“What’s the best multi-effects pedal?” is a question that comes up again and again in guitar and bass forums and discussions, and for good reason! There are a lot of multi-effect pedals out there, with prices and features varying drastically from model to model. With multi-effects pedals, it’s a little bit different than something like distortion pedals. With distortion, there might be 50 different manufacturers each making a single distortion pedal. With multi-effects, there are only around 5 major manufacturers (Zoom, Line 6, Boss, DigiTech, TC Electronic), but they each make 10 models of multi-effect pedals. This can make choosing the best one tough for beginners and advanced players alike. Luckily, we’re here to help, and after a ton of research and play testing, we’ll help you decide what the best multi-effects pedals on the market are, no matter your budget and needs.
- Bottom Line:It's hard to find flaw with the Zoom G3X. The amp modeling isn't the best, but that's something that plagues most multi-fx units. The layout is awesome and feels like you're using stompboxes, the I/O is comprehensive, most of the effects sound fantastic and the price is outstanding. Best of the Best
- Bottom Line:It's big, sturdy, packed with features, and probably the best sounding of all the multi-fx units. It's pricey however, and the interface is not super intuitive (the software editor makes things easier, but you'll need a computer with you). If you want the highest quality effects, this is the one for you.
- Multi Effects Pedals vs. Individual Pedals
- Pros and Cons of Multi Effects Pedals
- What to Look For in a Multi Effects Pedal
- 5 Best Multi-Effects Pedals
Multi Effects Pedals vs. Individual Pedals
This question is one of those legendary analog vs. digital type debates. Many a forum war has been started around this topic. It’s typically a question asked by beginner and intermediate guitarists looking to get into effects. Given a budget, is it better to start a collection and buy a couple of individual effects, or get a single multi-fx unit? There’s not really one correct answer to this question one way or the other, since it largely matters on what your goals are.
One thing is for sure: the advantage of a multi effects pedal is getting a lot of effects in one convenient package, which you can use to learn what guitar effects you actually use on a regular basis. Depending on the type of music you play, your style, and your skill level, chances are you don’t have a need for every effect type under the sun. Pro guitarists’ pedalboards are tailored to the tone and sound they need to achieve. Perhaps fuzz, delay, and compression are crucial, but not a flanger or chorus. Point is, if you don’t yet know this about yourself, a multi-effects pedal is the most perfect and cost effective way to start. Over time, if and when your love for effects deepens, as your budget allows you can start buying individual pedals that are better versions of what’s on your multi-fx unit. The overdrive in your Zoom G3X might be good enough to hold you over, but eventually you might want to get an actual Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer.
Or, who knows? You might find you enjoy your multi-fx pedal so much, that it 1) fulfills all your guitar effect needs, or 2) does a good enough job filling your need for less-used effects, as you collect individual pedals for your more frequently used effects.
Pros and Cons of Multi Effects Pedals
Just to clarify, the pros and cons of multi effects pedals are in the context of multi-fx vs individual pedals, as we covered in the section above.
- They are sample platters (or buffets, to keep the food analogies going) of effects and amps. It’s pretty amazing to be able to have so much tonal variety in a single package.
- Cost effective compared to buying individual pedals. A cheap effects pedal is around $50, and a boutique pedal can go for $150 and often much more. For as little as $150 total, you can own a pretty nice multi-effects pedal that can replace a pedal and amp collection worth $1000s.
- Makes a fantastic practice companion. Built-in utilities like tuners and loopers, combined with portability and a headphones output means you can have practice, jam, or songwriting sessions wherever, whenever.
- Fills in the gaps in your pedal collection. Haven’t found that coveted vibrato pedal yet? Saving up for that mythical fuzz pedal? Your multi-effects pedal has both of those covered in the meantime.
- Makes a great backup to your pedal collection. In case something happens to your pedalboard, or you simply don’t feel like lugging it around, multi-fx to the rescue.
- Good for live use. You can program a different patch for every song you need to play live, then just recall those patches during your performance, without having to fiddle with a dozen knobs all the time.
- User interface can be confusing. Some multi-fx units do a much better job than others, but for the most part the interface of a multi-effect pedal has a higher learning curve and is more of a pain to use than single pedals. The more a multi-fx pedal can do, the more buttons and menus there are to scroll through.
- The effects are probably not as high quality as what you get in single pedals. The saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind.
- If it breaks, you’re all out of pedals. As opposed to a pedalboard of single pedals where if one breaks you can just take it out, if your multi-effects pedal malfunctions you’ll be left without any effects.
What to Look For in a Multi Effects Pedal
Not all multi-effects are created equal, which you probably already know since you’re here reading this guide! Here are factors to consider when shopping for a multi-effect unit. We make sure to cover all these points for each multi-effects pedal we review in our top 5 list:
Price: Not surprisingly price is extremely important when making any purchase, but even more so with multi-effects pedals since their prices have a very wide range, and chances are this is a pedal you’ll be using quite a bit.
