The Line 6 Catalyst 100 just surprised everyone this week! I think we all know who this amp is trying to compete with, don’t we? Today we take a serious deep dive into the newest Line 6 creation.
The Line 6 Catalyst 100: HX Tech Inside?
I don’t think that its a secret that we love Line 6 around here. The company went from being a joke with the original POD series, to being the leader in the industry of professional effects units. The Helix is definitely the flagship model, and it has been used on stages and studios around the world. The sounds are almost limitless when it comes to HX technology these days, and can edit and program almost any sound you hear in your head. HX technology is absolutely amazing, and full of potential.
But Line 6 has stuck with the tried and true formula when it comes to amplifier products. The company has released a new Spyder series amp every few years, with new upgrades and features. The Spyder series used to get a lot of flack as well, since they were notorious for being REALLY bad. But then we took a look at the newest models, and found the Spyder to be totally useable! Our review of the Spyder showed that Line 6 was doing much better with its amp tech. But where is the HX amp?
Well it looks like we finally have the closest thing to an Helix amp that we will ever get. But the big elephant in the room when it comes to modeling amps is the BOSS Katana. The Katana series came out of nowhere a few years ago, and took over the modeling amp world. Every guitar forum on the planet has recommendations for the Katana, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro that’s gigging on the weekends.
The thing about the Katana, is that it is a rare product that actually lives up to the hype. When in the studio, I have been using the Katana a lot. I have some great presets for every guitar that I own and there are multiple ways to record the Katana. I use STL Tones for a lot of studio sounds, but the Katana is just so easy to use. This is the secret of the Katana’s popularity; It can be very in depth… or it can be as easy as you want. I record with a mic, and with the line out, and both sound great!
This is where Line 6 lost me as a customer. I was a person that used the POD HD series for everything when it first came out. But the menus and choices became so expansive that I would get option paralysis. Some guitarists love to have hundreds of tonal possibilities, but I am the polar opposite. I work better when I have some limitations, and I get so much more work done with the BOSS Katana than I do with Line 6 products. My POD sits on a shelf, and rarely gets used these days unfortunately.
The BOSS Katana has sold more units than any other modeling amp. The reason for this I think, is the ease of use combined with a model for everyone. The 100 watt and 50 watt models are perfect for a band situation, while the smaller versions are great practice amps. Combine this with how easy it is to dial in a killer tone, and its easy to see why BOSS is the king. While the BOSS Katana is a modeler, it is primarily a guitar amp. That’s the whole appeal of the product: Amp first, modeler second.
I use the BOSS Katana for everyday applications, and I have no illusions to what it is. The Katana does NOT sound like a tube amp. Does it sound good for the money? Absolutely! Will I use the Katana in a live situation? Absolutely! Would I rather use my Mesa Boogie live? YES!
I’m sorry if that sounds confusing, but I have a point. What it comes down to, is that I just don’t want to travel with a tube amp anymore. Especially not a stack. The Katana, and the Line 6 Catalyst 100 are both affordable modeling amps and they sound like it. Neither will replace a real tube amp and a pedalboard. But I no longer try to impress other guitarists with gear, I do it with my playing. The audience doesn’t care what amp I bring to the gig, they just want to see me play.
I just wanted to get that out of the way, and let everyone know what both of these amps are. I’m not blowing any smoke up your rear. These are budget combo amps, and they sound very good for what they are. If you know what you’re getting into with modeling tech, then you understand this. A cranked Marshall stack is going to sound better, every time. But these amps are GREAT for people who can’t have a Marshall stack, or cannot afford one. These amps are practical.
I had the opportunity to sit down with the Line 6 Catalyst 100 at our affiliate dealer site. Because they are a huge retailer, with their own online media, I am not allowed to do videos with test equipment. But I can write anything I want about the products. I got the call two days ago that a demo amp was at the store, and it was the 100 watt model. So you can imagine how quickly I got in the car and drove there.
