I've run all of them through regular amp heads, power amps, 4x12 cabs, 2x12 cabs, studio monitors and FRFR wedges. I've recorded, I've jammed. I've run direct, I've gone DI. I've reamped, tweaked, EQ'd, notched, compressed, limited, gated, and just about everything else you can throw in there. Occasionally, I've even recorded bits worth keeping for my album.
Having hemmed and hawwed about which is which and what's the better buy/bargain/etc for someone like me, I've bought and sold a lot of gear. I haven't made a dime on any of it, but thanks to the good resale on the Fractal stuff (and Amazon's return policy) I've managed to not completely lose my shirt in the process. I'd say after all's said and done, I'm probably down about $500. Considering how much asskicking gear I've had the chance to not only use, but own (I'll get into that..), I'd say it was money well spent.
I'd post some A/B clips here, and believe me I have a ton of them, but I am lousy at mixing. Guys like Ola and Nolly make everything sound good. In my opinion, their clips and videos are 10% gear and 90% talent. Maybe 95% talent. So any clips I throw up won't do either processor justice, because at the end of the day I am still lousy at mixing. I enjoy it, I just suck at it.
So while people are on the fence about which to get, I'll take the odd road here and say that the multitude of asskicking videos from these guys on Youtube are a bad example. If you get a Pod, or a Fractal, or even the new FOTM Kemper unit, the average player will not sound like that. Ola sounds like that because Ola is a monster musician and a fantastic studio engineer. Fred Brum sounds like that because he is an impossibly clean player with a fantastic ear. Nolly sounds like that because he is James Fucking Bond. If you're like me, the average bedroom shredder with a DAW and some monitors, nothing you buy will let you plug in and sound even half as good as those guys do. If you're better than that, Nolly still has you beat in the accent department.
Diatribe aside... Here's my .2c on the two units as The Average Home Studio Novice.
Pod HD Pro
Pros: (pardon the pun..)
- Lots of horsepower for the price
- Pretty decent amount of effects
- Tons of routing options
- Dedicated Dry DI output
- Onboard USB is great
- FBV is cheap and works great
- Can sound great with some tweaking
- Big dedicated knobs are a great idea, makes for easy adjustments on the fly
- White LCD looks fantastic, easy to see from a mile away
- Every single stock preset sucks
- No user cab IRs, which wouldn't be so bad if not for...
- Most of the cab IRs suck
- Software UI looks good, but is a bit on the clunky side
- Editing on the front panel is counter-intuitive
- Tuner is not so good
- Line 6's support forums are fucking terrible, and so is their customer support
- Did I mention how lousy the presets are?
In a nutshell, the HD Pro is a damn decent unit, with a few flaws. One of the great things about the Fractal unit is that if you just flip through presets, the majority of them sound good. I may never want a lightly overdriven tweed tone with a plate reverb on it, but when I come across one on the Axe-Fx, I stop for a second and say "This tone is nothing I'd ever use, but it's still pretty cool". A lot of the times that's followed up with "Drew will love this".
That never, ever happens on the Pod. When people come over to check it out, I introduce them to the 4 main presets that I have accessible from the FBV and hope that they never move past them. I've said it a few times - I don't know who designs the stock patches at Line 6, but they are beyond bad. A few of the clean tones are usable (because it's kind of hard to fuck up a clean tone anyway), but all of the overdriven presets are awful. The sag knob is a mud control. It should always be at zero. The ER feature on the cab models just seems to add a wash of noise. Again if you have one, turn those off too.
You can't get too into the effects, despite the HD having a bunch of them. If you want more delay trails, your only options are to turn the feedback and the mix up. Which works, except for the fact that your first two repeated notes will be loud as hell. I compromise by keeping it all down with short tails, because when I make a mistake the last thing I want is to hear the delay throw it back in my face at 100% volume as though it's laughing at me. Guitarists fuck up. Most of the time, we really hope you didn't notice. If you fuck up, and you have uber-loud delay repeats immediately following said fuckup, your listeners then have three times the opportunity to catch said fuckup. I'm a shredder. I play more notes than most guitarists, so the odds are stacked against me.
Anyway. The best "tutorial" that I found for the HD is Chimp Spanner's youtube channel. He uses more gain than I do and I don't go for his exact tone, but the little nuances that he dials in are a BIG help in getting this thing to sound good. Get rid of the sag. Get rid of the ER. Use a 57 off axis to make it less wooly. Great ideas, and they work. I have a couple of pretty serviceable tones out of the HD right now, and I could easily finish my album with them if I used VSTs and plug-ins for the effects for more flexibility.
If you're on a tight budget, you should absolutely get the HD Pro. Don't skip a car payment for the Axe-Fx. Don't overextend your credit card for one either. That applies to ANY music gear, and is a rant for a different day. If you immediately stretch yourself thin to afford some piece of gear, you will always look at it and worry about paying the bill when it comes in. You'll never get to actually enjoy the damn thing because you'll always see dollar signs when you look at it. Are you 18 years old? Do you bag groceries? Do you pool gas money with your buddies to go out on Friday nights? If so, congrats, your life is fucking awesome and we old guys with all the shiny toys envy the shit out of you. Let us have our $2000 Fractal units and get yourself a Pod while you enjoy yourself. You have the rest of your life to get boutique gear.
