Enter The HD500X
I’m a couple weeks in with my new Line 6 HD500X, and I’m loving it. My band The Drop Daddies has a gig on Friday, and it’ll be the first with the new Blackstar Stage 60 and new pedal board. So I’m getting up to speed building new presets for songs, and getting used to a whole new world at my feet.
I’ve retired the old pedal board, along with the Zoom G3X, the loop switcher and a bunch of pedals I won’t be needing anymore! And I’ve built a much simpler new pedal board, which I’ll describe in the next post.
But first, here are a few critical decisions and discoveries that I’ve made along the way with the HD500X:
4CM – Four Cable Method
One of the big advantages of the HD500X over the Zoom G3X is its effects loop. On the G3X, you plug the guitar into the G3X and the output of the G3X into the main input of the amp. If the amp is on an overdrive or lead channel, any delays and reverbs coming out of the G3X will sound overdriven and muddy. You really want the delays/reverbs/etc to be AFTER the amp applies its pre-amp tone shaping. but you can’t do that without an FX Loop on the modeler.
Using the HD500X FX Loop and the send/return jacks of the Blackstar Stage 60, I’ll have total flexibility over whether individual effects are in front of the amp, or between the amp and poweramp. With the 4 Cable Method, you plug your guitar into the HD500X input, the FX loop Send from HD500X to the amp main input, amp FX loop Send to HD500X Return, and HD500X main output to the amp FX Loop Return.
You can see here in my basic template, the amp block is disabled. The FX Loop is setup as shown. I have a compressor, wah and mild overdrive before the FX loop. And after the FX loop (meaning applied between the Blackstar preamp and power amp stages), I have a boost, phaser, delay, and reverb.
This approach works great, and sounds amazing. So much better than my old setup!
What The Tone Suck?
I noticed that compared to plugging straight into the amp, my guitar sounded a bit dull and muted when played through the HD500X into my amp- even with no effect blocks loaded.
So, I did some recordings comparing guitar straight into amp, guitar into HD500X into amp, and 4-cable. Using Sound Forge to compare the loudness of the recordings, I saw about a 3.5db level drop from the HD500x when compared to guitar straight into amp. This is the cause of the tone suckage.
Experimenting with the HD500X mixer block, I set Volume B to mute, and Volume A pan to centered. I did a few more recordings at various volume A values and found that I needed to set it to +5db in order to have an equivalent level to the bypass signal.
The good news is that at +5db, I cannot hear any significant difference between straight-into-amp, versus through the HD500X. So, I set the mixer block this way in my template, and used it for all my presets.
Switch and Knob Settings
There’s a few physical switches and knobs on the HD500X that need to be set properly. On the front, I have the Master volume knob set to 100%. I have the Guitar In Pad switch set to Normal (but set to Pad if you have had extremely hot pickups or are getting unwanted clipping). I have the XLR lift set to Ground (no lift). This isn’t too important as I’m not using the XLR output, but if you are, and are experiencing ground loop hum, then set it to Lift. For the 1/4” Out, I have it set to Amp.
You can see in the last picture, I used my glow-in-the-dark green Setting Saver pen to mark the positions, in case they get bumped.
Where’s The Clean Boost?
The Boost Comp is listed in the model gallery as being modeled after MXR Micro Amp with “secret sauce”. Unfortunately, it seems that the sauce includes an undefeatable compressor. So it can’t be used as a clean boost like the micro amp. Even with the compression set to 0, it is still significantly compressed.
A clean boost would have been trivial to implement as a new effect with one parameter. Seriously it would be like a single multiply instruction! I’m disappointed it’s missing in the HD500X.
So, turns out I’ll need to keep my DIY boost pedal on the pedal board after all.
Well, I don’t love the tuner in the HD500x. It works, but it’s display is tiny, and I really like my Planet Waves Tru-Strobe tuner. So I’m going to keep that on the pedal board for now.
Speaking of the pedal board, … on to the next post where I show how I mounted it.