It can be very frustrating as a guitarist constantly having to watch for cables. If only someone could make an amp that can be used completely wirelessly. Well, now someone has. In this Boss Katana Air review we’ll take a look at the innovative Katana Air. It’s definitely packed full of features, but does it live up to the quality of it’s relatives in the Katana series?
Overview of Boss Katana Air
The Air is a diversification in Boss’ popular Katana series. It boasts the capability to be completely wireless thanks to it’s wireless input and ability to be powered by batteries. But there’s more to this amp than just convenience.
Let’s start with the basics. The Air can be powered by either 8 AA batteries or the included power supply. You’ll get around 10 hours of life from decent alkaline batteries. Here’s a quirk. you get 30 watts of power if you’re using the power adapter, but only 20 watts when powering the Air via batteries.
The power output is interesting. It’s sort of a practice amp, but sort of not a practice amp. At 30 watts output you could definitely play in a small venue. If pushed I think I’d label this as a practice amp, with a little more muscle.
The sound is produced by 2 x 7.5cm (3 inch) speakers. That means you get stereo sound. The amp is compact, weighing just under 5 pounds (2.2kg) and will happily sit on a side table.
Although small, the Air retains the main features of it’s bigger brothers, the Katana 50 and 100. This includes in-built effects, memory banks, 5 amp styles and the ability to configure settings via an app. There’s 3 band EQ control, which is great to see on a smaller amp and contributes to the Air’s versatility.
The Air comes with a radio transmitter that plugs into your guitar jack input, allowing you to ditch the cables. You’ll get about 12 hours of play time from the transmitter before you’ll need to recharge. You can recharge either by plugging the transmitter into the 1/4 inch jack input on the amp, or via USB.
There’s super low latency, meaning there’s no delay between input from your guitar and output from the amp, something that can be a problem with wireless transmitters.
The LED indicator will tell you when you’re connected to the amp and will also let you know when the battery is running low. The only problem with the transmitter is that it’s a little bulky. Dependent on where your input jack is on your guitar, it might slightly get in the way. That said, it fits perfectly into my Strat and doesn’t get in the way at all.
Another innovation is power. The Air can be set to standby where the amp is effectively off. The transmitter has a sensor to detect movement so when plugged into your guitar if you pick up your guitar the amp will turn on. It’ll also switch to standby automatically if it doesn’t detect movement for about a minute. It’s another feature that makes the Air super convenient to use.
The Air has Bluetooth connectivity allowing you to connect your phone wirelessly. That’ll allow you to play music via the Air in stereo. You can also then play backing tracks to play along with without being constrained by cables. The Air has a master volume control knob, which helps to balance the music playing from your phone and the input of your guitar, another basic yet useful feature.
You can also distinguish between two Bluetooth settings, one allowing you to play audio and the other to control amp settings remotely. A handy LED will let you know when the Bluetooth connection is active and tell you when the amp is pairing.
Let’s talk about the amp types that come included with the Air:
- Acoustic: Pure channel that supports an electro-acoustic guitar
- Clean: Use this will higher boost for solo / lead style
- Crunch: A distinctly fat sound
- Lead: Versatile tones when used in conjunction with the gain knob
- Brown: Capable of higher gain lead types
Broadly the types move from ultra-clean to high-end distortion. However there’s so much flexibility to shape tones via the gain and EQ control knobs. It’s perfectly capable of creating high gain metal tones. The clean channel sounds very good too. A separate volume control knob enables to you control the output of the instrument channel.
The Air has some Boss quality in-built effects. You control the level, that is how intense the effect, using control knobs. As standard each effect has three modes. The button underneath each control knob defined which effect is in use. By default the effects are:
- Green – Blues Drive
- Red – Overdrive
- Orange – Distortion
- Green – Chorus
- Red – Flanger
- Orange – Phaser
- Green – Digital Delay
- Red – Analog Delay
- Orange – Tape Echo
- Green – Tremelo
- Red – T.Wah
- Orange – Octave
- Green – Plate Reverb
- Red – Spring Reverb
- Orange – Hall Reverb
The reverb / delay also benefits from a tap button, which is located under the master volume control knob. Tap this more than once to set the tempo of the delay / reverb. One of the great things about the Air is the app support. If you’re not happy with the effects, you can access dozens more and send them to your amp with just a few taps. You can also overwrite the defaults by holding down the button. It’ll then overwrite with the current settings.
