Boss put years of pedal-making knowledge into its Katana amp lineup, and the result is fantastic. From there, it condensed this same tech down into a set of headphones with the Waza-Air—a set of over-ear cans that are effectively a guitar amp you wear on your head. But how good is it, really?
Like pretty much every other guitarist I know, I’m a tone chaser. The biggest issue I’ve found is that to get good tone, you need a big loud amp. Now, that’s not an issue in itself, but when you pair that with the fact that I’m a lifelong “bedroom guitarist,” well, you probably see the problem. My wife, kids, neighbors, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t me simply don’t appreciate a loud-ass amp, no matter how good it sounds.
And that reason is justified. Most of the time even I don’t want my amp to be loud enough to gig with, especially when I’m just practicing new jams. There’s nothing worse than hearing someone (myself included!) butcher a new tune at 100 decibels. That’s just stupid.
But that’s where the Boss Waza-Air comes into play. The idea here is to provide full rig-quality tone in a set of headphones, so you can practice without annoying anyone else. As a Boss Katana Head owner, I know how good Boss can make a digital amp sound, so I’ve been pretty hyped for these since day one.
At this point, I’ve been playing with them for a few weeks. So, how are they? Good! They’re good. But they have some quirks and annoyances that make the high price tag a bit harder to justify.
Let’s talk about it.
Waza-Air: A Primer
So, you already got the gist here—a guitar amp in a set of headcans. They’re completely wireless and come with the required transmitter that you plug into your guitar. There’s surprisingly little latency in the whole system, which is an absolute must for playing any musical instrument. It’s using a Boss proprietary system to transmit data, which has likely been tuned to perfection to avoid such latency.
There are five different Boss-designed amps included in the package: Brown (based on EVH’s famous “Brown Sound”), Lead, Crunch, Clean, and Flat/Bass/Acoustic. Each channel has its own three-band EQ with gain and volume controls. You know, like a “real amp.”
There are also over 50 different onboard effects that fall into different categories. You can use up to three effects of different types at one time: boost/modulation, delay/FX, and reverb. You can customize your digital pedalboard across each channel, then save the settings to different patches for easy callback.
However, if you ask Boss, the Waza-Air’s biggest feature is a built-in gyroscope that allows the headphones to have an “amp-in-a-room” feature. Basically, with this enabled, the placement of the amp in the virtual space is stationary and you move around it. That means it’s straight ahead when you first put the cans on and fire them up and as you turn your head, the amp stays in that spot.
It’s cool in theory, but it also means that if you turn your head, you’ll lose all audio in the opposite ear of whatever direction you just turned. So, for example, let’s say the amp is simulated right in front of you, but then you look left. You’ll lose all audio in the left ear because it’s technically facing away from the amp. There’s also the issue of center drift, which many users have reported experience. Basically, instead of staying in one spot, the amp will slowly drift around you, making it very hard to stay focused on playing.
If you’re looking for a quick spoiler, here you go: I don’t like this feature at all.
But we’ll talk more about that down below. But first, let’s look at the headphones themselves.
The Hardware: Eh, It’s Okay
I’ll admit that I was a little less than impressed with the Waza-Air as soon as I cracked open the box. They’re pricey at $400, so at the very least I expected them to be packaged with a carrying case, but that’s not the … case. It’s perplexing to me that they wouldn’t come with some sort of protection, especially considering these are absolutely perfect for practice while traveling.
I’ve handled plenty of high-end headphones—many of which cost half the price of the Waza-Air—so I know what a set of premium cans feels like. That’s another expectation I had of the Waza-Air, and while I wouldn’t say they feel “cheap,” I also wouldn’t say they’re comparable to more premium cans.
The plastic ear cups are fine, as is the headband. The headband is flexy, and all the folding mechanisms do what they’re supposed to—there’s just nothing remarkable about the build quality here. They’re fine at best. Again, for $400, I expected more.
Most of the main controls are on the right ear cup: channel up/down buttons, Bluetooth audio volume, and guitar volume. Having these on the right cup makes the most sense for right-handed players, as it’s easy to pull your picking hand away from the guitar for quick channel or volume changes. Lefties won’t have it as easy, however.
The left ear cup is far simpler—it’s where you’ll find the power button and the microUSB charging port. The transmitter is also rechargeable over microUSB, so you don’t have to worry about changing out batteries constantly in either. That’s a good thing because the headphones themselves only get about 5 hours of playing before they need to be juiced up. The transmitter gets a claimed 12 hours between charges, so you could theoretically charge it every other time you have the charge the cans … if you want to keep up with that.
The Software: Surprisingly Robust and Easy to Use
To tweak the settings on the Waza-Air, you’ll use the BTS for Waza-Air app (iOS/Android). It’s pretty straightforward and worked well in my testing, though the reviews in the Google Play Store are less than stellar. I also read several user reviews who said they had nothing but issues with the Waza-Air app—some couldn’t establish a connection at all.
That’s a big problem because the app is where you tweak literally every setting on the headphones. lf you can’t get them to connect or experience frequent dropouts, then you’re going to have a very bad experience with the Waza-Air. Again, I didn’t have any of these issues, but reading through reviews on sites like Sweetwater showed me that I might be in the minority here. Something to be aware of.
The Waza-Air pairs up and connects with your device in two ways: Bluetooth MIDI and Bluetooth Audio. The former is to tweak the settings in the Waza-Air app, while the latter works like any normal Bluetooth audio connection and allows you to play along with your favorite tracks. You can run both connections at the same time, but you’ll need to establish each one individually. It’s a quirk, but it’s not a big deal once you get used to it.
