Pros: Very competitively priced, tons of sonic options
Cons: No distortion selections, amp models are mostly hybrids and not actual models
Line 6 has been producing a number of highly quality modeling amps since the mid 90's or so and for my money they're hard to beat. In exchange for giving up maybe 10% of the authentic sound of the tube amp equivalent, your typical Line 6 product delivers a bunch of tube amps at one fell swoop, plus other cool effects and stuff.
I've owned a Vetta II combo for about a year (see my review http://www.epinions.com/content_148710395524 ) and have been extremely pleased with it. The Spider II HD Head under discussion here is an extremely affordable starter head that will give you 150 watts of solid state modelling power that includes twelve different amp models as well as a bunch of effects. There are a few minor problems with the amp but, as the title of this essay notes, for $400 its pretty tough to go wrong.
The Spider front panel is equipped with ten knobs and a few push button controls. Five of the knobs--Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, and Volume--permit you to control the setting for the specific amp you are emulating. Two effects knobs allow you to select chorus/phaser/tremelo and delay/tape echo/sweep echo respectively and a third is your reverb control. Two other knobs control the amp selection (six positions, plus in/out for a total of twelve) and the last is the master volume which allows you to change volume with affecting amp tone.
Four push buttons allow access to the four factory presets. There is also a tap selector. Plug ins are for your guitar cable and headphones.
The guts of the HD are obviously in the amp models and effects. There are six major categories, each with two models:
Clean: two very clean jazz tones, one based on a 73 Hiwatt 100.
Twang: both based largely on a combination of classic 50s and 60s Fenders, with a Gibson thrown in for laughs.
Blues: one 65 Marshall/Fender combo, one Vox AC30.
Crunch: one 68 Marshall Plexi 50 watt, one 100 watt.
Metal: a Mesa Boogie Double Rectifier and a specialty design that includes fuzz.
Insane: two specialty models that include gobs and gobs of gain.
There's enough here to satisfy anybody, I would think, except for the purists who prefer to have their modelling amps model ONE specific amp instead of molding a bunch together. The Vetta II, for example, has about 30 specialty (i.e. Line 6 made 'em up) hybrids and another 40 or so based upon specific amps (the Vox and Fender modelers are the same). On the other hand, for a practical matter there's so many different tones available here that you're really going to be able to find just about anything you need.
The effects all sound very nice but are NOT based upon a specific model, unlike the Boss GT-6 or Vetta II effects models. Also, there's only one knob to control the effect so you can't tweak the way you can with other modelling designs.
The tap tempo button doubles as access to the built in tuner, distortion boost, and noise gate. The distortion boosts the signal BEFORE it reaches the amp.
One downside is that there are only four presets, which is really lame compared to other Line 6 offerings. The optional FBV pedal will give you more presets and allow you to do a lot of cool stuff while you're gigging, but at another $260 or so it ain't cheap. In addition, unlike the Vetta series, you can't select two different amp models and blend them together, which essentially nearly squares the amp combinations (12 x 11 = 121, actually).
A 4x12 Line 6 half-stack will cost you another $400. That means that for $800 (plus tax) you can get a very versatile and LOUD sound package for your listening and entertainment pleasure.
All in all, I think that the Spider II HD Head is a very good buy for players who are moving out of the moderate skill set stage and starting to play in garages and whatnot, or are just looking to have a good time without putting a second mortgage on the freehold. It provides tons of sonic and modelling power at a bargain price. For the price, I would have liked to see a few more effects--some distortion for sure, which is sorely missing here. But the twelve amp models are, for all practical purposes, distortion models, so maybe that's enough. You're still going to have to buy a cab, though.
Another alternative is this: the Vetta I 2x12 combo is a 100W amp that has been superseded by its newer and larger brother, the Vetta II. It's going for $800 to $1000 used. However, you can upgrade to the Vetta II software for free. For the same price or a bit more, you'll get a LOT more modelling for some give up on volume. Think about it.
]Here are my other amplifier reviews:
Marshall Super 100 JH
Peavey Classic 30 Combo
Crate Power Block
Roland Micro Cube
Mesa 5:25 Express
Mesa Stiletto Ace
Fender Cyber Twin
Line 6 Vetta II Combo
Mesa 5:50 Express
Line 6 Spider III 75
Mesa Lone Star Combo
Vox Valvetronix AD60VT
Mesa Stiletto Deuce
Mesa Triple Rectifier Head
Fender DSP 65
Peavey Triple XXX Head
Fender Super Sonic 1x12 Combo
Hughes and Kettner Switchblade 50 Combo
Fender MH 500 Metalhead
64 Fender Vibroverb Custom Blackface
Mesa Dual Rectifier Roadster
Peavey Penta Head
Peavey JSX Joe Satriani Signature Head
Line 6 Spider II Head
Crate Acoustic CA30
Line 6 Flextone III Plus
And you may also be interested in a few books such as:
Hugo Pinksterboer Tipbook Amplifiers and Effects
Ritchie Fliegler Amps: The Other Half of Rock and Roll
Michael Ross Getting Great Guitar Sounds: A Non-Technical Approach to Shaping Your Personal Sound