Today’s pedal market is definitely not lacking quality multi-effect units that feature a wide array of drives, delays, reverbs, all kinds of modulation, and even amp simulations with Impulse Response technology that makes recording great tones easier than it ever was.
In this Line6 M5 pedal review, we will take an in-depth look at one of the most popular multi-effect units ever among guitarists.
While it might not have all the bells and whistles that newer releases such as the HX Stomp or competitors such as the Eventide H9 have, the M5 is still an extremely capable unit that has something for every guitar player.
Aside from having a large selection of effects, it also offers convenient features such as stereo inputs/outputs, MIDI, a chromatic tuner, and compatibility with an expression pedal to further boost its versatility and usefulness.
Bottom Line Up Front
In a time when there are nearly endless options of high-quality multi-effect units that have a stunning variety of customizable sounds, different connectivity options, and other appealing features, the Line6 M5 proudly stands strong and frequently seen on artists’ pedalboards, more than 10 years after its original release, in 2011.
It is astoundingly cheaper than many multi-effect units currently available, and if you buy it second-hand, it almost feels illegal to buy something so complete and convenient for less than $100.
Use it for drive, compression, modulation, reverb, delay, and much more. Make the most out of it by taking advantage of its MIDI capabilities and recall presets faster than you can say Line6!
Line6 M5 Main Features
The Line6 M5 is not what I would describe as a “mini” or “small” pedal by any means, but the truth is that it is absolutely packed with useful features, interesting sounds, inspiring presets, and convenient ways to operate it that will make your life easier when you’re on stage or just rehearsing.
5 Color Coded Effect Categories
All of the M Series pedals feature 5 distinct effect categories. Depending on which effect you have active (engaged or not), the LED panel will light up in a different color. Check the categories overview for an in-depth look into each one.
Find a summary of the M Series color coding below:
- Delay – Green
- Modulation – Blue
- Overdrive – Yellow
- Filter – Purple
- Reverb – Orange
Aside from all the cool effects that the M5 brings to the table, it can also replace another quintessential piece of any professional pedalboard – the tuner. All the chops in the world will do you no good if your instrument is not in tune!
To activate it, just press and hold the TAP switch until the screen starts showing the tuner’s interface. You can adjust it to A=440Hz or to other frequencies ranging from 430Hz to 450Hz.
The possibility of using a MIDI controller to change to a different effect in another category by pushing a single switch is priceless for performing musicians who need to access a wide variety of sounds without having to stop playing to adjust the pedal manually.
Even though I do not use it a lot, I like to know that if I want to put together a MIDI board later on, the M5 is most likely going to have a place in it.
Scrollable Menu to Browse Presets
The Line6 M5 has an internal memory that allows you to save presets and name them to make them easily identifiable.
If you press both switches at the same time, it takes you to the list view that displays every saved patch with the names you’ve written for each.
This list can also be used as a way to quickly switch between two sounds during a performance, or even to adjust a single parameter when you don’t have an expression pedal connected.
For example, I saved a Leslie (rotary speaker) patch with a fast rotation speed, and then saved the exact same settings with a slow rotation speed in the very next slot.
If I know that I’ll be switching between these two sounds, I’ll keep the M5 in List View while I’m playing, and just press the left or right switch to toggle between the two patches.
Many brands have been releasing updated versions of their best-selling pedals to include stereo connectivity, something that many players cherish and don’t mind paying a bit extra to get.
The Line6 M Series was well ahead of its time and included stereo ins and outs on all 3 pedals.
With this, you can make the most out of effects such as Stereo Delay and Ping Pong Delay.
Line6 M5 Complete Specifications
You can check the complete specifications of the Line6 M5 below:
- 19 Delays
- 23 Modulations
- 17 Overdrives/Distortions/Fuzzes
- 12 Compressors and Equalizers
- 26 Filter Effects
- 12 Reverbs
- 2 x 1/4″ Inputs
- 1 x 1/4″ TRS for Expression Pedal
- 1 x 5 Pin DIN MIDI
- 2 x 1/4″
- 1 x 5 Pin DIN MIDI
- 6″ x 6.5″ x 2.4″/152mm x 165mm x 61mm (W x L x H)
- 2.5 lb (1.1kg)
What Are the Differences Between the M5 and the M9 or the M13 Units?
If you have been reading up about the Line6 M5, more than likely you’ve already seen the Line 6 M9 Pedalboard and the M13, its larger cousins.
In a very summarized explanation, the bigger versions are larger and heavier, but they allow you to use more than one effect at once, and they come with a few features that are not available on the M5 (for instance, the M9 and the M13 feature a looper that you won’t find on the M5).