I always knew that one day, there would be an amp that would rival the Katana. Fender tried to do it, and so did Blackstar. Both companies did a great job, and I gave both of those amps a great review. But they just didn’t have the same mojo that the Katana had, and while I am sure those amps have sold well…BOSS remains the top choice among the masses.
So how does the Line 6 Catalyst 100 hold up against the competition? Today we are going to do a deep dive, but I will avoid comparisons to the Katana, for now. Because let’s be real, the Catalyst has its sights on the Katana for competition. Let’s not waste any more time, and dig in to the features. You may be surprised with what I have to say!
Edit: I have decided to do a separate “Versus” article against the Katana which will have a link here when I finish it. There was just too much to talk about when comparing the two! So we will just review the Line 6 Catalyst 100 alone today.
Line 6 Catalyst 100: Features And Specs
The Line 6 Catalyst 100 as well as the other amps in the series are using the Helix sound processing to power the different tone settings of the amp. I have wondered for a while why Line 6 never released an amp with the HX functions, but here we are… finally. The Catalyst will be taking the place of the older Spyder amps, I would imagine, and I think the change is more than welcome.
So why don’t we take a look at what the new Line 6 Catalyst 100 has under the hood, and see what we have to work with. The new Catalyst has several versions, but we will only be talking about the 100 watt version features today since that is the model I got to try. But the amp’s tone features are the same across all of the models, for the most part.
- Six Original Amp designs
- Dedicated Boost and Reverb sections (6 reverb types), 18 Effects (3 types)
- Power attenuator (half power, 0.5 watts, Mute) for reduced volume
- XLR line output for pro connection to PA or recording devices
- Effects loop and Power Amp input for integrating external devices
- Use the Line 6 two Button Footswitch
- MIDI In via DIN connector
- 4-channel audio interface and Mac/iOS/PC/Android connectivity via USB
- Line 6 Catalyst Free Editor Software
- 12 Inch Speaker By Line 6
- Works with other HX pedals
We can start with the construction of the amp, and the aesthetics before we dive into the sounds. The Line 6 Catalyst 100 looks very spartan from the front, since the controls are on the top of the amp. The Catalyst logo on the top looks pretty classy, and instantly iconic. My only gripe is the “Line 6” logo at the bottom, as I think it looks outdated or maybe out of place? The back of the amp is fully open, which is my preference for most combo amps.
The rear of the amp has pretty much any kind of interface that you can think of, and Line 6 is known for having lots of input/output options. The rear panel has everything you need. There is the FX loop, footswitch, and XLR out jacks. You also have the power attenuator on the back, as well as the USB jack. The aux in is great for playing tracks from your phone to practice and play along with.
The FX loop is designed to be used along with the HX Stomp pedals, or any other favorite pedals that you may own. I tried out the aux in with my phone, but since this is not an FRFR speaker it was kind of muddy on the playback. But the aux in sounds fine through headphones if you want to jam with backing tracks or your favorite songs.
I like having an XLR out on an amp like this that is clearly going to be used for recording direct into your DAW. There has been a debate as to whether XLR is better than your regular 1/4” cable when recording. Personally, I think there is no difference in sound quality. But XLR is better when it comes to overall noise reduction, so this is a good choice for recording out. You can also use the USB out to record, and the Line 6 Catalyst 100 will act as an zero latency interface if you don’t have one for recording.
The MIDI in jack can get a little complicated, but if you are familiar with how all of that works, you can use MIDI to change settings and channels. By default it is for an expression pedal. The footswitch option for Line 6 amps is pretty limited, only offering a two button option as of the time of this article. So if you really want to take advantage of the different tones for playing live, MIDI might be the way to go. I have no idea how to do that, so I won’t focus on it any further.
The speaker is a 12” in house branded speaker. This speaker is supposed to be tuned to the amp itself, and specifically to be paired with the Catalyst amp. The cabinet itself is regular particle wood, and it weighs in at 33 pounds. The open back design is nice because this means the bass response will be less woof-y in my opinion.
