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  • Line 6 Firehawk 1500 Stage Amp

    Line 6 Firehawk Stage Amp

    Welcome to a variation on the Pro Review: Pro Review Xpress. These are for products that don’t require as much of an in-depth review, but would still benefit from an interactive, forum-based approach where people can ask questions, provide comments, and where all are invited to participate, including manufacturers. For more information about Pro Reviews in general, please read the FAQ.

    To be notified when new posts go up on this thread, please click the +Subscribe button just above and to the right of this window.

    There’s no question that Line 6 has been re-defining the concept of not just a “guitar amp,” but amplification in general. Let’s consider guitar amps first. A traditional guitar amp is really a signal processor with a powerful output stage; the preamp, amp, and cabinet all affect the sound dramatically. Line 6’s approach has been to separate the sound of an amp from the physical amp itself, so the tone is not constrained by the amp’s physics. This suits me just fine, because I’ve had the same goal since 1968—that’s when I started building my own effects to get “my sound” independent of the amp itself, and switched from using guitar amps to flat response, full-range keyboard amps. One advantage of this approach was getting the same sound in the studio, on stage, or through a front of house mixer. It also meant that something like a dry 12-string could sound bright and “hi-fi.” To my ears, sometimes a dry sound has more power than tons of fuzz sludge.

    The key to accomplishing Line 6’s goal is their modeling technology, however it doesn’t do the job by itself—you need to know how to dial in the sound you want based on your guitar, playing style, pickups, output level, and so on. Guitar players do this unconsciously when they fall in love with a particular amp; it’s because aside from any merits of the amp itself, it matches the guitarist and guitar. Back in the early days of the first POD, guitarists routinely bashed it for sounding “bad.” Yet when those same guitarists heard tracks I’d done with the POD, their usual reaction was “Well, I’m glad to hear you haven’t been sucked in by that stupid digital gear.” But the reality was that I had simply tweaked the “stupid digital gear” to give the sound I liked…and they liked it, too.

    It still amazes me how many guitar players judge a particular amp model by how it sounds when they dial in a preset containing it. If it gives the sound you want, consider yourself lucky! I almost always like to do at least some tweaks to optimize anything for my particular style and gear.

    The other element necessary to accomplish Line 6’s goal is the amp itself, which basically needs to be a loud hi-fi system that doesn’t color the sound. You can think of the Firehawk as a marriage between a POD HD and their StageSource PA, packaged in a familiar guitar amp format. That said, calling it a “guitar amp” is really a misnomer; it’s also a solid performer with bass and keyboards (I haven’t tried it with vocals yet).

    That’s a very basic view; there’s a lot more to the Firehawk 1500. But since I traditionally start off a Pro Review with a photo gallery (“pictures or it didn’t happen”), let’s post some pix.

    We'll start with a full frontal shot of the amp itself. The front is about 26" x 20."

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    It's when you take off the speaker grille (it's Velcroed to the cabinet) that you see what makes this amp different...and also what makes it so heavy. At around 65 pounds, it's like carrying around more than a third of me.

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    You're seeing six speakers: 12" low frequency woofer, 1" with waveguide high frequency compression driver, and two 5.5" coaxial (i.e., speaker-within-a-speaker) speakers. The two holes in the lower corners are the bass ports.

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    There's a cool kickstand so you can tilt the Firehawk 1500 back, and onboard DSP also lets you compensate for where you place the amp in a room...but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

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    Like other Line 6 amps, there's a "cheat sheet" which I suspect is for the benefit of being displayed in music stores. It also gives you a taste of what to expect, like Bluetooth streaming and editing with mobile devices. It has some characteristics you might associate with an Amplifi, but taken to another quantum level. Remember...the "1500" in the name isn't an allusion to a street address, it's the number of watts. I assume this is not continuous power, because the amp's total power consumption maxes out at 600W. In any event, this sucker can get loud.

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    In terms of an on-stage user interface, the Firehawk 1500 is totally non-intimidating: Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, FX, Reverb, and Volume. The "heavy lifting" happens behind the scenes in tweaking presets you can call up onstage. Your window into calling up the presets is...

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    ...the display. I should also mention there's a floorboard that works with the Firehawk for onstage control; we'll be looking at that as well.

