When Line 6 released the original AxSys 212 modelling amp way back in 1996, few knew the guitar world was on the verge of a full-on digital revolution. A quarter of a century later, Line 6 is just one of many players in this ever-growing field… but with the Catalyst range of amplifiers, it has its sights firmly set on taking back the modelling crown.
The Catalyst series – three combos rated at 200, 100 and 60 Watts – aims to provide a tempting new option thanks to six amplifier types and a suite of 18 high-quality effects from the company’s HX effects range (plus six reverbs). The 60W model we’re reviewing today features a specially designed 12-inch speaker, two switchable channels, a power attenuator, and an XLR output for recording or direct connection to a live PA.
On the top panel, we find a control set that will be familiar to most guitar players: an amp selector knob that lights up to let you know which model you’re using; standard volume, gain and EQ controls including boost level and presence; plus an effects section with a separate reverb dial and light-up push-buttons for switching models.
The back of the amp hosts a whole load of extra inputs that are easy to access, providing further functionality and connectivity options including an effects loop and USB for advanced tone-editing. And there’s one more control round here: the power attenuator. This has a mute mode for use with headphones or silent recording, 0.5W for quiet practice at home, 15W for when you need more oomph, plus the full 60W for when you need to tear the place down.
Line 6 does offer a dual footswitch for channel-hopping and changing a user-assignable effect setting – bypassing the boost or reverb, for example – but note that this is a £35 optional extra.
Call us juvenile, but switching the Catalyst 60 on we’re immediately drawn to the light-up amp selector knob. And it holds a bit of a surprise, coming from a company that’s always seemed skewed towards the heavy stuff: the majority of these models are either clean or lightly breaky-uppy, with only one real modern high-gain sound.
Starting with the Clean model, it’s an obvious black-panel tone with a pristine high end. Just like the classic Fender amps of the mid-60s, the midrange feels dialled back and it plays very nicely with various drive pedals. That’s a promising start.
From here we move to the Boutique model – and we can’t help noodling for some time on this one, playing with the gain knob to go from super-clean to light drive, all with a lovely girth to it. Next up is Chime, which aims to model that classic 60s Vox sound and does so reasonably well… but we quickly found ourselves switching back to Boutique.
Crunch gives a gratifying Marshall-type drive that moves from a light dusting to an almost high-gain setting with some tweaking, while the Dynamic mode is an interesting concept that aims to provide a tube-like response to your pick attack. While there is a difference in dynamics here, it doesn’t quite take you from super-clean to crunchy all at once, leaning too far one way or the other depending on the EQ and gain settings.
Finally, we whip out the seven-string for some chugging action on the Hi Gain setting. It’s a sound that makes you want to pull a face (in a good way): super-tight with a nice emulation of those classic 6L6 amps that excel for rock and metal. It can get a little woofy at higher volumes, but this is easily tamed by dialling back the mids and bass.
The effects suite is typically strong in tonal quality, as anyone who’s used the HX range will confirm. It’s a shame you can’t run more than two at a time – and one of them has to be reverb – but you’ll still find plenty of ways to get creative. The delays sound absolutely gorgeous and there’s a lot of versatility in the various choruses, phasers and flangers too.
You can’t fine-tune these effects on the amp itself, so you’ll need to use the USB port at the back and a laptop or phone running the Catalyst Edit app to get deeper tweaking options. Some may find this process a little finicky, but it’s actually very pragmatic: if you set aside some time to get to grips with it, you can craft your desired tone, save your settings to either channel A or B, and then recall them later on for practice or live use.
The cash-strapped younger generation of guitarists don’t often have a couple of grand in the back pocket to spend on a boutique tube combo – so they need an affordable solution that will work as well in the home studio as it does on the small stages of sweaty rock and metal venues. The Catalyst 60 plays these multiple roles admirably, being powerful enough for smaller gigs and versatile enough for any recording work.
- PRICE £249
- DESCRIPTION Two-channel 1×12” digital modelling combo, made in Malaysia
- POWER RATING 60W
- CONTROL PANEL Amp model selector, boost, gain, bass, mid, treble, presence, channel volume, effect, reverb, master volume, channel A/B/manual buttons, effect and reverb selector buttons, tap tempo
- REAR PANEL On/off switch, four-way output power switch, USB-B port, MIDI in, footswitch input, aux in, headphones out, effects loop in/out, XLR out
- SPEAKER 1×12” custom
- ACCESSORIES Dual footswitch (£35)
- DIMENSIONS 504 x 262 x 445mm
- WEIGHT 11.8kg/25.9lb
- CONTACT line6.com