Line 6 Pod XT

Modelling Guitar Preamp & Effects Processor

Published in SOS January 2003
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Reviews : Preamp

Photos: Mike Cameron
This new version of Line 6's ground-breaking Pod guitar processor combines improved amp modelling with a host of high-quality effects plundered from the company's range of rack processors.


Paul White

Though Roland were the first to make serious inroads into guitar modelling, there's no doubt that it was the Line 6 Pod that captured the imagination of the mass market. With its simple controls, low cost and instant-gratification sounds, it was destined to be a winner, but inevitably other manufacturers quickly jumped on the bandwagon, some offering lower cost, others offering tangible improvements in certain areas, specifically effects. With the launch of the PodXT, Line 6 have drawn a new line in the sand by utilising the technology from their new generation Vetta high-end modelling amplifiers to provide better amp emulations, and by incorporating more effects (many taken from their Modeler range) and better audio performance. They've also included a USB port so that the output from the PodXT can be recorded into a sequencer or other audio program without the need for a separate audio interface — however, this requires drivers which were not yet available at the time of this review.

Next Generation

Though the original Pod was clearly a ground-breaking product, some players felt it didn't have quite enough touch-responsiveness and, while it was great for creating overdriven sounds, its clean sounds were considered weak by some. Then there was the effects system, which forced you to choose between effects that you might reasonably want to use together. Particularly limiting was the way compressor usage was restricted depending on the other effects being used. Given the low price to which the Pod has now fallen, perhaps these restrictions can be forgiven, but the PodXT includes a lot of features and improvements that will help endear it to serious players.

Line 6 PodXT £369
pros
Significantly improved amp model sounds, dynamic response and feel.
Straightforward user interface.
Superb guitar-specific effects section.
cons
Although a USB socket is provided, USB drivers for using the PodXT as an audio interface are not yet available.
Still can't quite get my '60s big chord sounds.
summary
The PodXT is a significant advance on the original Pod and includes the best guitar effects from the Line 6 Modeler range.

Modelling a guitar sound involves looking at the way the various stages of amplification and EQ shape the sound, how the speaker and cabinet frequency response contribute to the tone, and even analysing how the choice and position of recording microphone changes the results. Because DSP is cheaper and more powerful than when the original Pod was launched, the Vetta amplifiers are able to model smaller stages of amplification, even down to individual components, providing more control over the model, plus the new algorithms produce a better dynamic response. By using Vetta algorithms in the PodXT, the performance of the original Pod has been vastly improved upon, but, in addition to the sonic benefits, the PodXT has also gained a much improved control system that can access every parameter without the need for editing software (though a software editor is apparently planned), plus it has four simultaneous effects sections, in addition to reverb.

To accommodate the extra controls, the PodXT's case has been made a little larger, though it still retains its familiar kidney shape. There are now eight rotary potentiometer controls with four further rotary encoders and 13 buttons. Also new is a considerably enhanced display, which can show patch names, parameter settings and virtual control positions during sound editing. MIDI In and Out connectors allow patch dumping and remote editing, there's the USB port, and a foot control connection (Ethernet style) hooks up to the new Shortboard floor controller — this is needed to access the pedal wah effects.

The only new control to join the main amplifier controls is the Presence knob, so there's no longer need to use the 'shift treble' function to change the presence setting. In this respect, the PodXT has the same Bass, Middle, Treble and Presence controls as many classic amplifiers as well as the usual Drive, Channel Volume and master Output settings. Reverb has its own knob, as do the selection of amp models and effect types, but everything else is controlled from the ingenious centre section. Outside Edit mode, Select is used to move between stored patches, while the Effects knob calls up effects or combinations of effects — there are 64 ready-made effect settings (all overwritable), both single and combinations, that can be directly accessed to save the user having to set them up from scratch.

The PodXT is powered from an external supply which feeds the rear-panel power socket at the far left. Next to the power socket are MIDI In and Out sockets for remote editing and patch dumping, and a USB socket designed to allow the PodXT to be used as an audio interface for a computer once the requisite drivers are available. The Ethernet-style socket is for connecting the optional Shortboard pedal controller, and this socket is followed by balanced jack sockets for the left and right audio outputs.