Let’s take a closer look at what makes these pedals more appropriate to some players than others, depending on their needs, requirements, and available space on their pedalboard.
You can find a looper function on the M9 and on the M13. If you’ve ever used the one present on the Line6 DL4 delay unit, this one will feel quite natural and easy to operate. This feature is not available on the Line6 M5.
Size and Weight
Two of the most obvious differences between these 3 units are their size and weight. I’d recommend the Line6 M5 to someone who wants to fill a small gap in their pedalboard with something that can be taken advantage of in many ways.
Even though the effects are not as good as if you were buying individual quality pedals, the difference is not that dramatic and it is more than enough for the majority of scenarios.
I would get the Line 6 M9 if I wanted to complement a small rig, maybe pairing it with an expression/volume pedal to use effects like wah or a pitch shifter, or even to control parameters on effects such as delays and reverbs.
Due to its massive size and considerable weight, I’d recommend the Line 6 M13 to a guitarist who is looking to get a single unit to handle all of their needs, whether it is a matter of getting dirty tones, intricate delays, massive reverbs, and much more. Line6 does not manufacture a case for it, so you might need to find a large pedalboard/case or build one yourself.
- M5’s Dimensions and Weight: 6″ x 6.5″ x 2.4″ – 2.5 lb
- M9’s Dimensions and Weight: 6.5″ x 10.5″ x 2.4″ – 3 lb
- M13’s Dimensions and Weight: 21″ x 13″ x 4.7″ – 11 lb
Multiple Effects at Once
For me, this is what sets these 3 units apart the most.
If your intention is to buy one of them to use more than one effect at the same time, you should think about your requirements carefully.
In my case, when I bought mine, I only wanted to have something like a Swiss-army knife on my pedalboard, but I didn’t care too much about using more than one effect at the same time.
I also wanted something as small as I could get, which is why the M5 was the obvious choice for me.
With the M9, you have access to 3 independent patches at once, and with the M13, you have access to 4 different effects at once. This kind of power is enough for many people to use the M9 or M13 as the starting point of their pedalboard, and then complete the setup with a couple of pedals.
If I did this, I would most likely pair it with a couple of overdrive pedals, a wah, and a volume/expression pedal.
I am not worried about having an effects loop in my amplifiers or pedals because I never felt the need to use them. However, I recognize their usefulness and that many players would appreciate having one on a multi-effects unit.
If you’re one of those people, I would highly recommend considering the Line6 M13 out of the trio, simply because it is the only option that features an effects loop.
Line6 M5 Effect Categories Overview
The M5 comes equipped with 19 different delay algorithms. You will find all of the classic delay sounds that you might have been looking for, such as analog, analog with modulation, tape delay, tube delay, ping pong, reverse, and much more.
Moreover, since the M5 has a tap tempo switch, you can program any of these sounds to match the tempo of the song you’re playing on the spot.
If you check the Line6 M5 Pilot’s Guide, you will also find a pretty useful table that helps you convert BPM to Milliseconds, in case you need to program a certain patch with very specific values.
If you think 19 delays is a lot, what about 23 unique modulation effects? I originally bought my M5 to have a bunch of these easily available to either try them out at home, during rehearsals, or to avoid having to buy multiple individual pedals.
Eventually, I ended up buying a phaser, a chorus, a tremolo, and a rotary speaker is on the way soon, but I still use modulation effects from the M5 frequently, namely the flanger and the pattern tremolo, which does things that my $300+ Strymon Flint cannot do.
My favorite part about using the rotary speaker from this pedal is that even though there isn’t a dedicated button or switch to change settings on the fly, I had a custom switch built by a friend that I connected to the Expression input.
This mini switch barely took any space on my board, and it allowed me to toggle between the slow and fast speeds of the Leslie/Vibratone emulators. This alone made buying the pedal worth it for me!
I must say that although I love many of the M5’s effects to death, I was never very fond of the distortion effects that it has. That is totally fine because I have been collecting overdrive pedals for a long time and I never felt the need to use the M5 for this.
However, in a pinch, I could certainly use the “Screamer”, inspired in the TS-9, or the “Tube Drive”, inspired by the epic B.K. Butler Tube Driver, which was made famous by legendary players such as David Gilmour and Eric Johnson.
The other patches don’t sound very natural to my ears, especially the fuzz ones. Still, for this price, I really don’t feel like I am in a legitimate position to complain. Everything else that I’ve mentioned before is more than enough to justify buying this pedal.
Lastly, I tend to place my M5 towards the end of my signal chain, since I mostly use it for delay, modulation, and reverb and that is where those pedals usually go.
It isn’t very convenient for me to use it as an overdrive because then I’d have to place it closer to the beginning of the chain as I do with my drive pedals.