Durability: Unlike individual stompboxes where you might use some sparingly, since your multi-effects unit contains all your effects you’ll be using it frequently. As such, it’s important that the build quality is up to par. This is where brand reputation comes into play as well, since you want the brand to stand behind their product in case anything bad happens. Rest assured the pedals we recommend in this guide are all from very reputable manufacturers with long histories of good customer support.
Ease of Use: Multi-effects pedals are inherently more complicated to use than individual stompboxes. As such, we value multi-fx units that are not overly complicated, and require hours with the user manual to understand. Look for pedals with intuitive layouts and interfaces. Technology has come a long way, and most multi-effects pedals have good quality sound. To us, ease of use is a huge selling point (probably the most important behind price), and can differentiate the good from the great.
Inputs & Outputs: Make sure the multi-effects unit you choose satisfies your input and output requirements. Ask yourself questions like: Do you need to hook up headphones to it? Perhaps send the output to your guitar amp? Do you need it to have a balanced XLR output? Is hooking it up to your computer via USB a big deal for you?
Size & Weight: If the multi-effects pedal will stay in one place at all times, then perhaps size and weight is not a big deal. However, one of the biggest selling points of a unit like this is its portability. If you need to gig with it or simply take it to a friend’s house, make sure you’re fine with its dimensions. The good thing is that a manufacturer like Line 6 makes several versions of the same basic pedal. The Line 6 M13 is a great unit, but if you need it to be more compact you can opt for the M9, or smaller yet the M5.
Number of Effects: All multi-effects units have a number of effects to choose from; that’s the entire point of them! However, make sure the pedal you go with has plenty of selection that will meet your needs. Typically, the more effects there are to choose from, the better. Chances are over time you’ll narrow the selection down to a few of your favorite ones. The top 5 multi-effects pedals on this list all have plenty of effects to choose from (the lowest has around 40, and a few have 100s).
Amp Modeling: A multi-effects pedal does not necessarily guarantee that it also includes amp modeling. Amp modeling basically means that, in addition to effects like reverb, delay, chorus, fuzz, distortion, compression, et al. it also has the ability to sound like - or model - various tube and solid-state guitar or bass amplifiers. Amps have a tremendous impact on tone, which is why brands like Marshall, Vox, Fender, Matchless, Mesa Boogie, and many others have cult followings. Copying the true character of an amp in the digital world is admittedly a tall order, and one that multi-effects pedals are not great at; even the best ones struggle. Still, they do a decent-enough job, and you should decide if you want your multi-effects pedal to include amp modeling.
Extra Features: This is where we’ll bucket a bunch of extras that could be important to you, depending where you are in your guitar playing journey, and what gear you might already have. Some multi-effects pedals include handy tools like a tuner, a looper pedal, a built-in expression or wah pedal, an input for an external expression pedal, the ability to double as a USB interface, the ability to be powered by batteries, and so on and so forth. It comes down to personal preference, but we generally like to see the inclusion of a tuner, and looper pedal, since both are extremely useful tools for most guitar players no matter their skill level.
5 Best Multi-Effects Pedals
Hopefully now you have a good idea of what to look for in a multi-effects pedal, and what criteria we judge one on. We made this list by going through dozens of forum threads asking for best multi-effects pedal recommendations (we ended up with an initial list of 45 different recommended pedals), and tallying up the ones mentioned the most. We then researched the top 5 by reading as many user reviews as we could find, and went out to test the top 5 ourselves. Here are the winners.
1. Zoom G3X
When it comes to multi-effects pedals, the Zoom G3X delivers big-time. Voted the top multi-effect pedal in our research by a large margin, the G3X hits high marks for quality, value for the money, portability, and most of all ease of use. Aside from giving you a multitude of effects, this unit is also an amplifier simulator, tuner, fully functional looper, doubles as a USB audio interface, and has a built-in expression pedal. Zoom has stiff competition in the multi-fx “battle of the brands,” and we were surprised to see their G3X come out on top against solid offerings from Boss, Digitech, Line 6, TC Electronic, and more. When you watch some videos or demo this unit yourself, it’s hard to not get excited about it.
The first impressive thing about the Zoom G3X is its build quality. This unit is solid, which puts our fears to rest that Zoom may have sacrificed build quality since the G3X is more on the budget side of the price spectrum. In the reviews and recommendations we read, several owners make it a point to comment that it feels like a serious piece of equipment that could withstand some abuse because of its sturdy metal construction. The G3X can be powered with a 9V adapter (which is conveniently included), or four AA batteries. Zoom claims about 6 hours of battery life, but in our experience manufacturers tend to exaggerate battery life a bit. Still, battery power is very convenient if you’re traveling with the G3X and want to do some on-the-go playing, or just taking it from room to room in your house (to save some money in the long run we recommend rechargeable batteries).
