I had some good feelings about the Line6 POD HD500 and this breakthrough in effects processing sounds with HD quality. But did this effects processor live up to the hype?
Line 6 POD HD500 Effects Processor Review
Here we are with a Line 6 'HD500' effects processor. A shiny new toy that Line6 have produced for guitarists that want 'ten times the power of the old unit' and 'Breathtaking HD Quality' as they say. I have to say, that after watching the things going on with the Axe-fx and the reviews of that thing I thought (as intimated by Line6) that basically I was getting that HD quality of the top of the line stuff for much less price. And with all this hype what have I got to lose?
Firstly lets talk about pricing of the HD500. Here in the UK this unit costs £399.00 street price and I guess that's about $550 US. Not a single dealer will discount below this price - hmmm that smells of price fixing which is rife here in the UK and although its completely illegal it seems that everyone turns a blind eye towards that practice. Its a little surprising that the Line6 boys have effectively priced fixed this unit worldwide also so importing one to save money in this case is a no go. There is little gain to be made and I'm sure that the USA guys would not want a UK unit at a slightly higher price than they can buy one. Prices correct at review time but are probably lower now. I HATE price fixing it is completely anticompetitive and is not a free market.
HD500 Build Quality
The Line6 HD500 is a reasonably well made unit which emanates from the far east but is developed in the USA. Looking at this unit reminds me somewhat of the POD X3 Live I had at one time. In the case of the X3 Live I thought there were a few good sounds in that unit, but its build quality was second to none, smooth, sleek and simply very well made. But in the case of the HD500 I think the quality has slipped just a little bit. The finish of the unit is not up to that of the POD X3 Live in my opinion and when you get up close to the unit you will see (for example) the fixings for the base of the unit (or insides) showing through the top of the unit. It almost seems like a bit of a quick manufacturing job where they could not be bothered to go just that little bit more for the expense of $3 or so.
The HD500 - click any image for a larger view
The HD500 is well stacked up when it comes to inputs and outputs. There are guitar in, phones out, desk or line out and a host of other stuff just jumping off the back of the unit for you to play with. As well as writing this review I did also video the whole affair for YouTube and general release which you can find lower down this page so I will not go to great depth here about the physical ins and outs of this unit - they are covered in the video. Lets face it - there are more on this POD than you need. Switches, knobs and control pedals are smooth in operation and work very well indeed so really apart from the things I said about the finish this effects unit has a good quality build and one which will probably not disappoint you unless you are a perfectionist. I found the Line6 quality to be perfectly acceptable at this price range.
Overall Sounds in the Box
I purposely did not change any sounds when I reviewed this unit. Now some guys might say I'm being a little unfair and the factory sounds are always not too good. Well ask yourself this - if these sounds are not too good and Line6 put out the POD HD500 (or the 300 and 400 for that matter) with crappy sounds right in there from new to demonstrate just how bad their sounds are - exactly why would they do that?
On many occasions I have heard reviewers talk bout the factory sounds not being up to speed on whatever unit they were reviewing at the time, with one excuse or another for the manufacturer. Well I think that if you put out a unit capable of great sounds but you program rubbish in there as the defaults you would be slightly stupid. OK - completely stupid. Lets face it these products cost a huge amount of money and time to develop and only an ass would do that unless they just don't want to sell any product... right?
My YouTube video series (did) cover every single sound as supplied from the factory (check out tonymckenziecom channel), in to the desk and then to the video camera direct. Actually my voice is lower quality than the Line6 sounds! But in any case, I did show you every single sound that Line6 has programmed in there for you to evaluate the sounds as they come to you and as Line6 clearly see their product. My guitar prowess is not high in those examples, but its not supposed to be, all you had was an example of the sounds and NOT an example of me! So there!
NOTE - I eventually removed all the videos except for one - the one thats still there on YouTube. Why? I was sick of harassment and personal criticism from Dealers and others who it was obvious had a vested interest in selling the HD series. I do not have a vested interest in making anyone buy the HD series whatsoever. Every single person that acted like a d**khead was banned from my YouTube channel and frankly I don't even care about those guys, if they want to mislead their customers so be it. I for one will NEVER condone it.
So, what are these sounds actually like?
Right from the outset the earlier presets in the units banks had a more usable sound stored in the preset than the later stuff, which went from ok, to bad to awful in my opinion. Where is the '10 times the power' and the revolution in sound I was expecting? I'm not entirely sure, but one thing IS for sure, those presets will not offer you immediate karma. In the video I worked through every sound usually with some chords and maybe some note playing but it was a very long job to record it all. It was however, a way of seeing the stuff that Line6 throw at you from the factory which you are never going to see elsewhere.
My view is that the presets are not that great. Second thoughts - they are bad.
In fact, if I was using this pedal for any length of time I would sell it (in fact I did about a week later). My experience with the last POD X3 I had was ok, but there was always something missing and it was nothing to do with build quality or the 'feel' of the unit. That same feeling was right here with this HD500 too when I actually got down to playing with it for a while. The presets really did not help this unit much. I think, like the X3 there were just a few sounds I would be happy with and in the case of the X3 that's all I ever found. I eventually sold it because it was taking up too much real estate in the studio. I have a VERY similar view about this HD500.
While the unit could be bent and twisted to what you want 'maybe', once again, like all these sort of products (and I don't just mean Line6) you will have to spend much time in getting your one or two sounds that you like from it. The JTM45 WAS realistic. The really heavy stuff like Mesa was not. The Engl was positively rubbish. I noticed, as you will, that once again this unit like most similar products was good at clean or moderately broken up sounds. The really distorted stuff was lifeless (really) against the real deals of the amps I am surrounded by in my studio and frankly there is little if no comparison against the real amps.
