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LINE 6 GuitarPort RiffTracker - EMusician

LINE 6 GuitarPort RiffTracker

Line 6 has made some recent improvements to its GuitarPort USB audio interface. First, the company upgraded the unit's software, which serves as its operating
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Line 6 has made some recent improvements to its GuitarPort USB audio interface. First, the company upgraded the unit's software, which serves as its operating system and control interface. The software is also where the GuitarPort's amp, cab, and effects-model data resides. The software (now at version 2.5) features a revamped model set, along with several other improvements.

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FIG. 1: The GuitarPort USB interface is the lone hardware component in the GuitarPort RiffTracker bundle. All user-interface functions, except for setting input volume, are handled in software.

In addition, Line 6 introduced the GuitarPort RiffTracker bundle, which includes Sonoma Wire Works RiffWorks recording software that was developed specifically for the GuitarPort. Although the bundle costs more than the GuitarPort alone, it gives you integrated recording capabilities (including built-in drum tracks) to go along with the modeling, effects, and USB I/O capabilities of the GuitarPort.

In Port

The GuitarPort fits into Line 6's product line somewhere between the software approach of its Amp Farm plug-in and the hardware approach of its Pod series of processors or its various lines of modeling guitar amps. Once you've installed GuitarPort's software on your PC, the unit allows you to input your guitar signal to your computer, where it's processed through the amp model, cabinet model, and effects that you have selected in the onscreen interface. You then have the option of routing the processed signal to a recording application (using ASIO, Direct Sound, or MME drivers) or listening to its output as it comes back through the software and the interface's D/A converters.

Although GuitarPort's software has changed significantly, its hardware is the same as it was when EM first reviewed it in the November 2002 issue (available at www.emusician.com). It has a single ¼-inch guitar input, and a USB cable is provided to connect the unit to a PC (GuitarPort doesn't support the Mac) running Windows 2000 or higher. The 32-bit floating-point DSP processing is all done in the computer.

The top of the unit features a volume knob for setting the guitar level and the overall volume (see Fig. 1). The back houses a USB port, RCA speaker jacks, an ⅛-inch headphone output, and another ⅛-inch output for connecting to a multimedia sound card. The GuitarPort is USB powered.

Rock Out

A central feature of the GuitarPort 2.5 software update is its new DSP set, culled from Line 6's Pod XT. Users can choose from among 16 amplifier models, 24 speaker-cabinet models, and 24 classic stompbox and hardware-effects models. GuitarPort installs with more than 100 guitar-sound presets featuring emulations of classic sounds from various genres and guitarists. If you want more sonic options, you can purchase additional Model Packs (prices range from $49.95 to $99.98). If you install all the Model Packs, you'll have all the same amp and effects selections as in Line 6's Vetta II amp.

The GuitarPort software's user interface is intuitive, giving you quick access to graphic editors for each amplifier and effects model. Line 6's software designers gave the individual models distinctive faceplates, which makes them easy to distinguish from each other at a glance. Once you've tweaked a preset to your liking, you can save it.

The software offers stereo-signal meters and a Hum Reducer feature. The latter is basically a “denoise” algorithm designed to learn your guitar's pickup noise, and then remove it from the signal. With the hum-free Seymour Duncan pickups in my Patrick Eggle Berlin Pro V or the quiet FilterTrons of my Gretch Duo Jet, I didn't notice much difference when using the Hum Reducer. Perhaps the results would have been more noticeable on a guitar that has noisy single-coil pickups. (According to Line 6, the Hum Reducer was designed into the GuitarPort when CRT monitors, which cause more hum than flat-panel displays, were more prevalent.)

The sound quality of the models is very good. It's equivalent to what you'd get from a PodXT. I particularly liked the Plexi and Brit J-800 amp models, which have a recognizable and dynamic Marshall-like feel. I was less convinced by the sound of the Fender and Vox models.

My favorite models were the Line 6 originals: Spinal Puppet, Chemical X, and Treadplate, which have their own distinctive sounds. My preferred cabinet models were the 4 × 12s, which I liked more than the models of smaller enclosures. Like other modelers I've reviewed, I got the best results by adjusting the presets to my specific guitars and playing technique, or by starting from scratch.

Turn It Online

Perhaps the most engaging feature of the GuitarPort is GuitarPort Online, which is a Web-based collection of lessons, songs for download, GuitarPort presets, scale- and chord-generator tools, user forums, and more. Provided that you have an open Internet connection, it can be accessed from inside the GuitarPort software (see Fig. 2). You can download guitar lessons or search through artist lessons to learn the techniques of your favorite guitarists. You can download full versions of popular songs, versions without the guitar, and versions without the guitar solo.

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FIG. 2: GuitarPort Online is accessed directly from the GuitarPort software.

The GuitarPort Online interface includes a fully functional WAV and MP3 player that not only plays a track, but also allows you to view tablature or lesson information while playing along. You can even select a part to loop continuously while you practice. The audio player can play back a song at half speed without changing the pitch. Although the time compression adds some artifacts to the sound, it's still acceptable for practice purposes. GuitarPort 2.5's new built-in metronome helps you keep in time when playing along with lessons or jamming with downloaded tracks.

I was impressed with GuitarPort Online. It offers the novice guitarist lots of great information and lessons, and some of the downloadable presets are quite good. The bad news is that Line 6 charges a $7.99 per month subscription fee to use GuitarPort Online. (You get a one-month free trial when you first sign up.) According to Line 6, this fee is necessary to defray the costs of licensing the many copyrighted popular and classic songs that are posted on the site. The company reports that jamming along with those songs is the most popular feature of GuitarPort Online.

