There’s no doubt that the POD has come a long way since its beginnings as the strange-looking kidney-bean shaped desktop guitar pre-amp. The original POD, despite its limited features, allowed guitarists to record using models of real amps and became an indispensible tool for musicians and engineers in professional and home studios alike. The POD idea was subsquently incorporated into floor based multi-effect units like the POD XT Live and the dedicated X3 Pro studio rack. The latest incarnation of the POD concept is presented in three new floor pedals, the HD300, HD400 and HD500. All incorporate Line 6’s core guitar amp modeling technology – 16 amp and 16 speaker cabinet models – as well as between 80 and 100 effects. All HD series units feature 128 user presets and the HD300 and 400 offer 256 factory presets while the HD500 has 512. The HD500 can also offer eight simultaneous effects and a 48 second on-board looper and extra I/O capability including a Variax Digital In, an XLR microphone connection and a S/PDIF output. Line 6 has included some unusual ’boutique’ amp models on the HD range, including a Divided by 13 JRT 9/15, a Dr Z Route 66, an Engl Fireball and a Bogner Uberschall as well as all the usual Fender Deluxe and Bassman, Marshall JCM-800 and JTM-45 and Vox AC-30 Top Boost.
The number and variety of effects available is mind-boggling and needless to say, full comprehensive. There are stompbox distortions and overdrives, a large cluster of modulation effects as well as a mass of delays and reverbs. The effects can be assigned to a flexible signal chain and moved around as though they were on a real pedalboard while by connecting the unit to a computer via the USB port and using the free POD HD editor/librarian software, on-screen editing organizes and saves all you edited sounds. For integration with the new Line 6 DT50 amps, there’s the L6 LINK technology.
If you have to download and print out the advanced manual for the HD500, make sure you have plenty of paper and a spare ink cartridge as it’s huge, but to understand all the nuances of all the effects – especially the more complex pitch shift, vocoder and ring modulator as well as the deep editing facilities – it’s a handy reference. The presets are split into eight ‘playlists’ which in turn contain 16 banks of four patches. The factory has loaded a HD500 ‘favourites’ playlist, a ‘doubled’ playlist (where two amps are used) and a crazy effects collection which are so far-out that it’s probably beneficial that they are confined to their own stockade.
Presets are edited and saved in the time honoured fashion and once you find your way around the viewing screen it’s all pretty straightforward. Building patches from scratch is the way to go – you get to know the unit better and you get to know exactly what each amp model sounds like. You can just load an amp model up and use the manual knobs to edit the parameters before adding any pedals in the chain, which helps retain a certain amount of ‘analog’ experience. There’s a choice of either using the whole model of a particular amp or just using the pre-amp, which is recommended if you’re plugging into the front end of an amplifier otherwise you’re running what amounts to two amplifiers in series – not that’s it’s a crime to do so – and if it sounds good, why worry about it?
Line 6 has made much of the fact that the amp models on the HD series are super-improved and that they’re even more realistic. From what I’ve heard, having run through all of them without any effects added, I have no reason not to agree. Particularly impressive are the JCM-800 and the AC-15 pre-amps and the Divided by 13 JRT 9/15, which produces some superb tones. I also like the amount of different speaker cabinet and mic options, for example, being able to compare Celestion Blues and Greenbacks with a Top-Boost AC-30 or a 4×12 with a 2×12 underneath a particular amp head is a real treat. This is an effects pedal that’s going to grow on you and once you get into the deep editing and have explored the mix and match possibilites of all the heads, cabs mics and effects, the rewards are going to be great, especially live.
Are 16 amp models enough? When they sound this good then yes. Is the Line 6 HD500 the best sounding POD yet? I’d say so, without a doubt.