This new range draws on Roland's Blues Cubes and promises to deliver both the sound and the playing feel of a real valve amp.
Priced between the Boss Katana and the Roland Blues Cube guitar amps, the Boss Nextone models lean more in the direction of the Blues Cubes, and add an on-board delay as well as switchable output-stage characteristics. These are emulations of 6V6‑, 6L6‑, EL84‑ and EL34-based Class‑A/B valve amps (see box), and use the Tube Logic algorithms and power scaling switching that were developed for the Blues Cube range. Boss tell us that selecting an amp type on the Nextones physically reconfigures the analogue Class‑A/B output circuitry, as well as the way the preamp and speaker interacts with it, so essentially there are four different analogue circuits that feed into the final Class‑A/B output stage. It's all very different from the various modelling amps of other manufacturers that do all the emulation with DSP and then feed the result through a clean power amp — no doubt this one reason these amps get so much closer to a true valve-amp feel.
The 40W Nextone Stage — which is the model I was sent for review — is companion to the slightly larger and doubly powerful 80W Nextone Artist, and features a single custom 12-inch speaker mounted in a semi-open-backed cabinet. Everything is neatly finished, with a smoothly textured black vinyl covering, black plastic corners and panel trim, and grey-striped speaker grille cloth. As with the Blues Cube, the controls are designed to be set up just like a conventional amplifier, so there are no menus or LCD readouts to get between the user and the process of setting up a sound. However, if you do like deeper tweaking, the free downloadable Nextone Editor app (for Mac OS and Windows) allows you to create a custom amp setup by tweaking such things as bias, power supply sag, additional EQ, tone stack type, boost parameters (one of which is to have a compressor in place of boost), delay type, reverb type and so on. You can also use it to swap out the delay for a tremolo if you'd prefer, and in custom mode you can have different power-valve types for the clean and lead channels if you wish.
Though the amp is not programmable in the conventional way, it can store one custom setting created using the editor software, and this can be called up by pressing and holding the Channel switch (press and hold again to get back to standard mode). Note that only the custom amp mode can be tweaked using the software, but with its four power valve options the standard mode is still very flexible.
You also get a speaker‑emulated DI output, an emulated headphones/recording output, USB recording (which requires a driver, available on the Boss website), effects loop jacks that can be configured in series or parallel, plus the means to connect optional footswitches or a dedicated multi-switch controller. The optional GA-FC foot controller offers channel selection, tone, boost, effects loop and delay. If you want something simpler, up to three FS-series footswitches can be used to control key functions. However, the GA-FC is recommended, as it also includes two jack inputs that can be used to add a switch for tap tempo and a master volume expression pedal. Should you wish, you can hook up one or two external speakers, as long as the combined load is not less than 8Ω.
With all these extras, you might reasonably ask why the Nextone costs less than the equivalent Blues Cube. In fact, at first glance the Roland/Boss amp range seems a little odd, in that the Katana models sport the most features but are the least costly, while the Blues Cubes — devoid of anything much in the way of bells and whistles — are considered the top of the range. While there are some differences, as I'll explain, the only obvious compromise I can see is that the Nextone cabinet is built from particle board rather than the plywood of the Blues Cubes; that may take a little warmth away from the sound and it makes the amplifiers a bit heavier. The speaker seems to be a different model too, but given the price difference these are very small details.
The layout of the Nextone Stage's controls follows the familiar clean and lead channels format, with boost and tone switches for adding crunch and top boost — again, this is a Blues Cube spin-off, though it's worth noting that the Blues Cube has separate tone and boost buttons for each channel, whereas here there's just one pair of buttons, but their settings are remembered when you change channel. The tone types are different too, the lead channel adding warmth and the clean channel adding brightness. Further tweaks are possible to both tone and boost for the custom amp setup using the editor software, with alternate boost voicing or the choice of a compressor.
While the basic Blues Cube amps have only reverb (you have to go to the top models for tremolo), here you get delay as well, with the aforementioned option of trading it in for a tremolo (on the custom setting only) via the editor software. Usefully, the USB interface can be used to record both the amp-emulated and clean guitar sounds simultaneously, and the headhones/recording output comes in handy in the studio as a DI source when you don't want to hear sound from the speaker. If using the Nextone Editor software, you can choose from three 'Air Feel' miked‑cab variations. Dry recordings can also be re-amped via USB after selecting USB Loop Back in the editor.
To the left of the control panel is the channel-select switch, which you can also press and hold to toggle between the normal and custom amp settings. Those tone and boost buttons are right next to the input jack, after which comes the clean channel (with only a volume knob) followed by the lead channel, which has both gain and volume controls. The three-band EQ is augmented by a Presence control next to the master volume knob, while the effects section has just two knobs for adjusting the amount of delay and reverb, plus a tap-tempo button for the delay or tremolo and a delay on/off button. Last in line, next to the power switch, are two four-way rotary switches, one to select the output valve type and one to select from Standby or the three power settings: 0.5W, Half and Max.
