Multi-effects units have been vital components of the casual guitarist's toolkit for decades. Rather than committing to expensive pedals that only accomplish a single task, a near-infinite variety of units from brands like Boss, DigiTech and Line 6 give budding musicians the flexibility of endless tone options in a compact package. The tradeoff usually involves some amount of downgrade in sound quality and ease of use, or the design of the actual unit itself. This is fine if you're looking for something to noodle around with in your bedroom or living room, but a noticeable trend amongst popular units from those brands is that oftentimes they're damn ugly.
Of the three big brands mentioned above, Line 6 deserves the most credit for designing multi-effects units that are palatable for impatient tone snobs, via their super popular POD series. Originating in 1998 as a weird bean-shaped unit, the POD did away with massive devices loaded with knobs and switches in favor of smaller units tailored for tabletop use.
Technology has advanced quite a bit in the past two decades, with bluetooth and optical connections having since become cheap enough to integrate into consumer grade units at a low cost. These ideas converge wonderfully in Line 6's AMPLIFi TT ($150), which builds upon the POD by creating a stylish, low-profile unit that lets guitarists plug into their sound system instead having to lug an amplifier out of the basement every time they want to ditch the headphones.
Housed in a sleek black and red box the size of an old alarm clock, the AMPLIFi TT is designed to integrate seamlessly into a modern entertainment system that may feature little else than a soundbar and an Apple TV or Amazon Echo. As far as aesthetics go, this is a major step up from both the bulky studio-grade rack mount units at the top end of the POD lineup as well as the traditional footswitch-based devices at the bottom. Simply put, no one will notice its presence unless they know what they're looking at, which is a commendable upgrade from the mess of cables even one such unit can create.
Simple output connections for optical stereo, dual RCA, ¼" and USB are found on the back. The latter can be used to plug into a computer and use the AMPLIFi TT as an audio interface as well for deeper tone editing via Line 6's proprietary software. However, the alternate approach to this process is where you'll find the AMPLIFi TT's most interesting feature.
Rather than litter the front of the interface with controls beyond vital parameters like drive and volume, Line 6 has a free smartphone app that links to the device to turn the virtual knobs on an impressive array of stompboxes and amp models. Looking for a shimmering tone, a la Captured Tracks bands like Beach Fossils? Thumb through the app for a chorus pedal, dial in a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp, adjust said reverb until your guitar sounds underwater and you're in business. Trying to thrash like a screamo band? Fire up a noise gate, a compressor and a Mesa Dual Rectifier and you're ready to djent within no time.
Though it's no substitute for a vintage tube amp, the AMPLIFi TT sounded great plugged in to my Sony soundbar via the optical output. Tones heavy on midrange burst to life and retained the dynamics lots of cheaper units stamp out of your natural playing style. Bass-heavy tones like the aforementioned shredder sound rarely peaked so hard as to raise concern of blown speakers. With enough reverb and a bong hit or two, you're just a few knob-turns away from turning your living room into a wash of ambient sound so dense it would make Sigur Ros blush.
With the holidays just a week away, the AMPLIFi TT would make an awesome addition to the domicile of the guitar geek in your life who prefers to keep their rig tidy and compact. It's simple to dial in quality tones, sounds above average compared to the competition, and makes the process of picking up a guitar and nerding out for a few minutes here and there unbelievably simple. You won't hear it on a platinum-selling record any time soon, but the possibilities it unlocks for bedroom shredders are seemingly endless.