With the MIDI connection established, you can jump straight in and start editing your tones.
The first tab is where you’ll edit, modify, or (thankfully) disable the amp-in-a-room settings. That is purely based on the headphones’ internal gyroscope, so you won’t find the verbiage “amp-in-a-room” anywhere in the app—it’s listed as “Gyro Ambience” here. Fancy.
There are a few settings: Stage, Static, Surround, and my personal favorite, Off. There are no real “settings” to speak of here—it’s more of a list of presets. Here’s the general idea:
- Stage: You’re on a big open stage. Where you move in the room and how you turn your head dramatically affects where the sound is “coming from,” but the idea is that the amp is behind you. You know, like you’re on a stage.
- Static: In this mode, the amp is in a stationary place, and you move around it.
- Surround: In this mode, you define where the amp is positioned in relation to where you are. Then it stays there, even as you move.
- Off: This kills all the gyro features, allowing you tweak the dry tone and add as little reverb as you like. This is my preferred setting, though I don’t mind the Surround option that much either.
Each of these options (aside from Off) also has its own Ambience setting, which basically allows you to tweak the reverb level in the “room.” You can adjust to from “wow that’s quite a bit of reverb” to “what is even happening anymore” levels.
As I stated earlier, the Waza-Air has five different amp types—Brown, Lead, Crunch, Clean, Flat/Bass/Acoustic—and this is where you’ll tweak those. Each amp also has its own gain and volume dial, so you can get just the right amount of dirt on any of these options.
There’s also a three-band EQ for each (bass, mid, treble), which is again independent of each amp setting. All pretty standard stuff here, and I find that these options work exactly how you’d expect a “real amp” to respond.
This is where the money is—all the effects. Deciding which amp and EQ settings you like is pretty simple (it was for me, anyway), but you can easily spend hours digging into tall the effect options.
There are three effects slots on the digital board: boost/mod, delay/fx, and reverb. You can have three different pedals in each section, but you can only switch between them within the app. A simple tap of the big ol’ button above the effect level will cycle between the three options, with the colors green, red, and yellow letting you know which “effect channel” you’re on. The biggest issue here is that you’ll have to remember which color is tied to which effect. Good luck.
Not only can you choose which effects you use, but you can tweak all the settings on each one that you’d normally get from an actual pedal. You know, almost like your digital pedalboard works a lot like a real pedalboard. Nice.
I find the effects to be crisp, realistic, and generally just very good. Pretty much par for the course from Boss, though—these guys have been making pedals for a very long time. And a lot of these effects are ported over from the Katana amp line, where they’re equally as good.
Once you have everything dialed to your liking, tap the “Write” button in the top corner to assign it to one of the available six patches. You can even give each one custom name if you want.
Cool! But How Are They to Use?
Once you get your tone dialed in and the gyro settings to your liking, the Waza-Air makes for a killer practice “amp.” They’re plug-and-play, produce surprisingly nice tones for all kinds of genres of music, and are generally a pleasure to use.
But they’re also expensive, and the gyroscope features are of questionable value. I’m sure that someone out there absolutely loves the gyroscope stuff and is currently scoffing at my disapproval, but I honestly just don’t really see the value here. I think that these could be a lot more affordable without it.
Sure, gyroscopes themselves aren’t that expensive, but when you take into consideration all the research and development that goes into making something like this work, well, the costs add up. It’s a cool feature, sure—but it’s a novelty. I imagine more guitarists turn it off totally than those who leave it on. I also think that Boss could’ve gotten the price down by as much as $100 if the gyro features would’ve just been left on the idea room floor.
There’s also the question of “amp drift” or whatever you want to call it. I’ve seen a bunch of user reports saying that even with the amp supposedly locked into a particular position, it starts to drift as you play. The gyros probably aren’t calibrated properly in that scenario (if I were a guessing man I’d say this happens automatically every time you fire up the Waza-Air, but I can’t say for sure), but there’s no way to manually perform any sort of calibration. But most users reported this to be an annoying bug in itself.
Changing channels also bothers me on the Waza-Air, mostly because it’s a pair of buttons that are hard to distinguish from one another and require me to move my hand from the guitar to use. If I’m playing along with a song and need to switch between patches, that’s annoying. I would love to see some sort of Bluetooth footswitch connection option—like support for the IK Multimedia Blueboard, for example. Sure, that adds another layer of complexity to something that should be simple, but I think at least having the option to use a footswitch with the Waza-Air would be killer.
Conclusion: Are They Worth the Money?
Here’s where I am with the Waza-Air: they sound really good for what they are. They’re plug and play, so there isn’t a lot of fuss. For me, the app worked well all the time and is easy to use. They are absolutely jam-packed with features that add a lot of value.
If you want an amp you can play anywhere without bothering anyone, there are definitely far worse and more cumbersome options than the Waza-Air. Add the comfort and great tone you can get from them, and you have a winning combo.
But they’re also $400, which is pretty expensive, and they don’t even come with a damn case. I think at $300 these would’ve been a much better value and an easier recommendation.
My biggest issue with the Waza-Air is that there are a lot of “what ifs” here. What if you can’t get the app to connect or experience frequent dropouts, as so many users have reported? What if you want the amp-in-a-room features, but you experience amp drift constantly?
Those are questions I can’t answer for you. That makes these a $400 gamble for a lot of people, and that’s a real bummer. Ultimately, if you’re into the idea and don’t mind the risk, the best solution I can think of is to make sure you order from a dealer with a simple return policy. That way if you have any of the issues that make these unusable, you can get your money back.
And if you don’t have any issues, well, enjoy the hell out of them. Because if they work for you, they’re awesome.