Line 6's latest entry into the modeling market, with features for guitarists, bassists and vocalists. dB Masters and Noize2u check out both models.
Line 6 has been making a serious impact on the recording industry in the last few years, at both professional and hobby levels of the trade. This has been done mostly with its modeling technology starting with the POD to model amps and speaker cabinets. While advancing that technology they released GuitarPort, a more inexpensive, though impressive amp and speaker modeler priced more attractively for hobby musicians. Then came the Variax, Line 6's guitar that models the sounds of different stringed instruments, not only guitars, but dobros, banjos and even a sitar. Along with these products, everything but the GuitarPort had a complimentary product for the bass guitar players of the world.
Well, they just upped the ante again by releasing TonePort UX1 and UX2, new ideas in modeling that crosses boundaries that no other product does. TonePort has features for guitarists, bass players and even vocalists.
Line 6 has already established itself as a leader in amp and cabinet modeling with other companies entering the market all the time, however, they have no time to rest. This latest product not only has a wide selection of guitar amp and cab models, but also a large selection of bass amp and cab models as well. Think we are done there? Nope, that's just the beginning, it also boasts a collection of newly developed microphone preamp models that are based on preamps by Neve, Avalon and others with a total of 6 different preamps.
The hardware itself is a USB powered device that runs with USB 1.1 or 2.0 and will work with Windows or Macintosh computers. It supports ASIO, WDM and Mac OS X drivers, has very low latency monitoring and is powered by the USB port it's plugged in to. It runs at 44.1 or 48 KHz in 16 or 24 bit.
The number of ins and outs differs between the two models. The UX1 having a single instrument input and a single XLR preamped input on the front and the UX2 has two XLR preamped mic inputs, with phantom power, and two analog instrument inputs, one for hi-gain signal and one normal signal. Both models have headphone outputs on the front as well. Both models have a master output level knob, but the UX2 also has a separate knob that controls the headphone level independant of the master line outs as well as VU meters.
On the back, both models have stereo line inputs, a stereo analog "merge" input, and stereo line outputs. The UX2 also sports a S/PDIF digital output and a pair of jacks for footswitches.
The user has both analog or USB audio options. Latency using the analog outs is a combination of the latency of the TonePort (which to me was inaudible) combined with the latency of the audio interface it's plugged in to. The latency using the USB was 2.5ms with the buffer setting at 128, and 2.9 when set at 256 in Sonar 4 and 5. I would suggest even going slightly higher with the buffer on slower PC's to avoid any noise with heavy track counts. But I didn't really experience much even down at 128 with several software synths and several audio track running in playback during recording. I have been a skeptic of the USB/Firewire audio interface until working with the UX1 and UX2. These units would make the perfect interface for those who don't have the space or the money for a separate interface and mixer.
Listed below are the models that come with the original package. It should be noted that for an extra fee you can buy model packs that get you up to 72 more guitar amp models and over 80 more effects.
TonePort's software, called "GearBox" is the interface by which you configure, tweak and create your own model patches. it give a visual representation of the amplifier, the stomp box effects chain, input/output meters and has the interface for each effect for further tweaking.
I spent the better part of a couple evenings running through all the different models for guitar and bass, and, with the guitar, even tried out some of the vocal preamps. There were some pretty impressive sounds in there. The presets are set up like the presets in GuitarPort, meaning, they are modeled after sounds of songs...I really dug "Ain't Talkin bout Love" preset as well as "Badge". Obviously, there are dozens more, but those two captured my ears.
The effects chain is cool, click on any given effect to turn it on or off, if it's on, click on it to open up it's editable parameters in the effects editing window. One improvement I would like to see there is the ability to drag and drop effects in the order you want them to be processed, which at this point you cannot. That said, they do have some control in this area by having a "pre/post" switch on all delays, mods and reverbs which is very useful, and likely more appreciated by a wider audience than would be appreciated by the full ordering control.
