LINE 6 PodXT - EMusician

LINE 6 PodXT

Line 6 was one of the first manufacturers to practically apply the principles of modeling to guitar-amp simulation. Though not the only company to produce
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FIG.1: The PodXT's front panel includes a four-line backlit graphiucaldisplay. Tuner, Tap, rotary controllers, and data switches occupy themiddle and bottom portion of the front panel.FIG.2: You can change the order of the PodXT's effexcts by, for example,putting the volume pedal at the front of the chain or at the end.Modulation and delay can appear either in front of the amp stage orafter the preamp.FIG.A: So that you can take advantage of the PodXT's continuous controllerfeatures, Line 6 offers the FBV Shortboard, which includes a singlepedal.

Line 6 was one of the first manufacturers to practically apply theprinciples of modeling to guitar-amp simulation. Though not the onlycompany to produce modeling devices, Line 6 distinguishes itself bycreating only products whose core technology is modeling. Its productscontinue to improve in design, features, and sound quality, provingthat modeling can keep up with the evolving tastes and increasingdemands of recordists. Enter the PodXT.

Though similar to its predecessor in look and feel, the PodXT leavesthe original Pod in a trail of digital dust in terms of its sound,editing capabilities, and interface. The PodXT is a completetop-to-bottom redesign that takes advantage of 32-bit floating-pointprocessing and offers a host of useful new features.

THIS YEAR'S MODEL

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The PodXT may be a drastic improvement on the original Pod (now inversion 2.0 and still in production), but the bold-red color and kidneyshape are much the same. The PodXT's cutaway is more gradual, and itsfront panel provides more controls (see Fig. 1). Except for theaddition of a USB port, the PodXT's I/O is the same, making it familiarto anyone who has programmed the original device.

The PodXT's top-panel layout also resembles its predecessor's: the“amp” knobs, including the new dedicated Presence control,form a semicircle around the outer edge of the upper two-thirds of thepanel. The assignable Effects Tweak now resides in the front panel'sinterior. This central area has been expanded slightly to accommodatethe enhanced display and additional controls. The rear panel has¼-inch unbalanced jacks for left and right outputs; a jack for theoptional FBV foot controller (it's an RJ-45 port that also suppliespower to the pedal); a USB port for bidirectional transfer of MIDI dataand 16- and 24-bit audio (with drivers for ASIO, Sound Manager, WDM,and DirectSound); MIDI In and Out/Thru ports; an unbalanced ¼-inchinstrument input; and a ¼-inch stereo headphone jack.

A NEW FACE

The biggest change in the front panel is the addition of afour-line, 122 × 32-pixel backlit LCD. That's not merely acosmetic improvement; one of the limitations of the Pod was that it hada numerical display, which was not great for remembering what you hadprogrammed. It also didn't tell you anything about the present state ofyour preset's parameters as you called them up.

The new display shows the preset's name and a graphic depiction ofthe position of seven of the eight amp knobs. That lets you quicklyassess the saved values and takes the guesswork out of makingadjustments. A graphical dot shows the saved position and remains inview even after you start twiddling the knobs, allowing you to keep abead on your parameter's starting position.

That is handy, but it's not quite as good as a Compare function,which the PodXT lacks. It's quite easy to get lost in the fun ofediting, only to have to dial your parameters back to their savedpositions one by one for a comparison.

The only amp knob not under microprocessor control and therefore notincluded as part of the saved preset is Output. That's because thiscontrol is meant to adjust the electrical level of the output, not thevolume. If you wish to balance the overall sound of your saved presetagainst others, you must raise or lower the channel volume, which isprogrammable and savable.

Editing in the PodXT is as simple as pressing the Edit button andusing the Select knob to scroll through the pages, which follow alogical source-to-destination progression. This method is best forbuilding sounds from scratch, as the effects are presented in order,from start to finish, in a predictable sequence.

The other way to edit involves simply double-tapping any of the fivestompbox-style buttons (Comp/Gate, Stomp, Mod, Delay, Cab/A.I.R.),which pulls up the appropriate page. I preferred that method forediting specific parameters on the fly.

MODEL PERFORMANCE

I own a Pod 2.0 and a Pod Pro, so I'm intimately familiar with thePod's operation as well as its sounds. After two months with the PodXT,I can say that while the original Pod possesses a raw charm that bestsits modeling competitors, the PodXT provides a whole new level ofsubtlety — and it can still serve up in-your-face sounds with amean attitude.

The new amp models in the PodXT are derived from Line 6's flagshipamp, the Vetta. They boast 32-bit floating-point processing — asignificant power boost over the original's 24-bit capabilities.Whereas the Pod's sounds were impressive and uncanny, the PodXT'ssounds are strikingly realistic, complex, and musical. I foundvirtually every one of the models usable, even when the tones didn'tsuit my taste. But the heart of the PodXT's sounds — modeledclassic amps by Fender, Marshall, Matchless, Mesa/Boogie, Soldano, andVox, among others — show the true power of this generation ofmodeling devices.