All the connections are conveniently grouped together on the back of the unit. You have a mono 1/4” input for your guitar and a stereo output which allows you to listen to your playing on headphones, speakers, or a guitar amp (there’s also a balanced XLR output if you need it). Zoom also includes a USB connection, which not only can power this pedal via USB, but also turns the Zoom G3X into an audio interface! This way you can easily record in your favorite DAW. The USB connection also means you can use Zoom's free Edit & Share software so you can easily manage your patches on your computer. Just like everything else on the Zoom G3X, the input and output options are just right and provide plenty of flexibility. There’s really no major omission we can think of.
Now that we covered the basic features, let’s talk about what really counts: the built-in effects, amp models, and usability. For better or for worse, people tend to compare multi-effects units with the experience and sound you get from owning a pedalboard full of individual pedals. Well, great news: the consensus is that the Zoom G3X feels a lot like using individual stompboxes; more so than any other multi-effects unit on the market. Zoom really nailed it when it comes to making an intuitive interface. If you look at the layout, you’ll notice 3 “stompbox-style” sections side by side, each with a little display and on/off footswitch. These are meant to feel like 3 guitar pedals next to each other. They’re technically 3 slots which can each hold an effect or an amp model. The Zoom has 6 slots total (you can scroll left and right to access them), and all 6 can be used at once. You’ve got LOTS of choices to shape your tone: 94 effects and 22 amp and cabinet models. Any type of effect you can dream up, the Zoom G3X has you covered. Tremolo, vibrato, compressors, filters, overdrives are all available, and many of the effects simulate popular pedals like the Tube Screamer, EHX Big Muff, Pro Co RAT, Boss DS-1, and the list goes on and on. Same goes for the amp modeling - you can emulate a Marshall, Fender, Orange, Vox, etc. and pair up different amp models with various cabinet models. You can make your effect chain in whatever order you want, which is great for the beginner who is figuring out pedal order for the first time, and the veteran who wants to experiment with unique pedal combos. From a user review:
“The design is well thought out and it is packed with features. I love the concept of visually seeing the signal chain and being able to enable/disable effects individually along with directly adjusting settings with knobs. The interface is very intuitive and easy to use and requires very little manual reading.”
In terms of how the effects and amp models sound, we give the Zoom G3X a 7 out of 10. Most effects sound great and very convincing. All but the most discerning tone snobs would be able to distinguish them from the “real thing.” As is typical for digital multi-effects units, the quality of the overdrive and distortion effects is sub-par. Conversely, delays, reverbs, and choruses sound pretty great. In fact, one recommendation many users make is to start out with the Zoom G3X, and eventually buy a separate dedicated overdrive or distortion pedal, like a Fulltone OCD or Pro Co RAT2. This comment from an owner sums it up well:
“...it is solid unit and I would challenge ANYBODY to prove it is in any way inferior to CHEAP effects. Sure it will not beat $200-300 boutique effect - and at some point you will start buying those too. But it is on par with any $50 single effect - no issue.”
The amp and cabinet modeling is probably the weakest link of the Zoom G3X. Make no mistake - it’s nice to have customizable amp and cabinet pairings in a practice or headphones scenario, or if you simply don’t have a guitar amp yet. It’s just difficult to replicate the character and “oomph” of a vintage tube amp. This isn’t so much a knock on the G3X as it is of most amplifier modeling.
A Zoom G3X review is not complete without talking about the inclusion of a tuner and looper with built-in rhythm patterns. Just like all of this pedal’s functions, calling up the tuner is very easy; you just hold down the middle footswitch for a couple seconds. As we covered in our best looper pedal guide, a looper is an indispensable practice tool, and the fact that you get a pretty nice one in this unit is a huge plus in our book. The G3X gives you 40 seconds of loop time, which is ample time to record something interesting. You get 41 very basic drum patterns, and while they don’t sound amazing, it’s nice that they sync with the looper. Have a look at this 3 minute demo video of a performance using the looper and other Zoom G3X effects:
Bottom Line: The Zoom G3X is everything a guitar multi-effects pedal should be, and then some. As strange as it sounds, as we researched what owners of this pedal are saying about it, it was difficult to find any outright negative comments (any negative feedback tends to be centered around the notion that digital multi-fx don’t sound as good as individual pedals, which is a hotly debated topic). You have to consider how amazingly low the G3X price tag is versus how many features it packs in. It’s not the best in the world at any one thing - the looper isn’t as good as a TC Electronic Ditto, and the delays might not match up to a Strymon - but it does a lot of things quite well, and the user interface is such a pleasure to use. The Zoom G3X will be your best friend if:
- You’re new to the world of pedals, and want a way to experiment with your sound and signal chain.