Each cabinet has four mic models to choose from, which four you have available depends on if you choose a bass cabinet or guitar cabinet. Click on the cabinet microphone icon in the effects chain and the effects editing window will show your cabinet with a microphone which you can click on and drag to different distances from cabinet and achieve the different sounds associated with the miking distance. One thing I hope to see in the future on all modelers is the ability to select a couple mics and set them at different distances. I, as well as many other people, often prefer to double mic a cabinet with the mics at different distances from the speaker. I do, however, realize the nightmare in development this could cause.
One cool thing I found out from the good people at Line 6 is that the mic models and cabinet models are not simply taking a mic model and applying to a cab model. What they actually do is have 4 different cabinet models, one for each mic, so when you change mics, you actually call up an entirely new model of the mic/cab combo.
Some other notable features of the GearBox software is that it has meters that can monitor any input or output, it has mute controls, a little text panel at the bottom that will display context sensitive help and a hum reducer much like the one in GuitarPort, which works very well. The hum reducer will "learn" the noise and pretty cleanly wipe it out in most cases. The hum reducer impressed me in GuitarPort, and does the same here in TonePort. Like GuitarPort and POD, GearBox also has a tuner built in as well which is always handy. Lastly, it can also collapse to a very small window if necessary. One can click on the a couple areas of the screen, one right above the effects area to collapse and hide it, and one above the amp face to collapse it.
The All New Vocal Preamp Modeling
The vocal pre amps are as good as any I have tried in software emulations. Line 6 has found a way to get them to all emulate the characteristics that make the hardware what it is. Each adds its own unique flavor to your vocal sound. I was torn to pick a favorite, but the Vintage, Vintage UK and the Modern were my picks. Although they would all have their place.
The Modern model was the favorite as it stepped up and performed as if it was the real thing. The Vintage and Vintage UK were both absolutely warm in character and even with higher gain settings they kept the vocal smooth without any digital side effects. The Console was as expected modeling a solid state unit common in many desks. The Lo-Fi was a great thing to play with for some different effects, but be wary of going to far with it as it can become a little brittle when pushed real hard. Combining these with the compressor model will easily replace the outboard comp and pre set ups and give a very close sound quality without sacrificing space. A nice tweak is the ER or Early Reflections control they use with the pre's. It really made adding some space to the track easy and again, it did not leave that digital feeling when used heavily.
I as well tried the pre's with an acoustic guitar both via line and with a mic. The results were again fantastic. Line 6 as well has tweaked several presets to use with vocals and have added some effects models as well as using some of the guitar/cab combinations to spark a little imagination and creativity. I spent a few days just combining different effects and pre's to see what I could come up with. Honestly this will be something I will turn to not only for a quick set up but for when I have the need for something other then your standard pre coming off the desk.
We mutually agree that the TonePort, much like the GuitarPort, is easier for a beginner or non-tweakhead to get great tone out right out of the box, than the POD. The presets are modeled after specific song sounds, and done quite well. While it does have the exact same models as the POD (though not as many) it does not have quite the same degree of tweakability, but the advantage of the TonePort for some users is the fact the presets are set up to emulate song sounds, making easier to dial in a sound they may hear and want to use. Whereas the POD you need to more find them for yourself.
The UX2 running phantom power via USB-supplied power is a slight red flag to me if the user has lots of other USB powered devices running it could become a drain on your computers power supply. I did discuss this with Line 6 a bit and they said they did pay close attention to that aspect of the unit during design and testing, and the power usage is within USB specs, but, for best performance, when using phantom power, not to have other devices in use on the same USB controller. Seems like good, solid advice to me.
One downside, and this is no fault of Line 6, but is inherent with using ASIO drivers is the fact I cannot use the TonePort ASIO USB in and then run my Multi channel interface outputs. But that is a very miner gripe on my part, and a limitation of the ASIO standard, not Line 6's product, and there is always a way around that. Of course, that limitation only erxists on the Windows platform, Mac it doe snot behave like that.
All that said, TonePort easily gets the HRC Recommend stamp of approval for it's wide range of uses for a decent price. The models, as Line 6 is known for, are fabulous, and the new vocal preamp models are nice. For somebody at home with limited budget and needs versatility, I am hard pressed to think of a better product for a computer based recording rig.
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