Line6 Helix Guitar Effects Processor Review Inside and Out. The most in-depth best review there is. Is this effects unit really any good? Can it knock out the Axe-FXII or the newer Fractal floor gear? and is the Line6 Helix worth that high cost?
I have not always been a fan of Line6, but is the Helix floor pedal about to make me change my mind (and yours)? Find out in the most extensive review of this pedal that is available anywhere. Now Complete.
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Back in the day when the kidney bean POD effects processor came out it was quite a revolutionary device; I remember how everyone was very excited and how they bestowed this 'incredible' units features and benefits upon us all. But like most things, plug one in today and those very same sounds are far less exciting. Indeed personally I would no longer use one. Then came the Line6 Live pedal. I had one for a while but it sounded I could say like a bee in a tin can for the most part. I managed to get ONE great sound from it. Then came (at least for me) the Line6 HD500 which promised HD sound (whatever that was) that the maker went to great lengths to explain. That was a bit like the 'emperors new clothes' as far as I was concerned; I heard no 'HD' in there at all and to be honest (as I always am) the HD-500 was a let down for me. I read the 'pilots' manual but still 'crashed and burned' with that processor.
Later of course Yamaha stepped in and took over (or bought) the company then they went quiet for quite some time. Indeed the Helix pedal they say took four years to make so maybe it was Yamaha pulling the strings in the background. Hopefully!
Helix comes in two formats, a floor pedal design as shown here and also a rack effects processor that also 'looks' good. But of course with the rack there is an 'optional' additive cost of the floor pedal controller which at the time of writing makes the rack unit and the controller just shy of £1400 ($2100). The floor unit as reviewed here costs approximately £1170 ($1550) so the solution is not a low cost product and any buyer should expect something special in return. This is not pocket money is it?
My view is that the Helix seems to bypass the Kemper Profiler amplifier by design and targets the Fractal Audio Axe-Fx, a device long overdue to be relegated to where it really should be. Let's hope that the hype of the Line6 Helix does not compare to that of Fractal Audio which has been effectively pushing the Axe-Fx by everyone and his dog (that must have cost Fractal a fortune in free 'evaluation' equipment, but they never talk about that right?).
I watched a video made by Andertons recently about the Helix where the 'rep' for Line6 (let's call him that) and the other guys showed the Helix and while it was interesting, the sales patter kept breaking through all the way through the video. It's not what you need when you are seriously considering a purchase of this magnitude. It's true to say that they have to show the features, but the 'Andertonite' (is that a word) could see the pounds (or dollars) rolling around in his eyes, or that's how it came across to me. If the Helix is as good as they claim then it will be a success, but if the old 'HD' mentality of Line6 reappears then the marketing will not turn a 'sows ear in to a silk purse' no matter how many years it took to develop. It does look cool, but surely we buy these units for their features and sounds right?
On the face of it, the Helix looks aesthetically pleasing as they say in the politically correct world we live in today (it looks good in English) and seems to be designed by some hi-fi geek in a marketing department and that does worry me a little given Line6 history. Sure it does look nice don't get me wrong, but some of those looks are there to get you to spend that money that is burning a hole in your pocket as we speak.
OK I bought one! Yes the looks alone drew me to buy this effects gizmo (as if I don't have enough of them!) and for sure it was not the 'Andertons' video; below I am going to take it apart, examine very closely how this is made, discuss exactly what this dual processor unit uses internally, look at it's in and out connectors, review the complete operation of it, and I will play it too in various pre-sets as indeed a device like this should command. This review is the most in depth review I have ever written and most likely the most complete review you will ever read about the Helix. It will only be available on this site as I have decided to make the written review only available here. So on with the review.
So where do we start?
When it arrived I was shocked by the size of the box that the Helix came in. WOW! and I immediately thought that maybe this thing is too big and take up too much real estate to be a serious contender for a decent floor pedal/effects unit. In any case once I got this out of the box I felt much better. The unit is packed very well and is inside the usual cardboard box that has polystyrene to hold the Helix still in transit. Mine was perfect out of the box.
I bought mine from Thomann because I had a bit of trouble getting this unit. The good news is that I got it pretty early on for Europe... the bad news is that my pristine Helix had been previously opened by someone else and then put back in the box. This concerned me.. was this a returned product? or worse a faulty one re-sent out as some of these companies do? In fact the unit proved to be perfect, but I honestly expected better from Thomann and I'll be sure to remember this later when I want to buy something else from them. You should remember that too.
Once I got the unit out of the box I can confirm that the pedal is pretty heavy so it is not going to slip around on any stage that you might use it on and the weight gives the Helix a feel of quality even without opening up the case to see what's in there. The overall feel and view of the Helix is exceptional especially with that large screen.
