For the past decade or so, the US's Line 6 has been at the forefront of modelling technology. Many other companies have released amp modelling hardware but you'd be hard pushed to argue against Line 6 being the market leader. In recent years though, many advances have been made in the modelling area with companies such as Fractal Audio raising the bar. It's with the new HD series that Line 6 has responded and pushed forward its product line, moving into the High Definition era - hence HD.
For the latest HD series of the POD, Line 6 went back to the drawing board and re-designed all its amp models from scratch.
The HD500 is the flagship in the range and has more features than can possibly be outlined in a review but here are the main points. All-metal construction, extensive analogue and digital I/O options including USB recording into your DAW, 16 amp models with matching cabinets and microphone models, more than 100 effects taken from the M series of multi effects units, built in 48-sec looper, assignable expression pedal and a built in tuner.
The amp models range in sound from modelled versions of a Gibson EH-185, or Fender Twin clean amp all the way to high gain models of the Bogner Uberschall and Marshall JCM-800. The effects are all high quality - any owner of an M13 or M6 will attest to the power of these units and the HD 500 uses the same effects models as that range. Reverbs, delays, modulations of all varieties, distortions/overdrives and even synth effects are available in many variations and can be configured in as many ways as your imagination allows. If you're a tweaker and love endless settings this is the unit for you. However, editing is easy and if you just want ease of use, the unit can be edited with a quick perusal of the manual. It's really up to the user as to how deep they wish to go - just be aware that you can go very deep if required.
As with many units of this type the presets are designed to give you the extreme picture of what's possible, so editing will get you the best results. Editing is simple in its basic form and a series of amp-like controls on the front allow you quick access to gain, treble, mids, bass, presence etc. For deeper editing, a large LCD display offers access to all parameters in a clear and intuitive manner.
We tried the HD500 plugged into the desk, using the inbuilt cabinet simulations and can report that the amps feel very organic indeed. After a short spell of careful editing, matching the sounds to your particular hardware configuration, some really incredible tones can be created.
Frankly, the potential of this unit is phenomenal and really limited only by the user. I managed to create some very authentic tones, ranging from spanky, country cleans and crunchy AC30 sounds through to heavy detuned madness. As with many modelling units, the overdriven sounds are, to my ears, much more successful than the clean variations. Whilst there are definite improvements in this area with a more natural, tube-like break up and realistic dynamic response coming from this HD series, I have yet to hear a clean tone that can match a great, real tube amp. As far as the drive sounds go, in a blindfold test, one would be hard pressed to say for certain that they weren't listening to a real amp. Very impressive indeed! Again, this is all down to the end user and any unit like this can be made to sound as bad as it can sound great.
When combined with the Loop function (giving 48 second loop times on the HD500 and reverse/half speed functions) and the huge array of I/O options, the unit becomes great value for money. If we could get those clean sounds to be as killer as the overdriven sounds then Line 6 would have the ultimate amp modeller on their hands. Then again, at this sort of price (see the Spec box) they might be there already. The HD 500 is a lot cheaper than a Fractal Audio Axe FX and if you can't quite stretch to the 500, there are two other, less expensive, units in the range, albeit with fewer options, the HD 400 and HD 300. Check out our video demo - then check them again at your local guitar store!