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The controls are a combination of touch screen and parameter controls. Strangely the display screen isn’t a touch control surface, but just a display. The effects selections and system editing are touch activated, however, with a master scroll wheel to navigate. The three footswitches are backlit and multi-functional. These can be set to go through the 50 banks, each with three presets. When engaging a specific preset, the footswitches can then be engaged to turn off specific chosen effects or a engage secondary function like a tuner as desired. On the right side there is an expression pedal that can also be set specifically for an effect’s particular parameter, or as a simple volume pedal.
Connectivity is pretty simple, with MIDI in, 1/4” input, stereo 1/4” and balanced XLR outputs. USB-C allows the unit to be connected to a computer for additional editing from Donner’s software, or for use as a DAW interface. For personal practice, a headphone jack is available, and for extra expandability, there’s a connection for an additional expression pedal or footswitches. The Arena is also Bluetooth compatible, with an app editing software making it easy to make deep changes on the fly. The Bluetooth editing functionality is really nice, with a larger screen on an iPhone or iPad, but the computer app allows for loading of your own impulse responses.
The sounds are quite amazing, with a deep selection of amps and cabs, going far beyond the typical Fender/Marshall/Vox stuff, how about a PRS Archon or Matchless? Still too common for you? Well, there are 80 amps in total, and it gets into the weeds with Suhr and Divided by 13 models, as well. There are also microphone options and effects. Drive pedals options are quite extensive as well, with variants of TS units to Klons being emulated. The time-based effects are pretty standard though; one omission that’s kind of surprising is the shimmer reverb/delay effect, but the modulations, delays and reverbs certainly aren’t lacking otherwise.▼ Article continues below ▼
Acoustic players, there are even acoustic amps emulated, so singer/songwriters looking for a good selection of effects and such can easily be satisfied. A drum machine with 40 patterns as well as a looping function is also available, and makes this a band in a box unit for players who are familiar with loopers. The ability to add additional footswitches here is very much appreciated for the looping and drum machine features.
Soundwise it really kicks butt; presets certainly favor more hard rock and metal tastes, but with a bit of editing it’s easy to generate sounds for pretty much any musical style. With the app and software, the signal chain can be easily altered, however on the unit itself, not so much. The overall sounds certainly delivers a high-quality experience, and it’s quite shocking given the unit’s price point.
What’s the best way to use this? Well, in front of an amp (ideally two amps, it’s stereo) the 1/4” outputs can be set to not use the cab simulations, while the XLRs could run the cab sims to the PA system, so it’s flexible for live use with or without a traditional amp. The USB out can be set for a dry or effected signal, too.
Considering the size, functionality and overall sounds, it’s quite impressive. Bedroom and basement players have the same options and sound quality as higher priced units, while weekend warriors have a rig that can fit into a backpack. For pro level players doing fly dates, this can make for an inexpensive option or even as a backup.
Presets favor harder styles. On-board editing lacks features available on app and computer