BOSS Katana Air EX review: Next-level portable desktop guitar amplification

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I’ve been playing guitar since I was eleven-years old, and I have seen my fair share of guitar tech come and go. The portable and desktop guitar amplifier isn’t anything new, we’ve always had small amps that could be used on the go and that sounded decent. But over the past several years, these small desktop amps have not only gotten better, but they’ve also gotten more tech packed into them. Case in point, the BOSS Katana Air EX.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

The BOSS Katana Air EX is one of the latest desktop amps that delivers on sound and packs in amp modeling and effects into one small desktop package. I reviewed the Positive Grid Spark Mini a few years ago, and that little amp was very impressive. The BOSS Katana Air EX is next-level in every way over the Mini, and it probably more closely competes with the Mini’s older brother. Either way, it cannot be understated that desktop guitar amplification is experiencing a rebirth, and that rebirth means nothing but good things or us. Let’s jump into the full review of the BOSS Katana Air EX.

The Quick Take

The BOSS Katana Air EX is the best portable desktop guitar amplifier I’ve used and is currently my favorite to use. It is feature rich, easy to use, portable, and provides most everything any guitar player needs. The price is a bit on the higher side, and that may be something to consider for some buyers. I can’t say that it is overpriced because it’s not. It may be more than some users want to spend, but the value is here. My biggest and most significant complaint is the lack of a rechargeable battery built into the unit. While you can add batteries to the unit, I would have preferred a built-in battery that could be easily recharged. But overall, the BOSS KATANA-Air EX is a winner.

Specifications

The BOSS Katana Air EX has the following features and specifications:

  • Output:
    • AC Adapter: Maximum power output: 35W (17.5 W+17.5 W)
    • Battery: Rated power output: 20 W (10 W+10 W)
      (when using the alkaline batteries, Ni-MH batteries, Roland Rechargeable Amp Power Pack (BTY-NIMH/A))
  • Nominal Input Level:
    • Input: -10 dBu (1 M ohm)
    • AUX In:-10 dBu
  • Nominal Output Level:
    • Line Out: (L/MONO, R): -10 dBu
  • Speakers: 12 cm (4.72 inches) x 2
  • Controls:
    • Power Button
    • Bluetooth Button
    • Master Knob
  • Amplifier:
    • Amp Type Knob
    • Gain Knob
    • Volume Knob
  • Equalizer:
    • Bass Knob
    • Middle Knob
    • Treble Knob
  • Multi-Effects:
    • BST/MOD knob
    • BST/MOD button
    • DELAY/FX knob
    • DELAY/FX button
    • TAP button
    • REVERB knob
    • REVERB button
  • Tone Settings:
    • CH A button
    • CH B button
    • PANEL button
    • Indicators:
    • POWER
    • Bluetooth
    • Guitar Wireless
    • PANEL
    • CH A
    • CH B
    • BST/MOD
    • DELAY/FX
    • REVERB
    • TAP
  • Connectors:
    • Input jack: 1/4-inch phone type
    • AUX IN jack: Stereo miniature phone type
    • PHONES OUT jack: Stereo miniature phone type
    • TRANSMITTER IN jack: Stereo 1/4-inch phone type
    • LINE OUT (L/MONO, R) jacks: 1/4-inch phone type
    • USB port: USB B type
    • DC IN jack
  • Power Supply:
    • AC adapter (DC, 13 V)
    • Alkaline battery (AA, LR6) x 8
    • Ni-MH battery (AA, HR6) x 8(commercially available)
    • Roland Rechargeable Amp Power Pack (BTY-NIMH/A)
  • Current Draw: 680 mA
  • Battery Life:
    • Alkaline battery: Approximately 7 hours
    • Ni-MH battery: Approximately 10 hours (When using batteries having a capacity of 2500 mAh.)
    • Roland Rechargeable Amp Power Pack (BTY-NIMH/A): Approximately 16 hours
    • These can vary depending on the specifications of the batteries, capacity of the batteries, and the conditions of use.
    • Batteries Not Included
  • Size and Weight:
  • Width: 414 mm — 16-5/16 inches
  • Depth:192 mm — 7-7/16 inches
  • Height: 236 mm — 9-5/16 inches
  • Weight (without adapter): 5.6 kg — 12 lb 6 oz

What’s In The Box

  • BOSS Katana Air EX
  • Power Supply
  • Power Cord
  • BOSS Transmitter
  • Manuals and Documentation

Design

BOSS Katana Air EX review: Next-level portable desktop guitar amplification

The first thing you notice about the design of the BOSS Katana Air EX is its size and weight. This little guy is super light and does not take a lot of room up on a desk. I will admit, there are smaller desktop amps, but not with the features the BOSS Katana Air EX packs in.

The bottom of the Katana Air EX is plain, with only four rubber feet for stability. These feet are screwed in with Phillips head screws and they do an excellent job of holding the amp in place. The left and right sides of the amp are also just plain, and the whole amp is covered in the same sort of material countless amps are covered in. The front of the BOSS Katana Air EX has that familiar app fabric weave with some accents across the top and four exposed rivets. The BOSS Katana logo is center-top and there are two speakers under the fabric weave.

Around the back of the amp you’ll find a bit more going on. Here you will find the compartment for the batteries. You can use AA alkaline batteries or you can buy yourself some Ni-MH batteries, but there is no built-in rechargeable battery in this unit. Which is something I would have liked to see. Yes, that would have added weight to the unit and cost, but I still would have liked to have seen a rechargeable battery.

Across the top back of the Katana Air EX you’ll find a Kensington type lock, right, and left/mono line out jacks, the AUX In port, the DC in port, and a USB Type-B port for updating the firmware.

