First-rate sound in a topnotch interface
By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central
Line 6 has made a lot of classic processors for guitars, both in a multi-effects format and in the single-function Modeler series, the DL4, MM4, DM4, and FM4. Now those highly regarded individual effects come packaged in the M13 and the M9 multi-effects platforms. While they were at it, Line 6 threw in Verbzilla, Echo Pro, a tuner, a comprehensive looper, and other goodies you'd expect in a top-of-the-line multi-effects. But to say that Line 6 combines their Modeler line into one unit doesn't even begin to tell the story. The M series is simply the easiest and most versatile pedalboard I've ever used, owing to its inspired design, brilliant logic, and Line 6's habit of including features that guitarists want and find useful—from the front panel's Bradshaw-like switchpanel matrix to the color-matching of the displays to effects to the internal architecture and routing. Even small innovations—such as the unit's remembering your knob tweaks—completely change the way you work. And for the better.
Lucky 13 or 9 lives
Line 6 offers two versions of the M series, the M13 and the M9. Both feature the four Modelers' circuitry under the hood, complete with upgrades to these now classic effects. For example, the DL4 module now has a dry-through option—a much-requested feature from users. Line 6 listened, and now here it is.
Both the M13 and M9 offer the same number of effects: 109 in total: 12 compressors and EQs, 17 distortions, 23 mods, 26 filters, 19 delays, and 12 reverbs. Additionally, both units include a 28-second looper (up from 14 seconds in the DL4), with an astonishing complement of controls that get mapped to the switches once you invoke the looper function. I got more use out of this looper than I expected from a multi-effects unit, and now I can't live without this valuable rehearsal and creative tool.
Welcome to the matrix
The layout is a grid or matrix: four columns with three rows of switches on the M13 and three columns with two rows on the M9. The columns are like side-by-side effects units, with each column offering choices of stompboxes arranged vertically. Do the math and you see that the M13 lets you set up 12 separate modules (or stompboxes, if you like) while the M9 gives you 6. You can put any effect under any switch for true matrix-like configurability, but it makes sense to order them by effect family—with compressors and distortion units in the first column, followed by filters and modulation, and then delays and reverbs. On the M13 you can have any four effects sound simultaneously, with eight more only a tap away. The M9 gives you three at once, with instant access to three alternates. Another really cool feature of the matrix approach is that you can configure the unit either from left-to-right (the way we normally read, and the "engineer's perspective") or from right-to-left—the way guitar players are used to hooking up their pedals, with the distortion appearing in the right-most position.
Other functions on the front panel include buttons for Tap Tempo, Scenes, and Looper. Tap Tempo lets you sync any or all pedals with a speed or rate parameter to this dedicated front-panel switch. The Scene button enables you to set up and access 12 front-panel layouts of 12 effects. A Scene can be organized in a number of ways: by music style (metal, country, jazz, etc.), by song (according to the order of your set list), by effect ("Distortion Library"), or any customized setup ("Hendrix Rig"). You could even, for example, have a Scene where all 12 buttons access the same effect (such as a delay) with different settings. Because a Scene remembers an effect's on/off status when you store it, you can change Scenes to facilitate two identical effects layouts that have different pedal-activation statuses. This saves you from any difficult "tap dancing" moves over several stomps in the same layout.
A model approach to sounds
Once I got the hang of loading in modules—which took about two seconds—I immediately started creating Scenes in the above-described way. I started with some basic setups—compression, distortion, delay, reverb—and then moved on to more exotic mod and filter combinations. The delays and reverbs are pristine, and the tape-based delays and Echo-Plex have an authentic low-fi sound to them that imbues the sound with analog-like warmth. The modulation and filter effects are the best in the industry, having been trickled down from Line 6's FM4 and MM4, with the Seeker—inspired by a Zvex Seek Wah—being just one standout. The distortions were very strong, particularly Line 6 Distortion, Line 6 Drive, Screamer, and Overdrive.
Icing on the cake
The Tuner, Tap Tempo, and system-level functions (MIDI, copying routines, etc.) all let you customize the board for any scenario that comes your way, and there are a few other noteworthy features. The effects loop on the M13 can be moved to anywhere in the chain and both units allow connection of two expression pedals. This is ideal, as you can dedicate one to a volume or wah, and use the other for changing parameters live. You can map any parameter to the pedal and define the minimum and maximum points with the pedal in any position. Autosave remembers the location of any adjusted parameters—just as if you were working with physical stompboxes.
Boasting exactly the same total number of resident effects as its big brother but in a smaller footprint, the M9 is in fact, only slightly bigger than a DL4. You could easily swap in an M9 for an older DL4 and get all the updated delays from the original plus a tuner and full-featured looper. In this way, the M9 is like a portable pedalboard: Throw it in your gig bag when you're going to a rehearsal or gig where your needs are more basic. The M13, with its four simultaneous effects, movable effects loop, and larger footprint, is a more complete pedalboard solution for replacement of your existing rig or for consolidating all the pedals you use for live performance.
The included Modelers are improved in many ways over the originals, through updates and the added functionality that being in a multi-effects environment brings. The speed and intuitiveness of the interface just means you can get to all the great sounds that much quicker and easier. Whichever you choose, the M13 or the M9, you'll benefit from ingenious design, a comprehensive feature set, and outstanding sound.