The lines between the physical audio universe and the virtual one just keep on blurring. A case in point is the hybrid nature of the PodXT Live multi-effects unit from Line 6. First, you have your good old hardware effects that you mount in a rack, and they do their thing with natural analog or digital goodness. Then, you have your software compressors and reverbs that emulate those outside boxes, working as you click away at them as they reside inside your computer. After that, you have devices like the PodXT Live, which rips those simulations from the safety of your Mac or PC and puts them back out in the real world where you can tweak them mercilessly with both your hands or — better yet — stomp on them with your feet.
The PodXT Live is the latest in Line 6's long-running series of Pod products, the direct-recording and performance workhorses that have found their way into countless guitar and bass rigs as well as studios the world over. The PodXT Live takes the amp-, cabinet- and effect-modeling features of the Pod series and puts them into a pedal-driven, performance-ready package that is much better suited to making the on-the-fly changes that are often needed for live performance onstage or in the studio. Officially, the PodXT Live is a guitar pedal, made by a traditionally guitar-centric company for guitarists, but that doesn't mean the only people who can benefit from this intriguing device are wielding six-strings — not by a long shot. Keyboard players, vocalists, groove-boxers and all other studio and live-performing types may very well find a reason to investigate the capabilities of this mean mechanism.
ON THE FLOOR
As pedals go, the PodXT Live is big. Besides an array of knobs for fingers, it packs no fewer than 11 small footswitch pedals and one boot-size Volume/Wah pedal into its jet-black frame, which I measured at approximately 20.25 by 11 inches. That may sound like a lot of toe controllers, but that's because there's a lot under the hood for the purposes of serving as a multi-effects pedal in front of an amp, as a direct P.A. solution or for direct recording without an amp.
The primary feature here is the impressive modeling library that Line 6 has built up throughout the years. First off are 80-plus stompbox and studio effects models that can be run a total of eight at a time, including emulations of the Teletronix LA-2A, the Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face, the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, the Line 6 Vetta Comp, the Musitronics Mutron III, the Leslie 145, the Boss DM-2, sweep echo, reverse delay, rich chamber reverb, wah and 4-band EQ. All effects can be positioned either stompbox-style in front of the amp and cabinet models or behind in studio-post fashion. Also lurking in this unit's microchips are 36 amp models, ranging from classic options like a Fender 1953 Deluxe to a Hiwatt 1973 Custom 100 to an array of Marshalls, a pair of Mesa/Boogies, a Roland Jazz Chorus and a simple tube preamp. Placed virtually on top of those amps are 24 different speaker cabinets, including a 1510 Gibson, a 1515 1962 Supro Thunderbolt and a 2512 1967 Silvertone Twin Twelve. Once in place, the amp and cab combos are miked by models of the venerable Shure SM57 (choose between on- or off-axis), the Sennheiser MD 421 or the Neumann U 67. Everything is infinitely tweakable and supported by amenities like a built-in chromatic tuner.
Taking the PodXT Live out of the box for the first time, I was surprised at its heft. The shell features all-metal construction, which definitely makes it durable, if not pleasantly portable at approximately 11 pounds. And even though no one wants to have to read the manual these days, with this unit, it's pretty essential to budget at least five minutes to scan the Quick Start guide as well as another five minutes to find things in the manual that aren't explained thoroughly enough in the Quick Start. Overall, the included documentation is clear (and extremely buddy-buddy).
After powering up the unit, the first suggested step is to press the large Output Mode/System button in the editing section at the upper left and elicit a query from the small but highly legible orange LCD. The first prompt asks, “What are you connecting to?” Depending on what output destination you select (Studio Direct, Live P.A. or one of several guitar-amp options), the tone of the PodXT Live will be optimized for that particular situation. This is also important because the 64 channels of built-in presets are divided into two equal groups, each of which is earmarked by Line 6 for optimal use with those output mode options.
PLUG IT IN
Connectivity for the PodXT Live is fairly comprehensive. Look at the back, and next to the well-designed strain relief for the external power supply and on/off switch is a USB port for recording directly to computer and connecting with Line 6's GuitarPort (Windows), Line 6 Monkey and the cross-platform Line 6 Edit software utilities, which are available for free from the company's Website, facilitating onscreen tweaking and guitar-tone downloads from the vast library at www.customtone.com. Moving right to left, next up is a Variax connector for a Line 6 Variax modeling guitar, followed by MIDI I/O; a stereo headphone jack; and a pair of unbalanced ¼-inch connectors for output to an amp, recorder, mixer or P.A. system, handling either stereo output or mono from the left jack. A tiny rear-panel level knob sets the output level, with an accompanying line/amp switch for optimized connection to the next device in your signal path. There is, of course, a ¼-inch instrument input jack and an 1/8-inch aux input for jamming along with a CD player, as well as an input for a second expression pedal.
Although I was momentarily disappointed to see that the PodXT Live did not offer the stereo ins that can be found on many other effects pedals, I quickly discovered in practice with synths and other stereo output devices that it wasn't a big deal. The delays and other onboard panning effects operate in true stereo, so even when I ran the mono output from my Roland XV-5050, Korg Electribe or Roland TR-606 into the PodXT Live, I still got plenty of left-right action back out. But S/PDIF connectivity would also be appreciated.
