You are here

Line 6 Bass PodXT

Modelling Bass Guitar Preamp
By Paul White

Line 6 Bass PodXTPhoto: Mark Ewing

This updated Line 6 unit combines improved amp modelling, compression, enhanced EQ, and a sizeable repertoire of modelled stomp-box effects.

Like the guitar PodXT, the Bass PodXT is based on the newer-generation Line 6 Vetta modelling technology, and aims to provide the recording bass player with more accurate amp and speaker emulations, more flexible effects, and a higher technical quality of audio performance. As with the PodXT, there's also a USB port so that the output from the unit can be recorded directly into a sequencer without the need for any other kind of audio interface. At the time of writing, audio and MIDI drivers were available for most flavours of Windows (XP, 2000, ME, 98SE) and Mac OS 9, but the Mac OS X driver currently supports only MIDI, not audio. However, all this may have changed by the time you read this, so check out the Line 6 web site to see the latest situation.

Photos: Mark Ewing

The Bass PodXT has four independent effects sections in addition to compression (five if you count the new six-band EQ), for adding effects such as reverb, delay, sub-octave, auto-wah, synth, chorus/flange, and so on, as well as emulations of a number of classic stage and studio effects boxes. Many of these are the same as those available in the PodXT, and most are derived from algorithms developed for the Line 6 pedal and rack effects processors. For live use, it's also possible to set up a crossover with a choice of frequency and slope between the two outputs, for use with bi-amped systems. An effective noise gate is available, with settings that can be stored separately for each patch.

Control Layout

The Bass PodXT's kidney-shaped case is the same as for its six-string counterpart, except for its dark-grey colour and the control legending, which reflects the different types of EQ and processing required by bass instruments. Presence has gone, and in its place are separate Lo Mid and Hi Mid controls to augment the more familiar Bass and Treble. Similarly, the knob that controlled reverb on the PodXT now accesses compression, which is always available.

Selected Bass PodXT Modelled Effects

  • 'Analogue Chorus' — Boss CE1 chorus.
  • 'Analogue Delay' — Boss DM2 delay.
  • 'Analogue w/Mod' — Electro-Harmonix Memory Man.
  • 'Auto Wah' — Mutron III
  • 'Blue Comp' — Boss CS1 compressor.
  • 'Classic Distortion' — Proco RAT.
  • 'Facial Fuzz' — Arbiter Fuzz Face.
  • 'Fuzz PI' — Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi.
  • 'Jet Flanger' — A/DA Flanger.
  • 'Lux Spring' — Fender Deluxe dual spring.
  • 'Multi-Head' — Roland RE101 Space Echo.
  • 'Octave Fuzz' — Tychobrahe Octavia.
  • 'Phaser' — MXR Phase 90.
  • 'Red Comp' — MXR Dynacomp.
  • 'Rotary Drum' — Leslie Vibratone.
  • 'Screamer' — Ibanez Tube Screamer.
  • 'Standard Spring' — Fender Twin triple spring.
  • 'Tube Echo' — Echoplex.
  • 'U-Vibe' — Uni-Vibe.

The control panel comprises eight rotary potentiometer controls plus four rotary encoders and 13 buttons. Like the guitar version, there's one high-impedance mono input jack plus two outputs, on balanced jacks, but rather than the output being stereo, it is configured as one mono modelled output and one straight mono DI output (phase-aligned with the modelled output). There's also the bi-amped mode that routes low frequencies to the DI output and high frequencies to the modelled output. A backlit, custom LCD window shows patch names, parameter settings, and the positions of any virtual controls while editing — a great improvement over the original Pod.

MIDI In and Out connectors are located on the rear edge of the unit, along with the USB port and the power supply's input socket. There's also a Pedal foot-control connection that uses an Ethernet-style cable to connect to one of the compatible Line 6 Floorboard units. This is particularly useful in live performance, and it's the only way to access the internal wah-wah pedal simulation, unless you happen to have a suitable MIDI pedal. A powerful phones output is available for practice.

Although the main EQ is slightly different to the guitar version, the Drive, Channel Volume and master Output controls are the same. The six-band semi-parametric EQ is available for use at the same time as the regular 'amp' EQ, while the inclusion of a dedicated compressor is also a good move, as compression is far more relevant to the bass guitar than reverb. This is based on the same LA2A compressor model used in the Bass Pod and PodXT, though other stomp box-style compressors are also available in the general effects section. A level-compensation system is used, so that the overall level stays nominally constant when the compression control is adjusted.