The Filter tab is home to one of my favorite effects that can be found on the M5 – the Seeker, inspired by Zvex’s Seek Wah. I am a huge Frank Zappa fan, and this patch allows me to capture the sound that I had been hearing for years on his track “Ship Ahoy”. One of my guitar teachers from college jumped to buy an M5 once he found out about this single effect too!
Other options worth mentioning from this tab are the envelope filters (Tron Up and Tron Down), all the synth engines that will have you sounding like an 80s synthesizer in no time, and the Pitch Glide, which basically transforms the M5 into a pseudo-Digitech Whammy (you need an expression pedal plugged into the M5 to take full advantage of this feature).
In my opinion, reverb is one of the M Series’ strong suits. Even though I have an excellent reverb pedal, I would be perfectly comfortable if I had to rehearse or gig with the M5 for reverb.
You have all of the typical algorithms you’d expect to find, such as Spring, Plate, Room, and Hall, but there are also less common sounds that might inspire you to play or write something that you would not think of otherwise.
I’d recommend exploring patches such as Octo and Particle Verb and seeing what comes out of it!
My Top Picks per Effect Category
With so many options to choose from, it is easy to feel a little bit overwhelmed when searching for the sound you hear in your head.
Each category has a few great effects and others that I haven’t bothered much using.
Let me show you the ones I’ve used the most from each category.
- Tape Echo – based on the legendary Echoplex, which was used by dozens of influential guitarists since its original release.
- Multi Head – based on the Roland RE-101 Space Echo, another epic delay unit that has made its way into many classic records.
- Ping Pong – if you’re running a stereo setup, it is mandatory to try this one out. There’s no way you won’t be smiling once you start hearing the repetitions alternate between both outputs.
- Rotary Drum/Rotary Drum & Horn – These are two separate effects. One mimics the Fender Vibratone (Fender’s take on the Leslie speaker) and the other emulates the Leslie itself. I originally bought my M5 almost for these two exclusively!
- Pattern Tremolo – This is one of those effects that I only found out about while exploring the M5, and you can get really creative with it. It is a different approach to the tremolo sounds you’re used to.
- AC Flanger – I like to add just a touch of flanger to some solo tones, especially when it has a Van Halen vibe. Think “Unchained”.
- Screamer – Even though I am not a big fan of the overdrives that are present in the Line6 M Series, I would be ok using this patch to boost an amp or to stack on top of another overdrive pedal. It is based on the one we all know and love, the Ibanez Tube Screamer.
- Tube Drive – This one is based on the famous Chandler Tube Driver. Many guitar legends like David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, and Billy Gibbons have used it, and for good reason. I can’t say that this patch sounds close to the original, but I could see myself using it in a few different scenarios.
- Seeker – This is one of the most unique effects preset in the M Series. You can also find this one on the Line6 MM4 (like the DL4 for delays, but with modulation effects). Listen to the intro to Frank Zappa’s “Ship Ahoy” to understand how it sounds!
- Synth-O-Matic – There are so many sounds available in this algorithm that when I came across it, I literally spent the whole afternoon playing around with it.
- Pitch Glide – Even though this one is supposed to be similar to the Digitech Whammy (used with an expression pedal), I like to use this one as an octave pedal. Set it to “-12.0” to get one octave down, and then adjust the Mix to taste.
- ’63 Spring – I have always loved a good spring reverb sound, and this algorithm is a great way to compensate when your amp does not have reverb.
- Particle Verb – The Particle Verb is an algorithm designed by Line6, and it is similar to the huge ambient reverb sounds that are commonly seen on modern pedals such as the BigSky. It sounds huge and it gives a completely different atmosphere to whatever you’re playing.
Line6 M5 Pros and Cons
- Amazing Price/Quality Ratio
- Variety of Delay, Reverb, and Modulation Effects with Stereo Inputs and Outputs
- MIDI Connectivity
- Build Quality
- Lack of Amp Simulation or IR support
- Size and Weight
- Overdrive, Distortion, and Fuzz Sounds
- Only One Effect at a Time
Where Should I Place the Line6 M5 in My Signal Chain?
The importance of pedal placement in your signal chain is something that cannot be overstated.
With a pedal like the M5, there are a few things that you have to take into account that you wouldn’t if you were using an individual effect.
For instance, if you are using it for delay and reverb, it would make the most sense to place it at the end of your signal chain, as you would with an individual pedal such as the MXR Carbon Copy or the Strymon BlueSky.
However, if you wish to use a compressor or the pitch glide effect, I would recommend having it toward the start of the chain.
This means that you should think carefully about what effects you wish to use the most, and consequently, what would be the best place in the signal chain to help you make the most out of those sounds.
