recording, practice, or performing.
With its clean lines, recessed controls, and black/burgundy color scheme, the AMPLIFi 150 has a stealthy look that downplays the power under its hood. It’s definitely more of a “lifestyle” product than something intended for regular stage use, but I used it for rehearsal with my band and it worked quite well, delivering plenty of volume and good dynamics and touch sensitivity from the Robben Ford preset I’d chosen—one of several based on his “Talk to Your Daughter” tone.
AMPLIFi is definitely an interesting product and well deserving of the Editors’ Pick Award we’ve given it. Elegant use of multiple technologies allow it to deliver a lot of enjoyment for the money, and when it comes right down to it, there’s nothing else like this thing. Bottom line: if AMPLIFi just helps you learn more songs and make some tonal discoveries along the way, it’s a win!
Price $499 street; AMPLIFi 75 $399 street
Controls Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, FX, Reverb, Blend
I/O 1/4" input, 1/4" headphone jack, 1/8" Aux In jack, FBV and USB jacks
Speakers Two tweeters, two mid-bass drivers, 12" custom Celestion
Power 150 watts (also available in 75-watt version)
Extras Streams audio via Bluetooth. Four onboard presets (access unlimited presets via app). Accepts Line 6 FBV switchers.
Weight 36 lbs
Kudos High quality stereo sound.
Concerns No footswitch provided for toggling presets
Compatibility iPhone 4, 4S (if upgraded to iOS7), iPhone 5, iPad (3rd and 4th generation), iPad 2 and Mini, iPod Touch (4th and 5th generation).
Models 70+ amps, 100+ effects, 20+ cabinets
Extras Eight simultaneous effects. Built-in tuner. Cloud access for unlimited preset storage, uploading sounds, etc.
Kudos Tone Match function works well. Great selection of amp and effects models.
Concerns Works only with Apple mobile devices that are iOS7 compatible.