- You need multiple effects and amp models but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
- You have a distortion pedal, but need something to fill your delay, reverb, chorus, and flanger needs.
- You don’t want to lug your pedalboard everywhere and need a “good enough” backup.
- You want a fantastic practice tool with a looper, or portable songwriting tool with DAW compatibility.
Based on the overall number of votes from guitarists around the web and our own tests, when it comes to multi-effects pedals the Zoom G3X is the Best of the Best.
2. Line 6 POD HD500X
The Rolls-Royce of multi-effects pedals is the Line 6 POD HD500X. As far as the top 5 pedals in this guide, the HD500X is the most full-featured, most complex, and also the priciest. Despite carrying a higher price tag than the others, it comes very highly recommended and landed a solid second place on our list, and this is mostly due to two things:
- There’s very little it cannot do.
- It sounds fantastic!
We’ll talk more about the sound quality shortly. To give you a gentle introduction, Line 6 has been in the amp and effects modeling game for a long time. Their POD line of guitar effects processors has been around for a while, and you might be familiar with their Pocket POD. Some of you might also know them for their extremely popular digital delay pedal and looper, the DL4 (an absolute mainstay on pedalboards everywhere). Line 6 makes several multi-effects units, and according to the research we did the POD HD500X (from their POD HD X series) is the one mentioned and recommended most often. They make a rack-mountable version of it, but we’re more interested in the floor pedal unit. This is a multi-effects pedal, amp simulator, incorporates an expression pedal, tuner and looper, and doubles as a USB audio interface, just to name the basics.
Immediately you can see that this unit is on the larger side, measuring 25 inches (63.5 cm) across, and weighing about 11 lbs (5 kg). If you’re concerned about portability, we noticed one of the most purchased items together with the HD500X is this case, which comes highly recommended and will keep your multi-effects pedal safe during transit and storage. The Line 6 POD HD500X itself has superb build quality. It has a very nice metal chassis, and heavy duty construction. The build quality probably doesn't get much better than this in a multi-fx unit (we say it is a step above the Zoom G3X). We won’t spend a ton of time talking about the inputs/outputs and controls available on the Line 6 POD HD500X, since you can very easily discern that from photos of it. We will say that of all the multi-effects pedals on our top 5 list, this is the most robust. The inputs/outputs cover above and beyond what you probably need. You’ve got your basic inputs and outputs, USB 2.0 so you can use it as a USB interface and for DAW integration, MIDI in/out/thru, FX send and return, AUX input, balanced XLR outputs, integrated mic preamp, and more. In short, however you want to integrate the HD500X into your bedroom, music studio, or live setup, there’s a very good chance you’re covered.
Turning our attention to the main controls on the front, it actually doesn’t look as intimidating to use as some owners of it make it out to be. Yes, you can get lost in tweaking and tinkering with amp models and effects until you’re blue in the face - but we actually find the interface to be nice and uncluttered, with all the footswitches and knobs nicely spaced out. On the top left there’s a small screen with some knobs surrounding it, and this is where the majority of your tweaking and editing will take place. Across the top are seven knobs which are meant to replicate what you would find on your amp. If you’re interested in the amp modeling part of the POD HD500X, you’ll appreciate having things like DRIVE, BASS, and PRESENCE immediately available. Two footswitches on the far left of the unit are responsible for up/down menu navigation, eight switches labeled FS1 to FS8 are assignable to individual effects, and finally there are two switches dedicated to the Looper function, and Tap Tempo/Tuner. You can also clearly see an expression pedal built-in on the right of the unit.
Tinkering with the 100+ effects and 30 amp models available using the small screen on the HD500X is not the best experience. The screen is simply too small, and we much prefer the more intuitive stompbox-like layout of the Zoom G3X. You can use up to 8 effects/amp models for a patch at the same time, but can only tweak one at a time. If you hook up your HD500X to your computer and use their software editor, it’s a game changer. The editor software lets you do everything you can on the unit, but with a much bigger (not to mention color) screen - WAY easier than editing on the relatively small, monochrome screen of the HD500X. You can do live editing on the software, drag and drop things in your signal chain (which you get a nice visual representation of), and it applies and syncs immediately. This is by far people’s preferred way to edit on the HD500X, but unfortunately it means you need your computer with you. Since editing all the effects’ parameters is not as immediate as on the Zoom G3X, you can unfortunately find yourself tweaking things to death and figuring out all the settings, rather than just playing and creating new music. As one user puts it:
“By far my favorite jack of all trades multi-effects processor. You can waste a lot of time just tinkering with it though...”