    As to I/O and interconnections, this is an well-endowed amp...to say the least. Here's the left side of the rear panel.

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    Here's the right side of the rear panel.

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    And dig the heat sinks on the back! In the winter, if enough bands use Firehawk 1500 amps, clubs may be able to shave a few bucks off their heating bills. Also note the Variax and FBV inputs (after all, this is a Line 6 product).

    That concludes our initial photo tour. Next, we'll give an overview of the various functions this amp provides before getting into the presets and sounds.
    Last edited by Anderton; 08-29-2016, 07:51 PM.
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  • #2
    First Contact, and an Apology


    Wow.

    Like, wow.

    I’ve been using Line 6 gear for a long time; for some reason, I’ve just had good chemistry with it, and gotten the sounds I wanted. Never really got into the amps, though, because as mentioned previously I’m not much of an “amp guy.” Sure, a POD HD500 plugged into a DT25 sounds great and mics up well; or let me plug a Helix into a PA (or a computer interface for that matter), and I’m a happy guy.

    However…

    My first extended playing through the Firehawk 1500 (with a Gibson 61 Les Paul SG re-issue) was very different from what I expected. First, I think this may be the first review I’ve ever written that didn’t start out with “As usual the presets didn’t really work for me, so I started tweaking them…” And, I’m pretty sure many of these presets are unchanged from ones I’ve encountered in other Line 6 processors. WTF?

    My theory is the difference is due to some kind of synergistic voodoo with matching the modeling and the cabinet. Granted, you’d expect that since Line 6 has control over both—sort of like Apple making the hardware and the software that runs on it. Still, the sound coming out the Firehawk 1500 is the most satisfying amplified sound I’ve heard from a Line 6 modeling device…if not one of the most satisfying amplified guitar sounds by any standard.

    There are 128 presets, and although not all of the "out of the box" ones are pertinent to a standard electric guitar (some are for the Variax, and there are 16 blank user presets), I kept spinning through them and I’d say the “would use” percentage was batting about .600. Anyone who knows me and presets realizes that’s highly unusual.

    Second, it may be a bit unfair because I’m generally familiar with the way Line 6 interfaces work, but I did find it super-easy to get started. There’s a red ring around the volume control that shows the level, and a white ring that changes as you mess with the controls. The tuner was bright and hardly jittered, making it easy to tune the SG. (Full disclosure: I’m not really that up on tuners these days because I mostly use a Les Paul with Gibson G FORCE tuning, but the Firehawk's tuner certainly did the job for me.)

    Third, and most importantly, I found the Firehawk inspiring to play through. I feel the same way about the Helix; both make me want to play guitar. But the Firehawk moves actual air with speakers, which is a different world from laying down tracks in a virtual world. The sound was physical, not just mental.

    So, I apologize for not getting further into the details of the Firehawk 1500 tonight, but I was having too much fun just playing guitar. I promise tomorrow I’ll stop having so much fun, and start getting into topics like “so why does the thing have Bluetooth, anyway?,” fun with iPads, seeing if there are any "clouds" outside, and what the experience is like of updating the software and firmware—an area that trips up a lot of companies, and there are few things you need to know before you plug that fateful USB cable into the back of the amp.

    This was a really fun evening...especially because I didn't have to take the amp up any stairs! See you tomorrow.
    Last edited by Anderton; 08-29-2016, 09:33 PM.
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    • #3
      The (Up)dating Game

      If it’s a Line 6 product and there’s a microprocessor inside, you can expect that an update is available unless what you have was shipped very recently. After checking the Support page at Line6.com, I found there was indeed a firmware update available.

      Line 6 is quite good about simplifying the updating process. However, what may not be clear to some (because updates are listed with the most recent updates first) is that you need to download software in order to update the firmware. (Note: I did my updating with Windows, so the process may be different on the Mac.)

      You first need to download the Line 6 drivers, which allow your computer to communicate with the Line 6 device over USB. Without these drivers, nothing will happen. As long as you follow the instructions and don’t plug the USB cable into your amp until asked, you’ll be fine.

      The next download is the unambiguously named “Line 6 Updater,” which essentially automates the firmware updating process. As someone who has done firmware updates for a long time, I have to say Line 6 really makes it easy. You just open up the Line 6 Updater, choose your product if you have more than one available, then sit back and let it do its thing. A progress bar indicates how the update is going. Almost there!

