Sep 10, 2012
So last time we talked a little about modelling vs tubes, and I got a really, really amazing response from you guys. Thank you so much for reading and participating – keep it up!
To pick up where we left off, I think that the way forward for guitar amplification holds a number of possible avenues:
- 100% modelling: This is happening even as we speak – the Axe-FX purports to model entire circuits, which you can then fine tune or change component values to, in effect, virtually modify or design a whole new amp.
- Tube amps get smarter: Cleverer electronic power scaling has already proven its worth in offerings such as the Marshall AFD100 and YJM100, allowing you to get cranked tones at sensible volumes. I’d like to see a modular concept (similar to Randall’s semi-successful attempt) come back as well. Versatility fights back!
- The lines between the two just get more blurred: Imagine an amp fuelled by meticulously detailed preamp models, fed into a true tube poweramp, but also incorporating power scaling so that you can get true poweramp overdrive at reasonable volumes. This I would like to see.
Today, we’re going to see those lines blurred like a really blurry thing.
Introducing… the Line 6 DT Series
From Mr Line 6 himself: (Tangent: you know how instrument brands are usually named after the guy who founded the company and invented the thing itself? Jim Marshall, Leo Fender, etc etc? Well… sometimes I like to imagine that there is a being, perhaps a robot of some sort, who founded Line 6. Anyway, back to the review)
What makes DT25/50™ so special?
DT25/50 is the first highly portable amp to provide the combination of reconfigurable analog components, a fully analog tube output stage designed by celebrated boutique tube amp guru manufacturer, Reinhold Bogner, and Line 6 HD modeling technology wrapped in a straightforward and visually stunning package. The result is optimum tonal flexibility in a two-channel, four-voice design that has all of the touch sensitivity, tonal depth, and dynamics essential in a gigging amp.
Why is DT25/50 a hybrid amp?
For a good reason: because low-wattage amps, when compared with 50- or 100-watt amps, have limited headroom and always “feel” small. DT25/50 solves that problem that with its powerful HD modeling providing the preamp. You get the headroom and reaction of a high-wattage amp because the preamp’s power supply is not limited by what the power tubes need to use, and in return you get a much bigger sound in a small package. This versatility means you can get the tone and feel of a 100W amp, without lugging 100W transformers around.
Being a hybrid amp also opens up the way for expansion through L6 LINK™ — more amps and effects can interact with the flexible analog power amp of DT25/50.
What? Explain that without technobabble please.
Okay, here’s the Line 6 DT series distilled down to my understanding of it:
- 2 channels, into which you can program your choice of any 4 in-built HD preamp models. Well, not really “program” per se – it works just like an amp, set which preamp model you want then just set the controls like you would a normal amp.
- The 4 HD preamp models cover all your basic flavours – Fender, Marshall, Vox and Mesa.
- Channels are footswitchable on both, and you can also footswitch the reverb on the DT25.
- True tube poweramp, designed by Mr Bogner.
- Depending on the amp model you’ve selected, it does magical things like change the negative feedback loop response, which affects the dynamics and touch sensitivity of the amp model to get as close as possible to the real thing.
- Hook it up to a Line 6 HD500 and ALL the preamps within the HD500 become available to feed the DT’s poweramp.
- Transformer tapped recording output (with cabinet simulation) – you can basically record direct but also capture the tone of the poweramp. Really cool! And you can silent record in standby mode too.
Isn’t this just like that SpiderValve thing?
Luckily, no! I owned and gigged a SpiderValve SV100 for awhile, and it’s very, very different.
The main point of difference is that the SV modelled the preamp and poweramp fully, while basically using the tube poweramp section as a “hifi” to boombox its modelling tonez out into the world. Turning up the master volume on the SV did absolutely nothing to affect the tone.
On the other hand, the DT series has a real tube poweramp, which allows you to get real poweramp overdrive by turning the master volume way up. As we discussed in Gearvolution Part I, poweramp modelling is something that I don’t think they’ve got quite right yet – so this sounds promising so far!
Also, the amp modelling tech on the SpiderValve was basically from the Spider series of amps… to put it politely… kinda terrible shit. It’s old tech, and doesn’t sound anywhere near as good.
When I was down in Christchurch recently to see Slash and Myles Kennedy in concert, I realized that it was a prime opportunity for a Samurai Review Roadtrip (trademark pending)! My old bandmate currently runs a DT50 head into a Randall XL quad, and kindly volunteered his amp for some clips. I chucked my trusty Audix i5 in my backpack and set off for the southern land!
Now seems like a good time for gratuitous gear shots.
We close miked the Randall cab (which sounds amazing) and set out to do some demos of the 4 main amp topologies available in the DT50.
Hold up, Class!
Now, I’m going to be talking a bit about switching the amp between Class A and Class AB power. If you really want to get into the technical detail, here is a really in-depth article by amp guru Randall Smith. However, if you’re not too worried, here is how I think of Class A vs Class AB:
- Class A – found in amps like the Vox AC30. Not as much headroom, but feels very touch responsive and dynamic.
- Class AB – Fender/Marshall. More clean headroom, tighter and bigger bass, but less touch responsive.
These sounds don’t byte.