We like the following user’s suggestion to avoid that pitfall:
“Right now I have it set up as basically just a pedal board plugged into my amp, and limit myself to those 6/7 pedals only. This means I actually play rather than tinkering…”
On the plus side, the years of experience Line 6 has with amp and effect modeling really shines through here, and in the end we (and many other guitarists) feel this is one of the best sounding multi-effects unit money can buy, and definitely the best sounding of the ones on our list. For the guitarist that wants to just pick up and play without worrying about editability, the presets cover an enormous range and really flex this unit’s muscle. From very classic and recognizable tones, to some absolutely wild modulated stuff that would make Muse’s Matthew Bellamy jealous. The presets can be a little too on the crazy side, and seem to be made more for a “WOW” factor than being usable in the studio or with your band. The Line 6 POD HD500X does suffer some of the issues common to other multi-effects units, in that the fuzz, distortion, and overdrive models don’t sound as good as the rest of the effects, and the amp models aren’t completely convincing. Luckily you can bypass the amp modeling and use the original tone of your amp, only relying on the HD500X for its effects. For what it’s worth, this is our preferred use of it.
In terms of extras, you get a full-featured 48-second looper, which is a big selling point (you can achieve interesting results by using Reverse and ½ Speed on your loops). It also has a built-in tuner which works well, and the inclusion of a Tap Tempo footswitch is extremely useful for on-the-fly tempo adjustments.
Bottom Line: The Line 6 HD500X is incredibly in-depth in the amount of options and editability it gives you. Doing all of it from the small screen on the actual unit is headache-inducing, but if you have a computer you can hook it up via USB and edit your sounds from there much more easily. There’s more of a learning curve with the HD500X than there is with the Zoom G3X, but the presets are decent enough and allow you to audition it if you’re the impatient type. Where the HD500X lacks is that it’s less of an immediate-gratification pedal, and it’s hard to tweak on-the-fly and come up with potentially inspirational sounds. Because of how the interface is, this is definitely more of a “sit down with headphones and tinker with it to get your perfect sound” type unit. If the effects quality of the Zoom G3X is a 7/10, the Line 6 HD500X is an 8.5/10. This is the one to get if you’re the type that likes to dig in and have control over every little thing. The price tag is a little on the high side, but considering what a powerhouse this unit is, it’s definitely not unreasonable.
3. Line 6 M5
Sometimes, the research we do - such as this hunt for the best multi effect pedal - opens up our world to a piece of gear we did not previously know about, and yet completely blows us out of the water. Such is the case with the Line 6 M5 Stompbox Modeler. This is the second item from Line 6 that made it into our top 5 list (the other one being the high-end POD HD500X). The Line 6 M5 is different than the other multi-effect pedals on our list, as it’s the only one that can only model one effect at a time, and also does not do amplifier modeling. With the other pedals on our list, you could replace your entire pedalboard by having multiple effects active at the same time. The M5 is far more simplistic, only letting you use one at a time. You might be asking yourself why we love it so much - well, it’s not for everyone, but there’s a lot of beauty in its simplicity. Read on to see if this is the right pedal for you.
The M5 is extremely portable and pedalboard-friendly, measuring about 6 inches wide and tall. The construction is absolutely first rate with a heavy-duty all-metal chassis and footswitches. Line 6 absolutely does not skimp on build quality with this one. It’s also found on lots of pedalboards of pro players that we’ll talk about shortly, which speaks to it’s durability and quality. In terms of interface, it’s actually quite a simple pedal, as you can see in closeup photos of it. The inputs and outputs are rather simple. ¼” stereo in, ¼” stereo out, an expression pedal input, and an input for a 9V power supply (which comes included with it). On top of the unit you have 2 main footswitches (which not only turn an effect on and off, they are also used to scroll up and down), a small screen in the upper left corner, and 6 knobs to control different parameters of whatever effect you have selected. It does not have USB capability, balanced XLR outputs, or any of the other fancy I/O from larger multi-effects units. But then again, for its purpose it doesn’t really need all that. The M5 is intuitive, nice, and simple.
So, here’s the deal: the M5 is NOT an amplifier modeler (no Marshall or Vox recreations here), nor is it meant to replace your entire pedalboard. This is ONLY an effect modeling pedal, and contains over 100 effects, of which you can have active one at a time. In terms of “extras” it has a tuner and tap tempo. The Line 6 M5 is a perfect first pedal to buy, since with 100+ built-in effects you can play with all of them and find out what types of effects you really like. It’s also a perfect pedal to simply just have on your pedalboard, for situations where you need a certain effect and don’t have a pedal for it. Need a reverb in a pinch? It’s a reverb. Need a compressor? You got it. Need a phaser? Yep, it’s that too. It’s also really inexpensive for what it is, making it a great starting point that you can build upon.