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      Be aware that with some gear, a failed firmware update will turn your device into a brick. I’m pretty sure Line 6 gear isn’t subject to this issue (maybe someone from Line 6 can confirm?) and that you can simply try again. However, as a matter of routine, whenever doing a firmware update I make sure the computer and the device being updated are plugged into an uninterruptible power supply. I also make sure any power cords are out of the way of possibly being disconnected (e.g., curious pets coming to visit).

      Furthermore, showing my blatant disregard for a long-standing tradition among musicians, I read the update documentation before doing anything, and follow each step really carefully. In any event I still get nervous when doing firmware updates, so it’s always good to see a screen like this…

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      Yeah, baby! But note that if the update didn’t complete successfully, there's additional info on what to do next.

      So the amp was updated, and I was ready to have some more fun…as well as visit the App store to download the Firehawk 500 Editor, which is what we’ll explore next as it reveals the Firehawk 500’s architecture.
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      • #4
        There's an App for That

        One of the aspects of current Line 6 products I appreciate the most are the editing apps. Of course I like to be able to edit easily, but being able to do so wirelessly, via Bluetooth, is quite cool because you can make adjustments while listening at a distance - without tripping over cables. Furthermore, they make excellent use of touch (I was pretty blown away when running the Helix editor on a Windows machine with a touch screen), and are reasonably intuitive...a good thing, because there's not a lot of deep documentation gathered in one place (at least as far as I can tell).

        The Firehawk app is available for iOS and Android (not Windows/Mac OS, at least not yet). I installed it on an iPad because I like having more screen real estate than you get with an iPhone. Pairing with the amp's Bluetooth was painless; as soon as the Firehawk showed up as a device in the iPad and I selected it, everything was good to go.

        Here's an example of a preset being edited.

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        The strip across the top shows the processing blocks. Some of these are movable within the signal chain and some not, which we'll explore further in the next post. A white border means a block is enabled; in this case, the Amp is being isolated so I can edit its sound without having it be influenced by any other effects. The blue squares immediately below are the "faders" for adjusting parameters. They make for a good-sized "target" with touch.

        The bottom strip could be considered the "utilities zone" for tone management (including the ability to associate song and artist names with a tone, and access online connections to upload/tweet/publish tones), a tuner, playing music, settings, etc.

        Note that with iOS, thanks to the whole Apple Cloud thang, you can open the Firehawk editor on other devices. Although I don't have the amp next to me, I was able to open up the editor on my iPhone. As you can see, the interface isn't quite as expansive as on an iPad, but it's still more than adequate to get the job done. Line 6 has done a good job of scaling the interface.

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        Now let's investigate the processing architecture.
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        • #5
          Firehawk 1500 Effects Architecture

          In case you’re reading this and thinking “I should have gotten this instead of a Helix,” rest easy. Although the Firehawk 1500 is extremely versatile, its signal processing chain is more limited than the Helix. Also, note that as soon as you adjust a parameter with the Editor, any changes are reflected at the amp itself—you don’t have to save the edited preset and then re-load before hearing the results of your tonal tweakage.

          Now let’s get into the effects architecture in detail, because the Editor makes it easy.

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          There’s a single processing chain (no parallel effects), with 12 blocks. The first, second, and last blocks are fixed as Noise Gate, Wah, and Looper respectively. There’s also a group of three blocks—Amp, Comp, and EQ—whose order is fixed. I wish I could place the Amp after the Compression and EQ. You can assign a processing block with compression before the amp, but as far as I can tell there’s no way to put EQ before an amp. I use this technique a lot to boost particular frequencies so they go into distortion before others, so I hope Line 6 introduces an update that allows moving the EQ pre- or post-amp.

          Note that the Firehawk shows the Amp and Cab in the same block, but you can still mix and match Amps and Cabs freely, so it’s really more of an Amp+Cab block. And there are plenty of options, with four amp categories: Clean (10 types, including no amp), American (35 amps, of which 10 are HD models), British (28; 10 are HD), and High Gain (35; 9 are HD). There are 25 cabinets and an additional “No Cabinet” option. Here are some representative amps.

