Hands-On Review:Line 6 TonePort KB37
The perfect MIDI controller for recording guitarists
By Mark Dunaway
Okay, so let’s get this straight: You’re a guitarist, not a keyboard player. Nothing against those musicians who tickle the ivories—it’s just not how you get down. But still, you have to admit, every once in a while you record something on your computer that practically begs for a tasty little B-3 lick or a solid synth bass line for a little extra groovability. And sadly, there isn’t a keyboard or synth to be found anywhere in your place. That’s where the TonePort KB37 from Line 6 comes in. With it you don’t need a keyboard to get authentic-sounding organ licks on your songs. You can just set it up and use plug-ins or a synth suite like Reason to get the sounds you want right on your computer.
The KB37 is the fusion of a TonePort UX2—Line 6’s flagship USB recording interface with software modeling for great direct-recorded guitar tone—and a 37-key MIDI controller. Since it has the full recording capabilities of a UX2, you can record and play MIDI parts on your computer with one interface. Each KB37 comes with Line 6’s GearBox modeling software for signal processing. Its packed with Line 6 amp, cabinet, effects, and vocal preamp models that make it ultra-easy to make professional-sounding recordings with killer guitar tones on your computer.
Like the Tone Port UX2, the KB37 gives you two XLR inputs with phantom power to use with condenser mics and a Hi-Z guitar/bass input with a pad switch for handling high-output and active pickups. There’s also a set of stereo line inputs for handling things like mixers, keyboards, samplers, and drum machines. It connects to your computer via USB, and provides S/PDIF, line-level TRS, and headphone outs.
Once you get the signal into the unit, GearBox gives you a choice of 18 guitar amp and 24 cab models from the PODXT, five bass amp models from the Bass PODXT, and 30 stompbox and studio effects—nothing less than what you’d expect from Line 6. Also included are six microphone preamp models that are high-end re-creations of studio-standard vintage and modern preamps used in pro studios every day.
The KB37 has the same dual footswitch jacks as the UX2 for control of GearBox functions like effect on/off, tone select, and tap tempo that can also be assigned to control your MIDI or recording software for functions like start/stop, punch in/out, or as a sustain pedal for the keyboard. You also get assignable VU meters for monitoring your recording levels. And the KB37 features the same high-quality 16- or 24-bit conversion quality with selectable 44.1/48/96kHz recording as the UX2.
All that is what’s the same. What’s new on the KB37 is a 37-note, full-sized synth-action keyboard; pitch and mod wheels; and assignable transport controls for GearBox, MIDI, or recording software. The KB37 also gives you an expression pedal input you can use to control wah/volume in GearBox or as another MIDI parameter control for manually opening the sawtooth filter on a synth, for example.
So how about that keyboard? It felt solid—I’d throw it in a gig bag—and the synth action felt good, too. Synth action means it will play like an organ, not a piano. Since there isn’t very much resistance, you can play that much quicker. It has velocity sensitivity, though, so the harder you hit it, the more attack you get—sort of like when you hit your guitar harder to get a little extra drive out your tube amp or overdrive pedal.
Tone Direct monitoring
One benefit of using the KB37 Line 6 TonePort interface to record is the nearly latency-free Tone Direct monitoring. Line 6 uses some very slick technology to allow you to listen to your playing with full processing at nearly zero latency. By keeping the processing at the driver level, it avoids the inevitable slowdown of winding its way through an entire cycle inside your computer’s processor. The result is powerful Line 6 tone without hiccups or delays.
GearBox is the real tonal muscle behind the KB37, as well as the UX1 and UX2. But it does more than just provide the models you use to make your recordings sound great. It also provides a cool hardware-like interface for signal routing and applying Line 6’s collection of first-class models. The interface presents you with different skins for each model with knobs and buttons that mimic the modeled gear as well as easy-to-use menus for selecting models and functions.
There’s great news for new Apple computer users with this release. Previously only compatible with Windows PCs and PowerPC Macs, GearBox is now Intel Mac compatible as well. Matched up with all of Garageband’s piano, keyboard, and organ sounds, the KB37 gave me a super easy-to-use song production station on my Mac, combining MIDI control for virtual instruments with killer Line 6 tone for all of my recorded audio.
While it might initially seem odd that Line 6 would dabble in MIDI controllers, it really makes perfect sense. They’re distributing Propellerhead’s REASON software in the U.S. now, and they’ve developed a really strong presence in the L.A. studio world where MIDI is ubiquitous. Add those two factors together with the desire of guitarists to record more and more professional-sounding tracks by themselves and the KB37 is the natural sum.
Features & Specs:
- 18 guitar and 5 bass amp/cab models
- 30 stompbox and studio effects
- 6 high-end studio microphone preamp models
- 2 mic inputs with +48V phantom power
- Guitar/bass input with pad switch
- Stereo line inputs
- S/PDIF digital out
- TRS line outputs
- Monitor out
- Headphone output
- Assignable VU meters
- Tone Direct™ monitoring
- 16/24-bit recording at 44.1/48/96kHz
- Mac and PC compatible
- 37-note full-sized velocity-sensitive keyboard
- Pitch/mod wheels
- Assignable transport controls
- Expression pedal input
- Dual footswitch jacks
- 4 assignable knobs and buttons