If someone describes something as “Small and compact on the outside, but HUGE on the inside”, I’m sure you would immediately think of a Police box containing a certain time travelling Doctor. Although since Musikmesse in April there’s been a 2nd option to fit that statement: The Line 6 M5 Stompbox Modeler!
In its own way it’s similar to the TARDIS because it crams in a comprehensive collection of historic stompbox tones in the space of a single stompbox and Line 6 were kind enough to send me one of these to review. So without anymore TARDIS talk, let’s get down to the M5….. What is it, what does it do and more importantly how well does it do it?
Essentially it’s a multi FX pedal and it can do just about anything you want it to do. It comes crammed with over 100 high quality M series FX models, including a selection of great distortions, delays, reverbs, modulations, pitch shift, compressors and filter FX. The difference between this and other multi FX pedals is that you can only run one FX model at once. Although actually you can run two, with one being a noise gate and the other being any FX you choose, which is handy if you’re running a high gain rig and want a noise gate as well as a tube screamer for example. Or perhaps if you have single coil pickups and want to rid yourself of the background hum that is inherent with SC pups.
With all Line 6 gear, there’s always more than one way to use it. For selecting presets and turning FX on and off, there’s two simple yet distinctive setups:
1. You can load the FX models via one of the twenty four presets, of which all are user customisable. This works well as you can just press the left and right footswitchs as up or down to load the next preset in the list. Perhaps you could order them correctly to fit with your bands set list.
2. There’s also a performance mode, where you can select the next preset but it only loads when you press both foot pedals together and then that preset is loaded. When you’re in performance mode and the preset is engaged, you can also edit your preset and the M5 will remember your settings without you having to save anything, just like a real analog pedal! This is called AUTOSAVE, and can be turned on or off in the main setup menu. In contrast, with it off you can experiment with different settings without the M5 automatically saving them.
This pedal is one of the easiest to use multi FX pedals I have come accross. There’s enough instructions printed on the pedal itself to mean there’s a good chance you’ll never need to open the user manual, although if you need a few tips on how to use the M5 the quick start guide is really well written to be helpful to beginners, and also more experienced multiFX pedal users. Those handy hints printed on the M5 itself include how to enter setup mode (so you can turn on or off settings like AUTOSAVE or the noise gate which is a per preset setting, not global), and also how to save a preset if you have AUTOSAVE turned off.
There’s a few other features that I find useful on the M5.
- True or DSP buffered bypass (switchable) as some people want true bypass when FX are turned off, and a buffered bypass for those wanting to use long cable runs or wanting to hear delay trails.
- Mono/stereo inputs and outputs: I find the stereo inputs and outputs the most helpful, as I can plumb the M5 into the FX loop of my POD HD400 or HD500 and get even more great FX on top of the existing models in the POD HD. Almost like an extra add on, the combination of POD HD and M5 is greater than the sum of its parts.
- MIDI in and out: MIDI can also be used to switch the M5 with your POD if you have a HD500, so that you can end up with 24 presets in the M5 that tie up with 24 of the presets in the POD, for a rig to end all rigs. Also there’s a MIDI backup feature for backing up individual presets or all presets as a bundle for other M5 users to share, or for you to save your old settings before making lots of changes.
- Expression pedal input to connect the optional Line 6 EX-1 for controlling any parameter of any FX model you like. It’s a must if you want to use the wah models in the M5 though, as of course they all need an expression pedal (except for the auto wah style FX).
- On top of all that, there’s a built in tuner, global tap tempo and some helpful user interface graphical representations for when tweaking and using an expression pedal. Just so you know what’s going on.
It’s hard to find fault with such a feature packed little box for such a great price (it’s around £169.99 street price). If I had to pick on a couple of things, I would have preferred to see the order of the presets reversed. Let me explain: At the moment the numbering goes from preset 1 at the top to 24 at the bottom of the preset list. So you click the down foot pedal which takes you down in the list, but the preset location number is increasing as you go down. I would have liked 1 at the bottom and 24 at the top, so the down pedal takes you down in the list and also in numerical value too. At the end of the day how it is currently isn’t making it more complicated, and perhaps this is just one of those things that most people wouldn’t care about or even notice.
The only other thing I would have liked would have been a way to enable the noise gate on a global level. For example if you want to use this for multiple distortion FX, at the moment you’d have to edit every preset, and enable the noise gate. I must concede that in reality the existing method is perhaps the better way to do it, as you may want slightly different gate settings depending on the distortion settings in the particular preset. But of course some people would like to just set it at a moderate level and leave it on all the time. I.e. for single coil pickup users.
This M5 does so many things, and does them all so well that it’s worth testing one out when you’re in the market for any stomp box or simple multi FX pedal. It fits into so many categories on its own merit and with an impressive feature list, and can of course compliment any existing multi FX to add some more sound options. Or if you have a pedalboard with stomps and don’t want to collect pedals that are only used to play 1 song this is a good option for you.
Pros: All the same FX that the larger M9 and M13 have (as well as the same FX the POD HD series has), an assortment of features, stereo, true bypass, delay trails, etc. So much in such a cool compact box.
Cons: No global noise gate (only per preset), ordering of presets could be more logical.
Rowbi’s Verdict: Very good, everyone should have one! 9/10
For more information on the M5 Stompbox Modeler, please visit www.line6.com/m5