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          ...and cabs...

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          There’s a total of six post- and pre-Amp/Comp/EQ slots where, within certainly limitations, you can place various effects. For example, the Reverb can go just before the Looper, or just before the Amp. The Volume pedal can go either between the Gate and Wah, or before the Looper if there’s no Reverb there, or before the Reverb if it is. Aside from some “corner case” limitations (e.g., if the last three Blocks are Volume, Reverb, and Looper, other effects can go only between the Volume and Reverb), you can pretty much arrange the blocks any way you want, within the above constraints.

          Moving a block is simple: Press on its icon, and little vertical lines show up as candidate places to move the block. Then you just drag the block where you want.

          The FX Loop block is always an FX Loop, and you can put it in any eligible slot—wonderful! The Reverb block allows choosing any of 27 reverbs, and the Wah block offers 8 pedal options; the Gate, Comp, EQ, and Volume blocks offer one option. The Comp is a basic compressor with Threshold and Gain parameters, while the EQ is a 4-band semi-parametric EQ (Frequency and Gain parameters for Lo Shelf, Lo Mid, Hi Mid, and Hi Shelf). The ability to put in front of an amp notwithstanding, this EQ is probably all you need for most tone-shaping applications.

          The remaining three blocks can be pretty much anything you want from four categories: Drives and Dynamics (29 effects), Mods (23 effects), Delays (15 effects), and Filters/Synth/Pitch (16 effects). These all represent a rich roster of effects, including the usual Line 6 perennial favorites and various HD effects. This shows some of the Mods effects...

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          ...and let's also take a look at some of the Filters/Synths/Pitch effects.

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          The bottom line is that there’s a lot of tonal flexibility, and given that this is a guitar amp for the stage and not a sophisticated platform for signal processing like the Helix, odds are you’ll be able to get the sound you want. And if not, you can always treat the Firehawk 1500 as a flat-response, full-range amp and put a Helix (or Kemper, or AxeFx, or whatever) in front of it…so after we cover a little more about organizing and obtaining tones, let’s talk about the ways you can set up the Firehawk 1500 for various venues and situations.
          Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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          • #6
            Organizing and Obtaining Tones

            In addition to the 128 tones the Firehawk 1500 stores internally, you can access virtually unlimited tones when using the app. When you click the app’s “Tone” section, there are four tabs:

            My Tones: These are the tones you create/edit and save.

            Favorites: This isn’t “favorites” in the conventional sense, but if you find a tone match that you particularly like for a given song, you can make it a favorite so that it always appears when you choose that song. This seems intended mostly for practicing.

            Cloud: Access the tones in the Line 6 cloud. You can search on artist names, song names, etc. but I couldn’t find any way to search based on ranking—in other words you can’t search on “all presets with four or more stars.” These are a mixed bag; some presets are very cool, while others are less useful. However, they download so rapidly it's not a big deal to check them out. Here's what showed up when I searched on "Gibson."

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            If you find a tone you like, you can do any one of a number of things with it...including saving it, publishing it to the cloud, etc. Here are the options.

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            Firehawk 1500: This tab show all the tones in all 32 banks. You can copy and paste tones, but as far as I can tell there’s no way to re-order the patches. As expected, you can also open tones directly from this screen without having to scroll and select it on the Firehawk 1500.

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            • #7
              I know this is a review in progress...I read it in it's entirety last night. Don't mean to interrupt the flow. It sounds like a mind blower of an amp.

              I just have an observation I'd like to make:

              I've been hanging on your words since your days writing your column for Guitar Player and ALL the magazines you were involved with since then. I own several of your books. I Googled your name one night and it lead me here to Harmony Central. I joined because you were here that same night.

              While it's been/is a gas getting to engage you in the Forums. Getting to know you just a little...The funny thing is...

              When I read your reviews on gear...It is like you are sitting in the room with me, actually talking to me.