Okay. First up is Topology 1 – Fender. (Though of course they never actually say Fender, I guess due to copyright and all that stuff. They always say “clean American amp” or some crap like that)
I got to use an original 80s Ibanez JEM7FP on this. Really cool guitar!
First, I played it in its default power class (AB), and then switched to Class A. This is what I think is cool about the DT amps – you can say to yourself, “Hey, I wonder what a Fender X would sound like through a Class A power stage”… and then you can find out!
I actually quite liked what Class A did to the amp model. Made it a little more crisp sounding, and the highs seemed a little more compressed and less harsh/trebly, and it sounded great. Listen to the two here:
Dammit Jim, I’m a Marshall, not a miracle worker!
Next up was the Marshall topology. From what I can find, this is based on the Park amp model on the HD500. Not reaaally my classic idea of a Marshall, but what you gonna do. With the drive up, it got nice and crunchy when I hit hard – but it was also nice and dynamic when I pulled back and played a little softer. I thought that it was only apt to use a Les Paul on this one, and I used a lovely honeyburst Gibson LP Standard. The room was too small for windmills, but I played the iconic opening chords to Baba O’Riley to great effect.
I did feel that it was missing a little more drive and crunch compared to my usual idea of a cranked Marshall though. Wait – it wasn’t cranked! That’s the missing link – this is a true tube poweramp, so to get poweramp saturation, you have to turn it way the f$%^ up!
With a dog and small child in the next room, we didn’t think it was a good idea to stun and/or deafen them by turning the amp up to 11. Next best thing – pull out a Marshall Powerbrake and crank it somewhat safely. We turned the drive down quite a bit as well, just to see how much the poweramp drive could affect things.
Pleasantly, we got a gainy roar out of the Les Paul, with a little more body and girth compared to the same model but low on the master. It still remained really touch responsive though, and I was able to get a clean tone by pulling the coil split and adjusting my picking dynamics accordingly. Awesome!
Onto the AC30 model. All I’ve got to say is – it did a great job of the distinctive chime of an AC (as far as one going through a Celestion Vintage 30-loaded cab would sound), and also did balls to the wall Brian May sounds equally well. I picked up the JEM7FP again for this one, so the overdriven section is a little less ballsy than I’d prefer, but you’ll get the idea, hopefully.
Ah, the Treadplate model, aka Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier. To get my high gain on, I used a really cool Fernandes Ravelle retrofitted with a pair of Suhr Aldrich humbuckers (which funnily enough used to belong to me!). As I mentioned the other day, I’ve long thought that Line 6 got Dual Rec modelling down to a tee ages ago… and I don’t think I was wrong.
Infinity and beyond
I don’t know about you, but I was pretty impressed. So impressed, in fact, that I got my lovely friends at the Rockshop to send me a DT25 head to spend a bit more time with. It’s a lot more portable than the DT50, and it can get plenty loud! In fact, for my needs, I prefer the lower wattage format – it allows me to overdrive the poweramp at much more usable volumes.
If you take a second to think about this whole “true tube poweramp” thing, you may have noticed a potential chink in the armour here – a real tube poweramp needs volume to achieve overdrive, but that means you have to get it really loud to sound good. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having a modelled signal which you can use at low volumes as well??
Well… yes, but luckily Line 6 as usual are on top of their game.
Pull the Master knob on the DT50, or locate the little switch on the back of the DT25, and you’ll notice some wording light up underneath the master volume knob – Low Volume Mode!
So, how does LVM work?
The way I understand it is this – at low volumes, L6 realize that you’re going to struggle to get poweramp drive tones, so when you activate LVM, it basically puts in a fully modelled poweramp section, much like running straight through an HD500. It maxes out the headroom on the tube poweramp, so that any changes you make to the Master knob actually only affects the volume of the modelled poweramp.
Running it this way, it does actually become (in concept) the same as the nasty SpiderValve series – but as I said, luckily the technology has improved, and it sounds really good! In fact, if you’re not worried about true poweramp distortion, this may be one of the best ways to amplify your HD500 floorboard.
Speaking of which – I integrated my HD500 via L6 Link and proceeded to have a great time substituting new preamps into the mix, while juggling effects before and after the preamp, while the DT + HD cleverly took care of all the routing for me! However, that’s a tale for another time, I believe!
For now… it’ll have to suffice to give the Line 6 DT series a hearty 4.5 F*ck Yeahs. I love this amp!! If you’re modelling savvy, but still want an “amp” solution, this is the amp for you! However, if you need true poweramp drive at “sane” volumes, I suggest you opt for the DT25 rather than the DT50. That’s what I’ll be doing! In fact, I realized in the end that the clips I did on the flying visit don’t even scratch the surface of what the DTs can do, so I’ll be doing more on my brand new DT25 when time permits!
Watch out for the next installment of the Gearvolution series – it’s time to put your ears to the ultimate test!
We’ll also be doing some clips of the DT25 + Pod HD500 combination as well!
Edit: Since I wrote this, an update has been issued for the DT series which allows it to locally store ALL the HD series preamps, without even plugging in your HD500!!! This amp just keeps getting better and better.
Also, big thanks to Line 6 for linking to us from their main page!! Stoked to the max, with lots of fuzzy feelings.