Hands-On Review:Winning Over Analog Freaks Every Day
I'm an analog guy. All of my gear from guitar amps and effect pedals, to my reel-to-reel 8-track machine is analog. It's what I've always counted on for great tone... that is, until now. You see, recently I decided to get back into recording - something I hadn't been doing for a few years. I still had pretty much everything I needed from "the old days". My trusty 8-Track, mixing console, microphones, guitars, and amps. Ah yes, my amps. Over the years I've collected a few vintage gems that all get "that killer sound" when I really crank 'em up. But that's the problem. I'm recording at home in our den.
I'd heard of direct guitar devices but always found the sound to be too sterile and un-realistic. In the past, I've gone through a lot of gadgets that claimed to sound like the real deal and believe me, it wasn't happening. Enter POD by Line 6. My first introduction to POD was by way of some rave reviews I had read in various magazines. Still, figuring the claims were too good to be true, I called my sales rep at Musician's Friend who gave me some interesting background about POD. It seems Line 6 developed proprietary software that analyzes every single aspect of a vintage amp from the analog circuitry, to the tubes and how they all affect the sound of an amp. Intrigued, I took the next few days to investigate further. After talking with some of my "techy" friends who I knew used POD in their own recording studios, I finally went to www.line6.com to get even more info. Wow. When I saw the long list of artists who were using POD on their projects I knew I had to have it! The list read like a Who's Who in the music industry - if POD was getting the job done for some of my musical hero's, I was starting to feel pretty confident it would work for me.
Before I received my POD in the mail, I had taken some web time to check out the entire Line 6 product line. There I found out about Bass POD, POD Pro and Bass POD Pro - the latter two of which are rackmount versions with several added features including XLR and digital outputs. Seeing all these intriguing products convinced me the guys at Line 6 were obviously passionate about what they're doing. I didn't know how passionate until my POD arrived just a few days later. I opened up the box, took out this strange, kidney-shaped device, connected the power and audio cables, plugged in my guitar, and turned it up. I couldn't believe my ears! I couldn't believe I was hearing a direct recording device! It instantly sounded like I had taken one of my favorite amps and cranked it up really loud. Looking at the amp selector switch showed me I had 32 amps in all to check out. A quick spin through the amp models quickly dealt me an arsenal of tones that ran a huge gamut. Everything was there from the choice and cherished classic tones of yesteryear to the newest fattest creations of today's more modern amps, plus a Tube Preamp channel perfect for bass, direct acoustic guitar, and even vocal effects. There were all the regular knobs you'd expect to find on an actual guitar amp. Volume, Gain, Treble, Bass. This made it really easy to dial in each amp. And get this: each amp model changes the knob feel so that they mimic the way the original amp's touch! And it gets even better. There's an entire sub-section where you can go in and choose the type of cabinet you want to pump each amp model through. 4x12, 2x10, 1x12, etc. You get them all. Thinking about this, it hit me that I now had every possible combination of amp and cabinet rig I could dream of all in one small counter-top device. Plus, (yes, there's more) Line 6 included an entire effects section with 16 editable effects including a compressor.
POD's hardware connections include input, stereo output, headphones, MIDI in and out, and a jack to connect either of the pedal boards they offer - more on those later. Also located on the back of POD is a small switch that allows you to toggle the outputs between Line 6's proprietary A.I.R. feature and what they call AMP mode. You use the A.I.R. feature when you're recording direct rather than using POD as the ultimate pre-amp system - which I guess I didn't mention yet! It's true. POD can replace any pre-amp giving you all the same amps and effects in your live rig as well. Just use POD as you would a pre and you're off and running - but remember to make sure the switch is set to AMP which gets you set up for live use.
Now on to the pedal boards:
Line 6 offers two. The FB4 is a vintage looking 4 switch unit that allows you to switch between 4 amp channels and you can even use one switch to "tap tempo" your delay setting. The Floorboard is the ultimate pedal board. This monster allows you to switch banks of sounds and turn effects on and off like a good pedal board should. But it also gives you a volume pedal and a wah pedal. Designed after an Ernie Ball Volume Pedal and a '68 VOX wah this is a very nice touch indeed.
Sound like enough features?
Well, there's still more. The guys at Line 6 got together with E-Magic, a popular software company, and created SoundDiver software. It allows you to connect the POD to your PC or Mac via POD's MIDI jacks and do deep patch editing. You can edit and archive all your favorite custom POD patches, edit effects with greater detail, get access to a few hidden really choice amp models, and easily move all of this back and forth between your computer and your POD. And, you get access to Line 6's Tone Transfer web library where you can post and download amp settings for days. Whew. These guys thought of everything. I'm particularly diggin' this feature on because I already have a computer and the SoundDiver software came free as an added bonus.
As a self-described tone freak, POD gives me everything I had hoped for and much, much more. Talk about the ultimate studio and live device for any guitarist. Now if I can only cut some tracks like other POD users such as Goo Goo Dolls, Dann Huff, Foo Fighters, Pete Anderson, Rick Vito, Lenny Kravitz, (and the list goes on and on) then maybe someday I can quit my day gig!