I looked inside the box for the manual which is not supplied as you might expect. Rather than printing a manual Line6 have opted for the cheaper (well maybe) choice of a USB stick that is nicely printed with HELIX on the outside that includes an electronic (PDF) version for you to print. Great if you have a printer and you have the paper and ink to do that... not so great if not.
The manual needs really to be printed out in colour so you can see the various highlighted bits in there and it is recommended that you do print out this manual right from the outset because if you don't, or if you just squint at it on screen it's never the same as having the real printed manual. Print it now and while you're at it get one of those clear folders that takes at lest 50 pages because that's how long the manual is.
Also included with the Helix is a 'quick start guide', a hex wrench for adjusting the tightness of the controller pedal, a USB cable, a mains cable and that's about it.
So what's next?
Software, Drivers, Librarian and Firmware
Now like most computer related stuff (the Helix is no exception) its good to ensure you are going to be using the latest software, firmware and drivers etc. for the Helix. After all, it's basically a computer. Plug in and turn on the Helix (you can just do that without anything else connected) and check the firmware version shown in the bottom left of the screen.
Mine was this:
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As you can see mine was version 1.01.2 and a quick check at www.line6.com/software showed me there was a new version available. I downloaded the 'installer software' from there and installed it on to my PC. By the way they do have software for an Apple too.
Once installed I was left with literally an 'installer' program on the desktop and another program that was later determined as a librarian (of sorts). To use the installer you need to hop over to Line6 and make an account firstly then run this installer. Connect the Helix with the supplied USB cable before you log in.. that way the software will 'see' the Helix. Sure enough the installer identified the Helix and confirmed there was a new firmware and pre-sets version available. So click and install it. The Helix screen will confirm the update as the installer software will too.
So now we have the Helix with the latest firmware and pre-sets installed, the drivers installed, the librarian on the desktop and we're all set to go.
Hmmm not a pretty sight. Because this librarian is version 1 it was not what I would call exceptional in any way other than it was exceptionally not good. While its true to say that you can change the pre-sets and the order of them, you can import and export things that the librarian 'sees' and you can load those important IR's (more on those later) the fact is, that the librarian software seems a bit of a 'dogs dinner' at this point. No doubt it will improve but for now let's agree that its just about functional.
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As you can see the 'window' of the librarian cannot be enlarged, goes off the screen and other than what is literally on there it does nothing else. Let's hope they improve this soon. I don't intend to go in to any depth on this piece of software as it is clearly being developed and if its not then Line6 need to get their act together on this librarian... even the Roland one is better and that's one of the worst I had previously seen. Come on Line6 wake up.
Inside the Helix
Somewhere out there in time I think that some of the companies that make 'dual processor' type of simulators probably did not see the Helix coming. Lets face it, there were few processors out there that used two main processors in the way that the Helix also does. So it might have been a bit of a shock. But let's take a closer look at the technology included in the Helix for a unit that sells for half the price of its nearest competitor based on similar technology (European pricing).
The Main Processors - Analog Devices ADSP-21469 SHARC Processors
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These are the fourth generation of SHARC processors from Analog Devices. Features include:
- Increased performance over previous generations
- Hardware based filter accelerators
- Audio and application focused peripherals
- New memory configurations that support the latest surround-sound algorithms
- All SHARC processors are pin compatible and code compatible
- Single instruction multiple data 'SIMD' core
- Supports 32 bit fixed point and 32/40 bit floating point formats suitable for high performance audio applications
But most importantly these ADSP-21469 processors have the highest performance at 450Mhz/2700 MFLOPs within the four generations of the SHARC processor family from Analog Devices so it may be that 'older' designs out there used in competitive equipment may just be yesterdays technology. So if the older processors really are the high price that some have suggested, then who knows what these superior devices cost!
For a better view of exactly what these SHARC processors offer simply download this specification sheet HERE-IT-IS.
So it's good to know that the Helix from Line6 includes the very latest and powerful processors - that can lead to increased numbers of 'blocks' that can be used in any one pre-set.
The NXP Semiconductors LPC4300 Cortex-M4/M0 Dual Core Micro Controllers
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This chip offers the worlds first Asymmetrical dual core digital signal controller architecture. This chip uses ARM technology (from the United Kingdom) for the MCU M4's and M0 co-processors offering the advantage of developing both digital signal processing AND microcontroller applications within the same chip. This reduces the size and complexity of the circuitry. Features are extensive.
