Price paid: A$ 500
Purchased from: Music Junction Camberwell
Features — 10
The Boss is a solid state amp with 5 channels, an effects loop, DI and headphone out, three power settings down to 0.5 W. Stunningly great sounding onboard effects. It is light and compact and has a tilt feature for better projection. It has very little hiss compared to most amps I have heard and a very nice sounding acoustic setting where it sounds like a proper acoustic amp. It does not have tweeters but the speaker has sufficient range that this is not really a problem. My Maton Mini sounded awesome through the amp.
Sound — 10
The Boss has the same organic tone that my old amp the Marshall DSL40c has but it is easier to dial in and does not have any sounds that are unbalanced. On the Marshall there is a huge difference in EQ between the Crunch and the Lead channel. One is warm and the other is trebly. The Boss is very consistent and a steady progression from clean through to crunch, lead and then brown. The clean has a bit more headroom than the Marshall. The Crunch, Lead and Brown cover a bit more sonic territory than the Marshall does by getting into modern metal territory earlier easily. Surprisingly the Boss is very sensitive to picking dynamics and to turning down the volume on the guitar, even more so, albeit by a narrow margin, than the Marshall. I would have settled for it being in the same ball park but was not prepared for it being better than the Marshall.
Interestingly the Boss has none of the digital artefacts some modelling amps are notorious for. Its sustaining notes decay naturally and very musically just like the Marshall. Where the Marshall wins is by having a deeper and more thundering bass. This is quite noticeable but ultimately was not able to make me keep it. Remember it was the bass that was making it difficult to practice quietly. I'm not sure how it would be on a stage but I can tell you that the Boss is quite a bit louder.
Now the Marshall is an extremely loud 40W amp and you would expect, according to conventional wisdom, that it should be equivalent to 100W or more of solid state amp. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the Boss is significantly louder than the Marshall. On the Marshall I have managed to turn it up to half way in the full power mode (pentode mode) and standing at the end of the 2m cable it was all I could tolerate. On the Boss at full power mode I could only turn it up to about 1/3rd of the way on the dial before I could not stand it any longer and the guitar was feeding back like crazy. I know this is not scientific but I am quite certain a full test at stage volume would prove me right.
What is really great is that like the Marshall the Boss is obviously designed for very high volumes because the sound actually improved and the speaker did not in any way show any signs of flubbing out or of any cabin resonance. The only thing that resonated was everything in the room.
Reliability & Durability — 10
It's apparently made in the same Roland factory as the Roland cube. It is solid state and has no tubes that can break or come loose. I expect it to be a as bullet proof as any Roland product and they certainly have an impressive reputation as the manufacturers of the toughest equipment. I expected that because of the low cost Roland might have cut some corners so I looked over the amp very carefully and with a skeptical eye. The amp construction looks very solid and the knobs feel typical Roland so no issues whatsoever.
Overall Impression — 10
I was a bit of a tube snob and had over the years bought and sold lots of tube amps and some solid state and had reached a point where I was quite satisfied. That is until the Boss Katana came along. I sold two awesome tube amps, a Marshall DSL40c and a Vox Nighttrain 15 G2 and an old Vox Valvetronix VT40+ I also sold three pedals, a Zoom PD01, an EHX Soul Food and a TC Electronic HOF and then I bought two Boss Katana 100, one for me and one for my son.
The Vox Night train was an easy amp to replace. While for a Vox it is is a very versatile amp, it is not versatile in absolute terms. It has one of the most lush clean sounds in the world and some of the most distinctive at the edge of breakup sounds but it cannot do metal and hard rock and it has a tone that is very distinctive. It really needs a pedal such as a Soul Food or even an SD1 to get it to be more versatile. It also is not very good at sounding truly dynamic at low volume. Its not bad at low volumes but also not sensational.
The Vox VT40+ was also easy to say good bye to. Its only purpose was to provide extremely low volume tones that was reasonably authentic. The Boss Katana does that a million times better so no tears shed there.
The Marshall was harder to say good bye to. It was a stunning amp with a blood curdling tone, thumping and deep bass and personality oozing out of its grilles. It was just a tad temperamental and sometimes would just not sound that good. It was also not the best amp to play very quietly. Even at its lowest quietest setting it would resonate through the wall into the adjoining room.
It had some really great tones but also some that were quite sharp and harsh that had to be dialled back. Its reverb was also quite weak but in all it was a truly great amp.
I used to own a Roland Cube 80XL. That amp was in its own rights a very nice sounding amp with some great effects. If it hadn’t been for a few of the effects that were not so nice I might have kept it and sold the Marshall earlier. The Boss Katana has no such problem. It does not try to emulate any other amp and so there is never a question of how well it emulates something. I did speak to a Boss representative who told me that it was not in the traditional sense of the word a modelling amp (it doesn't use COSM) like the Cube series but rather an analogue amp with several preamp stages representing Clean, Crunch, Lead and Brown sounds. This is supplemented with digital signal processing to emulate how a tube amp sounds. The preamp stage is apparently also designed to act under load exactly like a tube amp. I didn’t quite understand from the description but can vouch for its effectiveness.
My thoughts have a few times turned to its price. The amps cost me just under A$500. This is under what the outgoing Roland 80GX would have cost. I have not found any place on the amp that feels like cost has been taken out or corners cut. It is also apparently made in the same factory that the Cubes were so I cannot understand why it is so cheap but I have a theory and its related to the name and branding change. Roland seems to try to move its guitar amps to the Boss name consistent with its pedals and multi-effects units. By sacrificing a bit of profit margin they have guaranteed that these amps will make a huge splash in the amp market thus ensuring that the name change is well received and recognised. I guess another way of looking at it is that this amp is actually reasonably priced, it is other amps that are too expensive, some ridiculously so. For instance a Blackstar ID60 is now around A$1300 retail and selling for A$899 and its definitely not as good as the Boss nor is it quite as versatile. Then there is the Orange Crush Pro 60c at A$999 with a street price of A$800. It’s a stunning amp and equal but definitely not better than the Boss and considerably less versatile. A Yamaha THR10 is $379 street and around $500 retail and that is more expensive than the Boss Katana 50. While I like the little tin can lunch box Yamaha its not worth more than the Boss in fact it should be priced around $150 less. Both can be played at whisper quiet volumes and both will sound equally nice at that volume but then in the Boss you have a great amp, in the Yamaha it very quickly shows itself as a nice toy in comparison. I could go on but you get the picture. My prediction is that come this time next year many competing amps will magically reduce in price or go out of production.