AF’s Weblog

December 19, 2011

Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro 5 Review

Within a few years, Guitar Rig has become a reference in the world of guitar amps and effects simulation. The fourth version, which saw the light of day about two years ago, already brought major sound quality improvements with itself thanks to the new –however limited— Control Room feature… Can the German manufacturer surprise us with this fifth version? Read on…

Guitar Rig Pro is one of the pioneers in the history of guitar amp simulation and thus it is now a pretty mature product. This fifth version doesn’t introduce major improvements but rather fills some gaps in the features list. As usual, this new version includes new amps and effects, an improved Control Room (which first integrated convolution technology into Guitar Rig, see the Guitar Rig 4 Pro review), and some new features that will be useful to certain users…

Let’s start with the two new amps: Van 51 and Hot Solo+.

Two Amps for a Wall of Sound

Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro 5

One thing must be clear: if you don’t like distortion, the two new simulations aren’t for you. The first one is an emulation of the famous Peavey 5150, the amp of Mr. Van Halen, famous for his high-gain sound, palm muting and tapping, and his drop-D tuning. This amp, appropriately named “Van 51,” has two channels. The rhythm channel features two switches: Bright and Crunch, while both channels share a 3-band EQ, a Post Gain control (master volume), a Resonance control (low frequencies), a Presence control (high mids) and a Hi-Gain switch. Even if the amp wasn’t conceived with clean sounds in mind, we tried it out with a 335 and a Telecaster, and the results are quite ok even if not jaw-dropping. With an ESP or an Ibanez in the lead channel, the amp was much more convincing. The tone is accurate but not too artificial. Moreover, both guitars sounded different, meaning that the software stays faithful to the instrument, which is often not the case with amp simulations. The addition of this amp is good news because Guitar Rig was quite convincing with clean and crunch sounds, but distortion was not at the same level.

With our Les Paul the difference between the two channels is pretty evident. The Rhythm channel sounds very heavy, but the sound is nice! With a Telecaster you can hear the twang of the instrument, which is a good point. In short, the Van 51 isn’t limited to heavy metal guitars with high-output pickups. This is a nice surprise that enriches the software’s already comprehensive amp collection.

Native Instruments Guitar Rig Pro 5

The second amp is the Hot Solo+. Based on the Soldano SLO (Super Lead Overdrive) 100, which is not an amp for dance balls but is considered the ultimate amp by many guitar players. This high-quality boutique amp is eagerly waiting for your high-speed solos! It provides two channels (Normal and Overdrive) with independent gain settings, 3-band EQ, Master, Presence (high mids) and Depth (low frequencies) controls. The good news is that the Hot Solo+ is available with two very different speaker cabinets. We recommend you to combine both cabinets for your guitar recordings because they complement each other very well, allowing you to fatten your sound. We recorded the same takes with the same settings but changing the cabinet so that you can hear the differences. With the 335 and the Telecaster in clean mode, the amp gives better results than the Van 51. The sound is deeper and definitely useful, even if we might prefer some other amps available in Guitar Rig Pro. With the Telecaster and the Les Paul in crunch mode the sound difference between the speaker cabinets is obvious. You’ll notice that the second one is more hollow. In high-gain mode, the Hot Solo+ is very convincing regardless of the guitar (Les Paul, Ibanez RG or ESP).

Check out the sound samples and make your own opinion…

Conclusion

The new Guitar Rig version has more than one trick under its sleeve and is a great tool for users who like to tweak their sound and to make the most of their gear. Containers, side chain and effects like Resochord and Filterbank allow you to get very creative. But Native Instruments didn’t forget standard users: you get a more versatile Control Room Pro and many more speaker cabinets. The two new amps are high-gain specialists, but they sound very good and complement the amp collection precisely where it was lacking the most. If anything, we regret that there are not too many new amps and, as always, bass players will feel neglected with only one amp! The update price is quite affordable considering the new features. And if you are still hesitating about changing to Native Instruments, this new version adds some new arguments to the debate.