The top of the Line 6 Catalyst 100 has all of your controls. To the far left you have the amp model knob that has an LED light that indicates the channel you are on. Next to that you have a “Boost” control, that acts as a kind of solo option. It does exactly what it says by boosting the signal and the gain at the same time. You have gain controls, and a full EQ section as well. The effects control buttons are to the far right next to the master volume.
The attenuator feature on the Line 6 Catalyst 100 is a feature that every amp should have! You can have it set to the half watt setting for playing at home, and it still has plenty of bottom end. The attenuator doesn’t affect the sound quality at all. So this is perfect for home playing as well as playing with a band. You just turn the dial to the wattage you want, and adjust the volume.
We will talk about how many effects you can have running at the same time later, but the effects controls is only two knobs. Above the knobs you have two LED buttons and a tap tempo. Technically you can control the effects from the Line 6 Catalyst 100 itself, but this was a huge pain in the ass for me. You have to hold down the tempo button until it flashes, but you also have your finger over it? More on this later!
Let’s get down to the important part: The tones!
Line 6 Catalyst 100: The Sounds
Line 6 have used the Helix technology to create 6 totally new amps that are unique and original for the Line 6 Catalyst 100, and the other amps in the series. Why they didn’t use the same sounds that were already available with the Helix is beyond me. It seems like it would have been easier to transpose the sounds Line 6 already has for the Catalyst, maybe? But these are all original, and you have some cool choices:
- High Gain
You have two channels, mind you. But many options for those two channels that are footswitch controlled. So if you use the two button footswitch, it will toggle between the two sounds that you want. At the core, it is a two channel amp with 6 different voice options. So you can have any combo: Two clean tones, one clean and one dirty…whatever you want it to do.
The Clean sound is very nice and has a good bit of high end to it. The midrange seems to be dialed down a little bit, but you can change this with a turn of the mid dial. It has a Fender Twin tone that is pretty versatile when it comes to reverbs and delays. The “plainness” of the clean channel was intentional, I believe. This is the perfect sound to use your own pedals with, like overdrive or distortion. You can color this channel any way you want. The gain control will not let this channel break up, which is very cool, only the boost will cause breakup on this setting.
The Boutique sound is a little beefier than the Clean setting, and by default it has a good bit of gain dialed in. But I found that if you turn down the gain on this channel, you have a great new clean option. It is a lot thicker sounding than the clean, and this is another good platform for pedals, or HX effects. Boutique amps are usually single channel, and the gain is controlled by volume, and this channel works like that. Turn the gain up for crunchy tones, and down for heavier cleans. With single coils, the sound really blooms in the low end. It is THICK.
Chime is another clean-like tone that does exactly what you expect. It mimics a lot of the qualities that a VOX AC15 would have, and with single coils, this sounds great. I dialed in a pretty good blues tone using my Schecter NJ HSS on the neck pickup, with the boost function engaged. With a little bit of reverb, this sounds great for arpeggiated chords. It really does the VOX thing well, and I like this better than the other clean tones. Turn the boost up more, and you get an amazing Brian May tone, think the solo from “Bohemian Rhapsody”. This is a rounder tone than the other two so far.
Crunch was closer to being high gain with the stock settings. But once you dial back the gain a little bit, it does the Marshall kind of crunch really well. Think AC/DC with this one, and it sounds great with a single coil or a humbucker. I really don’t know why Line 6 has the preset dialed in with so much gain, because it sounds better without it! I checked to see if the boost was on, and it wasn’t. So once you turn down the treble and gain, you have that Marshall crunch. Add reverb and you have a searing solo tone that will cut in the mix.
Dynamic is an interesting tone in a lot of ways and it does what it says; It responds to your playing dynamics. The gain knob has a lot of bearing over how this sound comes through, and so does your guitar’s volume knob and pick attack. With the gain at noon with boost engaged, it will definitely chug, but as you back off it gets closer to the Chime setting. This is a pretty neat setting that allows you to kind of craft your own sound. It does clean to high gain, and how you set it is up to you and the dynamics of your playing.