Now... Let's talk about...
Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II
- Configurable for days. You'll never run out of shit to tweak, even if you're a Prog player
- Routing options galore
- Stock presets are full of tones that people will actually like
- Interface is amazingly well laid out and easy to use considering how complex it is
- Awesome as a preamp, as an effects unit, or both. At the same time.
- Can build patches to run separate signals to your amp and to your DAW
- Oodles of power. Add that 8th delay and extra phaser. You've earned it.
- Amp models sound fantastic, even if you don't like the original amp
- User cab IRs. Huge aftermarket support from companies like Redwirez, Ownhammer, etc
- Axe-Edit really not so bad, much better than it used to be
- Huge community, forum runs vBulletin, Cliff posts a lot, customer support sets the bar for every other manufacturer out there.
- Man, this thing is expensive
- Axe-Edit really not so bad, but not so good either, but it works. It's certainly better than L6 Edit.
- You'd really have to be Cliff to hear the difference between some of the amp models
- Fan is damn noisy
- If you don't RTFM a few dozen times, you won't get the most out of it
- Despite the interface being great, still a bit of a pain in the ass to quickly edit things mid-song if you're playing live
Again, speaking for myself only, one of the best things about the Axe II is that out of the box, it's extremely quick and easy to get a great sound through your amp, and into your DAW. It's all the dicking around afterwards that becomes the problem. People buy an Axe-II and immediately assume that since they have watched every Youtube tutorial in the world, they can't be happy unless they dial in THE PERFECT TONE. Then they take that PERFECT TONE and toss it into a LESS THAN PERFECT MIX and all of a sudden - you get posts saying that the Axe-II isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Playing and mixing are two different things. There are so many talented new guys out there (Bulb, Nolly, Ola, again) who blur the line between musician and producer, people who would normally be happy to just have an awesome sounding processor immediately think that they have to be awesome sounding studio engineers as well. It's all over SSO and the Fractal forums. It's here too, and honestly it's in some of my own posts. If you want good quality direct tone, and you want the unit that does it the best, the Axe II is the processor to get. The HD isn't close. Nothing is, really. Once you start thinking in terms of a complete mix instead of in terms of "this doesn't have the br00ts through my KRKz!", the Fractal unit pulls away by a long shot.
The more I mix, and record, and listen to snippets I've done with various processors over the last year, the more I find that every single one of my mixes that I liked the best was done with the Axe-Fx. I love my 6505+. I bought some 57s, read some tutorials, waited until the weekend in the middle of the day and let it rip. You know, it sounds pretty damn sick. Then I put it up against my Axe-Fx mixes. Guess what still sounds better? Yep, the clips that I did at 2 in the morning with headphones on.
Doing a little Gear Soul Searching, I listened to tons of my own stuff. I took tracks and dialed in patches that I liked with the HD, and doubletracked them. Then I muted the AxeFx patches, then the HD patches, back and forth ad nauseum. Even with strikingly similar tones that in a mix would be so close nobody listening would ever give a shit - the Axe II tracks just sound better. They are clearer, more defined, and just - for lack of a better way to put it - more hi-fi and complete sounding than the ones I got direct from my HD Pro and from a mic'd 6505+.
This got me thinking some more about how I approach my gear. I asked myself "What's the best sounding high gain tone you've ever heard, Self?"
The answer? It was at MG-Fest at my house. I was pretty nervous that weekend and wanted to make sure everyone else had a good time, so I didn't really play that much guitar. At one point, most people were downstairs and I think it was just me, Cliff and RobAnomaly upstairs. Cliff dialed up a 6505 patch, cranked up the volume and with nobody around I had a few minutes to really let it rip with the Axe II. It sounded absolutely fucking monstrous. I can't say enough good things about my 6505, but I keep thinking back to that point at my house. It's a shame, because when I owned my Axe II, I actually never took the time to set it up that way. I always had it through my FRFR wedges. I don't know why I didn't put it into a PA and a cab. I certainly have plenty of spare gear.
Long story short, I keep coming back to "What sounds the best?" and "What offers the most?". That's the Axe-Fx II, hands down. I'm not taking anything away from the Pod. It really is a great little unit and for someone on a budget it's a no-brainer. You don't have to be a sheep and follow the crowd. If you're looking for a $500 piece of gear, and a $500 piece of gear is what you need, then the Pod is that piece of gear.
If you're looking for the absolute best processor out there in terms of modeling, flexibility and overall tone, then you should get an Axe-Fx II. Then, you should immediately ignore Youtube and message boards for a couple of weeks and just enjoy the sounds YOU get out of it instead of constantly chasing someone else's.
For me, it's the Axe-Fx all the way. Best piece of gear I've ever owned.