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Line 6 POD Farm 2 (Mac/Win) Review

8/9/2010

Up to Line 6''s release of POD Farm in 2008, to use the company''s exceptional amp-modeling software, you either had to have an Avid (then Digidesign) Pro Tools TDM system or access it using Line 6''s proprietary hardware. POD Farm offered standalone and native plug-in versions (VST, AU, RTAS) that worked with any interface you wanted to use. All you needed was an iLok if you weren''t already using one of the Line 6 POD Studio interfaces. (The standalone version requires a Line 6 POD Studio, TonePort, or GuitarPort. If you use Line 6''s interfaces, however, you get virtually no latency.)

This year, Line 6 has released POD Farm 2. While it''s not an upgrade in terms of the quantity of gear models, version 2 adds important features. Michael Cooper covered the original release in his roundup of amp modeling software in the September 2009 issue of EM, so let''s look at what the upgrade offers.

FIG. 1: A custom Dual Tone setup showing the Lo-Fi mic preamp in the foreground.

FIG. 1: A custom Dual Tone setup showing the Lo-Fi mic preamp in the foreground.

FIG. 2: A close-up of the A/B/Y mixer, with both channels on

FIG. 2: A close-up of the A/B/Y mixer, with both channels on

CHOOSE YOUR PATH
The basic signal path in POD Farm is called a Tone, and it can include an amp, a cabinet, a mic, and up to 10 effects. The basic version of POD Farm 2 offers 18 guitar amps, 24 guitar cabinets, five bass amps and cabinets, 29 effects, and six mic preamps, while the Platinum version increases the number of guitar amps to 78, the bass amps to 28, the bass cabinets to 22, and the effects to 97.

Originally, you could run two Tones in parallel, each with its own volume, pan, and mute controls. Version 2 adds greater flexibility to Dual Tones by letting you combine or switch between them with the onscreen A/B/Y box (see Fig. 1). Double-click on the box at the other end of the signal chain to get the Mixer view. At the left are switches for selecting one or both of the signal paths. In the mixer, each signal path includes meters for input and output level, an output level control, a pan control, and a Mute button. In addition, there are knobs for DI level and delay, which let you dial in your direct, unprocessed sound and delay it to time-align the processed and direct signals (see Fig. 2).

To set up Dual Tone, click on the Dual button next to the name of your preset. A dropdown menu gives you two choices: Create Empty Tone or Copy Current Tone. If you want to create two similar signal paths, you''ll want to copy the single Tone. Otherwise, start with a clean slate and build your Tone from scratch. There are plenty of single and Dual Tone presets to start with, but creating your own couldn''t be any easier: Select Gear view, click on a category (Guitar Amps, Bass Amps, Wahs, etc.), select the model you want, and drag it to the signal-flow display.

Because POD Farm 2 has MIDI support, guitarists can now use a foot controller, such as the Line 6 FBV Express MkII or Shortboard MkII, to switch between Tones, control amps, and effects parameters, and to use tap tempo. You can also use desktop control surfaces thanks to POD Farm 2''s MIDI Learn functionality. You''ll want a MIDI pedalboard to work with the wahs and modulation effects in a guitaristic way.

ELEMENTAL TONE
Another important feature of version 2 is that each family of amps and effects is now available individually as an Element, of which there are 11. Want to run your track through an amp and nothing else? Fire up POD Farm Guitar Amps or POD Farm Bass Amps. Need only a guitar tuner? Launch POD Farm Tuner (available as a plug-in in this update). There are Elements for reverbs, filters, delays, modulation effects, wah-wahs, dynamics processors, and preamps/EQs, with mono and mono-to-stereo versions.

Of course, the Elements aren''t just for guitar tracks. You''ll want to try running vocals, drums, and keyboards through the wealth of effects POD Farm 2 has to offer. And having each effect available individually will save you from using multiple instances of the full application, buying you back some CPU cycles.