On the top of the Katana Air EX, you have a lot going on, way more than most desktop amps. First, the handle. This is nicely padded and comfortable to hold and is well-built. The transmitter’s charger is also next to the handle, this is where you plug the Bluetooth transmitter in to charge.

Finally, we get to the controls that are across the top of the unit. Going from left to right, this is what to expect:

  • Amp Type: Brown, Lead, Crunch, Clean, Acoustic/Bass
  • Gain Knob
  • Volume Knob
  • Bass Knob
  • Middle Knob
  • Treble Knob
  • BST/Mod Knob and switch
  • Delay/FX Knob and switch
  • Reverb Knob
  • Master Knob
  • Tap Temp switch
  • Tone Settings:
  • CH-A
  • CH-B
  • Panel
  • Bluetooth switch
  • Power switch
  • Headphone jack
  • Instrument Input

Overall, the BOSS Katana Air EX is very well-built and uses premium materials throughout. The layout of the knobs and switches is straightforward and most guitar players will get comfortable with this design quickly due to its familiar feel, look, and design.

Ease of Use and Features

BOSS Katana Air EX review: Next-level portable desktop guitar amplification

The BOSS Katana Air EX is a stereo wireless desktop amplifier with over 60 built-in effects, and 5 amp types, and while it has a learning curve, most guitar players will feel at home. There are six preset slots and comes with Bluetooth for audio streaming from your smartphone or tablet. You can also AUX in if you’re more of the wired sort of person.

The Katana Air EX also comes with a wireless transmitter you plug into your guitar, which I absolutely love, or you can plug in wired with the input jack. One thing to be aware of is that you can’t do both at the same time. There is also a headphone jack out, for when you want to practice without blowing everyone else out of the room. And around the back is the stereo line out which does not turn off the internal speakers, allowing you to use this as a monitor if that’s your bag. There’s also a four-channel audio interface which you can use to record into an audio interface into your computer. This isn’t something I do, but it sure is handy for users who do record.

The five-inch speakers are enclosed in a proper wooden cabinet, unlike the Katana Air, which was plastic and didn’t sound nearly as good. So this is a massive upgrade over the previous Katana. Powering the BOSS Katana Air EX is a wall power supply or batteries you must provide yourself. I like that it is portable and that you can use batteries. But I would have liked to see the battery built-in so it could be rechargeable, as disposables are expensive these days. Adding in a rechargeable battery would have made this truly portable and more usable.

There are over 60 built-in effects and sounds you can mix and match to your heart’s content. There is something for everyone and while you probably won’t find the exact sound you’re looking for (though you might) you will get very close to what you want with some fiddling. There’s just too much to go over in terms of sounds and features because this thing is packed.

Overall, like anything, the BOSS Katana Air EX has a learning curve to it, but nothing most users won’t be able to handle. The features and specs are more than a desktop amp should have, and that’s what makes this worth the money.

App

BOSS Katana Air EX review: Next-level portable desktop guitar amplification

You can change a lot of the tones on the BOSS Katana Air EX by just using the knobs and switches on the amp itself, but the app also has some things to consider. The app is available for both iOS and Android and while it works, it could use a bit more polish in terms of the user experience, but that may be more of a personal preference, you may find it perfect.

The app does allow you to change pedals and assign them to the amp buttons, which helps to form the sound you’re looking for. You can also get patches and presets from the app in Tone Central, and even get more patches via Boss Tone Exchange.

The Sessions List also lets you load in song lessons from YouTube and change video speed, which is nice for those learning a new song. The session feature is great for those just learning guitar, and even for those of us who are learning new stuff.

Overall, the app is feature rich and has a lot going on. I’ve never been one who likes to “have to use” an app, but in this case, you will get the most out of the Katana Air EX if you use and learn the app. It’s a good app, the user experience and interface aren’t up to my liking, but again, that is very personal.

Sound

BOSS Katana Air EX review: Next-level portable desktop guitar amplification

The BOSS Katana Air EX sound is impressive. For such a small amp, its two 5-inch speakers are freaking loud. Of course, this isn’t a gigging amp, at least not in the sense that you’re going to fill a room with its sound. You could use this as a monitor and line out to the house in stereo, if that works.

No, this is a practice amp designed for your desk and home use and for that, the sound is remarkable. I love being able to Bluetooth my smartphone to it, play a backing track, and just jam with that. With the wireless transmitter, I don’t even need to be plugged in.

Overall, the sound is spot on and loud. There was no cracking or breaking up, and everything was crystal clear and very loud for my office and bedroom. I’d say this would even be an excellent little amp for a one-man coffee shop show. Plug in an acoustic into this and you’re off to the races.

Price/Value

BOSS Katana Air EX review: Next-level portable desktop guitar amplification

$599.99 is a big price tag and some of you may not be willing to spend that much cash, I don’t blame you. But the price falls inline with the value you get here. If you can’t pick one of these up new, you should consider picking one up a demo unit or a used one. It’s well worth it, if you don’t have a practice amp already.

Wrap Up

I have three desktop amps, one from Monoprice, one from Positive Grid, and the BOSS Katana Air EX. I have been reaching for the BOSS Katana Air EX more often than not due to its features and sound. I would have liked a rechargeable battery built-in, but the robust features and sound make up for that.

BOSS Katana Air EX

$599.99

Design

9.0/10

Ease of Use and Features

9.5/10

App

9.0/10

Sound

9.5/10

Price/Value

9.0/10

Nailed it

  • Nice looking design
  • Well built and premium look
  • Nice number of features
  • Easy to use
  • App is a nice extra
  • Sounds amazing for a desktop amp

Needs work

  • A bit expensive which may turn some users off
  • No built-in rechargeable battery
  • Would have liked the power supply to be built-in, even if it added weight
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