High Gain is of course my favorite channel by a mile. I used my Hellraiser with EMG pickups and a Sustainiac for this setting. I knew that the Line 6 Catalyst 100 would deliver with this setting, and it does. With the midrange turned down, you get that heavy Mesa Boogie scooped tone… and if you add in the midrange you get a Peavey 5150 tone. So this setting can be really versatile if you want. Cranked up, the high gain channel definitely pushes some air from the speaker, and it has good bass response.
The High Gain channel isn’t quite as tight as I would like it to be, and it can get really woof-y at higher volumes. You may have it dialed in nicely at low volumes, but when you crank it up you need to be aware of the bass and mid controls. In fact, this was a problem with all of the channels. The bass and midrange can change drastically with volume changes. Just something to be aware of, if you plan on playing live.
Without a doubt, the Line 6 Catalyst 100 has some great tones. At first, I was a little miffed that Helix patches were not used to create the presets. But after using these for a couple of hours, I can appreciate that Line 6 designed amp models specifically for this amp. They all work great, and I am really impressed with the Dynamic setting, because it has so much versatility, especially if you use your guitar’s volume knob on stage!
If you were worried about the tones, and how they would stack up to the Helix, then you can rest assured. The Line 6 Catalyst sounds are great, and I can see guitarists of all genres being able to use this for gigs. I am by no means a country guitarist, but you can get some twang with the Boutique setting. Line 6 knows how to do versatile sounds, and they have never been more focused sounds.
My problem with the Helix Series is all of the options. There are dozens of amp models that I would never use with the Helix, and the Line 6 Catalyst 100 is the perfect answer to this problem. Dialing in a tone is super easy with the 6 unique amp choices, and this is exactly what I know Line 6 is capable of when the company is focused. All of the tones are fantastic, and sound amazing for all kinds of genres. There are no weak links in any of the amp models, and that is pretty rare.
Line 6 Catalyst 100: Editing And Effects
Getting this Edit software is going to be almost necessary if you want to edit the sounds and effects. The first problem I ran into with this amp is trying to set up effects just using the knobs on the Line 6 Catalyst 100 itself. The problem is that you only have two knobs for effects control on the top. This means you have to hold down the “tempo” button to scroll through effects. This was such a huge pain in the ass for me, for a couple of reasons.
First, you have to hold down the button until it starts flashing, but your finger covers the button, so you have no idea how long you have to actually hold the button down. Once you do have it flashing, you use the amp model knob to scroll through the effects. I’m sorry, but this was a serious design overlook for Line 6. So if you want to dial in custom tones, you need to do it with the editor.
You do get quite a few effects, and they sound pretty great:
- Simple Delay
- Vintage Digital Delay
- Transistor Tape Echo Maestro® Echoplex EP-3
- Adriatic Delay
- Dual Delay
- Dynamic “Ducking” Delay
- PlastiChorus Arion ACH-Z Chorus
- Opto Trem Fender® Optical Tremolo
- Script Mod Phaser MXR® Phase 90
- Gray Flanger MXR 117 Flanger
- Ubiquitous Vibe Uni-Vibe®
- Rotary Leslie® 145
- Bass Octaver EBS® OctaBass
- Growler Synth
- Pitch Harmony
- Pitch Shift
- Tycoctavia Fuzz Tycobrahe® Octavia
- Synth String
- Hot Spring
The Line 6 Catalyst 100 is full of different effects, but getting to them was the problem for me. Luckily, I brought my laptop with me to try out the amp, along with my USB cable. If you are trying to program this from the amp panel, you will probably get frustrated like I did. You would need a copy of the list above in front of you to dial in the effect you want. But once I got the editor up, it was easy to scroll through the options.
Once you click on the effect that you are going to use, the parameters pop up on the bottom of the editor app. These are going to be different for every pedal, but they all have the same knobs that the real life pedal counterparts would have. So its easy to dial up a sound that you are familiar with if you use real pedals and have experience with them. If you don’t have experience, then just experiment until you get a cool sound!
