In the world of amp modeling it would seem that the Axe Fx by Fractal Audio reigns as the supreme champion of tone. While the Axe is an amazing unit that I believe is totally worth the price of admission, there is another unit that costs a fraction of the Axe and is every bit as useful in the studio and the live arena.
Comparison Shop For Line 6 HD500
Line 6 HD 500
I purchased the HD 500 in 2010 shortly after it released. I had just lost my ass on a guitar rig that I spent well over $3,500 for(Fryette Pitbull and an EVH3 4X12 loaded with greenbacks). With my manhood in question I decided that tube amps were no longer worth the cost, and that the “tonal benefits” were out weighed by the unreliability.
At first I missed the feeling of a nice cool breeze blowing at the back of my legs while on stage. Now the only thing I miss is having something to set my beer on. I can honestly say that the guitar tone that I achieve now with the HD 500 is better than anything else I have owned( Mesa Boogie, Orange, Fryette, Jet City, Fender, Marshall). I show up to a gig with my entire rig in 2 hands, and run directly to FOH. I don’t need to buy a separate MIDI controller to operate it, but it can be used as a MIDI controller for other devices. For me, it really is a one stop shop for killer live tone. I can also use a great deal of fx without having to tap dance on a pedalboard. Ah, the little things in life
To say that this unit is easy to use would be an understatement. When I started using the POD I knew barely anything about signal chains and nothing about recording. Being able to go directly from the POD into my computer via USB was a huge help in keeping things simple. The HD edit software adds to the simplicity to the POD, as it’s much faster to dial in tones and so easy a five year old could operate it. At this point in time the POD is still my preferred method to get guitar tones in the studio, even over the Axe Fx or tube amps. To my ears it sounds every bit as good as the Axe and removes some of the more subtle functions that the Axe Fx has that are easy to get bogged down by. I have no interest in virtually controlling the capacitance of an amp. I just want it to sound great and the POD delivers.
Amp And Cab Models
At this point in time the POD HD 500 has 30 amp models that model the power amp and preamp section, and another 30 of the same amps without the power amp stage ( perfect for using a power amp and external cabinet). The amp models contain all of the usual suspects from Fender, Vox, Marshall, Mesa Boogie, Bogner, Dr.Z and others. While some people will have hopes of these being identical replicas of the originals, I personally don’t get too worried about that. They sound close enough to me, but most of all they sound great and have an amp like response when playing through the unit. In addition to the amp models there are also 17 different cabinet models and 8 different mics to choose from. This is one of the areas where I’ve been disappointed with the POD. The cabinet models definitely leave something to be desired and I’ve found that using RedWirez impulses in place of the stock cabs yield much better results. The down side to this is that the POD does not allow 3rd party impulses to be loaded into the unit itself. So until a firmware update facilitates this, 3rd party impulse responses are not available for live use.
The POD HD500 comes equipped with over 100 “M-class” effects( I guess putting a letter in front of it makes the tone better). Delays, reverbs, filters, flanges, modulation, compression,distortion and pitch effects are all at your disposal. They are all fun and most of them sound great. The ones that don’t sound great mangle the sound beyond belief which can be awesome for ruining the party for everybody( nothing like turning on an out of control fuzz pedal and delay with the feedback turned all the way up to let the band know you’re pissed). One of the stand out fx in this unit to me is the pitch glide. I’ve had good results using this as an alternative for detuning when playing live and recording. It’s not as good as actually detuning, but it can save your ass if a guitar goes down and you’re in a pinch.
The HD 500 is built very well and can definitely take a beating. I’ve gigged with this unit hundreds of times without any issues regarding durability. The buttons are metal and I stomp the shit out of em….no problems. A few weeks ago a very large drunken cave women tripped over my wedge and landed full force onto the POD. The POD might be emotionally scarred but it’s still running great.
Built In Looper
For all of you guys and gals who love to improvise over chord progressions the HD 500 has a loop function that is easy to access and works like a charm. It also has a feature that will allow you to double the speed of the loop. Pretty cool for tricking people into thinking you’re a shredding demon.
I’ve attached some mp3′s below to give you an idea of what the POD is capable of cranking out. It’s mostly high gain, but there are a few clean and low gain sections slipped in there as well.
HD500 Metal 1
HD500 Metal 2
- This unit delivers a whole Hell of a lot for the price point it’s at. In my opinion nothing else on the market even comes close. If mine got stolen, I would replace it without hesitation and feel like I got a bargain all over again( don’t steal mine or I’ll end you smiley).
- I get compliments on my tone almost every time I play out and most of the time it’s by old timers telling me they love how “raw” my guitar sounds.
- Getting great recorded tones is a breeze and I can save the EXACT tone for another day without having to worry about a mic stand moving or getting knocked over. It’s very durable and the money I’ve made gigging and recording with the unit has paid the cost of admission 10 fold.
- The cabinet impulses are not on the same level as the amp models inside this unit are.
- The inability to load 3rd party impulses feels a little limiting.
- The only other downside to this unit is the lack of DSP processing power. There have been a few times I’ve needed just one more eq in the signal chain to perfect my tone and not had enough juice.
Line 6 has taken huge steps to improve the sound and feel of the POD. The remarkable thing is that they’ve managed to do it at a price point that poor musicians like me can afford, while still retaining outstanding build quality and tone.
While miked up tube amps can sound great, I think that this type of unit is the future. As DSP becomes less expensive and more powerful the line will blur even more between what is real and what is modeled. The thing that excites me most about this kind of technology is that at some point it will start to take on a sound of it’s own. I’m not very interested in getting a great tube sound anymore. I’m waiting for the day when units like this create something great that we’ve never heard before and can’t be replicated by tubes. I don’t think that day is very far off. If I could recommend only one product to guitarists interested in recording and trying out amp modeling, this would be it. An absolute grand slam!