Advantages: 
  • More versatile Control Room
  • 23 new speaker cabinets
  • The two new amp models sound good
  • 6 new effects
  • The container is very practical
  • Guitar Rig Pro is still a reference on the market
Drawbacks:
  • Only two additional amps
  • Still only one bass amp
  • Some new effects won’t be of interest for every user

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Guitar Rig Pro 5 Review

October 20, 2010

Line 6 POD HD 500 Review

The new Pod has arrived, after three long years of waiting — ever since the launch of the Pod X3, which provided the same models as its big brother, the Pod XT, and thus disappointed most guitar players. This time, Line 6 engineers have been really busy developing new models to be hosted in three new pedalboards. We tested the flagship of the range: the Pod HD 500.

The new Pod HD Series includes three products: the Pod HD 300 ($330), the Pod HD 400 ($400) and the Pod HD 500 ($500). The main differences between them are the number of integrated effects, the memory size of the loop recorder/player and the connections. We will examine thoroughly the Pod HD 500, the flagship of the series that provides about one hundred effects, a 48-second loop recorder/player, 16 new “HD” models (join the hype!) and comprehensive connections.

This new series does away with previous models which were beginning to show their age. Behind the rather surprising “HD” label, you’ll find new models that will take up the biggest part of this review.

Line 6 POD HD500

But let’s start by unpacking the pedalboard, whose design takes after its older brother, the Pod X3 Live: a display on the left, an expression pedal on the right, pots on the top and footswtiches at the bottom. “Why change a winning horse,” you ask? Specially considering that the Pod X3 Live had pretty good ergonomics… “Old” users won’t be put off, quite the opposite! The plastic chrome knobs (a bit cheap, I must admit) have been replaced with black knobs that feel a bit more confident. The expression pedal is also new and seems quite sturdy. On the contrary, the quality footswitches are the same and the unit is still very bulky. But considering the number of footswitches (12) and in/out connectors it has, we can hardly imagine how the manufacturer could have made it more compact… The look of Line 6 products becomes drier every year, which is not a bad thing. The Pod HD 500 has less chrome than its older brother and its dark gray metal housing makes it more trendy. The unit looks rugged enough, even though the plastic encoders (protected with a metal rod) and the multi-directional button on the right of the display seem flimsy.

Now, let’s take a look at the rear panel of the device…

Connectors, Connectors, Connectors

Line 6 POD HD500

You’ll immediately notice that the Pod HD 500 has very comprehensive connections: the rear panel sports 20 connectors. Inputs: 1/4″ jack for a second expression pedal, guitar input, 1/8″ jack for a CD/MP3 player, aux input for a second instrument, XLR mic input with input level control, and Variax input for the Line 6 guitar, which provides many advantages. Note that the mic, guitar, Variax, and aux inputs can be freely assigned to one of the two signal chains. In short, you can connect two guitars and get a fully different sound for each one.

Outputs: line outs on unbalanced 1/4″ TRS jacks and balanced XLR connectors, headphones out, and a so-called “L6 Link” you can use with the DT500, the manufacturer’s new amp. The L6 Link allows you to control up to four amps(!) with the footboard and vice versa. In this case, both units are synced and the amp will even have the ability to switch between different modes (class A, class A/B, biasing method, negative feedback…) depending on the preset selected in the HD500. Moreover, if you play a Variax guitar, you’ll have the possibility to control everything with your feet. Not bad, hey! The HD 500 also features a coaxial S/PDIF out delivering a 24bit/96-kHz signal.

Line 6 Pod HD Edit

An effect loop is also included: one stereo TRS 1/4″ jack for FX send and a pair of mono TS 1/4″ jacks for FX return. A selector allows you to choose stompbox or line level for the FX loop. Perfect! You also get MIDI in/out connectors as well as a USB port that allows you to use the Pod with a digital audio interface and also edit presets with the POD HD500 Edit software (Mac and Windows compatible). This software editor allows you to easily manage and edit presets thanks to its well-achieved GUI. All settings are transferred to the Pod in real time!

