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January 2010
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Line 6 Spider IV 150

Modelling guitar amp

Published in PM January 2010
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Reviews : Guitar: Amplification
Line 6 launch their most advanced Spider amplifier to date, but will its amp modelling and effects section appeal to serious players?
Paul White
The Spider IV 150 has two power amps on-board — one for each speaker —offering real, if somewhat narrow, stereo effects.
The Spider IV 150 has two power amps on-board — one for each speaker —offering real, if somewhat narrow, stereo effects.
The Spider range of amplifiers from US company, Line 6, has proven to be extremely popular, in part because it gives the user access to Line 6 amp and effect modelling, while retaining the immediacy and usability of a traditional amplifier. Today the Spider IV 150 sits at the top of the range in both power and features. It offers 16 amp emulations using the latest generation of Line 6 amp-modelling technology and comes with over 500 presets (300 of which were designed by name players) to allow users to explore its capabilities before programming up to 64 of their own sounds. The remaining 200 presets are based on the guitar sounds of classic songs, all arranged by decade.
A pair of 12-inch Celestion speakers powered from two separate amplifiers allows the amp to reproduce stereo effects. Four of the 20 available effects may be used at the same time, one of which is always reverb, with a Tap Tempo button for setting delay times and other effect speeds if you don’t want to get into deeper editing.
Newly added effects on this model include intelligent harmony and straightforward loop recording with a 14-second maximum recording time. Traditional wah-wah is also available when controlled by an optional FBV floor unit, otherwise there’s Auto Wah. With its built-in tuner and compatibility with the latest FBV Floorboard controllers, no additional stomp boxes are required to create a vast spectrum of sounds, though if you do prefer to use your own pedals the amp won’t mind. The Spider IV 150 is compatible with the Line 6 FBV Express MkII, which controls channel switching, tap tempo, wah, volume control and the onboard tuner, which shows up in the LCD window when active. You can also use the Line 6 FBV Shortboard MkII, which has the further capability of accessing the additional user memories and presets. The Spider IV 150 is also compatible with the original FBV series controllers.
First look
Line 6’s flagship FBV floor controller offers the most comprehensive real-time control over the Spider IV’s parameters...
Line 6’s flagship FBV floor controller offers the most comprehensive real-time control over the Spider IV’s parameters...
Outwardly, the amp follows the traditional open-back combo paradigm, measuring 698 x 546 x 279mm, with a slightly sloped control panel giving good visibility from both seated and standing playing positions. There’s a single carry handle on the top for hefting the 24kg combo; I suspect the cabinet is built from some type of particle board, rather than lighter and more costly ply, but it is very nicely finished in black vinyl, with a tasteful black woven grille and chunky corner protectors. Behind the panel, all the amp modelling and effect generation is digital with a pair of solid-state power amplifiers driving the two speakers.
At first glance, the Spider IV 150’s control section looks much like that of a traditional amp, though the LCD readout, Presets knob and four-way cursor pad give the game away on closer inspection. To the left of the panel is the input jack and amp-model selector, which goes all the way from Clean to Insane via degrees of Blues, Crunch and Metal, covering eight amp types with two variations of each, signified by the colour (red or green) of the adjacent LED. The amp-selector knob is not detented, which is slightly unnerving.
Next we have the more conventional amp controls comprising Drive, Bass, Mid and Treble knobs plus a Channel Volume knob. A button labelled ‘Manual’ sits above the controls and, when active, the amp settings are determined by the current control positions, as you’d expect from any non-programmable amp. When not in manual mode, the controls still operate, but if you recall a new patch or preset, then the physical position of the knobs will not reflect the settings used in that preset.
The 64 user memories are arranged as 16 banks of four and the current bank is accessed using the four channel buttons on top of the amp, which allow instant access to four different amp sounds without the user having to scroll through memories. Saving to a different bank involves holding down a channel button, then finding the required location using the LCD and its navigation controls. Saving changes to the same user location simply requires the channel button to be held down for a few seconds.
In the effects section, reverb has its own dedicated control and is always available, while the remaining effects are controlled by just three knobs. The first is dedicated to pitch effects, the second to modulation effects and the third to delays. Each Smart Effect knob position offers two alternative effect types selected via the Presets knob next to the LCD, which is how so many effects types are accessed using so few controls. As you move the knob towards the clockwise end of the segment, the effect becomes stronger, with multiple parameters being adjusted ‘under the hood’. This, plus the Tap Tempo knob, is all the adjustment that is needed in many cases, though this incarnation of the Spider allows deeper editing, when required, as well as allowing relevant effects to be placed pre or post the amp modelling. These adjustments are done using the LCD and its navigation controls to access the parameters you might find on a typical pedal unit. The option to go a little deeper when setting up the effects is, I feel, a significant improvement without over-complicating the sound creation process.
A Master volume knob finishes off the more conventional controls (this setting is not stored as part of a preset) and this sits below the Quick Loop button, which activates the amp’s loop record function. The two-line LCD window is located alongside the cursor disc and the Presets knob, which has a built-in push-switch used to change banks or to enter and exit edit modes.