The reverb options were my favorite part. These are classic Line 6 reverb effects that I have used for years. The two “space verb” options make your guitar absolutely sing, and it sounds like a synthesizer is following your lead lines. I have used this reverb on recordings a lot, and it sounds otherworldly! You have classic reverbs too, of course, and they all respond well.
All of the effects are great quality when it comes to the tones you can get. Now some of these effects work better in the “PRE” section, like all of the pitch effects. The pitch shifts seem to track a whole let better in front of the signal chain. The reverbs and delays sound much better with the “POST” option. This is just where the effect pedal would sit in the effects chain, in a real setting.
So when you are programming the Line 6 Catalyst 100, you need to keep in mind how your effects chain would be set up in real life. For example, the delay is going to be pretty crunchy if it is in front of the amp. Some people may dig that sound, but if you want the delay in stereo goodness, it needs to run in the “post” section. Everyone is different though, so experiment with the signal chain!
Some of these effects are unique to Line 6, like the String Synth effects, and most of the reverbs. These sound like their POD counterparts to me, and some are very usable, while others are just something that you will play with once and never touch again. But you have total control over each effect when you click on it, which is something you cannot do with the amp itself. The software is paramount if you plan on using effects with the Line 6 Catalyst 100.
The other thing that should be noted, is the noise gate is controlled with the editor app. So when you get the Line 6 Catalyst 100 right out of the box, the noise gate will not be engaged on the channels. Just pull up the app and put the threshold up to the level you need for the amount of gain you are using.
Line 6 Catalyst 100: A Few Gripes…
I have a few problems with the effects, and one of them is the amount that you can run at the same time. You can only run two at a time per channel, and this is going to seriously affect how many tones you can set up. I can’t use Pitch and Delay at the same time, for example. Modulation and delays sit on the same bank, and that is a huge problem for me. For some people, this will be fine. But it is a serious strike for me since my lead tone has chorus, delay, and reverb.
You have 3 cabs to choose from on the editor, and they definitely have an effect on the sound. The 4X12 makes the frequency thicker and more full than the 1X12 setting… sometimes. You cannot load your own IR into the Line 6 Catalyst 100, and I think that’s fine. You really don’t need an IR when you have the actual speaker right in front of you. So the cab option is pretty cool, and one of them will suit your needs. I left the Line 6 Catalyst 100 on the default cab setting for my demo.
Then you have the “Hum” and microphone options, and again Line 6…this is where you lose me. There are entirely too many microphone options and these can make a significant impact on your tone. Most of the options actually made the tone worse in my opinion. The “Hum’ feature is supposed to make it sound more like an “authentic amp” but I would never have this turned on with high gain tones. Even with the noise gate engaged, it sounds awful.
The bias controls are kind of superfluous as well. This works well with the high gain settings, but it can really mess with your clean channels. This is also a layover feature from the POD series, and the difference can be subtle at low volumes. But at high volumes you definitely notice the bias being hotter. This is another feature that I would just leave alone.
But this is all subjective, these things might not bother you.
Another problem I had when flipping through the editor was the volume of the different patches. It was all over the place, and one patch may be quiet, and the next will blow your head off. You can go through each patch and set the volume to where it is equalized properly, but the BOSS Katana was set up like this out of the box. Come on, Line 6, you can do better than this!
I am thinking that by the time the Line 6 Catalyst 100 is released, there may be an update or two to this editor feature. I hope that an update is coming at least. Because right now, there are some problems with the whole system. You could go into the editor and accidently make a change that results in disaster once you get to your gig. You can download the edit software on your phone, if you need it for the gig in a pinch.
So you need the editor for setting up patches on the Line 6 Catalyst 100, but then you have the common Line 6 problem: Too many options, and some options that really don’t matter. If the editor was more simplistic and focused on the tones and effects alone, this would be perfect. You can delete the whole section with cabs, mics, and bias in my opinion…if you’re listening to me, Line 6!
