The newest guitar amplifier and cabinet simulator from Line 6...does it help reenforce Line 6 as a leader in the modeling market?
OK, by now everybody has been exposed to, or, at the very least, heard of, the technology of amp and cabinet simulation. While the company, or person that started it all is subject to discussion, for me personally, Line 6 is the company that first made the industry take this technology seriously with the introduction of the little kidney-bean shaped desktop device called "The POD" well over 5 years ago. They also introduced a rack mountable version soon after called the POD Pro that added some more sims and routing options and came in the more convenient rack mountable case.
I am (was) the proud owner of one of those original desktop PODs, and I have used it for years in my home/project studio consistently getting great results. So, when I had the chance to look at the POD XT's, it would be an understatement to say I jumped at the chance.
The POD XT's are Line 6's most recent additions entry into the simulator market. The XT adds more simulation models, more routing options and even more support for the user via online tools for updating the POD models, than any previous version. But, just don't think they just slapped more models in and called it a new product. With the XT they took all the models they already had and reworked them from the ground up using the same technology of their flagship amplifier, The Vetta. The difference is noticable, as I compare them, noted later on in the article.
OK, so now you're thinking, what does it do for me? How will it help me? Well, let's take a quicky overview of the features that the XT Pro series boasts:
What's It Sportin'
The POD XT Pro come packed with 36 classic and current amplifier models, 24 cabinet models and 4 microphone models. It also has 50 stompbox and studio effects, XLR and 1/4" outputs, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, and USB Digital I/O, a built in tuner, serious tweaking/editing features, full MIDI support and 128 memory spaces for your custom presets.
Amp models: Line 6 Clean, Line 6 JTS-45, Line 6 Class A, Line 6 Mood, Line 6 Spinal Puppet, Line 6 Chemical X, Line 6 Insane, Line 6 Piezacoustic 2, Budda 2001 Twinmaster, Fender 1953 Deluxe, Fender 1958 Bassman, Fender 1961 Champ, Fender 1964 Deluxe Reverb, Fender 1965 Twin Reverb, Gretsch 1960 6156, Hiwatt 1973 Custom 100, Marshall 1966 JTM-45, Marshall 1968 Super Lead, Marshall 1968 Jump Channel, Marshall 1968 Variac Plexi, Marshall 1987 JCM 800, Marshall 1996 JMP-1, Matchless 1996 Chieftain, Matchless 1993 DC-30, Mesa Boogie 2001 Dual Rectifier, Mesa Boogie Mark IIc+, Roland Jazz Chorus 120, Soldano 1993 SLO-100, Supro 1960's S6616, Vox 1961 AC-15, Vox 1967 AC-30TB, Tube Preamp
Cabinet Models: 6x9 Supro S6616, 1x8 1961 Fender Tweed Champ, 1x10 Gibson, 1x10 Gretsch 6156, 1x12 Line 6, 1x12 1953 Fender Tweed Deluxe, 1x12 1964 Fender Blackface Deluxe, 1x12 1960 Vox AC-15, 2x2 Fender Mini Twin, 2x12 Line 6, 2x12 1965 Fender Blackface Twin, 2x12 1995 Matchless Chieftain, 2x12 Roland JC-120, 2x12 1967 Vox AC-30, 4x10 Line 6, 4x10 1959 Fender Bassman, 4x12 Line 6, 4x12 1967 Marshall Basketweave with Greenbacks, 4x12 1968 Marshall Basketweave with Greenbacks, 4x12 1978 Marshall with stock 70s, 4x12 1996 Marshall with Vintage 30s, 4x12 Mesa Boogie
Microphone models are based on the Shure SM-57, Shure SM-57 Off Axis, Sennheiser MD-421 and Neumann U-67 microphones
What's It Made Of?
The POD XT Pro is constructed of a sturdy metal-chassis in a standard 19" rack mount format 2u in height. The face is a brushed, anodized appearing red color, very sharp indeed. The chassis looks and feels very solid and seems like it can take the simple life of the common studio as well as the rigors of the road. I spent over 8 years of my life as a machinist, I know good solid construction when I see it.