Streamlined Operation

Four buttons access the compressor/gate, stomp box, modulation and delay effects sections, with the Cab/AIR button addressing the speaker cabinet models and the AIR (Acoustically Integrated Recording) settings, the latter relating to the virtual mic setup and the influence of the room acoustics. Here you can choose from on-axis and off-axis versions of Shure's SM57 dynamic, an on-axis Sennheiser MD421 and a capacitor model allegedly based on the Neumann U67. The Save, Edit, Tap and Tuner buttons of the original Pod are retained, but four new buttons have been added directly below the display. While editing, or when the Tap or Save buttons are lit, these simply select which of the four parameters that can be displayed on each page is to be accessed via the Effect Tweak knob. Outside Edit mode, on the other hand, they select one of four patches from the current bank, and the Effect Tweak knob generally changes the main parameter of the effect, such as speed or intensity. Tap controls the speed of things like modulation LFOs or delays. It's also worth mentioning at this point that the new Tuner has a vastly superior on-screen display to the old one and seems much more accurate. The dedicated post-amplifier compressor section is based on the same LA2A compressor model used in the Bass Pod, although stomp box-style compressors are also available in the general effects section.

  The Designer Speaks  
  I asked Marcus Ryle, co-founder and President of Line 6 to explain how the Vetta/PodXT modelling differs from the older Flextone/Pod technology. "We took the opportunity with Vetta to revisit our entire modelling process from the ground up," he said. "Since we knew we were going to build in more processing power, we were able to provide for more detail in our tube modelling, as well as add new sonic elements that we hadn't modelled before. For example, the age of the capacitors in the power supply can be modelled in order to introduce the appropriate amount of AC hum modulation to the audio signal when playing loud. Although this is a seemingly undesirable artifact, we found it was actually part of the signature sound of amps like the Vox AC30.

"Another significant difference is that our processing is now 32-bit floating point (as opposed to 24-bit fixed point, as found in Pod v2.0 and lots of other places). This extended dynamic range is quite valuable, since there is so much potential gain within an amp model circuit."

 
Any of the 32 amp models can be called up using the Amp Models rotary selector and each loads up with its own default speaker cabinet and control settings, which can be customised by the user if required. When you use the PodXT, different output settings are required depending on whether you're using it live into a power amp with guitar cabs, live into a guitar combo, or DI'ing it into a studio or PA mixer. Holding Tuner while turning Select accesses the page that lets you select the appropriate destination type. The manual also suggests that you try to set up the patches with the Output control set fairly high, as this provides the best resolution by making the best use of the converter's headroom.

PodXT's memories are organised into 16 banks of four patches, most of which come loaded with virtual amplifier rigs that you can either keep as they are, modify, or replace altogether. A further 64 memories are used to hold the effect settings, which may again be overwritten to create a custom effects library. This means that when you're setting up a new sound, you can load in any one of the library effects or combinations with their settings intact. If you want to make changes to a patch, either press Edit or double-click one of the four Effects buttons or the Cab/Air button, which will select the appropriate section for editing and simultaneously switch the system into Edit mode for you. The four effects buttons each light up when they're active, so to turn them on or off outside Edit mode you only have to press the corresponding button.

If you go into Edit mode then turn the Select knob, you can page through every amp and effect setting and adjust them directly. When the amp settings are being adjusted, representations of the six control knobs show up in the display along with their stored settings. If you move a control, the new position is shown alongside the stored setting as indicated by a dot on the circumference of the knob. Virtual knobs also show up when you go to edit the effects, and you can choose which parameter the Tweak knob addresses if you don't agree with the default choice. Furthermore, the volume pedal, delay and modulation blocks may be moved either before or after the amp model. Another neat feature, derived from the Modeler pedals, is that certain effect parameters (specifically modulation rate and delay) can be linked to tempo by note value, so that you can decide how many times per bar something should happen. The tempo is set using the Tap button as usual.

Most of the effects have fairly simple, stomp box-type controls, where you select the effect type, then adjust two or three (virtual) knobs. However, the reverb is far more flexible than on the original Pod, with just as many simulated spaces as most rackmounting reverbs, albeit with much simpler parameter adjustment.

Using The PodXT

Even though the PodXT has a somewhat different operating system to the original Pod, you don't really need the manual to get around the basics of sound selection and editing. The designers have gone to great lengths to include factory sounds that relate to well-known musical styles (and even specific songs), but I found that most of these needed tweaking a little to work well with my own guitar, which is not at all surprising given the differences between guitars and playing techniques.

The output is definitely less noisy than on the original Pod, to a noticeable degree, and the sound is also much more responsive to playing level — if you back off the guitar volume, the sound cleans up nicely without becoming lifeless. When using heavily overdriven sounds, it is sometimes hard to tell the sound of the new Pod from the old, apart from the improved dynamics, but the XT is significantly better on clean sounds and those with just a little overdriven edge to them. Furthermore, the AIR section now allows for four different miking arrangements, and the influence of the room is a fully variable parameter rather than being simply on or off. The impression of the amp being moved further away in a live room is quite uncanny — the higher the Room setting, the more the amp moves back and the more the room reflections predominate.

