Line 6 has always been at the forefront of amp and effects modeling. The early Line 6 PODs were, for many, an introduction to amp simulation, allowing guitarists to write and record at home without blowing down the house with a real amplifier. Then we have the long-lived Spider series of practice amps, which has been the butt of many jokes, but is still infamous in its own way. As of late, the brand debuted its Catalyst series — one of the most anticipated releases since the renowned Helix back in 2015. Powerful Line 6 HX technology is the soul of the Catalyst amp series, which we’ll review today in terms of flexibility and bang-for-buck.
If You’re Looking for a Digital Combo That Does It All, the Line 6 Catalyst Has You Covered
Digital modeling is the new normal. Throw a dart at a list of amp makers, and there’s a good chance whichever you hit has something to offer in the way of digital amplification. Many modern guitarists demand versatility and cost-effectiveness, fueling the popularity of this amp style.
Fundamentally, there are two camps when it comes to amp/effect simulation. You have your dedicated digital preamps, including the likes of Axe-Fx and Quad Cortex. And then you have your hybrid digital combo amps. These are more limited in scope, but with better plug-and-play capability, plus the look and feel of a traditional amp.
The Line 6 Catalyst series is, in many ways, both a leap forward and a step back in terms of features and usability. The concept behind these amps was to bring back the simplicity and operation of a “real” amplifier, while retaining much of the sonic flexibility of a powerful modeler. The Catalysts offer a welcomed balance between modeling complexity and tube amp intuitiveness.
What’s in the Catalyst Line?
The series consists of three versions of the Catalyst. Each projects from 1×12 speaker cabinet: one at 60 watts, one at 100 watts, and one at 200 watts. From there, they each share the same six “Original Amp Designs” built using Line 6’s applauded HX tech and 18 effects.
- RELATED: The Best Modeling Amps to Elevate Your Guitar Sounds
- RELATED: Boss Katana Air Wireless Guitar Amp Review
Other notable features include boost circuits for each amp type and independent reverb with six flavors. The Catalyst series also comes with an XLR output, 4-channel USB interface capabilities, MIDI, and power-scaling for additional volume control. Using the free Catalyst Edit app, users can dig deep into the settings for further tone refinement.
Line 6 Catalyst Review
Simple Yet Deep Functionality
We said before that Line 6 wanted to find a middle ground between modeling preamps (extensive tonal ability, tedious) and modeling combos (easier to use, like a real amp, though arguably not yet perfected). The Catalyst is obviously the result of that design philosophy. Looking at the control panel, it resembles a good ol’ tube amplifier. Everything is clearly labeled, at your fingertips, and highly intuitive.
All of the modeling parameters live under four knobs, including the amp Selector, the switchable Boost, the Effect selector, and the Reverb. Some of these knobs pair with a button for an additional layer of control, but the user-friendliness is impressive. Anyone could plug into this amp and have a grasp of its features within several minutes.
Dial in Your Tone
Dialing in your tone is as easy as first choosing one of the six Original Amp Designs: Clean, Boutique, Chime, Crunch, Dynamic, Hi Gain. If you simply chose an amp type and tossed on a bit of reverb for depth, you’d have a tone. It’s that easy. You can then shape the sound with a traditional three-band EQ, gain, and presence.
Of course, there’s the Boost circuit for an added push and 18 effects to create something truly unique. The Catalyst does a great job of maximizing potential within a manageable range of features that anyone can figure out.
How Does It Sound?
In a word, fantastic. We can thank Line 6’s HX technology for the realistic and convincing amp sounds (the same power found in the critically acclaimed Helix lineup). It’s common to sacrifice a bit of fidelity in digital combos, which pigeon-holes many of them into the practice amp category.
The Catalyst amps could very well serve the stage or studio in terms of quality. The 200-watt version is loud and proud, the 100-watt model is the middle of the road, and the 60-watt entry is amazing for practice and recording.
Why Line 6 Catalyst Amps Make Perfect Practice Amps
Cost and quality both make these amps perfect for practice. Also, the versatility and ease-of-use are ideal for when you’re just messing around and want to play with different tones. Not only that, but we have the option of power-scaling to keep volumes reasonable at home. Finally, what makes these great practice amps also makes them great for the studio or stage, and the Catalyst certainly shouldn’t be boxed into the practice category alone.
Closing Thoughts: These Amps Are Definitely Worth the Money
The entry-level 60-watt Catalyst is just $299. Some pedals cost significantly more than that. Overall, we’re impressed by the sound quality and design that Line 6 packed into the Catalyst lineup. You most definitely get a lot of bang for your buck, but most importantly, there’s no fluff or blubber on these amps. There’s more than enough flexibility, though it never seems excessive or unwieldy. These are awesome amps, for sure.