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If you’ve recorded or performed during the past 15 years, you’ve probably encountered the Line 6 POD in some form. The amp modeler/multi-effects unit helped revolutionize home recording, packing hundreds of sounds in that little bean-shaped enclosure. Line 6 recently released the X series, upgraded versions of their flagship POD HD Pro and HD500 models. The POD HD Pro X is a rack-mountable, all-inclusive guitar system that puts scores of cool sounds at your disposal.
The X Factor
The HD Pro X is built around many of the same models and algorithms as previous versions, but packs more processing horsepower, which is helpful, because complicated dual-amp setups and processor-intensive effects like reverb and pitch-shifting can hog processing power. The POD HD Pro X can create ultra-complex rigs that make Steve Vai’s layered, harmonized sounds seem as simple as a Tube Screamer, and the unit won’t flinch.
Studio in a Box
The POD HD Pro X features an extensive list of amp models based on such usual suspects as Fender blackface Deluxe Reverb, Marshall JTM-45 MkII, Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, and Vox AC-15, plus some boutique offerings as a Dr. Z Route 66 and a Divided by 13 JRT 9/15. There are more than 100 effects derived from Line 6’s M-series stompbox modelers, including a 48-second looper. You can use up to eight effects simultaneously.
The POD HD Pro X offers connectivity for just about any situation. The rear panel hosts MIDI, USB, and XLR mic jacks, as well as an effect loop with line/instrument-level switch, a Variax input, and other ins and outs.
Cracking the Rack Code
Some players fear rack-based systems, with their cryptic knobs, scroll menus, and minute edit screens. While the HD Pro X isn’t as hard to decipher as other units I’ve encountered, you can only cram so much onto a front panel before knobs have to share functions. Here, the tone-shaping controls (drive, volume, master, bass, mid, treble, and presence) are located on the right side of the panel, accessible without having to refer to the screen or the manual.
To go deeper, though, you must scroll through the menus. The default screen shows the signal chain as blocks of amps and effects, with icons signifying amp or effect type. A four-way button navigates the blocks. Below the screen are four numbered knobs that correspond to such functions as choosing amps and effects and changing parameters on the selected virtual component.
Editing and navigating on the POD HD Pro X are manageable, but to be honest, it can feel like a chore. Downloading Line 6’s free POD HD Pro X Edit software, however, makes edits a lot more fun. The software lets you use you computer to configure and edit your virtual rig, though all audio processing still occurs within the HD Pro X. Building a rig is much easier on a computer screen—you simply choose amps and effects and drag them into place. The sheer ease of maneuvering effects and amps onscreen led me to experiment with combinations I never would have tried if I’d had to physically route cables and rearrange hardware.
The ability to run two contiguous rigs simultaneously in dual-tone mode (and route the signals to separate output) opens the door to combinations that would be impossible—or at least impractical—with physical components.
My only complaint: Precise control of the virtual knobs is tricky using a laptop’s trackpad, and there’s no way to input values via number keys, making it difficult, for example, to lock in precise delay times. Luckily, the keyboards up/down arrows do work, so I used the track pad to get in the ballpark and fine-tuned from there. The HD Pro X’s large memory (512 presets, organized as eight groups of 64 slots) makes it easy to go from project to project without reconfiguring for every new set of sounds.
Some guitarists complain about the quality of modeler presets. To my ears, though, many POD HD Pro X’s presets sound great right out of the box and require only minor tweaks. The “Stereo Grind” and the EVH-inspired “Dutch Pasadenian” are great for lead sounds. If you prefer more buttery, vocal-sounding lead tones, “Singing Lead” and the Eric Johnson-inspired “Musicom” deliver in spades.
The POD HD Pro X offers a goldmine of exploratory possibilities. Quirky offerings like the ethereal “Namasate,” and the Twilight Zone-esque “Starfire Unicorn” will appeal to textural guitarists. The “80’s G-Synth” and “Vocal Synth” presets are cool for adding unusual colors to lead lines, and both track speedy lines really well. The “Slow Solo String” preset lends an almost Rhodes-like vibe to chords while adding a warm, string-like sound to sustained single notes.
Feelin’ Like a Pro
Realistic-sounding amp models are more common these days—the trick is making the models feel real. On this front, the HD Pro X has controls for adjusting the sag, hum, bias, and bias excursion. Turning up the sag on the blackface Deluxe Reverb model, for instance, provides a more spongy and compressed feel that made it feel easier to play.
For the average guitarist, the convenience of the POD HD Pro X is hard to beat. Recording at home is often challenging unless you have a soundproofed studio. For example, I have a nice vintage Deluxe Reverb, but I can’t crank it in my apartment without getting an angry knock from my neighbor. I also lack the high-end recording gear of a top studio. Chances are I can get better results recording a blackface tone direct via the POD HD Pro X.
At about $650, the POD HD Pro X costs less than some comparable units. Whether you use it as the heart of your guitar system or just to augment your current setup, the POD HD Pro X does a lot—and does it very well.
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