In the search for perfect-sounding effects, separate pedals have been the recent craze. Is it time to give all-in-one multi-FX units another listen? Review by Richard Purvis
Sorry, but I have a problem with digital multi-FX units. Never mind the sounds – they just look so wrong… shiny, plastic, stage-filling spaceships that take you right back to the ’80s and won’t let you leave. Yes, you can play post-Berlin Wall music with them… but who wants to?
Line 6 has always tried to be different, and now they’re going for a new angle: restraint. Gone is the futuristic kitsch of their original stompbox modellers, although they’ve kept the colour scheme for the LEDs and backlighting – green for delay, blue for modulation.
Here we get a solid black metal chassis with six black knobs, seven footswitches and a small LCD screen. It looks positively classy, and feels like a well-made brick.
The M9 is around a third the size of its big brother, the well-made paving slab known as the M13, but it has the same goodies on the inside: digital emulations of over 100 classic pedals arranged by type, with tweakery galore on tap.
The main difference is you can only use three effects at a time to the M13‘s four, and store 24 scenes instead of 48. No virtual amps – they’re reserved for the Pod range.
The shiny footswitches control three ‘units’, each of which you can load up with any combination of two effects (as A and B). You can’t use any unit’s A and B effects at the same time – when that limitation starts cramping your style, it’s time to move into Scene mode and start saving full ‘pedalboards’. Six scenes should get most of us through the average gig; if not, it only takes a second to jump into another of the four scene folders.
Most of the sounds are lifted directly from the DL4, MM4, DM4 and FM4 modellers. The delays, reverbs and modulations are fantastic, the synths are wild enough to boil your brain, and the distortions are… well, a little more tricky.
There are some superb tones on offer – notably the Rat, the DOD 250 and the perfectly beastly Maestro Fuzz Tone – but a few just don’t hit the mark. The Tube Screamer’s not great, the Big Muff sounds okay but nothing like a Big Muff, and generally the high-gain fuzzes are a wee bit samey.
There’s a tendency towards airy, fizzing filth at the expense of the sticky, chewy stuff, and I can only guess the latter is just too hard to model accurately. It’s the same with POG-style multi-octaving, which isn’t present at all.
The good news is, this could change. The M9‘s internal firmware is already on version two (the original had only 78 models and six scenes), and you’ll be able to download further updates from Line 6 with the aid of two MIDI leads and a suitable audio interface. We had to try this out ourselves as our review unit was missing the extra scene storage. Bit of a faff about, but it worked fine.
It's easy to see why Line 6 wanted to build a smaller version of the M13, but I wonder if they've made one chop too far. Three effects at a time will be enough for most people in most situations, but you're left with nothing in reserve. However, if you love the sound of your guitar and think of effects as the topping rather than the cake itself, this is very close to being your whole pedalboard in a box. A couple more updates, and it might be just that.