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by Eric Kirkland
How do you hot-rod a digital amplifier when it has no tubes, point-to-pointwired circuits or handwound transformers? Line 6 has answered the question with the new HD147. Combining 300 watts of window-busting power, a mind-boggling array of ultraprecise digital models and a solidchrome chassis that recalls vintage Bugatti styling, the HD147 is one seriously souped-up high-performance machine.
Judging from the looks of this head, designers of midpriced amplifiers are finally starting to have fun with the aesthetics of their wares. The bright chrome chassis hints at the amp's amazing metal tones, while texture painted wood end caps and the flat-black faceplate complete the amp's high-end look. Protective screens behind the vent slots keep foreign objects and curious fingers at bay. As for the HD147's matching 4x12 cabinet, it's simply, and beautifully, basic black.
Fire It Up!
Flip the HD147's big on-off toggle switch and multicolored lights begin to swirl around the amp model knob and down the faceplate. Behind the chassis' screen mesh, two hidden black lights glow with an eerie purple iridescence that gives an appropriate suggestion of the ominous power lurking within the amp.
The HD147's 32 digital amp models are selected with the large rotary selector. Each of the knob's 16 positions has two settings: the first, indicated by an amber LED, activates the model listed on the control panel, while the second, indicated by a red LED, calls up a model (listed separately in the manual) from the same or a similar family of amps. Fourteen of the models are custom Line 6 cocktails, with namesÑSmash, Octone, Insane, Super SparkleÑthat reflect their basic character.
The remaining 18 amps cover the range from blackface to crunch classics, and they reflect a particular focus on the best in boutique high-gain amplification. As a gain freak, I was thrilled to find a dream lineup that includes the Bogner Uberschall and Ecstasy, the Mesa Rectifiers, the 5150 II, the Cornford MK50H, the Marshall Silver Jubilee and Diezel's VH4 and Herbert. Cabinet models are well represented in the HD147, even if the names of the sources remain anonymous. Pushing in the model knob and rotating it lets you select from 16 cab types that cover everything from the diminutive 2x2-inch Mini-Twin to the bellowing Recto 4x12.
The HF147's basic amplifier controls include drive, bass, mid, treble, presence, volume and reverb. Above these knobs are four channel buttons that allow you to access four of Line 6's factory settings or four of your own creation. Next to these are the modeling sections for the delay and modulation effects. Each features tiny, almost invisible, buttons with which you can select six classic delay types and six modulation effects. Each section has a single dial that simultaneously adjusts multiple parameters. More finite control is possible by holding the effect-select buttons while rotating the related knob.
Above these two sections are buttons to activate the tap tempo, noise gate and compressor. Finally, there is a master knob with which to set the amp's overall output. Back-panel features include multiple speaker outs, a headphone out, an input for the optional foot controller, MIDI connections, 1/4-inch effect loop jacks and stereo XLR outputs. A massive heatsink manages the power amp's immense 150-watts-per-side output.
Although many of the HD147's models and controls are not clearly labeled on the amplifier, I preferred the resultant clean look. Besides, I found myself relying on my ears to tell me what sounded good, rather than my preconceived ideals.
To reproduce the unique presence signatures of boutique high-gain amps, Line 6 engineers devoted a great deal of attention to the HD147's power section. The resulting extension of top-end frequencies not only enhanced the distorted sizzle but also gave new life to the Line 6's clean tones. In fact, the HD147 produced some of the most inspiring clean tones I've ever heard from a digital amp and closedback cabinet, providing unparalleled clarity, tubelike swell and an elastic feel. All of the high-gain models were just as amazing; standouts included the Marshall Silver Jubilee, Diezel Herbert and Bogner Uberschall. The HD147 actually captured the Diezel's complex EQ pattern and delivered a very convincing emulation of the Bogner's unique midrange focus and thick speaker-scorching distortion.
The Bottom Line
Line 6's engineers have outdone themselves with the HD147. Its European look is as unique and fun as its performance. Its clean tones push the envelope of digital technology with coliseum-filling headroom. And, the staggering list of high-gain models gives you access to the world's most coveted and hellish distortions. All that's left to say is, "Wow!"