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Line 6 Pod X3 Pro

Guitar Modelling Processor
By Paul White

Line 6 Pod X3 Pro

Line 6 follow their Pod X3 and X3 Live processors with this rackmount professional version, the X3 Pro, offering enhanced I/O and dual processing.

In true Line 6 tradition, they've followed their Pod X3 and X3 Live processors with a rackmount professional version, the X3 Pro ($979.99 MSRP), which has enhanced I/O and a few capabilities not provided on the standard 'kidney' or X3 Live floor-unit versions. It features the same Dual Tone architecture as the X3, which means that you can set up two different effect/amp/speaker cab rigs at the same time and combine them. Alternatively, you can process two completely separate guitars, basses or voices using one processor channel for each — something not possible with the standard version.

You also get the Pod Farm plug‑in (see SOS Jan 09), which essentially provides all the X3 facilities in the form of a Mac or Windows plug‑in, or as a latency‑free stand-alone 'virtual processor' without the need for a DAW. The hardware acts as the 'dongle' for Pod Farm and makes the latency‑free processing possible: as long as the Pod is connected to the computer, the Pod Farm software will run as a plug‑in. You can still use another interface if you prefer, but for direct USB recording from the Pod or for latency‑free processing using Pod Farm, the Pod (or other suitable Line 6 interface) must be selected as the DAW's I/O device, or be part of a composite audio driver. You can also use the Pod X3 Pro as a computer interface for a Line 6 Variax guitar, enabling you to create new guitars using the free Variax Workbench software.

The Pod Pro X3 uses 24‑bit A-D and D-A converters, and the internal processing employs 32‑bit floating‑point arithmetic — which is the same as in many DAWs. Up to nine simultaneous effects per signal chain can be used, with effects split between pre‑the‑amplifier (stomp) and post‑amp (send loop). DAW users will welcome the fact that the Pod X3 family's USB 2.0 connectivity supports multi‑channel recording and stereo playback without the need for an additional interface, and there's also a digital Variax connection that allows a Variax guitar to be connected in such a way that X3 Pro presets can store the Variax settings alongside those of the X3 — so a performer can call up the right guitar and pickup combination with each Pod preset.

Output 1‑2 is fed by whatever you've selected for the Digital/XLR Outs, 3‑4 is Tone 1 separately in stereo, 5‑6 is Tone 2 separately in stereo, 7 is the sum of the inputs for Tone 1 and 8 is the sum of the inputs for Tone 2. This allows the simultaneous recording of both processed and unprocessed sounds, where both Tone channel outputs may be recorded in stereo.

The main differences between a standard Pod X3 and this Pro version are the extra connectivity and the ability to use both channels separately. The X3 Pro has two dual quarter‑inch instrument inputs, and there are also two balanced-XLR mic inputs with phantom power, gain‑trim controls and switchable low‑cut filters. Digital I/O is presented in S/PDIF coaxial and AES-EBU balanced formats, as well as the Variax VDI Digital Interface, which uses a CAT5 cable. Analogue outs are on both unbalanced quarter‑inch jacks (switchable to amp or line level) and balanced Studio/Direct XLRs (switchable to mic or line level with a ground‑lift option), so pretty much any live or studio scenario is catered for.

A connector is included for a Line 6 FBV floor controller, there's MIDI In and Out on standard five‑pin DIN sockets and stereo insert points on quarter‑inch jacks. Another nice touch is the provision of separate, unprocessed DI output for each channel. The headphone jack on the front panel is controlled by the Master Volume knob.

Physically, the Pod X3 Pro is presented as a mains-powered, 3U rack device but it has been styled rather differently from earlier Pod Pro units. This time, the distinctive sculpted, red, anodised front panels have been confined to the mic/instrument inputs. These have been arranged to look like plug‑in modules and have the necessary XLR and jack connectors on the front, where they can easily be accessed. Also located here are the gain adjustment knobs, plus silver buttons for low‑cut filters and pads and LEDs indicating signal presence and clipping. The rest of the unit draws on influences from both the Pod X3 and X3 Live: a reasonably large display assisted by a cursor controller, a data knob and four context‑sensitive knobs do most of the editing work. I thought the presentation very stylish.

The various sound‑shaping sections, Tap Tempo and Dual Mode selection are accessed via six push‑buttons, to the right of which is a Tone Volume and Master Volume control. Below is a conventional set of amp controls comprising Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence and Reverb. Anyone used to using a previous model of Pod should have little trouble in finding their way around.

Plenty of useful I/O on the Pod X3 Pro's 3U rear panel.Plenty of useful I/O on the Pod X3 Pro's 3U rear panel.

Operation

As with the standard X3, you get 78 guitar amp models, which can be fed through any one of 24 cabinet models. There are 98 stomp and studio effects, 28 further bass amp models with 22 bass cab models and six vocal preamp models, the latter being rather more impressive than you might imagine in recreating a vintage sound. Room reflections are modelled using Line 6's AIR II technology, and there are four virtual mic options. If you want the Pod Farm plug‑in mentioned earlier, you'll need to download it from the Line 6 web site.

The large front panel means that many controls have their own dedicated knobs, and here eight chromed‑plastic knobs give direct access to Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence, Reverb, Tone Volume and Master Volume. The Tap Tempo button can be held down to access a guitar tuner and each of the five stompbox types has its own button: Amp, Stomp, Mod, Delay and Verb. The USB2 socket on the rear allows computer recording in stereo of both wet and dry inputs simultaneously.

As touched upon earlier, the four controller knobs beneath the adequately large, back‑lit display access the functions displayed on screen, where you'll also find a block diagram of the active patch. The cursor control disk to the right of the screen steers the cursor, while the turn‑and‑press knob to the left is used for choosing patches and for saving new settings. Flat, recessed buttons above and below the cursor disk allow effects to be tuned on or off or to be accessed for editing and also get you into the output setup options. Similar buttons above and below the left‑hand knob get you back to the home patch page if you get lost in the menu system, and also get you into input select mode.

The quality of modelling amplifiers is very subjective, but I think Line 6 do a great job here. Their gently overdriven sounds are as good as any I've heard from a modelling preamp: clean sounds and very dirty sounds are easier to get right, but even mildly dirty sounds here have a real sense of power and energy. You can also do some neat tricks using the dual mode — for example, using a highly compressed, cleaner arrangement in one channel, combined with a dirtier sound in the second to get great sustain without too much filth. The effects are simply excellent, and although the factory presets include the usual range of classic guitar sounds, there are some intriguing experimental sounds that really show off the range of the device, from floaty and ethereal to downright evil! The mic preamps are clean and very competent, and the instrument inputs are impressively quiet. By using the vintage preamp models, the clean mic inputs can be given a convincing vintage warmth.

Overall

For studio use, the extra flexibility of the Pod X3 Pro is well worth the extra cost, and the sound quality is excellent, with minimal noise. Having two built‑in mic amps is a real benefit, as is the comprehensive I/O and ability to record both dry and processed sounds. I like the intuitive nature of the hardware operation, but the free software adds greatly to its usefulness in the studio — and the graphical interface of Pod Farm makes creating new patches incredibly fast and straightforward. The sounds that can be achieved are no different to those you can get with the Pod X3 or the 'full‑fat' version of Pod Farm — so you'll really have to base your decision on whether or not the added hardware features would make life easier in your own studio. Me? Well I like it! 

Line 6 UK +44 (0)1327 302 700.Line 6 +1 818 575 3600.

www.line6.com

Published June 2009