Over several weeks I ran side-by-side recorded comparisons, withassistants alternately performing and listening, of the PodXT's modelsagainst my collection of amps: late-'60s and modern Marshalls andFenders, a mid-'60s Vox AC30, and a '90s Matchless Chieftain. What Iwas looking for in the models was not an exact tone-clone (which wouldbe hard to create, even if you matched up the year and model), but thegeneral characteristics and behavior of the amps the PodXT models.

The PodXT did not disappoint. One standout was the Blackface Lux— modeled after a '64 Fender Deluxe Reverb — whichexhibited the signature glassy sheen when run at clean levels andbecame appropriately furry when overdriven. Another outstanding modelwas the Plexi Lead 100 — modeled after the '68 Marshall PlexiSuper Lead — which was remarkable for its raw realism indistorted mode and for its tubelike behavior. Much like the original,the Plexi Lead 100 actually sags after you hit a hard power chord andcontinue to play. Amazing.

The preset names are quite specific, often invoking song titles,such as “Won't Get Fooled,” “Sultans of Swing,”and “Eruption.” That is much more helpful than naming, say,an artist or style, like “Clapton Woman-tone,” which couldsound like many different things. The naming scheme virtually tauntsyou into playing the lick with the presets bearing their namesake'ssound. Assuming you use the pickup setting recommended in the manual,you can produce dead-to-rights versions of classic riffs and get a feelfor the PodXT's imitative power.

STOMPIN'

The addition of modeled effects, taken from classic stompboxes, alsoadds new dimensions to the PodXT. So if the amps aren't quite nastyenough by themselves, you can add a virtual distortion box in front ofthem — something you couldn't do with the original Pod. ThePodXT's distortion options model a ProCo Rat, an Arbiter Fuzz Face, aTycobrake Octavia, an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, and an Ibanez TubeScreamer (the TS-808 version).

Similarly, the compressor and modulation effects offer not genericparameters to tweak, but a choice of models of classic devices. You canselect a Boss CS-1 (my favorite for spanky country Tele licks) or thesupersquashed MXR Dynacomp. The modulation models run from stompboxeslike the Sine Chorus (modeled on the Boss CE-1) to the Bias Trem (afterthe old brown Fender amps that produced their tremolo pulse by varyingthe bias of the power tubes).

I was further impressed when I placed these models in an ambientcontext. In addition to the improved amp models, Line 6 has enhancedits cabinet-and-mic-modeling technology, called A.I.R. for AcousticallyIntegrated Recording. This part of the tone-shaping process models theinteraction of a speaker moving air in a room and the mic that capturesits sound.

Many of my tonal whims were satisfied not by changing amp models butby switching mic modes (for example, from an SM57 off axis to an SM57on axis) or by changing the cabinet (from a 4×12 Celestion V30 toa 2×12 Blackface). These are all the adjustments you'd attemptwith a real amp in a studio before scrapping the amp altogether andtrying another (especially if you've just spent 20 minutes lugging thething into the live room and miking it up). More often than not, you'dfind the right settings by varying your miking approach and stickingwith your original amp choice.

For subtle changes, I almost never had to resort to externalprocessing (EQ, ambience, or compression) to enhance the core ampsound; the full sonic character came as a package from the amp,cabinet, and mic models. For instance, after listening back anddeciding I wanted more highs, all I had to do was change the SM57 modelto the U 67 for a fuller frequency response. At least that was my firstmove, which allowed me to retain some sense of reference. If thatwasn't pronounced enough, I'd simply boost the treble or thepresence.

TWEAK DEEPLY

The original Pod let you tweak only some of its parameters from thefront panel, giving you access to more esoteric functions through aMIDI editor-librarian. With the PodXT, you can adjust any parameterusing the front-panel controls alone. Entering Edit mode on the PodXTis as simple as double-tapping the effect switches and using the cursorbuttons to navigate and the rotary controls to make adjustments. Thisis especially handy with the modulation effects, where you can, forexample, set the speed of the LFO in hundredths of a hertz, from 0.10Hz to 15.00 Hz. If you're thinking in musical time, you can set the LFOto a multiple of the current tap tempo, such as 16th notes oreighth-note triplets.

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The PodXT allows you to vary the placement of certain effects. Youcan place the volume pedal up front or at the very end, and you canplace the modulation and delay effects before the amp (the stompboxway) or after the amp (the effects-loop way). Fig. 2 shows howthe PodXT places its effects in the virtual chain, and the optionalpositions for the volume pedal, delay, and modulation effects.

For those who prefer to edit and organize patches using a computer,Line 6 offers PodXT Edit (Mac/Win), a downloadable editor-librarianthat allows you to view your patches onscreen and edit the parametersusing your computer's graphical interface. PodXT Edit also featuresbackup and organizational utilities for grouping your patches accordingto type and sequence.