How does it sound, you ask? Guitarists generally agree that Line 6 tones are as good, if not better, than any digital sound out there from the likes of Boss and DigiTech. One really cool and intuitive thing is that the small display screen has a color-coded background depending on what type of effect you’re on. It’s a little thing, but such smart thinking from Line 6. Delays are green, Modulations are blue, Distortions are yellow, Filters are purple, and Reverbs are orange. Modulations and delays sound fantastic, and will stack up against a Line 6 DL4 or Boss DD-X box any day. Compressors, overdrives, fuzz, and distortions are usable but less than stellar, which unfortunately is the norm for digital effects. We actually tried using the Line 6 M5 with a solid-state amp, and the dirt effects sound much better going into that than they do into a tube amp (your milage may vary). Remember, this is not meant to replace your entire board. Over time, if distortion is your thing, you can get a dedicated analog distortion stompbox and keep the M5 for the other dozens of effects it does really well. For effects like volume and wah, you’ll be glad to know the M5 has an input for an expression pedal, which you’ll want to invest in if you care to use those types of effects (check out the EX-1 here if you care to stick with Line 6). If you don’t feel like editing patches and want to jump right in, you get plenty of presets to scroll through (the two footswitches let you scroll up and down between patches). Some presets are a little outrageous, but with a little editing you can reel them in and make them more usable. And speaking of scrolling up and down through presets, at first we were disappointed that we had to scroll through all 100+ patches to find the ones we like. Turns out you can make a favorites list of up to 12, and scroll only through those. Again, we’re continually impressed by the little things on the M5.
Bottom Line: The biggest downside of the Line 6 M5 is that you can’t use more than one effect at the same time, and that it’s missing a looper function. But then again, you’re asking it to be more than what it’s trying to be. This is a Swiss Army Knife of a pedal that can morph and change shapes to whatever effect you need (we should also mention it’s true bypass when switched off). Sure, the drives/distortions are a weak area, but most effects are nearly indistinguishable from the classic pedals they are trying to emulate. We love this quote from a user:
“It's so much more than just a guitarist's stompbox, it's a great sounding, well-made, intuitive hardware multi-effect for any ... musician...”
Famed session guitarist Tim Pierce has this to say about his M5:
“...the only modulation source I have is the [Line 6] M5... I see these M5s on a lot of Nashville studio guitarist pedalboards. It's really a really good workhorse. Nice reverb... if somebody asks for a phaser or flanger it's there for you.”
So there you have it. An absolute workhorse with fantastic sounds, and just about a must-have pedal no matter what type of guitarist you are and no matter your skill level. Equally a perfect first pedal to buy as it is a perfect last pedal in your collection. The biggest downside is that it probably can’t be your only pedal, since you can only use one effect at the same time. Famous users include Russel Lissack of Bloc Party, James Edward Bagshaw of Temples, and Dave Knudson of Minus the Bear. At the “too good to be true” price that it sells for (seriously, we’re not just saying that, one of our writers immediately sold his DL4 and bought the M5), this is without a doubt the Best Bang for your Buck.
4. Boss ME-80
Coming in as the fourth-most recommended multi-effects unit is the Boss ME-80, which is the upgrade to the older Boss ME-70. This is probably most comparable to the Line 6 POD HD500X in terms of having an all-in-one, full-featured multi-effects and amp-modeling unit. But the great thing about the Boss ME-80 is that it costs nearly half what the Line 6 does! Furthermore, the Boss is a very different animal in how you interact with it, which you can pretty much tell just by looking at the two pedals side by side.
With the ME-80, Boss has made a unit that’s slightly different than a traditional multi-fx unit. Instead of trying to simplify the interface and make it sparse and clean, it’s immediately evident that there are a LOT of knobs on the front of this unit. The ME-80 is trying to mimic the feel of having a pedalboard full of pedals at your fingertips. This is good, because us guitar players love pedals for exactly that reason - you can just look down at them, twist some knobs, and your tone changes. Instant gratification! Not many guitarists we know like to scroll through endless menus and read text on a tiny screen, much less have to read the user manual cover to cover to understand how to work our gear. We want to twist a knob or two, and we want to play!
The size and shape of the ME-80 is comparable to the Line 6 POD HD500X, though the Boss measures a few inches smaller, and also weighs a few lbs less. This is a Boss product, and as such it’s built like a tank. No worries whatsoever over the build quality of the chassis, knobs, and footswitches. Starting with the rear of the ME-80, you can see the I/O is pretty basic - mono input for your guitar, stereo output, a headphones jack, AUX in (so you can plug in your iPhone and jam along to your favorite tracks), and a USB port. Like the Zoom G3X and the Line 6 POD HD500X, you can use the Boss ME-80 as a USB interface for your computer and record your guitar straight into your favorite DAW. Oh and one small inconvenience is that you’ll need to buy the power supply separately. Why Boss doesn’t just include one for a unit of this quality and price, we don't really understand. If you do end up getting the ME-80, this is the power adapter you want. It can also use 6 AA batteries which is good if you need to use this on-the-go, but we don’t recommend it as it will suck those batteries dry in no time.