Do note the lack of an on/off switch, which means the device is on as soon as you connect it to the power outlet. This solution is not very practical for home use but it can avoid unwanted switch-off problems on stage!

Also notice that there are three switches on the front panel that affect the connections: one activates a pad to attenuate the guitar input level in case your active pickups are too powerful for the POD; another one, called “XLR Ground Lift,” allows you to avoid ground loops in the XLR outs; and the last one allows you to select line or instrument signal level for the 1/4″ outputs so you can connect the POD to the guitar input of your amp.

Now, let’s take a look at the settings and browsing…

Conclusion

Line 6 is back with a new pedalboard with (at last!) new models. The number of amp models decreased drastically (only 16 amps are available) but the sound quality improved as well. The effects from the M9 and M13 footboards are still very good in most cases, and the Pod’s interface became a bit clearer. We just regret that the factory presets are not always usable. Finally, Line 6 provides us with a rugged footboard with comprehensive connections and nice features, like the 48-second looper. At $500, the Pod HD 500 is a good investment that will fulfill the needs of most buyers. If you think the price is a bit high, take a look at the HD 400 and 300. They provide less effects and don’t use the Dual Tone technology (two amps in parallel); the looper has less memory (24 seconds), and connections are not so comprehensive. However, their price is much lower ($330 and $400).

Advantages:

  • New amp models
  • M13 effects
  • Very comprehensive connections
  • Rugged pedalboard
  • Ease-of-use
  • Simple and effective looper
  • Two models in parallel
  • Very flexible effects chain
  • Possibility to store 512 presets
  • Pod HD 500 Edit software
  • Accepts two independent signal sources

Drawbacks:

  • Factory presets not always usable
  • Some modelings are lower in quality than the others

To read the full detailed article see: Line 6 POD HD 500 Review

April 26, 2010

[Musik Messe 2010] Two Notes Torpedo VM 202

To see more gear video demos see:  Audiofanzine Video Vault

March 3, 2010

Digidesign Eleven Rack Review

Digidesign surprised the world last year when they brought out a guitar amp simulator for Pro Tools called Eleven. They have now launched Eleven in rack format for applications in the studio and on stage. Let’s take a look at Digidesign’s youngest child…

Eleven RackGuitar amp simulations have already won their place in the hearts of guitar players years ago for several reasons: they give you a big sound without having to disturb the neighborhood, they save space and provide all the effects and amps you ever dreamed of. These advantages are decisive both in the studio and on stage. But most guitar players get very sentimental when it comes to their gear and it can be hard for them to set their favorite amp aside. The only reason they would do that is because of the sound–with capital S–, which is the holy grail for any electric guitar player. Amp simulations sound better and better every time with more sophisticated algorithms and convolution technology that faithfully recreate speakers and mics.
Eleven RackConvolution technology started to make its way among hardware speaker simulators like the Two Notes Torpedo, but also among software tools like the latest Guitar Rig version, Revalver and Digidesign’s Eleven. In fact, Eleven is basically a plugin for Pro Tools developed to compete with the leading products on the market; but it was hard to set it apart from its competitors, in spite of its good sound.

Thus, Digidesign decided to put its plugin into a hardware rack making it a convenient tool for studio and live guitar players. How did they do? The answer is here…

Hardware Amp Simulation

Eleven RackEleven Rack is a two-in-one product: it’s a fully standalone amp and effects simulator (it doesn’t require to be connected to a computer), as well as a digital audio interface compatible with Digidesign’s sequencer Pro Tools. Let’s start from the beginning, the amps simulations.