Download a technical specification sheet on the LPC4300 HERE-TO-DOWNLOAD
The NXP LPC1774FBD144 Cortex M3 Microcontroller
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The LPC1774 is again based on ARM Cortex technology as a micro controller for embedding applications that need a high level of integration with the benefit of low power consumption running at 120Mhz. Features include:
- 128Kb Flash Ram
- 40Kb of data memory (which is separate)
- USB 2.0 Device integral
- 8 channel DMA controller
- 4 UART's
- Two CAN channels
- Three SSP/SPI
- Three I2C
- One I2S
- 8 Channel 12-Bit A to D converter
- 10-Bit DAC
- Motor control PWM
- Four general purpose timers
- 6 output general purpose PWM
- Ultra low power real time clock with separate battery supply
- Up to 109 general purpose I/O pins
There are a multitude of other features included in this surface mounted package and you can download a specification sheet HERE-PDF
The Cirrus Logic CS4272 24-Bit, 192Khz Stereo Audio CODEC
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The Cirrus Logic CS4272. It is a high performance audio CODEC that performs A to D and D to A conversion up to 24-bit serial at sample rates up to 192 kHz. The Digital to Analogue section offers a volume in 1db increments step size. It includes features that eliminate clicks and pops. The D to A can be configured for many options including a stereo swap or even stereo to mono operation. There is an on-chip oscillator that can reduce overall design costs and conserve space on the circuit board.. all important aspects when you are designing.
Other features are numerous so download this specification and features sheet for the whole picture HERE-SPECS
The Cirrus Logic CS5368 114Db, 192 kHz, 8 Channel A to D Converter
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The CS5368 is a complete 8 channel analogue to digital converter (notice how many are in the Helix) designed specifically for digital audio systems in around July 2014 so it will not be in older gear. It can carry out sampling, a to d conversion, anti-aliasing filtering, and generates 24 bit values for all 8 channel inputs in serial form at sample rates up to 216 kHz per channel.
The CS5368 is industry's first audio A to D to support a high speed TDM interface that provides serial output of its 8 channels of audio data with sample rates up to 216 kHz within one single data stream. Again this chip reduces all that circuit complexity that older designs suffered from. Its ideal for high end and pro audio applications where you need unrivalled sound quality, a transparent conversion between analogue and digital with dynamic range and virtually no distortion.
Other features are extensive and the chip is deceiving in just how much it can actually achieve - check this specification sheet SPECS-HERE
The WINBOND W9812G6JB high speed synchronous dynamic ram organized as 2Mwords of 4 banks, 16 bit.
Another chip by Toshiba which I found no information about is on the main processor board.
This concludes the section about the main chips within the Helix.
Overall Build Quality of the Helix
The Helix is built like a tank. Each end cover is at least 6mm (1/4 inch) thick cast aluminum that the rest of the framework is fastened to. There is no welding of any kind and the whole thing when bolted together in this way forms a very robust casing for the electronics inside. Take a look:
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The PCB layout and quality is frankly second to none. This design also includes various small boards for variable controllers and switches used from the top of the Helix. As you can see from the image below everything is laid out nicely and is of considerable quality internally. I did not find a single issue inside the Helix relating to quality.
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The Power Supply
Typical to these sort of devices this one has a built in switch mode power supply that is capable of supplying the voltage and current required by the Helix internally for operation. I did see an MOV near the PSU input and the power supply on closer inspection did look to be well made, in fact as well made as the rest of this unit. I don't doubt that the power supply will operate and last as long as the Helix itself does.
One thing about this power supply is that it operates on 100 to 240 volts. If you want to shop around the world to find one cheaper than your country then there is absolutely nothing stopping you from doing that. Some manufacturers take great pains to 'protect' (well that's what they do) the distributors or dealers from suffering from you importing your unit from the lowest cost source available to you. It only leads to overpricing and protectionism of those products that suffer from having just one voltage available to you. Price fixing is illegal.
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Compliance with International Standards
Right away you can tell that this unit has been tested to comply with international standards in the correct way. While this unit is designed in the USA but made in China, it is properly marked for CE and other standards. It clearly states on the unit that it is made in China. Each and every one of these markings is the law which some companies simply flout and don't seem to care about. The standards are there to ensure conformity and to ensure that the RF is kept to a minimum, that the units are electrically safe and of course to inform customers where the equipment originated. Many companies don't like to tell you that their product is made in China for some reason. The Kemper amplifier also had the correct markings on it but in the case of the Axe-FX II that unit that I bought had neither CE markings or country of origin on the unit. I believe that later after I bought it to their attention that they did update that. And so they should.
In any event Line6 are to be commended for their thoroughness in compliance of the law. Here's what it says on the tin!
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This concludes the section on processors, electronics, internal quality and approvals of the Line6 Helix.