The most important thing is to always experiment as much as you can, because you might stumble upon a specific sound or configuration that sounds and works better than you would have predicted!
As a rule of thumb, you can think of it like this (these are not the only right ways to connect the M5!):
Start of the Signal Chain
- Overdrives, Distortions, Fuzzes
- EQ (can also be used at other points of the chain)
- Pitch Glide
- Tron Up/Tron Down
- Synth Engines
Middle of the Signal Chain (After Drives, Before Delay/Reverb)
- Most of the modulation effects
End of the Signal Chain
- Rotary Speaker – I like to place it at the end of the chain since the Leslie is a speaker, therefore it would make sense that it would be the last thing on the chain. However, you can and should experiment with it in other places too.
Other Pedals to Check Out as Alternatives to the Line6 M5
If you’re looking for a pedal that can cover a lot of ground, give you a decent version of almost any effect you’d like to use, and play different roles depending on its placement in the signal chain, the M5 is an excellent candidate, but nowadays there are a lot of options worth considering.
Most brands have developed and released extremely powerful, complete and compact pedals that go beyond effect processing and include amp simulations and other tools that allow you to eliminate the amplifier from the equation and record or perform more conveniently than ever.
Understandably, they tend to be significantly more expensive than the M5, which is why I strongly believe that it is virtually unbeatable in its price range.
TC Electronic Nova System
Line6 HX Stomp
Eventide H9 Max Harmonizer
Zoom G1X FOUR
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about the Line6 M5
Question: What are the differences between the Line6 M5 and its larger versions, the M9 and the M13?
Answer: There are several differences between these 3 units, but the most important one is the number of effects that you can run simultaneously. The M5 can only run one. With the M9 and the M13, you can have 3 and 4 effects engaged at the same time, respectively.
Other differences include the looper that is only present on the M9 and M13, and the effects loop that you can only find on the M13.
Question: Is the Line6 M5 a true bypass or buffered bypass pedal?
Answer: The Line6 M5 allows you to toggle between true bypass and DSP bypass. With the first, the pedal is removed from your signal chain when you’re not using it.
This can be great if you feel like your tone is being colored by the pedals in your chain. Also, if the pedal’s power supply malfunctions, you will still hear your sound coming out of the amp, instead of cutting it out.
With DSP bypass, the biggest advantage is that you will hear all the delay and reverb trails even after you switch off the effect, which gives it a much more natural feel than it does when it cuts out unexpectedly.
Question: Would the Line6 M5 be a good alternative to a modern multi-effects unit such as the HX Stomp or the Eventide H9?
Answer: The Line6 M5 cannot fully replace something like the HX Stomp because it is not as powerful, nor it can run several effects at the same time.
However, if you’re looking for a pedal that can do a convincing impression of pretty much every effect there is for a very reasonable price, I’d jump on the M5 straight away.
The fact that you can recall presets via MIDI also adds a lot to its value. There are no amp simulations or IR support, so take that into account if you need any of that.
Question: Does the Line6 M5 feature stereo operation and MIDI capabilities?
Answer: Yes, you can connect the Line6 M5 in stereo and take full advantage of some of its reverb, delay, and modulation algorithms. One of the obvious choices is the ping-pong delay, which alternates the repetitions between your two outputs.
It is also compatible with MIDI, which lets you recall presets more easily than ever. Since this eliminates the need to bend over and change patches/settings manually, it drastically boosts the usefulness and convenience of the Line6 M5.
Closing Considerations about the Line6 M5
I strongly believe that every guitarist should own a Line6 M5, even if it isn’t on their pedalboard all the time.
I have had mine for over 7 years and during this time, I have used it live and in the studio to replace a myriad of effects like chorus, phaser, delay, reverb, tremolo, and to get unique sounds that I normally wouldn’t have access to. Sometimes you might want a ring modulator for a specific section, but do you really want to spend money on an individual pedal just for that?
The M5 does a superb job at replacing whichever effect you need and don’t have at the moment. The sheer variety of delays and reverbs alone makes it worth the price, whether you want something simple like a spring reverb or a crazy sound like the particle reverb.
If you want to have access to more than one effect at once, I’d recommend the M9 or the M13 instead (3 and 4 simultaneous effects, respectively), but take into account that they will take up significantly more space on your board.
If you don’t have a MIDI controller to easily recall presets without having to operate the pedal with your hands, you can also push both switches at the same time and go into the patch list.
Once you’re there, you can scroll up and down through the patches you’ve previously saved and named – it isn’t ideal, but it has worked perfectly for me in the past.
The M5 isn’t exactly small, but it isn’t huge either. For a very modest price, you can add almost infinite value and versatility to your pedalboard, which is why you should try one out as soon as you can!