There are two channels, A and B, each that have three banks. You access each bank by pressing the respective button, which will then be lit green, red or orange accordingly. You can store your current setting by long pressing. You can also assign pre-built patches using the app. One practical problem here is that the Air doesn’t support a footswitch, so you’ll need to switch between your stored tones by pressing the button.
If you want to expand your horizons further, the Air will happily accommodate a pedal board without complaining. Of course you’d then need to revert to using cables and patch leads, but the choice is there if you want to use your compact pedals.
There’s an AUX in jack if you’d prefer to connect an external device using a cable rather than Bluetooth. A miniature Phones/Rec out jack enables to connect to a set of headphones or to a recording device. When this jack is connected the speaker is automatically muted, good for “silent” practice.
The Boss Tone Studio App is really cool and lets you control the amp’s settings in much finer detail. From here you can access over 50 different types of effect and send them to the amp. You can also access a tuner from within the app. The tuner has everything you’d expect of a of a physical tuner including pitch select, but is handily available on your phone. Another small feature that adds to the convenience of the Air.
Now, thinking about who the Air might be suited to. It’s not one for a gigging musician because there’s not enough power output. So, really it’s a practice amp. Although it has the quality of the Katana series and is probably the most feature loaded practice amp available, it’s eye wateringly expensive at around $450. You can get a Katana 50 for over $100 less or a Katana 50 for $200 less.
Although the Air has a dedicated Acoustic amp style, it’d be a bit silly to pay the premium price if you’re using it only to plug in your acoustic. You’d be much better off going for a dedicated acoustic amp to get the best bang for your buck.
It’s pretty clear that you’re paying for the convenience. Now, there’s no doubt that it is a very convenient amp. You might want the features of the Katana 50 or 100 but aren’t worried about having trouser shaking power. Or you simply might not have room for one of the Air’s bigger brothers. If that’s the case, and you don’t mind spending a little extra, the Air is probably the best compact practice amp you can buy.
The Air has many plus points. If we ignore the price then the list of pros could get very long indeed. Here are the best bits:
- Super Convenient Wireless System
- Jammed Full of Features
- Compact Design – Great for Portability
The Air does have a few drawbacks. The obvious one is that it’s very expensive. However there are a few other things that could be improved:
- Very expensive
- Not good for other instruments
- No footswitch support
The Katana Air aims to be convenient and it does it well. Low latency wireless connection, auto-standby and motion detection sensors make picking up your guitar literally just that. No messing around with cables or flicking a power switch.
The Air retains the features of it’s bigger brothers in the Katana series and doesn’t scale back on quality. They’ve had to rely on the app to enable users to really fine tune settings due to the limited real estate on the top panel, but it’s all there non-the-less.
It’ll work in a smaller, quieter venue for playing live. Anything bigger and the output is likely to get drowned out. It sounds good at low volumes, reinforcing that it’s a practice amp at heart. It’s compact design makes it a good choice for those who are short on space, but want the full Katana experience. That’s the main difference between this and the Katana Mini. Sure you get more power with the Air, but the Mini also only gives you a “diet” Katana experience, lacking some of the key features of it’s siblings.
Although there’s support for acoustic guitars, I wouldn’t buy this just for the acoustic amp style. You’d be better of getting a dedicated acoustic amp. However if you’re going to use the amp to plug in your electric and use an acoustic too then you’ll be able to take advantage of all of the Air’s features.
The Air is the best compact amp in terms of features and of course for it’s convenience. The big drawback is the price. You can get the Katana 50 or 100 for less than you’ll pay for the Air. However, if you want the full Katana experience but are short on room and don’t need to use it to play live then you can’t go wrong with the Air.
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