Rear-panel connections include a quarter-inch, speaker-emulated headphone out that can also be used as a DI feed (this mutes the speakers when connected), a stereo mini-jack for connecting MP3 players, CD players and suchlike, and an FBV floor controller socket, which uses a standard Ethernet cable. My preference would be for a switch option to allow the phones/DI output to either mute or not mute the internal speakers as, for stage use, you might reasonably want to hear the amp while also taking a DI feed to the PA. External audio sources also need their own output level control. Speaker outputs are fitted to allow a pair of 8Ω cabinets to be connected, and these don’t mute the internal speakers.
Operation
...but even the FBV Express board gives you a lot of control.
...but even the FBV Express board gives you a lot of control.
Drive operates conventionally by adding more dirt to the sound, while the tone controls change character to emulate the amp model selected, though there’s no presence control, even when the amp being modelled would normally have one. Once you’ve adjusted a sound, it can be saved directly into one of the channel memories by pressing and holding the desired channel button for a few seconds, or you can use the LCD menus to store it to a specific new location.
The leftmost Smart Effect knob selects and adjusts Gain (Fuzz Pi-style distortion), Auto or Pitch, while knob B selects from Chorus, Phaser or Tremolo. Knob C selects the delay type as either Digital Delay, Tape Echo or Sweep Echo, the latter including a filter-sweep echo effect. Switching to the second effects choice using the Presets knob gives an alternative of a ‘Red Compressor’ for gain and auto swell, instead of auto wah. Smart Harmony replaces the usual Pitch Glide mode, while you get Flanger, U-Vibe or Bias Trem instead of Opto Trem in the mode section. In the delay section there are further options of Analogue Delay, Multi-head Delay or Reverse. As I pointed out earlier, this system no longer excludes tweakers, though you can still use the effects in original ‘basic’ Spider mode if you like. The effects are well designed and tend to sound pretty much on the money, though I’d have preferred a Tube Screamer-type overdrive rather than the somewhat aggressive fuzz provided. There’s also a boost setting that can be brought in using a footswitch, and all the presets can have a gate in the signal chain to reduce amp noise, which is particularly useful at high gain settings.
The display window shows the active effect type for a few seconds after an effect knob is moved, and the Tap LED flashes corresponding to the current delay time. Tap may be used to set modulation rates, if enabled in the effect-edit menus. However, rates, times, mix balance and effect depth may also be set using the Presets knob. Reverb actually accesses two reverb types, again selected using the Preset knob, and you can choose between Lux Spring and Vintage Plate. These may be edited for tonality and decay time via the LCD menus.
Quick Loop lets you record a phrase or section, up to 14 seconds in length, and then overdub new parts over it. Pressing Quick Loop arms the looper, after which the Tap button is used to start and end the recording. Tap is also used to stop playback and, when a previously recorded loop is playing, holding and then releasing Tap sets the overdub start point. Pressing Tap again ends the overdub and starts playback, while pressing Tap again stops playback. Clearly this is only really practical when you have footswitch control over Tap. Pressing and holding Tap for three seconds clears the loop memory.
When the FX1 knob is in the Pitch position, the Pitch Glide effect is selected and you can use the Preset knob to select the interval between one octave up and two octaves down, with all the musically meaningful chromatic steps in between — but sadly there’s no subtle detune option, which is the only pitch effect I ever use. Connecting an FBV pedal allows whammy-style pitch glides to be performed in real time with separate adjustment for heel and toe position pitch-shift values, otherwise you can only set up parallel harmonies or octaves.
While fixed-interval pitch-shifting holds no real mystery, the intelligent pitch-shifter needs to know both the pitch of the input note and the music scale to which it needs to be harmonised, so it can only deal with single-note melody lines, not chords. Smart Harmony initially defaults to E major and a new key can be selected using the Presets knob and up/down arrows to step through the parameters relating to the effect. Subsequent cursor presses brings you to the interval and scale types menu, where the Presets knob can be used to change the values. This same menu navigation technique used to edit the other effects is pretty intuitive. A scale harmony chart is available in the advanced manual, which appears only to be available on-line; the basic manual that comes with the amp is a single folded sheet in multiple languages, and it really does only cover the essentials to get you started. The mix level of the original and pitch-shifted sounds can be adjusted and, subjectively, the pitch-shift holds up well against competing products, which is to say that it exhibits a slight shimmer, but when mixed with the original pitch it sounds reasonably convincing.
Select sounds
If you’ve played through an earlier Spider amp, you’ll probably have some idea of what to expect, though some of the amp models employed here seem a bit more musical to my ears and the effects definitely benefit from the extra adjustment possibilities. About a third of the amp models are directed towards high-gain sounds suitable for hard rock or shredding, and these work predictably well with plenty of character and grunt. It’s difficult to say exactly how close they get to the amps they’re modelled on but the essential tonal leanings are there, while the new Celestion speakers lend a nice organic tonality. Wind it up and you get a nice low-end grunt combined with a biting upper mid that squeals with harmonic delight!
