Pod X3 Live Review, Two Years Later
When I first got back into guitar 7-8 years ago, a friend recommended I check out GuitarPort from Line 6. Since then, I’ve run through quite a few different products from them. After getting hooked on modeling with the GuitarPort, I got a used Vetta that I used for playing out live. Even though they have not updated that in years, it is still a great modeling amp with an almost perfect feature set. The down side was, well, it’s an amp and weighs a ton. Somewhere during that early period I got a regular gig playing in the band at church and the thought of hauling the Vetta back and forth twice a week quickly wore on me. So… I picked up the Pod XT Pro and stuck it in a portable rack case and used the same floor board that I used with the Vetta. That wasn’t bad, but the tone options weren’t as good as with the Vetta. Thus began a years long quest to find the Vetta options in an extremely portable package.
The Vetta and Pod XT Pro eventually went on eBay and I picked up a new Pod XT Live. Finally — portability was at hand! I also added a Variax 700 to my rig and with just two pieces of gear to haul, I could cover all the bases, from acoustic to Stratocaster and Les Paul sounds. That was my main rig until the Pod X3 came out a couple of years ago. I sold the XT Live and switched to the X3 Live. With dual tones, I finally had a lot of the options I missed from the Vetta without the back pains to go along with it. What follows are my thoughts on two years of regular use of that combination.
First, here’s the things that I really like about it. It’s extremely light. The pedal is much more fluid than the XT’s pedal was. It has built in S-PDIF out (that I use for recording) and stereo XLR outs. It also has the ability to drive 1/4″ outs at the same time and have the volume knob control only the 1/4″ outs. Why is that handy? Because you can hook up your own monitor to hear yourself and control the volume from that independent of what you send to the board. We play on a pretty crowded stage and with only 2 monitor channels and the inevitable “more me” from everybody, it got pretty loud. Being able to drive a separate local floor wedge was a great solution. At least for me it was Another obvious plus is you can control the Variax with the patches, so switching from acoustic to electric is as easy as changing patches. Definitely a cool option. Another plus (and a huge minus) is that the dual tones are completely separate. If you have a guitar with a piezo output, you can route both cables to the X3 and get some of the same Variax style flexiblity — switching between acoustic and electric (and controlling which of the two 1/4″ inputs the tones use) — at the stomp of the foot.
So, what’s not to like? Well, the X3 was anticipated as the “Vetta on the floor” solution. Unfortunately, if you want to do more than run a single amp model and limited effect options, it’s not. The Vetta still blows away the X3 in terms of routing flexibility. The Vetta is more like a 2 amps at once feature rather than dual tone. With the Vetta, you can stick an overdrive in front of the signal chain and when it’s on, it drives both amps. You can do the same thing with the the X3, but you have to keep them in sync on both tones and to turn the stomp on or off, you have to hit a button to toggle the stomp, then hit a button to switch to the other tone, and hit the stomp button again. Repeat the process to toggle the effect. The other option is burn another patch — one with the stomp on and another with the stomp off. So now 128 patch slots doesn’t look so good. This same issue affects the mod and delay settings. The only way to turn an effect on or off globally is to switch to the patch that has it set the way you want. Now when you’re tweaking, even if you’re using GearBox, migrating amp effects or stomp effects between patches is a real nightmare. The other killer here is delay tails. When you switch patches because you want to turn off delay on both tones, the delay tails stop.
I’ve also had a few hardware issues with mine. The main knobs have a “wiggle” sensitivity problem. Vibration or who knows what makes the X3 think you’ve changed a knob and so all of a sudden drive will go to wherever the knob is set. You can park the knobs at 0 or 10 to minimize the issue but still — it’s a pain. The other problem was the super-cheap S-PDIF connector they used. If you apply any pressure what-so-ever when hooking up, it will eventually break one of the solder legs that connects the jack to the circuit board. A little solder fixes the problem, but again, not something you should have to do with normal use. And here’s the real problem — it’s plastic. Plastic attracts dust like crazy. My XT never caught the amount of dust my X3 gets. And as you can see from the picture, I’m not a fan of dusting.
Now there are solutions for all of this. When the the X3 came out, there was no MIDI support. With a software upgrade, they added full MIDI support so you could program a MIDI board to toggle the stomps with a single button press. But then you’re back to carrying something extra around, which defeats the purpose. You could at a Line 6 M13 and use the famed “four cable method” to get some of the Vetta flexibility, but again, it’s another box, to hook it up right you’d lose some of the Variax flexibility and you also lose the stereo separation because of M13 and FX loop limitations. And of course, I could dust more…
So there you have it. Two plus years later, I still use the X3. Mostly because I haven’t found anything else in the price range that comes close to the options I want. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing that the X4 will be the Vetta on the floor we were all hoping the X3 would be.