Straight to Disk

The GuitarPort application itself doesn't include any recording facilities. The ASIO drivers provided with it, however, are useful for routing its output into other Windows audio applications.

Another option is to plug in the included ⅛-inch cable between the GuitarPort's output and your multimedia sound card's input. Such a setup allows the GuitarPort to function like a PodXT or other outboard processor. It also lets you use the speakers that are already plugged into your sound card for your system sound.

It was convenient for me to feed my multimedia speakers directly from the GuitarPort's output. In that scenario, I configured GuitarPort as the only ASIO device with all the audio from my PC running through it.

Working the Riffs

Presumably, purchasers of the GuitarPort RiffTracker bundle will primarily use the RiffWorks software (see Fig. 3) for their recording. RiffWorks is an intuitive and effective application that integrates nicely with the GuitarPort's software. It allows you to construct songs by recording Riffs and arranging them in a timeline. The only audio-input device that RiffWorks recognizes is the GuitarPort, however, which limits its usefulness as a general-purpose recording application. On the positive side, it requires no additional driver installation.

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FIG. 3: The bundled RiffWorks application integrates with the GuitarPort''s software to allow users to quickly build up a song by recording Riffs.

The RiffWorks interface has three main sections, but the one you'll use the most is the Riff Recorder. It looks like a rack unit with transport buttons, master pan, gain, and meters. You can set the count-in, tempo, length, and time signature before recording. You can also open the GuitarPort control panel from inside the Riff Recorder to adjust your guitar sound.

You can record multiple passes of a Riff, and each is saved as a separate Layer. Layers can be individually named, and you can adjust their panning, gain, effects, solo, or mute status. You can duplicate Layers and delete unwanted ones. If you have more Layers than will fit on the screen at once, RiffWorks includes a scroll wheel for easy navigation.

The effects section in RiffWorks lets you add as many as seven built-in effects to each Layer, and you can add master effects to the entire Riff. You can't change the order of the effects, nor can you use any third-party DX or VST effects. The included RiffWorks effects were clean sounding but bland.

Just Add Water

RiffWorks also includes a percussion feature called InstantDrummer, which lets you add prerecorded audio drum tracks (provided by Drums on Demand) to your song. It gives you knobs to adjust the intensity, ambience, and gain of the tracks, and a knob for randomly introducing variations. That feature was fun to play with and useful for breaking up a mechanical-sounding drum pattern.

You can't create your own patterns for Instant Drummer, but it comes with a healthy selection. You can purchase Add-On InstantDrummer Sessions, which consist of additional patterns from Drums on Demand's premium drum libraries, for $9.99 in the Line 6 Online Store.

If you want to add your own beats to a recording, RiffWorks has a simple REX2 Player that allows you to load as many as four REX files, each with independently adjustable gain and pan controls. There is also a ReWire Player that lets a maximum of four ReWire-compatible applications slave to RiffWorks. RiffWorks has an independent gain control and stereo meters for each ReWire channel.

In the Mix

RiffWorks's Song section lets you organize your Riffs into a finished composition by placing them in a timeline. The controls in that section let you open, save, and create new songs.

When your song is ready, you can press the Mix button to bounce it down as a stereo WAV or Ogg Vorbis file. (Ogg Vorbis is a free compression scheme akin to MP3.) You can bounce an entire song down into a single Riff, which can be reloaded into the Riff List and used as part of another song.

RiffWorks has no printed or electronic manual. Nevertheless, after watching the Line 6 video tutorials (available from the Line 6 site and linked through the RiffWorks help section), I was able to quickly record a song consisting of five Riffs with multiple Layers, effects, and an InstantDrummer drum accompaniment (see Web Clip 1).

Into the Red

Taken for what it is — an amazingly affordable guitar interface with full modeling capability and bundled recording software — GuitarPort RiffTracker is a great value. You get PodXT-equivalent sound quality and a plug-and-play mono audio interface for any Windows-equipped PC.

The bundled RiffWorks software is an intuitive, simple, pattern-based recording program that will get beginners up and running quickly. Serious recordists will eventually want to advance to a more fully featured recording application, so it's unfortunate that you cannot open the GuitarPort control panel from inside other applications besides RiffWorks. I also like GuitarPort Online and the community that it offers, although I wish it weren't a fee-based service.

Overall, the GuitarPort RiffTracker bundle is an attractive one, especially for a novice looking for an easy way to record realistic guitar tones.

Orren Merton is the author of Logic Pro 7 Power! (Muska & Lipman, 2004), GarageBand Ignite! (Muska & Lipman, 2004), and Logic 7 Ignite! (Muska & Lipman, 2005).

GUITARPORT SPECIFICATIONS

Analog Inputs (1) ¼" TS; (1) ⅛" stereo minijack (for multimedia soundcard) Analog Outputs (2) RCA unbalanced (L/R); (1) ⅛" stereo headphone Other I/O USB 1.01 port Bit Rate 16-bit or 24-bit Sampling Rate 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz (±1dB) Signal-to-Noise Ratio 103 dB Included Software GuitarPort application, RiffWorks application, supporting video tutorials Dimensions 5.5" (W) × 1.0" (H) × 5.5" (D) Weight 1.44 lbs.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

LINE 6 GuitarPort RiffTracker
soft sample player
$995

OVERALL RATING (1 THROUGH 5): 3.5

PROS: Plug-and-play USB device. Good sound quality. Optional model packs available. Direct integration between GuitarPort and REX player in RiffWorks software. ReWire player in RiffWorks. GuitarPort Online offers many features.

CONS: Mono input only. Not all models convincing. No access to GuitarPort control panel in ASIO applications. No third-party plug-in support for RiffWorks. GuitarPort Online has a subscription fee.

MANUFACTURER

Line 6
www.line6.com