First thing is first. The Line6 boys do give you software in the form of the 'monkey' software, which will check your unit and update to the latest firmware if yours is out of date, which mine was. Monkey updated to version 1.1 from version 1.0 which the unit shipped with. This was a painless exercise, with no change in result of sound from what I could see really. There might have been, but I was not prepared to mess about all day.
The good guys at Line 6 also give you what is basically a 'Librarian' which allows you to connect via USB to your computer. This software is useful because its easy to arrange the banks or 'Play Lists' to what you need. I can see that if you spent a lot of time with this software then you can get the HD500 POD up to speed regarding the layout for use. The Play Lists will allow you to set up a whole gig of songs with the right sounds and effects for each track you play.
This software is one of the better aspects of the HD500 and can be a really flexible aspect of the pedal. Its easy to use and is very effective at the job it does. In fact some guys might buy this effects processor for this ease of use alone.
The HD500 Manuals
Manuals in the box are very sparse with a 'Pilots' handbook included and some other bits and pieces. When you see this manual its about 30 or 40 pages thick and like me, you will want to get those 40 pages read. Unfortunately for you (and me) there are many languages of the same thing in there so you get just a few pages at the beginning of the manual for English. What does this mean? It means that unless you are thoroughly familiar with this unit (which you will not be) then the 'Pilot' (you) is going to CRASH and BURN!
I wanted to say that right through the review. But seriously, to provide such a rubbish manual at the start of using this HD500 is a little like putting you on a jumbo jet and giving you a Japanese instruction manual and insisting you take off now! Needless to say you will fail. And just as you start to use the unit.
There is a more in depth manual on line which you can download from Line6 but even this manual skirts around some quite important stuff when you start out with this unit. If you don't set the output settings correctly you will be forever relegated to bad sounds. The Pilots book is very vague and the main manual skirts over the settings saying 'set these as you need them' type of thing. A great recipe for disaster.
One great thing about Line6 is that the midi will control your amps and other effects (unlike some Roland stuff). There is much more to this unit than I can reasonably cover within this review. For example I have not covered anything about controlling the new Line6 Tube amp which this pedal is MADE to do - and that looks an exciting aspect of this pedal actually. The Line6 'fix' for these sounds lies in their new Line6 Tube amp and its integration in to this unit. All the IO is on the pedal as standard.
But therein lies one of the questions about this HD500 effects unit. That 50 watt tube amp is exactly that. Designed by Bogner, with integration to a far higher level than anything else they make. They made it work for the tube amp. But probably not yours. There was always something missing from the sounds of this unit in my unbiased opinion.
Line6 integrated this pedal to the highest degree in to a REAL TUBE AMP. Now this is telling you something. Here is a 'modeling' company that now chooses its top of the line modeling pedal to integrate completely with a TUBE amp specially designed to do so. Now that is not some mistake or gimmick.
All accounts of the new amp when integrated with this HD500 pedal say its a great fit and the sounds are excellent. The chances are those guys will be right. But the problem is the cost. Once you buy the pedal AND the amp and its bits and pieces then you have a high cost (I think about $1600 and likely £1600 as of November 2010) so its not a low cost decision you will be making. And once you get in to this much money then the choices are going to be much tougher. Its a sweet spot for middle to higher end amps out there and remember - if you buy an Engl amp that's what you get - not some pussified excuse for one. If you buy a Marshall or a Mesa that's what you get - not some lame nearly there sound.
On the plus side though, would be the flexibility that the setup offers you. Those amps really are great, but you need them ALL! With this box and new amp you need those and that's it.
Here are the things I like about this unit as a stand alone and not taking in to account the Line6 Tube amp:
- Build quality
- Software editor/librarian
- Some sounds in the box
- The price Integration in to the tube amp although later this proved to be almost a failure!
and here are the things I really did not think were up to much:
- Most of the sounds
- The manuals
- The bulls**t telling me this was HD and awesome
So for the last part I give this unit a 5 out of 10 because what is on offer is a lot for a little. That's not to say that it is a great sounding unit. I don't think it is. But the overall package remains good value especially if you are on a tight budget from the start; and you always have that option of buying that tube amp later which would undoubtedly rock your world (well in fact it won't as we found out later the 50w never worked correctly and the 25w well.. was not that great either). Funnily enough I still like Line6 as a company. I think they try hard to be good for a budget price and with everything this unit offers with all that development its not really that bad a deal. Now having been bought out by Yamaha maybe they will develop products that are truly great; I am looking forward to seeing the 'Helix' from line 6 (basically a Yamaha device) and that will be reviewed with an 'inside and out' review as soon as it arrives (August 2015 hopefully).
So next time you sit in front of a HD500 don't be too harsh on it. Its just doing its job as Line6 designed it to do. But also don't expect it to be perfect, it absolutely is not.Update
It was interesting to note that Guitar Buyer back in January 2011 just did a review on the HD500 and one of their conclusions was QUOTE 'Without an older Line 6 processor to compare with the HD500 in a back-to-back test, it's hard to confirm with absolute certainty that high-definition modelling sounds significantly different to previous generations of Line 6 modellers.'
CASE CLOSED! But actually I said it first. Now - anyone out there want to buy mine? used for this review only; factually I sold it a week later.
Here's the first video in the series - I deleted the rest - too much hate mail for such an average product really.
Checkout my channel on YouTube for more - tonymckenziecom
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