Price paid: C$ 529
Purchased from: Long & McQuade
Sound — 9
1st of all I want to state that while you can technically plug this into a normal guitar amp, and there are settings to support this, you will never get the full benefit of all the DSP modelling of the selected amplifiers by using it in this way. So I bought this intending to run it into a full range, flat response (FRFR) powered speaker system. This IMO is where the unit shines. I'm currently running it into my M-Audio Powered Studio monitors and if I ever use it live I would be investing in FRFR powered speaker system or into the PA direct. The system is quiet even if I don't use the noise gates available, even with high gain settings. There are many effects and all can be reordered in any position before or after the amp/pre-amp. All are quite tweekable, often more so then the originals they're modelled after. Again the quality of the effects are quite good but I want to emphasize that I disagree with this unit being classed as an effects unit. It is an amp modeller with effects and the amp models are quite different from one another. The amp models often allow for tweekable controls for Bias, Sag, Hum and other "old" tube amp characteristics. Any amp can be combined with any available cabinet style as well and the tonal differences are immediately apparent as are the the microhone selections and positions! These three things (amp, cab and mics) vastly alter the sounds you're hearing. There is another support forum called "custom tones" which you can share your and other user's custom presets. I'm still learning all this thing is capable of, and if you want to get the most out of it, you'll have to study and practice how to use it but I've already made a few custom tones that are very different from one another and more easily accessible with the built in pedal board than my Vox which is more limited in many respects.
Overall Impression — 9
I'm into various Blues periods, rock from the 60s on up and whatever I like the sound of. I've used Tube Amps all my life, and only recently got introduced to modern modelling. Before buying this I spent the entire Xmas holidays trialing amps (Egnater, VOX, Fender, Blackstar, Jet City etc. etc)and I found each had a good sound unique to that amp. However at my budget the smaller versions of these amps also had some limits. I finally decided that for me, good modelling will get me "close enough" to many of these characteristic sounds, at lower volume levels, than any one tube amp ever could. The best modeller IMO is the Fractal Audio and I've read good things about the Kempler as well but those units are 4-5 times the cost of this one and not being a pro, I had a choice to make. Why the HD500 and not the HD300 or HD400 you ask? The price difference between the 300 and 500 is ~$150. For that difference you can get more effects turned on at once, dual amp sims running in parallel, and more foot switch control. The only thignI wish this had was more DSP power. When trying to run to amps in parallel and run effects loops in parallel as well (some effects only in one chain some in the other) I did run into resource issues. Any two amps in parallel with a more simple effect chain seems fne however. Probably my favourite feature is the free Editor for the PC for using and the amp models for sounds that are much more distinct from one another than simple tone controls can give you. If you want a ton of different amps sounds at your command, and plan to use them, then this unit & possibly it's siblings coupled with FRFR speaker system will give you it at a fraction of the price of the top of the line modellers. If all you want need is one or two good sounds, or loathe learning to control new technology, then maybe this type of unit isn't for you. I'm a old dog but I'm still learning.
Reliability & Durability — 7
Well it seems to be ruggedly constructed, and all metal. I'd think it would hold up well live but again accessing the 256 user programmable presets or 256 factory presets (altered or not) will take some practice. One of the reasons I choose this model over the desktop HD POD or rack mounted PRO version is this has all their capabilities but doesn't require an expensive addition of a foot controller, it's built in. The USB controlled Editor more than makes up for any issues you'd encounter trying to program it standalone. The XLRor TRS outputs are meant for PA, Powered monitors or FRFR speaker systems. I haven't bothered to use the headphones out, I enjoy the sound from the studio monitors too much.
Ease of Use — 8
The answer to this question is more easily answered if you use the online support. The support provides the "Line 6 Monkey" app for a PC which will check your POD for current versions vs what's available & handle any updates should you allow them. No issues and my POD was quickly updated via the USB interface. Secondly editing on the POD itself seems OK but downloading the free Edit application which again uses USB is a no-brainer. Driving this puppy on a PC is a snap with a very intuitive graphic user interface. As for manuals, well they saved a few trees cause you don't really get one, but while you're downloading the free support apps Monkey & HD500 Editor, you can download PDF versions of user manuals for both the POD and the Editor. If you don't have a PC or MAC you're missing out on the support end. I'll start the tone discussion here simply by saying the provided presets are nothing but a showcase for the effects and models capabilities. If you like some of the tones though you can start with them and edit form there vs starting from scratch.