As you can see from the image above, the POD XT Pro has an LCD panel on the left surround by buttons to access the various functions and features of the unit and on the right is an array of knobs for twisting, tweaking and geeking to your heart content. The knobs being mostly EQing, presence and gain staging. The knobs toward the center of the device pages through amp models and effect tweaking.
The rear of the unit is all the ins and outs of the unit itself for easy and unobtrusive connections to your recording rig or your live performance rack.
OK, Cool, But How Does It Sound?
Needless to say, I got home, saw the package from Line 6, jumped up, clicked my heels and proceeded to the studio, wired it up and went to work.
It is very quick and easy to get rocking, all I did was plug it in, ran the analog outs to my mixer, turned on the juice and I had sound. In paging thru the amp models I found some very cool sounds, the Dual Rectifier, Soldano and the Line 6 custom sims were among my favorite right at first. The improvements on the Rectifier from the original POD are stellar, that is one nasty, dirty and powerful gain on that sucker.
After messing with the amp models for a while, finding a few I like, I starting paging through the cabinet simulations. A very wide range of cabinets are modeled ranging from little 1x8 tweeds to 4x12 Mesa Boogie's and everything in between. I found the greenback 4x12 models particularily nice and played with different mics and effects on that model for quite a while.
After finding some amp/cab combos that I liked then it was time to move on to microphone models. I was quite surprised at the difference of the 4 microphone models made in the sound and the room it was in. While I was sort of expecting this to be a relatively uneventful experiment, I was really surprised, it could add serious thickness and power to the sound or make it a very thin, cutting sound. Depending on the mic model chosen.
The stomp box effects were the next bit o' fun. Some great models, though I was somewhat disappointed to not see my personal favorite old distortion boxes of yester-year, those being the ugly old orange box, the Boss DS1 and the classic "Big Muff". I would have loved to see those. However, ths effects they do have, too long of a list to go through completely, is a wide array of options including gates, compressors, reverbs, chorus', flangers, wah's, echo's and much more. A total of 50 stomp boxes for your sound morphing pleasure. They are good effects that are surely worthy of use and not just tossed in as a value add feature...well crafted and producing a high quality sound.
As I have said before, when I judge models, I find it hard to say "Yeah, the Marshall JCM 800 models really sound like the Marshall JCM 800", because I have not personally played enough with each amp they model. I judge a model by if it sounds good or not, and if it sounds useful or not. All of these sounds, while some I probably wouldn't use personally, I can easily hear where they would be nice for some people. Between the amp sims, the cab choices and the wide range of effects, there is a huge variety of sound possible that could suit most any guitarist in most any style that I have ever encountered, they leave no sound possiblities out with the range of options and the tweakability within each option or group of options. It's really quite impressive.
Other Line 6 Features
Considering there is a USB connection on the XT series POD's, it is already obvious that the POD's can connect to your computer. To that end, there are a couple of cool programs available for users of Line 6 products.
There is also an active user community which, from my brief looking around, seems like a very respectful, productive and fun place to hang out. But like most any forum, it gets heated now and then.
The only thing that sort bugs me about units like this is the lack of syncing between and digital editing and manual editing on the face of the unit. Such as, when turning a know in an app, I like to see the knob on the face of the unit reflect the setting. When you edit digitally, then grab a know the digital knob jumps...it's sort of odd.
Personally, while I inarguably prefer the POD to Behringer's amp sim, I do like the kind of clever way the Behringer dealt with that issue by making visual LED setting indicators with their infinite-motion knobs on the face of the unit. I wish Line 6 could do something like that.
The software editing of the POD is the method I strongly prefer, as it's so much easier and more intuitive than using the face. That said, I did force myself to spend a full evening editing with nothing but the face of the unit, and, after getting in the groove of how everything works, I found it quite fluid and logical.
All in all, I give the POD XT a big two thumbs up. Right before testing I layed down a dirty guitar track on my current project song with my v1 desktop unit, after the XT came, I redid the track witht he XT...wow, what a difference between the models. The sound quality is stellar, the feel and emotion of the instrument can really shine through these digital models, the routing options and tools for support are excellent. The options and working modes are suitable for live and studio use and it's built sturdy to handle either use as well. Aside from the couple of small problems I found with it, I find it to be a great product and a fabulous addition to my studio.
This unit is staying right where it is...in my rack o' gear.
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