May · 23 · 2016

HD500XAfter a few months of lugging a (weighty) small rack and a pedals case (w/MIDI controller) I decided I needed to simplify my church ‘rig’.  I don’t expect to use a live amp any time soon if ever, so if I could simplify not only my setup time and lighten the twice weekly gear hauling load these aging shoulders must bear it would be worth it.  Unlike many of my peers, I generally do not, nor have I ever, suffered from G.A.S. aka gear acquisition syndrome.  Most of my gear purchases are well thought out and primarily to upgrade or improve my sound, and often involves selling something off to fund the upgrade.  Never because I like owning a lot of music things.

I spent a few weeks researching and then shopping for a compact floor model to replace my rack mount POD XT Pro.  The research took a while.  Not being one for going into music stores and enduring the audio onslaught of high strung youth to test pieces of gear, I seek out everything I can find online where people are comparing gear and giving reviews and opinions.  Granted, it’s more common to see those who are displeased giving an opinion, but I’ve found in the music world when someone has a piece of gear they love, they love talking about it.  This is also generally reflected online.

My first thought was to get a POD XT Live, the floor version of my rack unit.  This would not only allow me to use my current patches, but it’s what I know and I already have the software installed.  Yet the XT is getting long in the tooth where modeling technology is concerned.  Line 6 alone has since released 3 1/2 newer modeling units as the technology matures.  I read where many players upgraded from an XT to the not quite so latest HD500(X) and were very disappointed because the number of modeled amps was drastically reduced and they couldn’t quite dial in a similar sound they were used to.  I started noticing where many of these were metal players.

Metal used to be a pretty narrow category in rock that included bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, The Scorpions, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, you get the picture.  These bands now are considered “old school” and perhaps just “hard rock”.  The sound was primarily that of a guitar plugged in to a very loud, tube amp driven to the point of a really sweet sounding, harmonically rich, natural distortion.  Nothing sounds better to these old ears!  Metal today  encompasses many different degrees of angst.  Newer metal to my ears features guitars that sound like something is seriously wrong with the amp.  The digital technology started by attempting to mimic a distorting tube amp but designers quickly realized they could push it to greater levels of distortion and buzz, and dare I say, noise.  Some of it I do like, but not all.  I’ve used countless different distortion pedals and at one time wore the moniker of “Kaptain Krunch”.  Yet over time I became less satisfied with my distorted sound as the pedals became more like a buzzing and brittle noise and less like a nice tube distortion.  So while I claim metal as a genre I play and like, it’s probably best summed up as old school hard rock.  So…. when the metal players complain about losing their edge, to me that reads as a good thing.  The XT is very capable of that newer metal noisy and buzzy distortion sound which I’m not interested in and haven’t used.  In fact I have patches I am using but I am far from happy with them because it’s a little too brittle and harsh sounding.  So losing that would not be a loss.

Other players said the upgrade to the HD500 was a light years leap forward in sound quality and accuracy in amp simulation.  Okay that sounds pretty good.  Especially if it’s more natural sounding like standing in front of a tube amp that’s cranking and breathing.

Nearly all agreed the factory patches are useless and that getting that great sound will require thoroughly understanding how the unit is designed to work and patience in tweaking settings.  This is the downside of it.  Oh I’m quite comfy with technology and understand audio wave forms and how settings impact sound.  Yet as the technology has ‘improved’ it’s gotten more complex.  What used to take a mere minutes of turning knobs on an amp and a few pedals to dial in a sound to my liking, now takes hours, days, maybe weeks.  ugh!  That single thing takes the joy and spontaneity out of music.  Fortunately the HD500(X) has enough of a user base and at this point is old enough, that other players have uploaded their patches.  And while few if any will work for me it’s a starting point that I can use to get close and tweak but a few settings.  Hopefully.

So yes, I found a good deal on a used (but sure looks new) POD HD500X.  It just came and I’ve managed to unpack and power up and connect to my Mac.  After some time installing new software specifically for this, I am now ready to start learning about it.  Have I plugged in yet?  Not yet.  A brief glance at the user manual and poking some buttons and browsing the current patches on thing have taught me I need to spend some time finding all of the settings and learning how this thing is put together first.  Then when I plug in I’ll have some idea of where to go to start editing.

I have high hopes this will improve my sound at church and make my life a LOT simpler… once I work my way through the insane complexity of setting it up.  It’s probably not going to be at church for a week or two.  Or three.

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