Line 6 Gearbox Gold Plug-ins

Line 6 has now joined the guitar amp plug-in derby with a VST/AU/RTAS suite but being Line 6, they’ve done it in their own way. The package includes the TonePort DI USB hardware interface (guitar input, two analog outs, headphone out, and DI analog out). It’s basically a “dongle-that-actually-does-something,” but you don’t have to use it as your interface; if it’s plugged in, the plugs will load.
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Installation is the usual deal with Line 6 computer-based gear: Install the companion “Monkey” software and check the Internet for updates. If your music computer doesn’t speak net, you can authorize on a different computer and transfer.

APPLYING THE PLUG-INS

The Gold version (there’s also a Silver version and update options; check the Line 6 website for details) has the same sounds you’ll find in products like the Vetta II amp and PODxt, as well as bass and vocal processors. Want specs? 78 guitar amps, 24 guitar cabs, 28 bass amps, 22 bass cabs, 6 mic preamps, and as they say, “80 plus” stompbox and studio effects (including some interesting synth effects). Sound is subjective, but I’ve always found Line 6’s approach to modeling satisfying; there’s a level of detail that I attribute to Line 6 having been at this for so long, and a certain “brash” sound quality that cuts well in a mix.

There are some inflexibilities, because Line 6 is locked into retaining compatibility across their product line. The order of effects is fixed, with a few exceptions; the volume pedal, reverb, modulation, and delay can go pre/post amp, but you can’t change their order further. Some options, like compression before fuzz, are just not possible. And while the Gearbox controls respond to MIDI in standalone mode, when used as a VST plug-in it wouldn’t respond to external MIDI controllers, controllers recorded on a track, or host tempo (although you can match the tempo manually, and choose a rhythmic sync value). However, it handily supports standard VST automation.

Preset selection is also a bit klunky — you go through a three-step “tree” to call up a preset. But then I find some cool sound, and all is forgiven.

CONCLUSIONS

I initially thought the price was steep, but do the math: Each plug-in works out to a few bucks each, and the sheer volume of useable sounds puts the bundle in a class by itself. The vocal processing in particular is a pleasant surprise.

There’s a big choice in amp/effects sim software; let’s make some superficial comparisons. For the experimentally-minded, Guitar Rig 2 rules with its step sequencers, crossovers, and unmatched configuration flexibility. AmpliTube 2 gives a fine set of presets out of the box and an easier way to step through presets, but if you want to get deeper, it’s more difficult to tweak than Gearbox. The closest competition to Gearbox is Waves GTR 2, as it also offers a “detailed” sound quality, as well as excellent effects. The most obvious difference is that GTR has far fewer modules, but allows placing them in the signal chain more freely; GTR’s sound is warmer, while Gearbox is more aggressive; I like them both, for different reasons. And like any amp sim, remember that the Gearbox presets weren’t created with your guitar: A little tweaking can make a huge difference in the sound.

Note that while Gearbox Gold might appear guitar-centric, the effects are useable in just about any context. Overall, although I’d like better MIDI control and easier preset selection, the bottom line is that whenever I play through Gearbox, I get sounds that range from “cool” to “I gotta press the record button now!” I’m sure I’m not the only Line 6 fan who wished I didn’t have to run a DAW signal to an aux bus, send it outside the computer, feed it to a PODxt, then bring it back into an audio interface input. And now, I don’t.