              Just wanted to say that.
              http://thebasement.createaforum.com/

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              • #8
                Wow, that's a great compliment, and I really appreciate it. But I AM sitting in the room, talking with you. We just happen to be in rooms that are geographically separated, but that's a minor detail

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                • #9
                  Party Time with Bluetooth Streaming

                  This is now the fourth device I’ve reviewed capable of streaming music via Bluetooth: IK Multimedia’s iLoud, Line 6 AMPLIFi 30, and Mackie Reach (all of which are the subject of Pro Reviews). If IK had made the Firehawk 1500, they would have named it the iEffingIncrediblyLoud. Because it is. But more importantly, it really does sound like a hi-fi system—when you play music you know through it, it’s clear you’re not dealing with something voiced like a guitar amp, but a true full-range, flat-response amplifier that has more in common with being a guitar-friendly PA system than something like a Fender Twin.

                  Furthermore, the Bluetooth stream is separate from the guitar processing, so you can dial in a guitar preset and play along with the music. There’s no mix control for the Bluetooth audio, but that’s not a problem—as we’ll see in the next post.
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                  • #10
                    Output/Speaker Options

                    You can set different levels from the amp itself, no app needed. For example when streaming music via Bluetooth, first you’d set the overall volume for the music’s level. If you then push down once on the knob, the LED ring shines light red (a combination of the red and white LEDs) and turning the knob adjusts the amp Volume in the current guitar preset. Push again, and the LEDs turn white. Now you’re adjusting the overall guitar channel level, not the preset’s amp Volume parameter.

                    Also note that the LED ring aids with setting the “amp” controls: as you adjust a control, the ring turns white and shows the knob position—handy on stage when it’s dark, and you can’t see the tone control knob markings all that well. In theory a single red LED in the ring shows the saved setting, but this doesn’t always seem to be the case, and I haven’t cracked the code yet on when this does or does not happen.

                    Opening the app and choosing Levels allows some interesting options as well. The first two sliders parallel the Guitar and Overall volume levels, so you can set them remotely. A Width control chooses among Mono, Stereo, and Wide Stereo (as you probably expect, the latter accents the stereo spread a bit).

                    The final Speaker Mode slider is something all amps should have…you can choose Floor, Wall, or Free Field (e.g., the speaker is on a stand, away from a wall). This compensates for various differences in perceived bass. Interestingly a lot of the newer studio monitors (e.g., the upcoming KRK V-Series) have similar options to tune the speaker to the room acoustics.

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                    • #11
                      The USB Audio Interface: Cooler than You Might Think


                      Firehawk 1500 incorporates a USB 2.0 audio interface (44.1/48 kHz) that carries the processed guitar sound, and whose level to your DAW is regulated by the overall Guitar volume. However, Line 6 didn’t cheap out and include only class-compliant drivers for Windows, but actual ASIO drivers you can set as low as 64 samples. The drivers also support WDM/KS and MME.

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                      The Firehawk USB 2.0 interface as it shows up in Cakewalk SONAR.

                      Note that the USB buffers add a hefty amount of “safety buffering” but actually, the latency really doesn’t matter. When you plug headphones into the Firehawk 1500, you’re hearing your DAW’s output as well as the processed guitar sound with zero latency (the usual disclaimer: there’s always a negligible amount of latency from A/D and D/A conversion). So when you record, don’t echo the audio input through your DAW, and you won’t hear any latency. There’s no option for splitting the Firehawk 1500 signal to send a dry output to your DAW through the interface for re-amping, but that’s not really the point here—that’s why plug-ins exist.

                      However, if you can aggregate audio interfaces (in other words, hook up more than one to your computer), now you have a few other options. Aggregation with the Mac is easy; you can also do it using Windows’ native drivers. For an article about how to both, click here.

                      Now you can place the Firehawk 1500 FX Loop before any processing (although it can’t go before the Wah, so you’ll need to bypass that), and use the FX Send to provide dry/clean guitar to the audio input of the aggregated interface while you’re using the Firehawk 1500 interface to carry the processed guitar sound. Although aggregation may mean more latency, again…who cares? Presumably the reason for recording the dry guitar signal is so you can re-amp later, so you won’t care about hearing the audio while you’re recording the zero-latency guitar tone.

                      Aggregation also opens up other options, like adding room mics to capture the acoustic space in which the speakers are doing their thing. The mind boggles at the possibilities…

                      The main value of having an interface built in to the Firehawk is the reality factor: You can play through your amp, move air, have no latency, drive your guitar into feedback, and record the sound into your DAW. But if you aggregate your interfaces, you can do a lot more than just that.
                      Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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