Moving down the filth scale, the Class-A Blues and Crunch selections handle those elusive on-the-edge tones pretty well, without straying into grittiness, and get pretty close to what I hear from my own Vox AD and VT series amplifiers. I can certainly work up a sound that I’d be happy to gig with, though I invariably find myself drifting back to the AC Top Boost Class A model. I think the Spider IV 150 does better on some of the other cleaner amp models than many of its competitors — even the Twang model breaks up smoothly and believably when pushed hard. In fact, the more you work on your own sounds and the more you ignore the often over-the-top presets, the better the amp sounds, and my guess is that it might even sway the heads of a few serious tube-amp die-hards. Being picky, the dynamic range feels a bit compressed so that digging into a sound makes it dirtier, but not that much louder. Depending on the type of player you are, this could be perceived either as a benefit or a negative.
As to the effects, I felt the Lux Spring got very close to the real thing with a convincing twang, and it was nice to be able to edit the sound to brighten it up. It can get a bit messy if you lay it on thickly with too much low end, however. The Plate option is inherently cleaner sounding and I also enjoyed using it in situations where I’d normally have settled for a spring. I have no quibbles over the mod effects, where the flanger can go from whooshy to watery, and it isn’t bad for faking rotary speaker sounds either. The chorus can also be set anywhere between a gentle undulation and a detuned swirl with a plausible analogue-like fluidity. I liked the phaser because it can be adjusted to sound quite subtle — all too often modelled phasers just seem too intrusive, regardless of what you adjust, but this one works fine. The Univibe model is a good alternative too and, like many of the other effects, appears to be based on the effects you’d find in a POD. The choice of two flavours of tremolo is a bit of luxury, but I’m not complaining.
The delay section is pretty generous in its offerings and the tape echo is usually my first choice with its coloration and emulated wow and flutter. The digital delay option is clean and sparkly while the analogue delay model comes across as dark and mushy, just like the real thing. There’s also that multi-tap delay for Shadows fans! I’m also pleased that Reverse is included as it can work well for the odd psychedelic solo if used sparingly.
When it comes to pitch-shifting effects, I have to confess that I’m not really a fan of the sound (other than for gentle detuning), which to me always seems too electronic and synthetic, but the ones on offer here work as well as most. The harmony feature tracks single note playing very solidly, even if the playing is a bit messy, and there’s a good choice of scale types and intervals. As many of their competitors are now including pitch-shifting and loop recording, Line 6 had to follow suit. I’m mildly surprised that they didn’t also add a Variax input, though, as the ability to include the Variax settings as part of a patch is of great practical benefit during live performance.
Summing up
The use of Celestion speakers and the addition of deeper effect editing has made the Spider IV 150 a much more serious proposition than previous Spider models, even though Line 6 have once again managed to model the weight of a traditional amplifier! This amp can play very loudly and, though the speakers are rather too closely spaced to produce much of a stereo effect, the effects still sound more spacious than they would in mono and there is the option to add extension speakers if you need a more dramatic stereo sound on stage.
While there are some players who will never accept modelling because of its compressed dynamics and playing feel, this amplifier does manage to recreate a warm, organic quality that makes you want to keep on playing through it. However, you will need to tweak the tones to suit your own guitar and playing styles. I’ve never heard an amplifier with presets that I’d actually use just as they come and this one is no different. To me, many of the presets sounded over-processed, but then it’s a simple matter to tame them and re-save them.
To sum up, the Spider IV 150 is a practical and affordable proposition for the gigging guitarist who wants fast access to specific amp sounds and effects setups without having to use additional pedals. However, one of the FBV floorboard units is pretty much essential if you need to change sounds during a song. It is capable of recreating most amp sounds with a surprising degree of authenticity, so whether it works for you or not may be more a matter of how it ‘feels’ than how it sounds. As for me, I liked pretty much everything about it apart from the weight, but then it is a powerful 2 x 12 combo!  0

Published in PM January 2010
Spider IV 150 £433
A stereo 150W combo with all the effects and amp models you could wish for, at a cost below that of many effects units. To make the most of the Spider IV 150, budget for one of the FBV floor controllers to go with it.
information
Line 6
+44 (0)1327 302700
Tech Spec
Spider IV 150
300+ factory presets.
Four channels, 64 user-created presets.
20 Smart FX (up to four at once).
Quick Loop 14-second looper.
Tap tempo.
Bass, Mid and Treble knobs.
Drive knob.
Channel volume.
Master volume.
150 Watts (stereo).
Two 12-inch custom Celestion speaker.
Built-in tuner.
Quarter-inch guitar input.
Quarter-inch headphone out/direct out.
3.5mm CD/MP3 input.
FBV foot controller input.
Dimensions (WDH): 698 x 279 x 546mm.
Weight: 24kg.