Boss Katana Mini Amplifier - REVIEW

19 Feb 2021

Boss Katana Mini Amplifier - REVIEW

A quick diversion from ukuleles on Got A Ukulele today to bring you an amplifier review. This is the Boss Katana Mini.

Boss Katana Mini Ukulele Amplifier

Why an amplifier? Well, I get asked for recommendations an awful lot when writing GAU, and there really is a lot to choose from - a dizzying range in fact. Those requests for recommendations probably stem from the large increase in solid body ukes coming to market these days, but equally regular electro acoustic players are interested too. Which model is 'best' does, of course depend completely on your needs and usage, but you will not be spoilt for choice out there from large to very small. Where I think a lot of new uke players get their choices wrong is to choose the ultra small micro amplifiers that are no bigger than a mobile phone. They tend to sound tinny, thin and lack any sort of power. In fact power itself is not the only important link in the chain. A lot of power into a small toy speaker will sound trashy. Too little power into a massive speaker - the same.  I guess the micro amps are fine if you want to sound like a phone speaker on 'loudspeaker' I guess and technology is improving, but there is a reason amp speaker cones are a certain size.  Still, maybe it's because the ukulele is small, buyers want their amps small too - I 'kind of' get that.... Ultimately though, small amp tends to mean small speaker - and that can mean small sound without much character in a lot of cases. In my experience, there is kind of a limit as to how small you really want to go with a speaker which will limit the size of a usable amplifier overall. This one crams in about as small as I would recommend into case that isn't much bigger. 

I spotted some positive comments about this one, a mini amp, tiny in stature, brought to the market by Boss. That's a company part of the Roland group, perhaps more famous for effects pedals, but it gave me cause to take a look. Roland make SUPERB stuff that is extremely reliable, as do Boss. Could they pull it off? 

The Katana Mini is the smallest in the Katana range (which runs up to some 100Watt behemoths) and is a battery powered (6 x AA) amp with 7 Watts of output and a single 4 inch speaker. That's very small in amp stakes and about as small a speaker as I would consider. The case is not much bigger at 23cm x 18cm x 11.5cm. That makes it easily 'packable' for travels too.  It can also be run on an AC power pack, but that costs extra. In comparison, that is more power than my much loved Roland Mobile Cube, though the Roland puts its power through two 4 inch speakers and sounds great for it.

The Boss is a very simple affair with a single input, master volume and gain control to crank up some overdrive distortion. You get three 'channels' a clean and two distortion channels (Crunch and Brown) which are kind of 'pre set' higher gain affairs. You also get the usual tone control section in which it is nice to see you get a middle knob rather than just relying on bass and treble. That can be helpful for dialling down the 'quacky' sound of piezo pickups in a lot of ukes. You also get a rudimentary delay section, but more on that later on.

On the back is the battery compartment and AC adapter socket. You also get a line in (to play along with your MP3 player or phone) and a headphone / line out that is cabinet voiced to give it a fuller sound than just a straight line.

Boss Katana Mini Ukulele Amplifier back

Other than that it comes housed in a very plasticky feeling case, and even the grille is plastic (though that WILL protect the speaker).  I also don't like how flimsy the on-off switch feels either. Still, Roland quality and all that, it will still likely be bombproof and the handle is very secure (not that it is at ALL heavy to carry at only 1.2kg!). Still, it feels like if I dropped this on concrete it would likely crack somewhere. I say that because I HAVE dropped the Roland Mobile Cube on a pavement and it didn't really even suffer a scratch... Still, this is nice enough, and REALLY small - much smaller than the Roland Mobile Cube, without going into the 'toy' speaker sizes. It comes in at only £90 against the current price of £150 for the Roland.

In use - I found the clean channel is nice and uncoloured with a basic piezo pickup. The tone section will allow you to tweak that further, but I was impressed as it was. It's pretty loud too, though would not likely stand up to busking outdoors. Perfect for a uke jam though with a solid body electric through it. It surprised me.

