• Pros: Has most of the benefits of the larger M13 but is more affordable and portable. Offers 109 effects, with the option of having three active at any time.
• Cons: Some of the effects don’t quite hit the mark, and it can take a while to get used to using the system.
• Overall: Ideal for casual players. It has enough footswitches to use live (but not as much as bigger units) and more effects than you’ll know what to do with, but can be picked up fairly cheap.
The M13 may be the flagship of Line 6’s M-series of multi-effects pedals, but that doesn’t mean you should discount the mid-sized M9. The bigger unit may have twice as many footswitches, but with that extra hands-free capability comes increased size and, more importantly, increased cost. The M9 (and the smaller M5) has the same selection of effects as the bigger unit, though, and with similar features it’s not quite so easy to discount the less-than-goliath pedal. The real question is: does the M9 do enough to compete with its bigger brother? And how does it stand up to its mid-size competitors?
The array of stompbox effects on the M-series (regardless of model) is pretty impressive. The 109 effects on the M9 span distortions, reverbs, delays, modulators, compressors, EQs and filters, with the groups color-coded to match Line 6’s range of stompboxes. The effects are largely based on classic stompboxes, so if you’re looking for a modulation effect, you can choose from sounds based on the Mu-Tron Bi-Phase, the MXR Flanger, the Uni-Vibe and many more. Of course, Line 6 includes plenty of its own pedals in the line-up too, including the Echo Pro, a Line 6 Distortion and the DL4 Delay, but the selection takes inspiration from throughout guitar effects history. You choose an overall type of effect, then you’re presented with more specific versions than you know what to do with.
You can run up to three of these effects simultaneously on the M9. This is a little short of the four provided by the M13, but still provides ample opportunity for creating unique sounds. The parameter adjustment is simple – five of the six dials on the top right of the pedal (just below the display) control the five parameters shown in the corresponding spots on the display. The remaining dial is pushed into to choose a type of effect and turned to browse the specific versions available.
The bulk of the pedal is taken up by footswitches. There are seven in total on the M9, and six of them are used for activating and deactivating effects. This means that you have access to six effects at once – you can only have three active, but the “scene” (ordinarily referred to as a preset or patch) contains twice as many. The six pedals form three columns (each with an effect labeled “A” and one labeled “B”), and you can only have one from each column active at one time. It might require a bit of organization beforehand to get the most out of it, but it’s basically like having a six-stompbox array at your feet. The color-coding means you have a reminder of what’s in each spot – as long as you remember what each color means! There are 24 scenes in total stored on the M9, and six of them can be accessed hands-free (you change to a different six-scene folder using a dial), so it’s really more like having six collections of six stompboxes at your feet.
Holding down the remaining pedal transforms the M9 into a looper. With 28 seconds of memory to record and overdub on to your heart’s content, it turns the already capable multi-effects unit into a jamming companion and a practicing tool. The lower row of switches (aside from the “Tap/Looper” one) become “Record/Overdub,” “Play/Stop” and “Play Once,” while the upper row gives you the option to reverse playback, switch to half-speed and undo or redo your last recorded overdub. The memory might not be up to the standard of dedicated looper pedals, but things like the “Undo/Redo” feature are extremely useful, and put the pedal ahead of many other multi-effects units with onboard loopers.
The back edge of the M9 houses the connectivity options, with 1/4 inch stereo ins and outs, two jacks for expression pedals, and a MIDI in and out pair, as well as a spot for the power supply. You’ll need a converter to do MIDI to USB, though, and the unit doesn’t have a USB port at all, meaning there’s no way to export your creations to your computer.
Does it Measure Up?
The good thing about the M9 (or the crappy thing about the M13, depending on how you look at it) is that there’s not too much you really gain by opting for the larger version, unless it really makes a difference that you get one extra simultaneous effect and more footswitches. You also get jacks for an effects loop on the M13, more dials for parameter adjustment and twice as many effects stored in each scene, but for all but the most effects-dependent musicians it’s hard to see how the M9 doesn’t do enough. While there are some benefits to the larger option, if you’re looking to spend as little as possible, the M9 strikes a great balance between functionality and cost.
The M9 is also much more portable than the larger unit, weighing seven pounds less as well as taking up less space. It’s not like guitarists aren’t used to carrying heavy gear, but if you’re going to be taking the pedal to jams or practices regularly the portability is a nice bonus. It wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy, but with the similarities in functionality and the comparable sound quality between the M9 and M13, it’s yet another reason to opt for the smaller version.
The M-series has some issues too, though, and the M9 isn’t immune to them. The metallic button footswitches are a bit small, and you can make mistakes on occasion, catching an extra switch or just hitting the wrong one altogether. At home this isn’t an issue because you have the time to be precise, but during a performance it isn’t always so easy. Some of the effects themselves could be better, too, with the high gain distortions in particular sounding pretty similar to one another and the Tube Screamer not quite capturing the real deal, for example. Most are good, but you can definitely find better modeling elsewhere.
The M9, despite some niggling flaws, is still a great pedal. The real benefit of the mid-sized option is that the price is lower but you don’t lose out on much functionality. It’s easy to use and less work to carry around, but you get all the same effects and the ability to run three simultaneously. The M13 is worth considering if you’re a working musician, but for most players the M9 is the ideal type of pedal. It still has enough pedals for occasional live use, but is particularly well-suited to home studios, jam sessions and just rocking out at home for fun. You may want to upgrade at some point in the future, but especially if you’re new to multi-effects, you’ll love the M9.