The back of the amp appears quite busy, with no fewer than six quarter-inch jack connectors — two for footswitches, and one each for line out, phones/rec out and the loop send and return. If you don't have the fancy six-button GA-FC foot controller, which connects using a TRS cable to the delay jack, you can use one of the jacks with a dual switch (TRS connection) to select channels and to bring in boost, and the other to turn the delay on or off.
The USB socket and an IEC mains inlet are also on the rear panel, with three further jacks tucked beneath the chassis for connecting external speakers.
As with other Boss apps I've tried, the editor software is extremely simple to use, with very obvious controls and sections divided into logical pages. You can save as many custom setups as you like but only one can be stored in the amp at any one time. While you have to choose delay or tremolo — you can't have both — you could add tremolo to your custom amp but have delay in the normal mode amp. Switching to the custom setting involves a one-second press of the Channel button, so isn't something you'd normally do mid song.
The four power valve modes have distinct characters and the amplifier responds very well to playing dynamics, in much the same way as a valve amplifier does. Having the switchable power modes means you can hit the sweet spot at studio-friendly levels too, so that analogue output stage is clearly doing the job.
Is there anything I didn't like? Well, it would have been helpful if there was a way to switch between delay and tremolo for the normal mode — I'm sure it could have been implemented using a combination of switch presses or a press-and-hold move. Similarly the delay feedback level, though sensibly set, could have been made adjustable using the familiar 'hold down a button while turning a knob' strategy. I also think this rather splendid amp is deserving of a better cabinet, but at the same time I can appreciate that decisions had to be made to reach this price point.
Sonically the amplifier can get very close to the sound of a Blues Cube, despite its somewhat different cabinet acoustics — though in a direct shootout, I felt the Blues Cube Hot and Stage models seemed slightly warmer-sounding and somehow more 'lively'. I don't know if this is down to the cabinet, speaker or whatever, but for many players the differences will be too subtle to worry about. It's also possible that more tweaking in the editor would get the sound even closer, and because of the four tube-emulation options, the Nextone covers a broader palette when needed.
The emulated line output also works very well for DI'ing into a PA system for live use — though for the best recorded results, you still can't beat sticking a mic in front of the amp, and that's something the 0.5W setting makes convenient in the home studio. I found the clean channel to be cleaner up to higher level settings than my Blues Cube, and the lead channel cleaner at lower gain settings, so I'd probably choose to stay on the Lead channel set almost clean and then use pedals to add more drive when needed. I tested that way of working with an OCD drive pedal and it worked perfectly well for lifting a slightly jangly clean tone into classic rock territory.
However you decide to use it, for small pub and club gigs the Nextones have the edge over most valve amps — while you can hit the sweet spot at audience-friendly levels, they're capable of playing loud when you need to. You may also find that the on-board delay/tremolo and reverb mean you don't need to take a big pedalboard with you. And while the editor software can help you fine-tune your sound, even if you never bother to download it you should find the Nextone to be a very capable and flexible amplifier, with much more of a tube-amp feel than the all-modelling amplifiers I've tried.
The closest equivalent probably comes from Vox's Valvetronix range, in which a single valve stage feeds a pseudo transformer placed between the modelled preamp and the power amp to recreate the power-amp feel.
The power-stage configuration has a significant effect on the way an amplifier sounds. The 6V6 was often used in low-wattage American amps, and the characteristic sound is often described as sweet but crisp, with a little compression. The 6L6 output valve, favoured by many US high-power amp builders, has more headroom and delivers a strong mid-range. You can expect Fender-like tones from these two settings on the Nextone.
Crossing the Atlantic, the EL84 is best known for its Class‑A configurations in Vox amps, and has a distinctive high end that's sometimes described as 'chiming'. It also overdrives sweetly without losing definition. And of course the EL34 was Marshall's stock in trade, and is associated with classic rock and blues sounds — though it also works well when clean.
- Hugely configurable yet so simple to use.
- Very valve-like sound and feel.
- Built-in effects.
- Friendly software editor.
- No way to switch the delay to tremolo on the front panel.
- No panel adjustment for delay feedback.
- Switching between normal and custom modes not instant and can't be done with a footswitch.
While incorporating a lot of Blues Cube DNA, the Nextone adds user editability and on-board delay, making it extremely versatile.
Nextone Stage 40W £439; Nextone Artist 80W £615. Prices include VAT.
Nextone Stage 40W $499.99; Nextone Artist 80W $699.99.