The tube vs. transistor amp debate is one where guitarists and gear heads alike often draw a line in the sand. Some swear by the warm, glowing, tone achieved by vacuum tubes. Others champion the modern technology of transistor amps for their versatility, portability, and forward-thinking designs. This week on TPS, Dan & Mick undertook part one of a series where they revisit the age old question of tube vs. transistors. The goal, however, was not to identify a winner. Rather, it was to see how the nature of the debate has changed in view of some very recent gear. The main item on the docket this week was the Boss Nextone Artist.
Boss’s New Take on Transistor Tech
Building on the major success of the Boss Katana range and reimagined Roland JC series, Boss recently announced a new breed of transistor based amps that go further by thinking differently. The Nextone Studio and Artist achieve four distinct voicings typically associated with different tube preamp structures using TubeLogic. On the top panel of the amp you’ll find a selector between four of the main tube typologies associated with classic amp sounds. As Mick summarized, these are 6V6, 6L6, EL84, and EL34, which are valve types most commonly associated with amps like the Fender Deluxe Reverb, Fender Twin Reverb, Vox AC15/30, and Marshall amps, respectively. Dan added, “the 6V6 and 6L6 are commonly associated with ‘American’ sounds, while the EL83 and EL34 are commonly associated with ‘British’ sounds.”
The Nextone, however, is not a modeler. Mick continued, “it uses four separate, analog output stages to offer different types of valve-like output character.” If top panel tweaking isn’t enough for you, the Nextone offers endless amp, EQ, and tone engineering in an editor program to find your own custom sound.
With all those amps structures on hand, how does the Boss Nextone sound and feel?
The Sonic Landscape of the Boss Nextone Artist
Dan & Mick experimented with two main settings on the Boss Nextone Artist, the EL84 and 6V6.
When set alongside the Vox AC15, Mick commented that the Nextone is “clearly not the same, but certainly in terms of a nice wirey drive character,” the two amps were in the same ballpark. Dan noted a different feel and experience of that iconic Vox chime on the top end which is tough to come by outside of that EL84 tube circuit design. In the end, Mick reminded us that the goal was not to see if the Nextone sounds exactly like a Vox: “it’s job is not to sound like an AC15, it’s just to provide that character.”
On the 6V6 side of things, both TPS anchormen were pleasantly surprised at the sounds cranked out of the Nextone when set alongside a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. After some A/B playing on both amps, Mick noted that one of his issues with transistor amps in the past is that they react differently to overdrive pedals. After experimenting with a full range of sounds from Tubescreamer to fuzz, Mick commented, “it’s not the same as the Deluxe but there was a lot of sounds in there that I quite liked and, in some cases, preferred.” Dan agreed, “for the 6L6 setting, I would absolutely use the Nextone for that sound alone.”
Dan & Mick’s Tentative Conclusions on Transistor Amps
It’s no secret that Dan & Mick tend toward tubes as their amp architecture of choice. However, by episode’s end they both had some theoretical and practical insights into how the landscape is changing.
As Dan observed, gear always needs to be considered in context, particularly if your playing context is in a band situation. Here’s where the wattage question comes into play. While the Nextone was dimed out, its tube counterparts were just inching up the volume pot. “So that is a consideration,” noted Mick, “but certainly using a two amp rig my second amp wouldn’t need to be as loud as the Nextone is right now.”
When it came to feel under the fingers and playability, Dan decided “there’s no concept of playing the Nextone and thinking you’re playing a lesser amp. It’s all there and I’m so impressed with that.” On this point too, both gents underscored the claim of the Nextone is notthat it replicates the tone and vibe of specific amps. It is to open up a tonal and EQ infrastructure that is inspired by tube typologies and then let the user define and sculpt either on board or in the software editor.
Whether you’re looking for a new tube amp or revisiting transistor amp prospects, head over to Riff City in store and online for an almost endless selection of amps.
TPS Rig Rundown:
Guitars:Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster, PRS DGT, Nik Huber Krautster.
Pedals:Boss TU-3S Tuner, Analog Man Sun Face BC183 Fuzz, Fulltone Octafuzz, J Rocket The Dude, Thorpy FX Warthog, Keeley D&M Drive, Analog Man/Maxon OD9/808 Mod with Bad Bob Booster, Tru-Fi Colordriver, Klon Centaur, Boss DC-2w Dimension C, Analog Man ARDX 20, Free the Tone FT-2Y Flight Time Digital Delay, Catalinbread Belle Epoch Deluxe CB-3, Fulltone Mini Deja Vibe CS-MDV2 MKII, Supro Tremolo, Neo Instruments Mini Vent II.