The THR remains the undisputed king of looks. Part of its allure is the retro styling that’s more reminiscent of a piece of stereo equipment than a guitar amp. The outside is a matte, cream-colored metal with a Y pattern punched out. (I’ll admit I much prefer the herringbone of the original THR.) The knobs and chrome handle on top also lean into the old-school vibe. And the kicker: The amp gives off a gentle, orange glow when powered on, similar to a tube amp’s.
Of course, there are no actual tubes here. The whole thing is digital, but the THR series does its best to capture the sound and feel of popular tube amplifiers. Yamaha won’t name names, but it seems safe to say that the Clean, Crunch and Lead channels on both the original and the new models are inspired by a Fender Twin Reverb, a Vox AC30 and a Marshall Plexi, respectively. However, the last two models available on the front panel are pretty different. The original THR has Brit Hi (Marshall JCM800, maybe?) and Modern (almost certainly Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier). The THR II has HiGain and Special, and honestly I’m not 100 percent sure what they’re supposed to be. HiGain might be another attempt at a Mesa tone, but Special — well, I’m kinda lost. It’s another high-gain sound, but it doesn’t feel quite as high as HiGain. (Author’s note: Hi! )
All the amp emulations have been tweaked for the new version, mostly for the better. The Clean and Lead options are pretty close in terms of overall quality. But because the new model is actually a 20-watt amp instead of 10 (despite the name), there’s additional headroom, which means it takes effect pedals better, especially loop pedals. Those always introduced some unwanted distortion in the THR, but it now stays much cleaner at higher volumes. I do find the new Clean model a little more nasal than the original, but some people might prefer its pronounced mid honk.
The high-gain options on the II blow the original out of the water. Switching to Brit Hi or Modern on the THR10 always results in a compressed mess with half the volume of the other amp models. On the II it’s a much different story: HiGain and Special have some body and roar to them. Unlike on the original, you might even be able to hear it over an actual drummer in a rehearsal space. But I can’t personally vouch for that.
The place where the II can’t match the original THR, though, is on the Crunch setting. It’s hard to explain, but the original feels crisper and warmer. What’s more, it’s actually my favorite of all the amp sounds, which makes it all the sadder that frankly, Crunch on the new amp sounds pretty rough.
The effects algorithms have also been tweaked. Most of the differences are subtle, except for the chorus, which now has a much more modern voicing, compared with the ’80s-ish wash on the original. That’s neither good nor bad; it’s just a matter of personal taste.
For this video I’m playing a guitar loop with all the controls set to 12 o’clock as I cycle through each amp model. The amps were recorded using two SM57s connected to a Scarlett 2i4. No additional processing was done to the raw recordings.
All right, so it’s a digital-modeling amp with some built-in effects. Big deal, right?
Well, beyond still offering some of the best tones you can get without waking a light-sleeping baby, the THR has a number of features that help elevate it above your standard practice amp. But there’s a bit of give and take between the old model and the new.
Let’s start with the battery. Yes, that’s right, the THR10 II Wireless has a built-in rechargeable battery. This might not sound like a huge deal, but let me tell you: It’s an absolute game changer. Yes, most of the time my amp just sits on my desk in my “studio” (read: a corner of the living room behind a baby gate). But sometimes I want to sit on the couch or — really anyplace other than the desk I’ve been working at all day. If I’d prefer to keep the amp at a gentle whisper instead of cranking it, I can just stick it on the coffee table facing directly at me. It’s also super handy for spontaneous jam sessions and busking. (Though clearly the latter will be relevant to few of you.)
The original THR could also be powered by batteries, but it required eight AAs. That’s far less convenient than an integrated rechargeable. But remember, the THR has to take too. The base model $300 THR II can’t be powered by batteries at all. You have to spring for the $450 THR10 II Wireless. That’s a pretty big price jump and a pretty major feature that’s lost.
The Wireless version also includes support for Line 6’s G10T transmitter. That means with the right adapter for your instrument, you don’t need any cables at all. If the transmitter was packaged as part of the bundle, the $450 asking price might be easier to swallow. But it’s a $100 optional accessory that you have to spring for. That’s not the case with the $400 Katana Air, for example, which comes with a Roland transmitter in the box.
I’ll say this though: I was pretty dismissive of the wireless at first. But after a few weeks living with it, I was a convert. Being able to freely wander around my living room and entertain my child, all while keeping my amp safely plugged in behind a baby gate, was pretty great. In general it was nice having one less thing to worry about tripping over.
The THR line can also still be used as an audio interface with your computer. Plug it into the USB port and you can capture riffs and record songs without having to wire up a mic. There’s even an option to simulate different speaker cabinets to pair with your virtual amp through the THR remote. Again, there’s a trade-off here. On the original THR you could capture both the affected tone running through all of Yamaha’s amp and effect simulations and a dry tone without any of that simultaneously. That’s super handy when you’re recording. Maybe you decided that you like a particular take but not the effects or amp you applied. You could grab that unaffected signal and reamp it in your DAW. But on the THR II, you have to choose one or the other; you can’t capture both at the same time.