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Line 6 POD HD500 Review

Line 6 POD HD500 Review

The POD HD500 is the debut of HD amp modeling that promises improved models and more authentic feel.

Download Example 1
Patch 5C - MetalliClean (with Tele)
Download Example 2
Patch 5D - MasterPuppetSolo (with Les Paul)
Download Example 3
Patch 6C - Canterbury Lead (with Les Paul)
Download Example 4
Patch 7C - Chick N Pickn (with Tele)
Clips recorded through POD HD500 into Focusrite ISA 428 into Pro Tools HD
HD amp modeling. It’s a phrase that may turn off some die-hard players and excite others. But if you’re a guitarist or studio rat that’s interested in access to as many tones as possible, it certainly has to leave you curious. I count myself among the latter group, so it’s hard not to be excited by the possibilities that lie in the 16 amp simulations and more than 100 effects on the new Line 6 POD HD500 multi effect pedal.

Line 6, of course, has changed the guitar recording and performance landscape significantly in the last decade and a half. The Calabasas, California company first turned heads back in 1997 with the digital models in is AxSys amplifier and has since become a studio fixture with products like Amp Farm. But it was the original curiously bean-shaped POD, a desktop amp simulator that could be run directly into an amp, PA, recording desk, or computer, that startled even some of the staunchest purists with its surprisingly authentic tones and flexibility. This latest evolution is the POD HD500, the most feature-laden member of a new line that includes the HD300 and HD400. It is built in a pedalboard configuration to make the vast quantity of tones within range for any stage or studio situation.

Designed With A Player’s Purpose
So how do you make a modeler feel like a real amplifier? Line 6 says the data crunching abilities of new Analog Devices chips and HD modeling technology enables the HD 500 to emulate complex circuitry variables as specific as A/B push-pull interactions and power supply behaviors—factors that have a lot to do with the dynamics and tactile response that picking and tubes give a player.

I’m lucky enough to have some very nice modern and vintage amps to play through on a daily basis. They’re the foundation for what I consider good tone and spongy, touch-sensitive playability. But I don’t have a Supro S6616, ENGL Fireball 100, Bogner Uberschall, Fender Blackface Deluxe Reverb or Hiwatt Custom 100. Would I like to have access to those tones in a pinch? Damn right I would. And if I can get the sounds of a Divided By 13 JRT 9/15, Fender Bassman, Marshall JCM 800, Marshall JTM45, Dr. Z Route 66, Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, Park 75, Vox AC-15 and AC-30—the amps emulations that round out the amp roster in the POD HD500—on top, I’d be pretty excited about the possibilities.

Line 6 did not skimp on effects either. The HD500 comes complete with over 100 of them taken from their M9 and M13 effects boards. There’s the usual assortment of spring reverbs, distortion, fuzz, octaves, EQ, chorus, compression, and so on, but there’s also some quirky effects like the Synth-O-Matic, Obi Wah, Voice Box, Reverse Delay and U-Vibe. And you can use up to eight effects simultaneously, which, when factored in with the amp simulations at your disposal, add up to a formidable set of sound sculpting tools.

The sturdy HD 500 enables you to manage, manipulate, and explore all these options with 512 preset locations, a 48-second looper, 1/4" Aux and Guitar inputs, Variax Digital Input, S/PDIF output, 5-pin MIDI I/O, a chromatic tuner, assignable MIDI footswitch controls and 1/4" stereo FX Send/Returns.

The board is laid out with an expression pedal that can be switched to volume, wah, or pitch effect control depending on how you engage it. There are footswitches on the far left for navigating banks up and down. Footswitches one through four turn the amps and effects on and off, while footswitches five through eight select presets—or when in loop mode, the Record, Play/Stop, Half Speed and Reverse functions. Looping is activated via the Looper switch. To turn on the tuner, you simply hold down the TAP switch on the far right for a few seconds.

You navigate these myriad options through use of the Display section which also includes various knobs and buttons for file saving and navigation. There are also four Multi-Function knobs for parameter tweaking. The standard tone controls allow you to quickly adjust amp settings. They include Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence, Volume, and Master. The rear of the unit is where you access all the included I/O. It’s actually an impressive list of connections, and Line 6 deserves kudos for including balanced, 3-pin XLR outputs for studio and stage use. I also think it’s cool to have an L6 link that directly connects to such things as their Line 6 amps. This XLR connection allows you to tweak either the newly released DT50 amp or the POD, and each will update each other as you do so. I’d certainly use that if I had a Line 6 amp.

To Fool the Ears
I plugged the HD500 into Pro Tools via the XLR balanced outputs and a high-end preamp. Once powered up, I plugged a Telecaster into the Guitar input and began to flip through the presets. As you would expect, some presets sound better than others. Settling on Patch 7C Chick N Pickn, I liked what I heard. It had a nice country feel with, a warm short reverb, and it made my Tele sound like a Tele. After adjusting a few knobs, I had a sound I liked and saved it as a preset.

Seeking the thrill of opposites, I selected Patch 5C MettaliClean, set a the delay time with the Tap function and played a nice clean riff that had a bit of bite but still retained clarity. But more importantly, it felt touch responsive and had much more feel than the POD XT I had used on occasion.

With my Les Paul I dialed up some of the heavier-type amps and presets, including the Patch 6C Canterbury Lead and 5D MasterPuppet Solo. Some of the presets are really cool, and some also downright odd. Almost all benefit from a little tweaking of the parameters, though. And players investigating the depth of the HD500 would be well-served by a willingness to dial in presets to taste and according to the sound of individual instruments. That will of course depend not only on personal taste but the kind of guitar you plug into it.

Because I do sound design, some of the wilder presets came in handy, such as 9D Without U Too. Stepping on the expression pedal adds a wild synth-like sound, and adding in some extra delay, I created an exotic lush pad. And I was able to record guitar pieces that I would never have produced myself.

Great sounds aside, Line 6 really did achieve significant improvements in tactile sensitivity with the HD 500. I was definitely able to create a little break up in my tone with harder pick attack, the way I would with an old Gibson or Fender amps. The dynamics are not exactly the same as you get with the real amps but its certainly the closest thing I’ve encountered to true amp sensitivity with modeling or software. Such impressions are certainly a matter of touch, preference and opinion. But the HD 500 does a good job of replicating that intangible element.

The Verdict

The POD HD500 shines most is in its inherent flexibility. As advertised, it’s a multi effects unit that can take the guitar where few normal amp setups can. It’s easy enough to play a straight Fender or Bogner emulation with some reverb if that’s what you need. But it only takes switching on a preset to layer two amps together to create one massive tone monster. Then you can kick in some delays, mods and wahs and take it to a whole different level. Would I replace my amps with this unit? No, I would not. I don’t feel it’s built to replace amplifiers, and you probably won’t trade your ‘64 AC30 for one. But the fact is that it can capably replace most amps in most performance situations. It’s an amazing tool for any guitarist that works in multiple projects or has to move from a bar gig one weekend to a wedding the next and works on experimental soundscapes on the days in between. It can do all of that with aplomb. And at just about 500 bucks it’s a real steal, too.
Buy if...
you want a flexible, good sounding multi effects unit with a ton of I/O for guitar production.
Skip if...
you expect it to replace your real amps and/or don’t want to tweak floor units.

Street $499 - Line 6 -