Hands-On Review:Line 6 POD HD 300, 400, 500
The POD gets a supercharged engine—and a whole lot more
By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central
The original POD brought high-quality multi-effects processing to a bright-red tabletop unit in the shape of a kidney bean. In later iterations, Line 6 put the POD into a series of standard floorboard controllers, giving performing guitarists a heavy-duty enclosure, top-quality switches, and a configurable wah/volume pedal, culminating in the X3 line. What could Line 6 do to top that? The answer is quite a lot, and all of it found in the new POD, , and . The biggest news is announced right in the model name: HD, which this reviewer takes to mean "high-definition," because of the large leap forward in processing power from what was available before. The new engine produces ultrarealistic emulations of classic and modern amp models, which Line 6 has newly and painstakingly researched and developed. But being Line 6, the new HD family also boasts other evolutions, such as the incorporation of the M13/M9 line of effects, improved interface design, more versatile in routing and I/O, a "hot link" to other Line 6 gear, and more. We can't possibly touch on all the stuff that's new and cool in the space provided here, so we'll focus on just some of the highlights. Be sure to visit line.com/podhd for the full list of features, plus links to the videos and complete set of manuals. Let's dive in!
The three models of the POD HD series (, , and ) all boast the same HD engine that provides a whopping 10x the amp DNA over previous PODs. This equates to a resultant sound that is much smoother, more dynamic, and realistic. The models that are carried over (notably the Marshall JCM800 and VOX AC30 Top Boost) have been completely reworked, and new models have been added, including the Dr. Z Route 66, Gibson EH-185, and Engl Fireball 100.
Getting around the front panel is a breeze, due to its nicely spaced footswitches and well-designed knob layout. The Line 6operates in three basic modes: 1) Bank mode, where stepping on the up/down switches advances entire banks (numbered 1 through 32), while individual switches access channels within a bank (e.g., 15A, 15B, 15C, etc.); 2) Effects mode—sometimes called "stompbox mode"—where footswitches turn individual effects on and off, as in an analog pedalboard; and 3) Looper mode, which transforms many of the front-panel switches into Loop transport functions (record/overdub, play/stop, half-speed play, reverse, etc.). The display is a bright LCD window that, in one view on the 500, shows the entire signal chain in icons. You can "grab" any effect and move it another place in the chain—just like drag-and-drop on a computer, but you're doing it from the POD HD's front panel!
As impressive and intelligent as the front panel is, the back panel deserves equal time for its versatility. On all three units, there are gobs of stereo I/O (balanced and unbalanced), a CD/MP3 and additional pedal input (400/500), USB (for updates and editor/librarian software), a configurable stereo FX return loop (400/500, allowing you to substitute an external effect for an internal block—nice!), headphone output, output mode switch (live, studio, or both via a balanced plug), and more.
For owners of other Line 6 gear, thehas some nice integration features: A new proprietary link connects the POD HD to Line 6's DT50 amp (a two-channel tube amp, designed with Bogner) for even smoother performance setups. On the 500 you can plug in a Variax as well; so that, for example, you can change settings on all three units with one button-push on the POD.
To audition the various modeled amps in their high-resolution glory, I stripped them of effects and applied only minimal EQ. Using a series of different guitars configured with single-coils, P90s, and humbuckers, along with a battery of amps, I ran through the 16 models. The sound from the modeled amps is not only realistic and true to the amps they pay homage to, but musical, sweet, and providing a depth and dynamic quality in their behavior. Particular highlights were the VOX AC30, with its crunchy and raunchy immediacy; the Park 75 for its full bottom and throaty mids; the JCM800 with its in-your-face high mids, firm mid-section, and which was my top choice for classic AC/DC songs; and the Engl Fireball 100—warmer and darker, but just as vibrant and menacing as the JCM800. I simply loved the Tweed Bassman with my Tele over studio monitors: it really captured the punchy lows and sparkling highs so characteristic of 6L6 power tubes.
Of course, theis not all about the amp models in high-def. The effects benefit from this too, and Line 6 has thrown in a few bonuses for their top-of-the-line POD series. The M13 and M9 effects—many of which were collected and enhanced versions of Line 6's DL4, MM4, FM4, and DM4 pedals—have been included here. Any effect can be placed pre or post amp modeling, and you can run all four (or eight on the 500) simultaneously.
Which POD HD for you?
Line 6 has committed to the HD technology by coming out of the gate with a series well-stratified by price and feature quantity. But it's important to realize that the core sound—the improved audio of the 16 amp models—is the same on all three units. The differences among the models have to do with the number of effects (80 on the, 90 on the , and over 100 on the ), simultaneous effects available (4 on the 300 and 400, 8 on the 500), and things like increased back-panel I/O. The 500 can run two signal chains in parallel, which is nice, but if you don't see yourself running two different amps from your Left and Right outputs, consider the 300 or 400. They have those same great sounds and M13 effects in a smaller footprint, and are priced competitively lower. Whichever POD HD you choose, you will be knocked out by its improved resolution, increased level of detail, and the smoothness in transitions from clean to overdrive. The POD HD not only produces great sound, it lets you interact with your sound in a new and seamless way.