Once you've made your connections, powered up and selected your output mode, you're ready to go. At that point, the factory preset tones, or channels, can be selected one of two ways: You can move the Select knob with your fingers or hit the Bank up or down pedals with your feet (depending on where you are in relation to the unit). An LED clearly shows the bank/channel you're on, such as 5D or 14C. Within each bank are four channel options, with corresponding pedals on the bottom row labeled A through D. Once you start moving through these channels, which can also be thought of as tones or patches, the action really picks up. Each channel — with names such as Plexi Lead, Class A-30 TB, Treadplate, Bridge of Sighs and Chorus Shimmer — is a carefully concocted combination of an amp, cabinet, stomp pedal, mod pedal, delay, gate or EQ. Sometimes, the name of the channel gives you a clear idea of its inspiration and intended effect — Purple Haze Solo anyone? — other times, you have to play through it first to get the feel. A small red indicator light next to each channel pedal gives visual confirmation of which one you're currently using. If you move to another bank, the channel remains, and its light begins blinking until you select a new channel with the footswitch, a safety measure to save an audience from hearing you switch through channels as you navigate through the banks.
After you've gotten in the ballpark with a channel, the next level of modification fun kicks in via four more footswitches labeled Amp, Stomp, Mod and Delay. Tapping these switches turns those effects on and off quickly, with visual confirmation coming once again from the affixed light. Tap tempo can be input by a Tap footswitch, which doubles as the Hold/Tuner switch. Amp Tone Controls for Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence and Chan Vol are accessible at any time from six large dedicated chrome knobs situated over the top bank of footswitches. Although these knobs are extremely touch-sensitive and can be triggered by accident if you're working with other knobs close by, it's not too difficult to get back on track.
All these steps are really just the teaser, however, for the tweaking that can ensue at this point. Whereas the original Pod requires users to interface with a computer to edit, the PodXT Live has everything onboard to keep you twiddling for days once you move on to and master the deep edit menu. Below and to the left of the LCD are the Save and Edit buttons, with four soft switches directly below the display. The main edit page always displays Comp, Amp, Gate and EQ directly above the soft switches. Press them once, and the effect goes on and off, as with the footswitches. Double-tap them, and you move into edit mode for that menu item. The bank/channel Select knob now becomes Select Page and allows you to scroll through 14 pages of options for sound modification, and the Value knob to the right allows you to tweak the value — as many as four per page assignable to the knob by pressing the corresponding soft switch.
Once in edit mode, I found an extremely high degree of detail available. On the Delay page, for example, you can not only select the model of delay (such as tube echo, analog delay, digital delay) but also tweak its time (quarter note, half-note triplet and so on), feedback level and mix level. The A.I.R. modeling settings allow you to choose a cabinet and a mic as well as the mic's axis and distance from the amp in the room. Specific control parameters for the Volume/Wah pedal can also be assigned, and that page also displays the tapped-tempo bpm and allows it to be precisely honed if desired. Once you get a channel the way you like it, you can save it either by overwriting the original factory patch or doing a save-as in one of the 64 available user preset slots.
A multitude of sound-sculpting options are available in the PodXT Live, from rip-roaring faux-tube-driven distortion to gate-happy rhythmic grooves, trippy flange and chorus combinations, alien voices, mud, freaky futuristic sounds and retro-feel dirt. With grit and distortion being highly desirable qualities for many recordists these days, this pedal delivers it authentically. It brought a deliciously nasty edge to many of the patches in my XV-5050, providing a huge range of fresh creative options for many of my favorite sounds as well as unexpected new takes on many others that I hadn't previously found interesting. It's amazing what a new tactile-based tool can do to make you take a second look at some old sounds.
I was also able to attack the mic with confidence, quickly dialing up crazy effects that allowed me to turn my mediocre singing voice into a scary creature or, even more useful, play it like a guitar or a semivocoder. Moving the Volume/Wah pedal with either my hands or foot added another level of real-time manipulation to the mix. Sound designers looking for a fast-moving interface to immediately record manipulated sounds instead of fussing with plug-ins on the audio afterward could probably benefit a great deal from this pedal, too.
CLEAR THE STAGE
Besides satisfying my picky guitarist with an expansive array of amp and effect sounds, the PodXT Live proved to be an extremely convenient tool for recording — eliminating the time, labor and guesswork of miking an amp — and it allowed us to start recording and creating shredding guitar licks immediately. And although the edit section can seem deep and somewhat overwhelming at first, Line 6 has taken great care to make it intuitive and easy to adapt to. With just a little practice, I was able to fly through the functions and generate fascinating new tones.
Connected to the computer via USB, the PodXT Live showed it had some more important tricks up its sleeve. Besides the aforementioned downloadable guitar tones and onscreen tweaking, audio can be recorded directly into the computer via the USB port. My DAW, Steinberg Cubase SX3, recognized the ASIO-compatible PodXT Live instantly, facilitating latency-free direct recording. Anytime you can eliminate the need to carry another piece of gear, it's a step in the right direction. With a guitar, a laptop, a pair of headphones and the PodXT, you can knock out a guitar track anywhere.
Overall, the PodXT Live is an extremely flexible effects unit that far exceeds the expectations of a standard guitar pedal. Besides making recording and amplification of guitar quite convenient, it can breathe new life into your existing instrument arsenal, with the real-time sound-sculpting power that only a physical, tactile interface like this can provide. Add in the big-computer functionality from its little USB port, and it's obvious that this unit should make a versatile addition to recording and live rigs of every stripe — this one isn't just for guitarists.
PODXT LIVE > $599.99
Pros: Direct-recording convenience. Terrific distortion and deep sound-sculpting tools with real-time controls. Downloadable tones. Efficient DAW front end.
Cons: Heavy. Some knobs overly sensitive.