Looking at the front (or top rather) panel of the Boss ME-80 is where it gets interesting. Don’t let the sheer number of knobs intimidate you. Shaping your tone with the ME-80 is a very tactile experience, just like you would if you had a pedalboard full of pedals. The ME-80 is made for the guitarist that doesn’t necessarily want to lug around (or spend money on) a large pedal collection, but still loves the feeling of turning knobs and instantly hearing results. The interface is actually pretty easy to understand. Every major section is surrounded by a white border, and to design a sound (a.k.a. patch) you just move through the sections and set the effects to your heart’s content. We should mention that the Boss ME-80 has 59 different effects and nine guitar preamps which you can use. The first section labeled PREAMP is where you set your amplifier model, and should feel familiar if you’ve ever messed with a guitar amp. Next you have an EQ section, REVERB, COMP, OD/DS, MOD, and DELAY. You can look at the front panel for yourself in a closeup photo to see the various effects available within each of these groupings. The 8 black footswitches along the bottom are what you use to switch effects on and off, as well as move through banks and presets. They’re not your traditional stompbox footswitch, but they feel pretty nice. As is the norm with the larger multi-effects floor units, the ME-80 incorporates an expression pedal, which is assignable to different effects via the knob next to it. Very easy to use, very intuitive.
The Boss ME-80 has two modes of operations. MEMORY mode lets you scroll through banks and presets more like a conventional multi-fx unit, and MANUAL mode is what we described earlier, where you can use this pedal as if you had a bunch of effects on a pedalboard and just start tweaking away. MANUAL mode is really where this unit shines, and makes it stand out from other multi-effect pedals. The presets are okay for getting a taste of it, but as is typical of presets many are over the top.
Okay, getting down to brass tax - how do the effects and amp models sound? In a word, great! It’s not secret that Boss makes some fantastic pedals, many that have reached legendary status over the years. It’s nice knowing that you’re getting a multi-effects pedal from a brand that has really dominated the guitar and bass effects field. Boss uses some technology terms like COSM modeling and MDP (Multi-Dimensional Processing) which sound fancy but might not mean much to many guitarists. Truth is, given that this is a digital unit, some things sound really great, and some sound not so great. The overdrives are hit and miss. This user review hits the nail on the head:
“Perhaps the weakest block, and the only one I spend time trying to dial in a decent tone. Lots of high gain fizz options with loss of body and character. Boost is decent, Tscreamer isn't, but for me the Blues choice with drive=1pm, tone=noon and output=11am gave a nice breakup tone without losing bottom end. If you have an overdrive pedal you like..you may still be using it.”
The compressions, delays, and modulation effects are super solid, and unless your friends or audience are ultimate tone nerds, nobody will be questioning the quality of those. One particularly cool delay effect that owners of the ME-80 say is a big deal is the TERA ECHO, which if purchased by itself would cost you around $150. The amp modeling is decent quality, perhaps slightly better than what you get on a Zoom multi-effect, but not quite as nice as a Line 6.
While the Boss ME-80 doesn’t have anything in terms of extras to really blow expectations out of the water, it includes some nice and handy features. The onboard looper works well and has 38 seconds of loop time, which is enough time to do some basic jamming over some chords. And speaking of jamming, the AUX input on the back of the ME-80 is nice, since it allows you to plug in an iPhone/metronome/mp3 player/any other music playing device and jam along with your music (this is fun and a feature we would actually use). The USB output lets you take patch editing over to your computer, in BOSS's Tone Studio software. Cool, but not necessary since editing patches is actually very easy and actually quite fun on the unit itself (no complicated menus to go through - just fun knobs!). One idiosyncrasy to be aware of is that if you plug anything into the headphones jack, the speaker simulator is automatically enabled. This is great for solo practice in your headphones, but note that that’s the only way to actually switch it on.
Bottom Line: The Boss ME-80 seems to be aimed at the beginner and intermediate guitarist who is getting into the effects game. What guitarists love about it is that it tries hard (and succeeds) at replicating the feel of messing with a pedalboard full of effects. Unlike the Line 6 POD HD500X, you won’t need the manual! We’re not necessarily taking a dig at the Line 6 pedal - that one very much has its merits, is FAR more customizable and editable, and arguably the effects and amp modeling sound a bit better. The Boss ME-80 is just a different style, and judging by the user reviews we read people really enjoy having all the knobs for all the effects immediately available. The Boss ME-80 is also a tremendous bargain considering how powerful it is. Sure, it’s not exactly cheap, but it’s a very well-made, intuitive, nice-sounding all-in-one multi-effects pedal which is great for practice, studio recording, and live use.
