Hands-On Review:Line 6 Bass PODxt Live
Line 6 Bass PODxt Live
A studio veteran ready to perform live onstage
By Curtis Bailey
We bass players all knew it would happen and we've been waiting. Now, the Bass PODxt Live has arrived. I just had the chance to try it out and my opinion of it can be summed up in seven letters: WAY COOL.
When I started playing bass, there were no bass effects to speak of. We would use wah pedals and distortion boxes made for guitar with less than perfect result. I remember being so jazzed by an Acoustic amp I once bought because it had a distortion circuit built in. Now all that has changed. Today there's a whole world of effects, amps, and speaker choices for bass.
A milestone was reached with the introduction of the original bass POD. It put the sounds of all the great effects, amps, cabs, and mics into one single unit. It has proved to be a home recording powerhouse, allowing a bass player with a single bass and amp to cover about any kind of bass sound, to dream up new ones, and to record it all direct. Line 6 then added yet another dimension with the Variax Bass, giving the player the ability to select not only the sounds of a wide variety of amps and effects, but to choose the instrument as well. Now the Bass PODxt Live adds yet another piece to the equation. It puts the power of the bass POD on stage in a floor pedal designed for live performance.
Several guitar players I know have been using the guitar version of the PODxt Live and love it. They all say the same thing: it gives them a wide range of fantastic sounds. The effects are first rate, and the floor-switching format lets them keep the show seamlessly moving. No time outs to make adjustments or changes. Now that same POD technology is available to bassists.
There's no denying that the Bass PODxt Live is made for stage use. It's housed in a strong metal case. A tie-down keeps the power supply from being inadvertently yanked out. The knobs are protected by a roll bar so if the POD gets dropped on its top, they come away unscathed. It's not a delicate studio piece at all. It just sounds like one.
The entire layout is set up for use in live performance. The switches are big but far enough apart that you don't have worry about hitting the wrong one, and they light up when activated so you don't usually need to read the display to see what's going on. When you do need to read it, the display is bright and easy to see from a standing distance. The preset up-down selectors can be clicked for one-step changes, or held down to scroll quickly to another setting. It also has a built-in expression pedal that serves for volume, wah, and a host of other parameter shifts in real time. Everything about it is designed to make onstage operation smooth and fast.
The two sides of POD
The first side of POD is the easy-to-operate side. When I was sent a Bass PODxt Live to try out for this review, Line 6 sent a pre release unit before the manual and box were even printed. I had a little experience with the first POD, but this was a plug-and-play situation in the full sense of the word. I managed to get it working without much difficulty. Anybody familiar with modern pedals will understand it immediately. I had to figure out that to activate a chosen preset you have to hit the bank button a second time. I also accidentally discovered that holding down the tap button for several seconds brings up a tuner (one that is especially easy to use). While a manual would have helped, the fact that I could make it work without one tells you how simple it is to operate. This is intentional. Simplicity is important in gear being used onstage.
The Bass PODxt Live also has a deeper side. It offers extensive options for programming your sound and setup. You can alter the existing effects and presets and save your changes. You can create your own entirely new combinations of amps and effects. You can define parameters and assign the expression pedal to alter the sound as you play. It even allows you to set up different routings and placements of effects in the signal chain.
Many sound choices
The Bass PODxt Live gives you lots of guns: over 60 presets or memory channels, the modeled sounds for 28 amps (all the classic and modern big names and, of course, a few Line 6 creations that kick serious buttocks). There are 22 bass cab models, four mic models, and models for over 50 stomp box and studio effects. Up to six effects can be run simultaneously and their positions in the signal chain can be selected. The selection of stomp boxes is wide and includes lots of crazy fun stuff. Just getting familiar with them will keep you off the street for days.
Checking out all the presets took awhile because I kept getting hung up along the way messing with sounds I really liked. The Bass PODxt Live gives you 16 banks, with 4 channels per bank for a total of 64. Banks 1-6 are optimized for use with headphones, PA's, in-ear-monitors, or recording. Banks 7-12 are optimized for use with an amp. While banks 13-15 are specifically designed for use with the Variax Bass. Bank 16 is open and intended as a starting point for creating your own presets without having to write over a factory preset.
The presets provide a wide variety of tones—sweet and clear acoustic bass sounds, gnarly stuff covered with hair, presets built on classic amps and effects. Many of the presets are usable as is for normal bass purposes, but some are so outrageous they would only serve as launching pads for journeys into sonic outer space. But even the most extreme of these has a great-sounding amp hidden inside it. Just click off the effects and use it.
All the right connections
Although it has the rugged exterior of a gigging rig, the Bass PODxt Live is every bit as potent in the studio as is the studio Bass PODxt Pro. It has a USB port for linking up to a computer, which allows direct recording as well as downloading of new sounds and software from Line 6. It has connections for MIDI, line output for running direct to a recording deck, and for connection to an amp. There's an output for headphones, and an aux input for drum machines, CD players, etc.
The neatest connector of them all, however, is an input for the Variax Bass. Plug in the Variax and you've got a digital signal all the way to your amp, and a setup that gives you a choice of instrument as well as amp and effects—the most versatile setup of them all by far.
Comes down to the sound
What ultimately determines the coolness of a piece of gear like this is the quality of its sounds, and the Bass PODxt Live passes with flying colors in this regard. I've noticed that Line 6 has continually improved the sounds of its models since it introduced its first modeling amps. Whatever their point-to-point modeling is, it works. The POD and Variax sounds are strong, thoroughly convincing, and handle high volume well. Most importantly, they have the meat and substance that is a must for bass to be powerful and compelling.
With the Bass PODxt Live, you not only can be powerful and compelling, you can also be more creative and musically adventurous. Or you can just make each song sound right. It makes your bass rig better for laying down a groove, and it can also transform your bass into a more lead-like instrument capable of a more expansive role in the music. Get one. I know you'll enjoy it.
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