  Second Opinion  
  I bought an original Pod when they were first launched, but soon found it disappointing for direct recording. Whilst many of the heavily distorted sounds were eminently usable, the more subtle clean to softly-overdriven 'Blackface' Fender sounds that I prefer were probably the unit's weakest area. I also felt that the original Pod tended to rob guitars of some of their individuality, so that there was little distinction between a good Strat and an average one and, most damning of all, even a Tele would sometimes sound little different from a Strat. Ultimately, I felt that amp/cabinet modelling was a great concept whose time had not yet come.

To my ears, PodXT is in a different league. The sophistication of the modelling now allows the guitar and the player to interact with the sound just as you can with a high-quality valve amp. The way the amp models respond to guitar volume control settings is particularly impressive, as is the absence of noise and the significantly extended headroom — dig into a dynamic amp model and you get something back. The effects are strong and the user interface a delight, but even if they weren't, this time the sound alone is enough to convince at least one sceptic that, in the PodXT, desktop amp modelling has finally come of age. Dave Lockwood

 
During my tests, I found that some of the more lively models could cause what sounded like internal clipping if the Chan Vol parameter was set too high, so the best approach seems to be to use the Output control at around three-quarters up, then use the Chan Vol control to balance the clean and dirty sounds. This way you should avoid any problems.

Though the clean sounds are brighter, more responsive and generally all-round more useful than on the basic Pod, I found I still had to work at them to get some of the sounds I wanted, and the most elusive still seem to be those big '60s chords where the sound is only slightly dirty yet hugely powerful. There are several examples of this type of sound on the early The Rolling Stones and The Who records and I've discovered that it's not easy to duplicate them using any DI method I've tried to date. Gratifyingly, the piezo model coaxes a more than reasonable electroacoustic sound out of an electric guitar — even one without a piezo bridge.

While the amp sounds are most definitely better, you shouldn't let this overshadow the effects section, which plunders the best guitar effects from the whole Line 6 Modeler range, including some great analogue and tube echoes, the excellent reverse delay and a whole range of nice modulation treatments. Because the modulation and delay sections are separate (and mainly stereo), there's no restriction on the way these can be combined, so you can always have reverb, compression, a modulation effect, a delay effect and a stomp box running at once if you've a mind to. There are no pitch-shifting effects, but then I've never found one at anything like this UK price that works well enough to actually use.

For live use, the new Shortboard is a practical and ruggedly built addition, as it provides on/off controls for all the individual effect sections and the post-amplifier output compressor stage, as well as bank and patch selection, a decent-sized display of the patch name and a pedal that can be used for volume or wah-wah. It's also possible to connect an optional EX1 expression pedal to the Shortboard for variable control of two parameters at once. Patches may be saved from the Shortboard, but my guess is that most people will only use it when they're playing live or when they need volume or wah-wah control in the studio.

Verdict

I don't think any modelling amplifier DI'd into a mixing console is a satisfactory replacement for the real thing in all circumstances, but Line 6 have most definitely narrowed the gap with their PodXT. The overall sound quality is improved, the dynamic response is more natural and the clean amp models are an order of magnitude more authentic than in the original Pod. On top of that, the effects section is far more serious and could easily replace additional rack effects and stomp boxes in the majority of applications.

It's a shame the software drivers weren't available for me to check out the audio interface, as this could be another big bonus for those computer users who only need to add the odd guitar part to their mainly MIDI compositions — you could even record vocals using the Tube Preamp model by connecting a mic preamp to the XT's input.

Whatever you think of amp modelling, the PodXT has more than made up any ground that Line 6 might have lost over the past two or three years. It can deliver the right kind of sound in most recording situations , the guitar-specific effects are great and the user interface has actually been improved and simplified, notwithstanding the XT's far more powerful effects section. I think Line 6 could justifiably be feeling pretty pleased with themselves right now!