If you''re wondering what the category of preamps/EQs refers to, it''s a selection of six channel strips (microphone preamp and EQ combos) that are modeled after API, Neve, and other classic mixing consoles. Although I didn''t have access to the hardware versions to test how accurate they are, the EQ sections offer a great deal of sophisticated tone shaping. You can place them anywhere in the signal path, which makes them all the more useful for sculpting interesting guitar sounds. I used POD Farm 2''s preamps and EQs on a wide variety of tracks—they are extremely versatile.

QUICK-CHANGE ARTIST
The POD Farm 2 interface gives you an instant gestalt of your setup. To change the order of the elements in the signal path, simply drag them to a new position. As mentioned earlier, you can use up to 10 effects in each Tone, and you can experiment by placing them before or after the amplifier, even while you play. In most cases, the sound changes immediately, with little or no hiccup in playback. This makes it easy—and exciting—to build a Tone from the ground up.

When you mouse over one of the components in your signal chain, the name of the element appears below and a yellow Bypass button appears above—very handy. Of course, each component in the signal path sucks up some number of CPU cycles, so if you''re at a point where you''re straining your computer''s resources, you can see which effects are the biggest resource draw by individually bypassing each element.

That''s not to say that the program is inherently a CPU hog. I ran POD Farm 2 
as an RTAS plug-in on a MacBook Pro (3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo) within 
Pro Tools LE 8.0.3, and a single instance running Dual Tones, with each signal chain sporting an amp/cab combo and three effects (reverb, fuzz, phaser), usually took less than 20 percent of the CPU dedicated to RTAS plug-ins. I had no problem running several full instantiations at a time.

Running an Element plug-in usually took around 10 percent of the CPU bandwidth. Of course, it depends on what kinds of effects you''re using—some are hungrier than others for CPU cycles. But I was surprised by the light load compared to the high sound quality I was getting.

PLUG AND PLAY
Line 6 has done an exceptional job of making POD Farm 2 intuitive. From the iLok authorization process to assigning MIDI parameters, the software is very easy to use. Care to synchronize the effects with the tempo of your host DAW? No problem: A button on the upper right lets you toggle between following the host tempo or a user-set tempo, which you can type in or set with the Tap button. The button flashes to the tempo you''ve chosen. (It''s worth noting that when an effect''s Sync button isn''t engaged, the speed/tempo parameter can far exceed that of the global or DAW tempo. For example, the speed of the Random S&H effect can go to 15Hz—almost audio rate.)

As you would expect with Line 6''s modeling software, there are excellent examples of every important name-brand in every category—amps, cabinets, mics, preamps, and effects. It would be ridiculous to try to name them all. The sounds are often easily identifiable—or at least evocative—of the product in question. And with so many options from which to choose, let alone configurations, you can start with, say, a Hendrix- or Clapton-style tone and refine or transform it in innumerable ways.

I tried POD Farm 2 with single-pole and humbucker pickups, and I was able to create a sound that fit any genre I could think of, from scooped metal to twangy country, and from silky jazz well into the avant garde using the modulation effects. Many of the presets are named after famous songs (e.g., “American Woman,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” “Red House”) or refer to styles or musicians. Play the appropriate part for the preset, and you''ll find that the model is usually dead-on.

For my own work, I''m not looking for something that perfectly re-creates a song or artist. I want a tonal palette that I can tweak to fit the needs of a song, and that''s where POD Farm 2 shines. As you get deeper into the parameters, it''ll feel like there is an infinite number of ways to work with timbre once you start adding up the tone controls on the amps, the preamp equalization, the cabinet choices, the mic selection, the various effects, and the ability to split the signal into two paths and blend the output.

TONE HARVEST
POD Farm 2 offers a wealth of features that anyone playing guitar or recording other instruments will enjoy using. It''s easy enough to use that you''ll find the right tone for songwriting or demo tracking without much menu surfing, but deep enough that you can tweak your tones to a high degree when you''re laying down important tracks.

Although the basic version costs about as much as a few packs of strings, the Platinum version offers enough variety to inspire you for a long time, and it''s well worth the investment.


Gino Robair is editorial director of Gearwire.com and a former editor of EM.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Line 6 POD Farm 2 product page.

Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Line 6 POD Farm 2 product page.

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