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Why has Line 6 produced, of all things, a valve amp? Well, the carefully-controlled digital domain of modelling amps has always been subject to the vagaries of the analogue world. Pods and so forth can be plugged directly into high-fi delity monitoring systems, but digital amps usually involve unforgiving solid state amplifi cation stages and lo-fi guitar speakers... so even if the models are superb, you won't be able to hear them properly. Also, good valve amps are more affordable than ever. It's ironic - lots of players enjoy the models so much that once they're ready to upgrade, they'll often buy the 'real thing'.
In response, Line 6 has teamed up with amp builder Reinhold Bogner to create a valve amp, the DT50. It looks complex, but the controls are quite simple to navigate. Essentially this is a two-channel amp with two identical sets of controls - Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence, Reverb and Volume, then a shared Master Volume. On top of that, Reinhold's valve know-how has met with Line 6's modelling ethic to provide a huge range of entirely analogue switching options. Best of all, the DT50 stores your previous settings for both channels, so you can switch back and forth without losing a thing.
The two EL34 power valves can switch from Class A, for greater dynamics and touch sensitivity, to Class AB for more headroom and power. Although they're pentodes, a second switch puts the EL34s into triode mode for a rounder and more 'vintage' sound that's also quieter. This switch determines the overall wattage. In Class A it's cathode-biased at 25W, and Class AB delivers 50W of fixed bias power.
The Voicing switch is key to the DT50's versatility. It has four settings and it sets the fl avour of the preamp and tone stack of the currently selected channel. It also alters the negative feedback (NFL) loop topology, which infl uences the tone and dynamic feel of the amp. Setting 1 is the 'tightest'; Line 6 advises setting the DT50 to Class AB pentode for a 1960s blackface-style sound. Class AB pentode mode is also suggested for setting 2, designed for a slightly looser 'classic British' sound. Position 3 gives zero negative feedback and a 'distinct chimey' quality... almost certainly code for Vox. For setting 4 it's back to Class AB pentode for high gain tones using NFL coupled with added low frequency resonance.
The rear panel has an FX loop with a return Level control and a cab-simulated, transformer-tapped DI out. Any regular on/off footswitch with a TS jack can be connected for channel switching. MIDI in and out sockets integrates the DT50 into any existing MIDI rig and there are three speaker outputs rated at 4Ohm, 8Ohm and 16Ohm. You can use one or two cabs.
Being a Line 6, there is some modelling technology, but here's the clever bit – it's volume level dependent. At low volume, non-amp-specifi c power stage modelling provides a cranked feel, then the analogue circuitry takes over as you raise output levels.
Pod HD (300/400/500) multi- FX processors connect via an L6 Link socket. An XLR connector passes audio and digital control data, so changing settings on one immediately updates the other, plus you can save DT50 settings onto the Pod for later recall. Best of all, the DT50's analogue confi guration automatically reconfi gures to optimise settings for any amp model selected on the Pod. For example, a Voxy model on the Pod will switch the DT50 to Class A and a Rectified model will trigger Class AB. With the Link Thru socket you can daisy chain up to four DT amps and activate wet/dry modes for individual amps. So you can send separate dry audio from effects.
The DT50 can certainly deliver loud cleans with impressive clarity and warmth. Don't expect modeller-style instant results, but after a while you'll fi gure out how to dial in tones that resemble certain iconic amps.
The reverb sounds very spring-like; it doesn't integrate with the dry tone quite as seamlessly as some genuine spring reverbs, but twang, country and funk are all on the menu along with Voxy chime and Hendrixy cleans. The Gain and Volume controls interact smoothly to dial in anything from a hint of overdrive to serious distortion. Voicings 1 and 3 have the lowest gain, but voicing 3 provides the warmest and woodiest tones once you calm things down a bit. Voicing 4 - full-on Californian crunch – is a real blast, with super-long sustain and pinched harmonics just about anywhere. Brutal metallic distortion and deep dark drones can also be dialed up, but composure and clarity aren't compromised for crunch. Your guitar will still retain plenty of individual character, the bass remains tight and you can still feel a valvey dynamic response.
By cranking up the master you eventually hit a sweet spot. All valve amps are like this, and the DT50 is no exception. The transition from modelled to analogue tones is very smooth and you can enjoy the full might of 50W or triode down to 25W, where you can relish the full analogue experience at sensible and useable volume levels.
This is a high quality valve guitar combo with an almost infinite variety of great tones, even without a Pod HD in tow. If, however, you do splash out on that Line 6 fl oor unit (see our Feb issue for a full review) then you'll be able to amplify all your presets through top-notch valve circuitry, then go all-analogue and 'booteeky' when the situation demands it. Aside from its massive weight, the DT50's drawback is that channel switching is accompanied by a slight delay and drop in volume while the circuitry settles back down. This only lasts for about a second, so perhaps it's not that much of an inconvenience. Line 6 has always paid close attention to sounds, but Reinhold Bogner has provided the dynamic feel that was required to move the whole thing to a higher level. Could this be a new direction for Line 6 and digital thermionics in general? Only time will tell.