  Models & Effects  
  AMP MODELS
'Line 6 Clean'
'Line 6 JTS45' — hybrid model based on the Marshall JTM45 and Fender Bassman.
'Line 6 Class A'
'Line 6 Mood' — a customised grunge sound.
'Line 6 Spinal Puppet' — a head-banging rock sound.
'Line 6 Chemical X' — high gain.
'Line 6 Insane' — very high overdrive.
'Line 6 Piezacoustic 2' — for use with piezo bridge pickups.
'Zen Master' — Budda Twinmaster 2x12.
'Small Tweed' — 1953 Fender Tweed Deluxe.
'Tweed BMan' — 1958 Fender Bassman.
'Tiny Tweed' — 1961 Tweed Champ.
'Blackface Lux' — 1964 Fender Deluxe Reverb.
'Double Verb' — 1965 Twin Reverb.
'Two Tone' — Gretsch 6156 1x10 combo.
'Hiway 100' — 1966 Hi Watt DR103.
'Plexi 65' — 1965 Marshall JTM45.
'Plexi Lead 100' — 1968 Marshall Super Lead.
'Plexi Jump Lead' — 1968 Marshall Super Lead with inputs ganged.
'Plexi Variac' — 1968 Marshall Super Lead with mains voltage increased.
'Brit J800' — Marshall JCM800.
'Brit JM Pre' — Marshall JMP1 preamp.
'Match Chief' — Matchless Chieftain.
'Match D30' — Matchless DC30.
'Recto Dual' — Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier Solo head.
'Cali Crunch' — Mesa Boogie MkIIC.
'Jazz Clean' — Roland JC120.
'Solo 100' — Soldano SLO100 head.
'Super 0' — Supro S6616.
'Class A 15' — 1960 Vox AC15.
'Class A30 TB' — Vox AC30 Top Boost.
'Tube Preamp' — tube DI box with overdrive.

CABINET MODELS
'1x6 Super O' — 6x9 Supro S6616.
'1x8 Tweed' — 1961 Fender Tweed Champ.
'1x10 Gibtone' — 1x10 Gibson.
'1x10 G-Brand' — Gretsch 6156.
'1x12 Line 6'
'1x12 Tweed' — 1953 Fender Tweed Deluxe.
'1x12 Blackface' — 1964 Fender Blackface Deluxe.
'1x12 Class A' — 1960 Vox AC15.
'2x2 Mini T' — 2x2 Fender Mini Twin.
'2x12 Line 6'
'2x12 Blackface' — 1965 Fender Blackface Twin.
'2x12 Match' — 1995 Matchless Chieftain.
'2x12 Jazz' — Roland JC120.
'2x12 Class A' — 1967 Vox AC30.
'4x10 Line 6'
'4x12 Green 20s' — 1967 Marshall Basketweave with Greenbacks.
'4x12 Green 25s' — 1968 Marshall Basketweave with Greenbacks.
'4x12 Celest T75' — 1978 Marshall with stock 70s.
'4x12 Celest V30' — 1996 Marshall with Vintage 30s.
'4x12 Recto' — 4x12 Mesa Boogie.

STOMP BOX EFFECTS
'Facial Fuzz' — Arbiter Fuzz Face.
'Fuzz PI' — Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi.
'Screamer' — Ibanez Tube Screamer.
'Classic Distortion' — Proco RAT.
'Octave Fuzz' — Tychobrahe Octavia.
'Blue Comp' — Boss CS1.
'Red Comp' — MXR Dynacomp.
'Auto Wah' — Mutron III.
'Vetta Comp' — Line 6 special.
'Auto Swell' — slow envelope attack with compression.

MODULATION EFFECTS
'Sine Chorus'
'Flanger'
'Opto Tremolo'
'Bias Tremolo'
'Auto Pan'
'Analogue Chorus' — Boss CE1.
'Jet Flanger' — A/DA Flanger.
'Phaser' — MXR Phase 90.
'U-Vibe' — Uni-Vibe.
'Rotary Drum & Horn' — Leslie 145.
'Rotary Drum' — Leslie Vibratone.
'Analogue Echo' — Boss DM2.
'Analogue w/Mod' — Electro-Harmonix Memory Man.
'Tube Echo' — Echoplex.
'Multi-Head' — Roland RE101 Space Echo.
'Sweep Echo' — echo with filter.
'Digital Delay'
'Stereo Delay'
'Ping Pong Delay'
'Reverse Delay' — reverses everything up to two seconds after you play it!

REVERB EFFECTS
'Lux Spring' — Fender Deluxe dual spring.
'Standard Spring' — Fender Twin triple spring.
'King Spring' — Line 6 multi-spring.
'Small Room'
'Tiled Room'
'Brite Room'
'Dark Hall'
'Medium Hall'
'Large Hall'
'Rich Chamber'
'Cavernous'
'Slap Plate'
'Vintage Plate'
'Large Plate'

 

  Test Spec  
  Line 6 PodXT OS v1.0  

 information
PodXT, £369; FBV Shortboard, £229;
EX1 expression pedal, £45. Prices include VAT.
Line 6 Europe +44 (0)1788 821600.
+44 (0)1788 821601.
Click here to email
www.line6.com

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