X-TRAS

The PodXT produces great sounds and gives you powerful editingoptions, but its features go beyond tone production. Live musicianswill want to check out the FBV and FBV Shortboard, two footpedaldevices that attach to the PodXT with an RJ-45 cable (see the sidebar“A Shortboard That's Long on Features”). If you want totake advantage of any of the PodXT's continuous-controller features,you'll need an FBV board or a MIDI footpedal, because there is noback-panel CV jack on the PodXT itself.

Recordists will appreciate the USB I/O, which transports digitalaudio as well as MIDI and provides the means for installing thefirmware and driver updates available from Line 6's Web site. Line 6will soon offer GuitarPort compatibility, which means PodXT owners canbenefit from the company's ambitious online educational efforts.

MODELS AND SUPERMODELS

There's nothing in the world like miking up a vintage guitar amp andspending time tweaking the dials, varying the mic position, andswapping out different effects pedals. And on the best of days, thiswill yield superior results. But if you want to quickly capture theessence of a vintage setup — in terms of sound production andbehavior — the PodXT does an outstanding job, with all theadvantages of virtual technology.

If you're a working recordist operating under the real-worldstrictures of a budget and a schedule, you'll savor the PodXT's abilityto deliver predictable, consistent, and excellent results. I'd have noproblem using the PodXT as my single-solution guitar device —especially in a situation where direct recording is an option. Yourpersonal tastes might lead you to another multi-effects processor for aparticular fuzz sound or modulation patch, but as a single unitdelivering realism and versatility with great sound, the PodXT givesyou an all-inclusive sound-production environment for start-to-finishguitar processing.

Jon Chappellis the author of Rock Guitar for Dummies(John Wiley & Sons, 2001) and Build Your Own PC RecordingStudio (McGraw-Hill, 2003).

A SHORTBOARD THAT'S LONG ON FEATURES

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The PodXT is a tabletop device that is not designed to be operatedwith the feet. So for hands-free control, Line 6 offers the FBV($599.99) and FBV Shortboard ($369.99; see Fig. A). My reviewunit was an FBV Shortboard. It has fewer dedicated switches than thelarger FBV and one pedal instead of two. To compensate, the FBVShortboard has an expression pedal input, and some of the switchesperform double duty.

You can assign any function to the pedal — volume, wah,modulation depth — and save that assignment as part of thepreset. In addition, a dedicated switch toggles the pedal between wahand volume modes.

The FBV Shortboard is a thing of beauty in terms of design,construction, and ease of use. The high-quality footswitches give asatisfying and unambiguous ker-chunk when you step on them. Thepedal's action has a nice throw to it — not too shallow and nottoo long, but just right for a multitude of uses. The large LCD showsthe patch name that appears on the PodXT's front panel.

Communication between the tabletop device and the pedalboard isbidirectional and instantaneous, so moves made on the PodXT's frontpanel are reflected on the FBV Shortboard's display and status lights.The two devices are connected with a single network-style Cat. 5 cablewith RJ-45 plugs, which handle data communications and power.

Features include tap tempo, a tuner, Manual and Stompbox modes, aneffects-loop toggle switch, and the ability to edit program names fromthe footswitches. The Shortboard is expensive and works only with thePodXT and Line 6 Vetta- and Duoverb-series amps, and it can't integratewith your other MIDI gear. But with its hot-linked connection to thePodXT and its bulletproof construction, you're not likely to needanything else for a well-appointed live rig.

PodXT Specifications

Inputs(1) ¼"unbalancedOutputs(2) ¼"balanced; (1) ¼" stereo headphoneMaximum InputLevel+5dBVAdditionalI/OMIDI In,Out/Thru; USBMaximumOutput Level+20dBuDynamicRange>90dBGuitar In toAnalog Out S/Nstereo: -107.5dB; mono: -110.2 dBPresets64AmpModels32EffectModels49Mic/CabinetModels22A/DConverters24-bit;multistage hybrid; 64× oversamplingD/AConverters24-bit;128× oversamplingControlMIDI In; MIDIOut; RJ-45 for self-powering optional Line 6 floor controller; USBMIDIDigitalI/OUSB; 16- and24-bit, 44.1 kHz, 48 kHzDisplay122 ×32-pixel backlit LCDPowerSupply9 VAC; 2,000 mAline-lumpDimensions11.5" (W) ×3.0" (H) × 7.5" (D)Weight3lb.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Line 6
PodXT
guitar direct box
$569.99

FEATURES4.5EASE OFUSE4.0AUDIOQUALITY4.5VALUE4.0RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO5

PROS: Stellar sound. Realistic models of amps and effects.Solid construction. Flexible I/O and routing options. Powerful andeasy-to-use editing interface.

CONS: No compare function. No CV jack. FBV Floorboards areexpensive.

Manufacturer

Line 6
tel. (818) 575-3600
e-mail info@line6.com
Web www.line6.com