The Centre Section

Other than the overall compression, all effects are controlled and edited from the centre section. In Play mode, the Select knob can be used to call up patches, while the Effects knob runs through a menu of effects or combinations of effects. There are 64 ready-made effect settings, all of which may be modified or overwritten. Each of the 28 amp models loads up with its own default speaker cabinet and control settings, though this 'default' can be customised by the user if required. The 22 available cabinet emulations range from a single 12-, 15- or 18-inch speaker to massive 4x15-inch and 8x10-inch models, with a further setting for no model.

As with the PodXT, one of the setup modes is entitled 'What are you connecting to?', and there is a choice of Studio/Direct (AIR room simulation active, along with all the amp and speaker modelling), Live with no horn speaker, or Live with a horn (PA or other full-range system). If the bi-amp mode is selected, the crossover frequency and slope may be set by the user.

Five buttons access the independent EQ (an additional six-band, semi-parametric with variable gain and frequency for each band), Stomp, Mod, Delay/Verb and Cab/AIR, the last allowing the user to choose between speaker cabinet models and the way they are 'miked' — there's a choice of two modelled dynamic mics plus two modelled capacitor mics at different distances, the latter based on the characteristics of the 'Tube 47'. The Save, Edit, Tap and Tuner buttons are pretty self-explanatory, while in Edit mode the four buttons below the display allow the direct selection of one of four on-screen parameters before adjusting it with the Effect Tweak knob.

In Play mode, the same four buttons select between patches in the current bank, while the Effect Tweak knob changes the main parameter of the effect. Tap controls not only delay speeds but also LFO rates where appropriate and, like the PodXT, the tuner has a clear on-screen display and good resolution.

Bass PodXT Pro

The Bass PodXT Pro offers the same amp/cab modelling and effects facilities as the basic Bass PodXT, but comes in a 2U rackmount format with mains powering and more professional connectivity options. There are switchable Bass, Line, S/PDIF, and AES-EBU inputs, and the latter will support sample rates of 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz and 96kHz at up to 24-bit resolution. Although there's no dedicated word-clock input, you can elect to have the unit sync to either the incoming AES-EBU or S/PDIF clock regardless of which input source is chosen for the signal. Analogue outputs are provided on both quarter-inch jacks and balanced XLRs (selectable between -10dBV and +4dBu). The digital outs may be set to carry either the straight DI or the modelled signal.

A number of digital and analogue routing options are available that are not present on the basic model. There are effects sends and returns on individual jacks (for both modelled and DI'd outputs) and both serial and parallel effect modes are supported, meaning that you can treat the effects sockets either like an effects loop or like an insert point.

The main changes on the front panel are that Clip and Signal LEDs are fitted, there's a dedicated button for selecting the input source, and there's a slide switch for selecting between normal and high-output bass pickups. As with the guitar versions, there's no real quality difference between the XT and XT Pro models, so what you're mainly paying for is the rack format, freedom from external PSUs, and the extra analogue and digital connectivity.

Memory Matters

Patches are organised into 16 banks of four patches, with a further 64 memories available to store the effect settings. Both come filled with factory examples, which can be overwritten or simply tweaked as desired. The dedicated effects buttons light up when active, and double-clicking on any of them gets you straight to the relevant effect editing page. When the amp level and tone knobs are being adjusted, representations of the six control knobs in the display show both their current and stored settings, where the stored setting is depicted by a dot on the circumference of the knob. Virtual knobs also appear when you edit the effects. Specific effect modulation rates and delay times can be linked to tempo by note value, where tempo is set using the Tap button. Amp models are called up directly from a dedicated rotary encoder, while effects presets can be called up via the Effects encoder knob.

All the effects have basic stomp box-style controls, usually occupying just one or two display pages. A new addition to the Stomp section (compared to that of the PodXT) is a choice of synth algorithms that include pitch-tracking and pitch-shifting, along with a choice of wave shapes and even ring modulation for creating synth-like sounds. A number of filter effects are available in the Mod section, so these can be used with or without the synth. Useful additions include rotary speaker, sample-and-hold filtering, and speaker-crushing sub-octave generation.

Using The Bass PodXT

The Bass PodXT is just as gloriously simple to use as the PodXT, though I found many of the presets to be rather 'over the top'. Perhaps the best way to regard them is as demos of the extremes to which this unit can be pushed, rather than as a library of patches every bass player will want to use. The Stomp effects are largely first-class, though the synth sounds have to be used with care and only work when you play clean, monophonic lines. Some of the synthetic sounds are really rather effective, but their tendency to yodel and warble on sustained notes means you have to take great care over how you use this section.

