Line 6 have been key players in the guitar amp/effects emulation field for over eight years now. Their first product, the Pod, set the ball rolling, and since its launch we´ve seen a steady stream of both software and hardware releases based on similar technology.
Line 6´s products have succeeded for two main reasons: they sound great and they´re very easy to use. Previously, we´ve reviewed their GuitarPort and TonePort offerings (both hardware/software combinations), but it´s a comprehensive plug-in solution that many people have been waiting for. Happily, we´ve now got it in the shape of GearBox Plug-in.
GearBox Plug-in comes in Silver and Gold versions - it´s the latter that we´re looking at here. This features 78 guitar amp models, 28 bass amp models, six mic preamp models and 80 effect modules. The Silver Bundle offers significantly fewer models but costs almost £200 less.
Installation is a quick and simple process. Bung in the CD, load the drivers, plug in the supplied hardware and you´re ready to go. Well, almost - to use the GearBox as a plug-in, you have to activate it online using the Line 6 Monkey utility software. Fortunately, this takes no time at all.
Plug it in
Both versions of GearBox Plug-In ship with a USB audio interface known as TonePort DI. The unit´s metal chassis is very solid and it´s certainly a stylish looking thing. Your guitar plugs into the front, while the back side houses the outputs. There are two analogue outs, a DI out and a headphone socket, all of which are presented on 1/4-inch TRS jacks.
Your monitoring level is set using the large rotary control that sits on the front of the interface. This has a good, positive feel and is accompanied by a pad switch that provides several dB of cut should your guitar´s pickups prove to be too hot.
Although the TonePort DI has to be connected to your PC in order for the plug-in to function, you don´t have to use it as the input source. This isn´t to suggest that it gives poor quality results - in fact, the opposite is true - but those who work at a more professional level may prefer to make use of their existing audio hardware.
As well as operating as a plug-in, the GearBox software can also be used standalone, which many will find desirable for live performance. In this mode, the interface offers an audio player (complete with half-speed mode), the Tone Locker (used to store and organise sounds), access to the GuitarPort Online features, a tuner (one of the most useable we´ve come across) and a metronome with a programmable pattern matrix.
Open the throttle
Sadly, the features just mentioned are omitted when you fire up the GearBox plug-in, which is designed primarily for tone creation. To that end, you get amp, cab and effects emulations. The GUI will look very familiar if you´ve used any Line 6 products before and makes GearBox a breeze to use. Amp and cabinet models are selected from drop-down lists in the top half of the interface.
Amps are grouped into guitar, bass and vocal categories, while the cabinet models fall under guitar and bass headings. Think of any mainstream or boutique amplifier and the chances are you´ll find it emulated here. From vintage classics to contemporary favourites, there are loads to discover.
The amps ooze harmonic content and respond very realistically to your playing, while the controls are nicely rendered and change to match the features of the model you´ve chosen, ‘themed´ according to selection. Click on one of the modules in the effects chain at the centre of the display and the corresponding controls appear in the bottom half of the interface.
There are loads of effects categories to choose from - gating, volume, wahs, stompboxes, modulation, delays, mics, compression, EQ and reverb are all covered. Each effects section contains a variety of models. The stompbox category, for example, features several vintage distortion pedals, a compressor, an octaver and a male/female de-esser. Again, the controls are clearly laid out and easy to understand, but most importantly, these effects sound terrific.
Move up a gear
One of the great benefits of GearBox being a plug-in is that you can automate it. This gives a tremendous amount of flexibility and ensures that Line 6 now have a product that can genuinely compete with the likes of Guitar Rig 2, AmpliTube 2 and Waves GTR.
That said, they do still have a little way to go in some areas - namely, they need to provide more extensive signal routing possibilities and integrate the ‘extras´ (the tuner, for example) into the plug-in. You´ll already find these things in the competition. On the plus side, though, GearBox Plug-in is easy to use, sounds fantastic and comes with a dedicated box for converting a weedy guitar signal into a recordable, line level one.
It may be expensive, but the Gold Bundle option offers a frightening number of amp and effects models, and when you add six great mic preamp models into the equation (see the Step to the mic boxout), you can almost hear Santa´s sleigh creaking under the weight of sackfuls of GearBox Plug-ins. Suitable for both beginners and experienced producers, Line 6´s latest is an extremely desirable solution that all guitarists need to try out.