Finally, the Line 6 Catalyst 100 absolutely needs a dedicated footswitch. Line 6 needs to design a footswitch that will work with this amp to control all functions. The two button Line 6 footswitch will work in a bind, as it will control the channels and effects just fine for an “on/off” situation. But this amp has more features than older Line 6 amps, and a special footswitch would make this amp a monster for live gigs!
You can pre-order the Line 6 Catalyst 100 now! Shipping In March!
Many players want the versatility of a modern DSP-based amp while keeping the simplicity of traditional controls. The Line 6 Catalyst 100 is a 100-watt, dual-channel, 1x12 combo. The Catalyst 100 is ideal for everything from the practice room to medium-sized venues, as well as shining in the studio. Combining traditional controls with six original amps designed with their industry-leading HX system, Line 6 delivers the amp guitarists have been dreaming of.
Line 6 Catalyst 100: Final Thoughts…
The Line 6 Catalyst 100 is filling a gap that was missing in the catalog, and it is in direct competition with the Katana. Line 6 has focused fire on the Helix stuff for a long time now, and it is really nice to see Line 6 go back to the roots by making affordable gear. The Spyder amps are nice these days, but they use outdated tech. This is where Line 6 shines, with the HX series.
I think the tones that you get from the Line 6 Catalyst 100 are absolutely amazing. They are very close to being on par with the Helix sounds, and the fact that these tones were designed with the amp in mind makes them pretty special. The editor software is also where Line 6 shines, and it has been simplified here to be easy to dial in a tone. Much easier than the Helix!
While I think there were a few missteps with the Line 6 Catalyst 100, this is still a fantastic amp for the intermediate guitarist that wants to gig on a budget. This would also blow any practice amp out of the water in this price range for most guitarists. The catalyst is a great jam buddy with the aux input. Experienced guitarists that want to downsize would love this amp as well, since the sound quality is outstanding. The Line 6 Catalyst 100 isn’t a tube amp, but you don’t have to have a tube amp as a rule. There are no rules in guitar.
Finally, if you are just started to get into recording, the fact that the Line 6 Catalyst 100 can also act as a full interface is amazing. All you need is your computer, and a good DAW to record your ideas or jam sessions with backing tracks. This would also be great for people who stream on Instagram, or anyone that makes videos period. Dial in a tone, and hit record.
If you are a Line 6 purist, then there is finally an amp for you that doesn’t have the stigma of the Spyder series at all. This is the next level for Line 6, and with a little tweaking, this could be everything you need in one amp. If Line 6 addresses the little issues that I found with this demo model, then I think we have a 5 star amp on our hands.
Is it better than a BOSS Katana? Is it equal to the Katana? We will see over the weekend as I have more time with both, back to back with each other. Stay tuned for the most interesting “Versus” match in a long time!
When Does The Line 6 Catalyst Come Out?
The new catalyst series is already on the market for preorders! Line 6 says that amps will start shipping in the middle of March, and models will be available everywhere by April.
Can I use the HX Stomp with the Line 6 Catalyst 100?
You can use all HX products with the Catalyst amp. It features a power amp in, or an FX loop option. Both will work with Helix products seamlessly.
Can I gig with the Line 6 Catalyst 100?
Absolutely! 100 watts is more than enough to play in a band and gig with. Line 6 technology also reacts more like a tube amp, so the wattage is definitely powerful enough to play gigs.
Can I record with the Line 6 Catalyst 100?
You can use the Line 6 Catalyst 100 as an audio interface to record, no other hardware is needed! Just use the USB function straight into your computer.
Christoper HortonChristopher has been playing guitar, bass, and piano for 28 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. Chris has toured for years with several bands and music projects across the United States. He worked in Los Angeles as a studio musician and engineer working with many genres, but mainly Pop, Rock, and Metal. In between giving private lessons, he is usually recording under his various projects. Christopher plays Schecter Guitars, BOSS Amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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