• Amazon: Line 6 POD HD400
• Pros: Enough footswitches for comfortable live use, 16 “HD” amp models, and over 100 M-class effects. Excellent sound quality overall.
• Cons: Some annoying limitations on which effects you can combine, and editing parameters on-the-fly is challenging.
• Overall: A great value pedal for the price, with plenty of amp models and effects to keep you entertained. Bigger models may be better for serious gigging musicians, though.
Mid-sized multi-effects pedals aim to strike the perfect balance between capability and affordability, not quite packing the multitude of footswitches you’ll find on larger units but with more options and more potential for live use than smaller incarnations. In Line 6’s POD HD line, the HD500 is the beast of the family – although it’s been superseded by the HD500X – boasting 12 footswitches alongside a wide range of amp and stompbox models, but it will also cost you a lot more. The cheaper HD300 is a little too small for effective live use, but the HD400 is firmly in the “Goldilocks zone” of multi-effects pedals – aiming to balance potential for live use, a wide range of effects and amp options and a reasonable price. But is it really the perfect pedal for more casual guitarists, or does it fall short of its lofty goal?
A Multitude of Features
The “HD” amp modeling is the big selling-point for the POD HD series, with Line 6 re-writing their own rule book to boost the accuracy and realism of their models. According to the marketing for the series, the new models provide ten times the precision of their older POD models, but in reality this is something of an exaggeration. It’s definitely improved, and for most players there’s nothing to complain about, but if you’re serious about an authentic tone, the HD series of amp models is far from enough justification to put your vintage tube amp up for sale in the classifieds.
The amp models take inspiration from classics from throughout guitar history, with options inspired by amps such as the Vox AC-15, the Fender Blackface Deluxe Reverb, the Marshall JCM-800 and the Hiwatt Custom 100, with Line 6 having whittled the original list of hundreds of amps down to just 16. The HD400 allows for firmware updates, and these occasionally include brand new amp models, for example adding alternative channels on already-included amps and new options from Line 6. The amp models can be adjusted with the “Drive,” “Bass,” “Mid” and “Treble” dials running across the center of the HD400, and you can also alter the volume of the channel.
The POD HD400 features over 100 M-class effects, the same stompbox-inspired sounds made popular by the M5, M9 and M13 stompbox modelers from Line 6. These include distortions, delays, EQs, pitch effects, echoes, wahs, reverbs, phasers, filters and other modulators. The higher-end HD500 actually has the same number of effects, which is a big bonus for the HD400, because you don’t lose out on possible effects by opting for the smaller pedal. You can have four active simultaneously, and most of the effects are split across dials labeled “FX1,” “2” and “3.” The effects can be combined with amp models, and you have 128 user presets to store your creations in (although by connecting to a computer you can effectively extend this to the limits of your hard drive). There are also 256 ready-designed presets on the HD400, too.
There are plenty of footswitches on the POD HD400, with nine in total allowing for sufficient hands-free operation to suit most players. Five of these have fairly fixed functions, with two for selecting a bank of presets (when you’re in “Preset Mode”) or scrolling to a specific preset, a “Mode” switch, one for activating and deactivating the optional effects loop and the other for tapping out a tempo for timing-dependent effects. The remaining four switches are used to activate and deactivate amp models and effects, just like stompbox switches. Finally, there’s an expression pedal on the right edge of the HD400, which allows control over the wah effect, can be used as a volume pedal and can be assigned to control the pitch glide effect.
The four stompbox-like footswitches take on different roles when you make use of the onboard looper on the HD400. You’re allowed up to 24 seconds of looping (with unlimited overdubs), and the function is primarily controlled by the two central pedals, one used for recording and overdubbing and the other for playing back what you’ve done and stopping playback. You can set the loop to come pre or post effects, and use the looper more like a sampler (playing through recordings only once), but there’s no undo/redo function. The Zoom G5, along with other units – even from the older Line 6 M-series – handle looping a little better, with the G5 offering 60 seconds of looping time (or 30 with the undo/redo function active) and sticking with the conventional layout (with a single record/play/overdub pedal and other options controlled separately), but the HD400’s looper can still be plenty of fun.
On the back of the HD400, there’s an input jack, stereo 1/4 inch outputs, stereo XLR outputs, jacks for a stereo effects loop, a 1/4 inch jack for an expression pedal, a headphone jack and a USB port, giving you plenty of options for connectivity.
Is it Worth the Money?
The POD HD400 isn’t the perfect pedal, but it is unavoidably user-friendly, and the sound quality is great overall. The problems with it tend to be fairly minor. For example, the footswitches could be a little bigger, and as things stand clumsy or wide-footed guitarists might accidently catch the wrong switch every so often. The expression pedal and the dials also aren’t as precise as they could be, feeling more incremental than smooth and continuous in the changes they apply.
There are also limitations on how you can combine effects. They’re grouped so they can be selected by the three dials, but this has some unfortunate consequences. For example, you can’t combine a distortion model with a compressor, or a tremolo and a filter. It might not be an issue for most, but other multi-effects pedals provide more freedom in the effects you can combine.
Even with these minor issues, it has to be conceded that the HD400 is a very capable effects pedal. You’ll be more than happy with the amp models unless you’re a perfectionist audiophile, and you’ll undoubtedly have more effects than you know what to do with. The claims of ten times the audio quality are a little overblown, but the improvement over the older models is definitely noticeable.
The goal of creating the “Goldilocks-zone” effects pedal has been accomplished with the HD400, featuring enough footswitches to be used in the occasional gig, but keeping the price reasonably low. If you’re a serious live player, opting for a better-stocked unit in terms of footswitches may be a wise move, but for most guitarists the HD400 will be more than capable. With an excellent selection of sounds for less money than the goliath unit, it’s a great choice for the casual guitarist, but for those who need the additional trappings of the HD500X, it may fall just a little short.