The fun comes (if this is your bag) with the gain and crunch settings. These crank things up to RAWK level with some real fuzz going on on the Crunch setting and more screaming sustains on the Brown setting. Sure, they sound 'small' and very digital, but heck, they are a lot of fun. I would say that with a piezo pickup, fingerpicked melodies sound really odd and warbly on high gain, but that is as much a fault with piezo pickups and ukes - they don't have sustain to start with! Strummed though it's a hoot to play rock riffs.  And then there is that volume.  I recorded the video below two floors away from my wife in the house on a low setting and she mentioned it was very loud. Still, houses can be deceiving and I suspect it would be a bit lost outdoors, but it's certainly passable for home use.

Boss Katana Mini Ukulele Amplifier controls

The feature which I feel is a bit pointless is the delay section. Sure you can get some basic repeats going but nothing more than that. The level didn't seem to change much for me and was either on or off, though the time delay does adjust it and it's more fun to my ears with a fast repeat. Still, it's no match for a basic delay pedal if this is your thing. The Roland Mobile Cube has a lot more on offer in the way of effects, adding in reverb and chorus too. Still, when space is reduced, something has to give. 

All in all, I like it and am now using it as a matter of course on electric uke reviews because it is so small for my recording space and will not overpower mic too easily - it just sits tucked next to me and doesn't require more setting up and placement. It's just there, ready to go. So for me it works well. For you, if you are looking for a bit of fun, bedroom practice,  small gigs (old-folks homes?) or just something to allow you to be heard with your new solid body for not a lot of money, it will likely serve you well too. I think I would still recommend the Roland Mobile Cube over this for a bit more oomph, a microphone input and more control (albeit without a mid control knob), but if all you want to do is make your uke a bit louder in a small setting, this is well worth a look.

Recommended.


VIDEO REVIEW



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6 comments :

  1. I don't know about this amp but your general observation that "small amp=small speaker=small sound without much character" doesn't always apply. I used to believe that bass amps had to be big until I got a Phil Jones Shoebox sized bass amp. No use for uke but it proves that the technology is changing.

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    1. Bass amps are quite different though in terms of frequencies. I've get to hear a 2 inch speaker in a regular amp sound much better than a mobile phone.

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  2. Great review as ever Barry,i like that your reviewing not just ukes,its good to have reviews on other stuff we may use,so i look forward to more any chance you could do one or two on some multi effect pedals as well,ive always fancied the roland cube but not got round to buying one yet,got into solid electric uke playing at start of lock down in march,ive only got a stagg at the mo,but want to gwt one of those beautiful blue flight electric ukes,oh also any chance on a mic review as well,have a great weekend best regards.

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    1. Yes, would like to broaden things - time constraints to hamper - I sometimes struggle to get the uke reviews done!

      Funny true story though - I posted this amp review on two ukulele groups online today and they were deleted as 'not ukulele' and therefore not wanted... You couldn't make it up!

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  3. A problem I've experienced with these guitar amps is that usually there is no true clean input. The "clean" option is usually modeled after a clean-sounding electric guitar amp like a Fender Twin or Roland JC-120. It is intended to color the sound for magnetic pickups. I would guess this is the case for the Katana. Without a true clean input it's tough to get any kind of decent uke-but-louder sound out of a piezo pickup - especially at higher volumes.

    Since the target of this amp is new buyers, it's important for folks to be aware of this if they're looking to make their acoustic-electric uke louder. For that purpose my money would be on something more like the Fender Acoustasonic 15, which looks surprisingly good for a similar price. This BOSS looks like it's best for steel string electric ukes.

    Great work, as usual. Cheers.

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    1. Oh, of course Brad - no substitute for an acoustic stage on an amp if you want a natural clean tone. Maybe that's for another review! I really rate the Roland AC33 acoustic for that, but also the Fishman loudboxes and should probably write something about those. But this review is, I guess, aimed at first timers who don't own anything and just want to plug in. Suits me personally for a small space to test a pickup is working if nothing else!

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