5. DigiTech RP500
The final spot in our top 5 list goes to the DigiTech RP500, the second-largest of the DigiTech RP line of multi-effects pedals, but definitely the most popular out of the lineup. Like Boss and Line 6, DigiTech is no stranger to making very good guitar effects. Their parent company Harman also owns Lexicon, famed for their top-of-the-line reverb sounds, which DigiTech very much benefits from. The DigiTech RP500 is a multi-effect unit with amp modeling, a looper, USB connection, and an onboard expression pedal. Out of the 5 pedals on this list, it draws the most comparisons to the Zoom G3X and the Boss ME-80 (both in terms of price and features). Throughout this review we’ll make sure to cover how it stacks up against those.
First of all we have to make special mention for the build quality of the RP500. It has a cast-metal chassis and vacuum-style footswitches like on an actual stompbox, and it just feels like it’s built better than any Line 6 or Boss multi-effect we’ve tried. On the rear of the RP500 you’ll find a ¼” input for your guitar, stereo output, headphones jack, AUX in, balanced XLR stereo out, and a USB port. A power supply is included, so points for DigiTech over Boss for doing users that courtesy. A look at the front panel layout reveals it’s pretty unique. It doesn’t have the side-by-side stompbox look we love so much in the Zoom G3X, it has fewer knobs than the Boss ME-80, and yet it looks more straightforward to use than the Line 6 POD HD500X. The dimensions and weight are almost exactly the same as the Boss ME-80 (about 20 inches wide, and weighs approximately 8 lbs).
As we mentioned, this is both a multi-effects unit and an amp modeler. Like the Boss ME-80, you can use it in a regular editing mode where you set up your signal chain using buttons and knobs, or “Pedalboard Mode” which when activated lets you turn 5 effects on/off via the 5 footswitches along the bottom, much like if you had separate pedals on a pedalboard. This is a nice bonus if you play live and want that immediacy. To sculpt your sounds, you use the small up and down arrow buttons to cycle through your effect types, or slots. You’ve got WAH, COMPRESSOR, DISTORTION, AMP/CABINET, EQUALIZER, NOISE GATE, CHORUS/FX, DELAY, REVERB, and EXPRESSION (which sets what your expression pedal is used for, like wah or volume) available for use. For each type, you can cycle through which effect models you want. There are a ton to choose from, over 70 by our rough count. The DigiTech RP500 probably has the most comprehensive list of all the classic effects, from Tube Screamers, to Pro Co RAT, DS-1, Fuzz Face, Boss CE-2 Chorus, EHX Small Stone Phaser, and many more. All the classic amp models are there too, like Vox, Marshall, and Fender, all with appropriate cab models. If you have your own amp or just don’t care for the amp and cabinet modeling, you can bypass it which leaves you with just stompboxes and effects.
The sound quality is pretty excellent. Relative to the Zoom, Line 6, and Boss multi-effect pedals, the distortion on the DigiTech is surprisingly nice. The reverbs are absolutely gorgeous, which is no surprise given they are Lexicon algorithms. Chorus and delay also sounds great, and the effects’ parameters are easy to set up and adjust using the row of knobs below the display. We also find the noise gate works extremely well at taming any unruly noise issues caused by dirt effects. Overall, we’re impressed at how the RP500 replicates a lot of the “classics.” A quick note on the presets - they are less than stellar, so don’t judge this pedal by them. You’ll have to play with them a little bit to arrive at better, more usable sounds.
The looper is a little more limited and offers shorter loop time than its competitors (20-seconds), but hey, at least it has a looper. The inclusion of a USB means you can hook the DigiTech RP500 straight to your computer and start recording riffs and ideas. If you like, you can use the included Cubase LE software for all your recording needs. Furthermore, just like with the other pedals on our list, you can manage and adjust your presets from the provided X-Edit Editor/Librarian software, which is quicker and easier than scrolling through the menus on the unit itself. The DigiTech website has a pretty extensive Tone Library, where you can download and use a bunch of patches.
Bottom Line: The DigiTech RP500 is a solid contender for your hard-earned money. To sum it up:
- In terms of build quality, it’s the best.
- It’s not as feature-rich as the Line 6 POD HD500X, but it also costs less than half!
- We prefer the intuitive layout of the Zoom G3X, and it’s a toss up between this and the Boss ME-80 - it depends if you value the hands-on nature of the Boss, or the more streamlined nature of the RP500.
- Sound quality-wise, it’s too close to call. All modern Zoom, Line 6, Boss, and DigiTech multi-effects units sound excellent. Distortion sounds a bit better on the DigiTech, and if reverb is your thing it doesn’t get much better than the Lexicon verbs. The other multi-effects units might be better if you’re looking for more experimental sounds and textures. The DigiTech RP500 tends to be more conservative, and focuses on nailing the classics.
- In terms of price, it’s extremely affordable. As of the time of this writing the price is exactly the same as the Zoom G3X.