Eleven Rack offers few surprises in this regard, it includes the same amp simulations as the software version with the addition of some effects and interesting features…

Once unpacked, you’ll discover a nice looking 2U orange/black rack piece. The front panel has an aluminum border and plastic buttons and knobs. It looks nice and serious; time will tell if the knobs can withstand the assaults of a guitar player. The front panel also has a large and easily readable backlit display surrounded by switches and knobs, whose function depends on what the display currently shows. In normal mode, the “Scroll” encoder allows you to browse among the different presets (about 100) and the “SW1” switch allows you to select the different display types, while the knobs under the display are assigned to the different amp settings. The knobs are not motorized, but they turn on orange when close to the saved value and red otherwise. A “save” button allows you to store your settings and an “edit/back” button gives you some insight on the unit’s heart.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Eleven RackDigidesign tackles the guitar market with an interesting product for both studio and stage applications. It provides less amps and effects than Guitar Rig or Pod X3 Pro but the sound quality is very good – convolution certainly plays a key role in that. Eleven Rack is very versatile thanks to its numerous inputs, outputs and routing possibilities, and it can be used for many applications, especially reamping. The True-Z input is a real treat. The Pro Tools 8 LE bundle with its plentiful effects and virtual instruments adds a lot of value to Eleven Rack. At about $900 ($200 more than the Pod X3 Pro with its numerous modelings), it seems to be a bit expensive at first sight, but the bundle is very interesting and Digidesign took a lot of care with the sound quality, which is almost impeccable. We only miss a dedicated volume control for the phones output. Nothing is perfect!

Advantages:

  • Nice design
  • Simulation of famous amps and effects
  • Convolution technology for speakers and mics
  • Overall sound quality
  • Versatility
  • Possibility to make reamping
  • Number of inputs and outputs
  • True-Z guitar input
  • No need for a computer on stage
  • Comprehensive digital audio interface
  • Mic input with phantom power
  • Sold with Pro Tools 8 LE and its plugins
  • Eleven’s GUI in Pro Tools

Drawbacks:

  • No Eleven plugin version
  • GUI only available within Pro Tools
  • It lacks some amps and effects
  • Only two mic positions
  • Plastic knobs
  • No independent phones volume control

To read the full detailed review including sound samples see: Digidesign Eleven Rack

February 2, 2009

Test: Line 6 POD X3 Pro Review

Filed under: Amps, Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:03 am
In POD We Trust?
Line 6 POD X3 Pro: The Test

126518After releasing their POD X3 and X3 Live in 2008, worthy descendants in their own right of the Pod XT, Line 6 felt it necessary to update the POD Pro. So, it’s no surprise they’ve come up with a POD in rack format, offering a plethora of inputs and outputs, called the POD X3 Pro.

The idea behind the Pod Pro was to feature numerous inputs and outputs (analog and digital), to satisfy the most demanding user, either on stage or in the studio. Its rack format makes it easier to integrate it into a studio and therefore it could more easily find its place within professional situations. Though the size of the original POD makes it easier to transport for a guitarist, it’s more complicated to fit it in front of a console, for one thing. The same applies to the Pod Live, which is aimed primarily at guitarists who often play live and want to have the controls of their sound at their feet.

So the POD X3 Pro has the same concept as the X3 and X3 Live versions: it features Line 6’s famous modeling (78 guitar amps, 24 guitar speakers, 98 effects, 28 bass amps, 22 bass speakers, 6 mic preamps and 4 positionnable microphones) and its software, POD Farm, lets you record, edit presets more easily with a nice graphic interface, and re-amp the sound after.

But first let’s take a look at what interests us most: its controls and inputs/outputs!…

Conclusion

Pod X3 pro

Line 6 has managed to improve the POD by adding more models and making it even more complete. The sound quality is good and the number of inputs and outputs makes the POD X3 Pro ready for all situations, in fact it’s hard to find a situation where it wouldn’t suffice. We commend the new interface and screen that makes navigation and editing easier, and the POD Farm plug-in, which opens up new horizons for home studio guitarists. For around $699, the POD X3 Pro offers a POD, an audio interface rich in connections with microphone preamps, and an amp/effects simulator plug-in. A real must for fans of all-in-one solutions!

The number of models
The sound quality
The number of inputs and outputs
The big backlit LCD screen
The GUI – practical and easily readable
The POD Farm plug-in
USB interface with 8 channels

The look
3U Rack, the POD has gained weight
Effects chain not completely flexible
Mediocre mic preamps

To read the full, detailed article see:   Line 6 POD X3 Pro Review

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