Line 6 Bass PodXTPhoto: Mark EwingLine 6 Bass PodXTPhoto: Mark EwingThe outputs are electrically quiet and the algorithms are nicely responsive to playing intensity. The rest of the effects/processing section is also excellent, and there's no restriction on the way the effects sections can be combined (though you can't have reverb and delay together, as these are both options within the Delay/Verb section menu), with compression and six-band EQ always available.

I checked the USB audio connection under Mac OS 9 using my G4 and found that it worked perfectly, the only frustration being that (using Logic at least) the outputs from your audio software also have to go via the Pod when recording, so it's best to turn down the master analogue level control on the PodXT otherwise you hear the direct Pod sound plus the slightly delayed version (due to driver latency) at the output, which sounds a little odd. The latency is actually low enough to ignore for all practical purposes, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how good my mixes sounded playing back through the PodXT's converters. If only the thing had a mic input, you'd be able to do without a soundcard altogether! One point you need to watch is that the digital output from the Pod is usually well below full scale, even with the Amp Channel Volume control turned up full, so I found I had to normalise after recording. This didn't seem to cause any quality problems, however.

Deeper Underground

As with most Line 6 products, there's more depth of editability than you might initially expect, such as a user-variable crossover frequency on the relevant modulation effects, but if you're after instant gratification then you won't be disappointed. Although even the best guitar modelling devices sometimes fall short of capturing the quality and presence of a real miked amplifier, getting a good bass guitar sound has always been such a pain in the proverbials that devices such as the Bass PodXT usually sound significantly better than the real thing in the majority of project studio situations, and the results can rival what you hear on the best-produced records. You don't have to worry about miking an amp or finding a speaker that doesn't rattle, and there are no spill or noise problems.

The digital audio I/O is a handy and easy-to-use feature and I'm hoping OS X support and full MIDI support for all platforms will come sooner rather than later. Editing software is also available on the Line 6 web site, though the front panel is so easy to navigate that I don't think many users will bother with it. The technical sound quality is certainly cleaner than that of the original Bass Pod (reviewed back in SOS November 2000), the dynamic response is superior, and the amp models are that bit more believable. The effects section organisation is a great improvement (even though it's serious overkill for most conventional bass playing), and for live use the addition of the bi-amped mode and compatibility with the Floorboard controller should eliminate the need for any further pedals, processors or crossovers. Most of the effects work just as you'd expect, but it's probably fair to say that you have to meet the synth patches half way.

Studio users may prefer the Pro version, with its rackmount format and expanded connectivity options, though I couldn't detect any subjective difference between the sound of the two versions. If you just need a straight bass sound and you already have a PodXT, then you can easily set up a number of equally plausible bass amps using that alone. If, however, you want to explore more sophisticated or experimental bass sounds, the Bass PodXT is most definitely the box to do it with.

Test Spec

Bass PodXT OS v1.01.
Bass PodXT Pro OS v1.01.
Apple G4 Mac 800MHz with 768MB RAM, running Mac OS 9.2.
Mac OS 9 USB audio driver v1.0.0.1.

Pros

  • Wide-ranging effects section.
  • Brilliant user interface.
  • Lots of classic bass amp and speaker models.
  • Pro model has improved routing and connectivity options.
  • Built-in USB audio interface.

Cons

  • Mac OS X USB audio drivers not available at time of review.
  • Synth simulations tend to mistrack, causing pitch wavering.

Summary

You can certainly coax a huge range of bass sounds from this unit, from clean and punchy to The Who Live At Leeds. There are more effects than most bass players will need, but it's good to know they are there if you want them.

Line 6 Bass PodXT £339

pros

  • Wide-ranging effects section.
  • Brilliant user interface.
  • Lots of classic bass amp and speaker models.
  • Pro model has improved routing and connectivity options.
  • Built-in USB audio interface.

cons

  • Mac OS X USB audio drivers not available at time of review.
  • Synth simulations tend to mistrack, causing pitch wavering.

summary

You can certainly coax a huge range of bass sounds from this unit, from clean and punchy to The Who Live At Leeds. There are more effects than most bass players will need, but it's good to know they are there if you want them.

Bass PodXT, £339; Bass PodXT Pro, £499. Prices include VAT.

Line 6 Europe +44 (0)1788 821600.

+44 (0)1788 821601.

euroinfo@line6.com

www.line6.com

Published April 2004