Inputs and Outputs on the Line6 Helix
One of the most important things you really need to know about when you buy any floor processor and you have other gear is the inputs and the outputs of the device you are considering. It's a fact that over time guitarists build up 'baggage' like effects pedals, racks, switchers and midi controllers and more. Now if you only buy a Helix and have nothing else you might think that this section is not for you. Trust me on this, this IS one of the most important parts of the review and if you don't think so then later you might well be sorry you did not listen.
For the guys that have been around a while those pedals might have your favorite sounds on them and all of a sudden never using them again if you buy the wrong floor controller effects unit could be a serious problem for you. So careful consideration of the I/O is the order of the day.
As some readers will know, I have a number of rack units, one controlled by a Ground Control and a GCX switching unit to switch in and out effects, and a second rack with a Rocktron Midi Mate and a Patchmate-8 switcher to control outboard effects. So buying a floor processor (we'll call it that) is no 'this one will do' choice. In fact, for me, the Line6 Helix has to compete with world class switching that is found in those two switching systems from Ground Control and Rocktron.
So let's take a look at the I/O that is included on the Helix to see just exactly what we do or do not get:
Section one of the Line6 Helix I/O
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Let's examine these sections of the rear of the Line6 Helix as per the images shown. Each section I have colour coded for simplicity.
The first two labeled Exp2 and Exp3 can be used with external expression pedals. One of my favorite tricks with my older ground control equipment was also to connect external (and cheap) expression pedals. I control things like delay or reverb with mine but it's almost limitless what you could do with these. In the days of the Mesa TriAxis I used to vary the drive on the TriAxis - and guess what, you can do that with an expression pedal connected to one of these two ports. I don't go in to extremes and show how that's done in this review because it is not really pertinent to the review. Just take it that you can assign these expression pedals to most stuff in the Helix.
There's also an external amp switch to change your amp channel... but in reality most of the guys I know have far more than one switch requirement. In fact this can control two channels on closer inspection. Take the Mesa Road King amplifier as a good example and I would need FIVE of these connectors to make things rock with that amp; the problem is, that the Road King has no midi so I can't fall back to that for switching. What's more is that the midi converter costs up to $180 (£120). Its a pity that Line6 did not devise some wizardry for all of those multi channel amps that don't have midi.
There's also another Expression related output called the CV on the back of the unit. Use this like an expression out - it also acts as a 'control voltage' input on synths or old pedals. If you have other stuff that needs an expression pedal and you need to control another device this could work wonders for you in it's regular mode. Personally I have no use for it, but it's a good inclusion.
Guitar in: Now this is pretty simple.. connect your guitar to the 'guitar in'! This input can reduce the input from the menus under general settings so that you can get maybe a different feel to your guitar. Indeed, you can also adjust the impedance down from 1k which will also affect the way your guitar plays and sounds. Try it there's nothing to lose and you can flip it back instantly. But what about that Aux In? Well Line6 have included this for a second guitar or bass guitar. I guess if you're careful you might get away with using it for an IPOD.
Send and Return Section
This is where the back of the unit gets funky. There are FOUR loops available here. Use them to include other floor pedals that you already own (see what I meant from what I said earlier?) to add those favorite sounds from those expensive pedals. Its entirely possible to use each loop independently or used together in any pre-set block (we'll talk about blocks later). Remember this, that it is not possible to use any given loop more than once in any pre-set.
Another thing I liked about the loops is that you can, as well as the regular send and return and mix levels, either allow trails on or off for any given loop. Basically if you change pre sets from one with say a delay to one that has no delay with the trails on you hear the remainder of the previous delay while it 'trails off'. Nice and very effective. These trails it appears are to be enhanced in future firmware releases. There's nothing rocket science here, but its nice to have four loops to play with that could basically be as big as a rack or as small as one effect pedal all available at the click of a button or pre-set.
Lastly there's a ground lift if you get problems of hum from other stuff on the loops then press this and MAYBE it will help. Often I find these don't really do much.
Section two of the Line6 Helix I/O
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Obvious really. Connect these XLR connectors to the PA mixer, or if you insist on stage amps an FRFR setup. Only use XLR's and not something jumped up from the cable bin. I used the 1/4 outs for the video I made while playing and to be honest these were fine without all the fuss of XLR's. As always only use the left one for mono signals.
There's also a phones out that I guess multitudes of guys will use. I did try these and they sounded nice and quiet... until I chose a very highly distorted preset then all hell let loose.
Now I don't have a Variax guitar to test this with. Its a specialized interface that Line6 developed for Variax guitars so if you have one great plug it in here, but if not then DON'T TOUCH IT!
With a decent MIDI interface that can control CC and Program changes etc. this pedal could be wonderful. The good news is that the MIDI implementation on the Helix is good. Remember those racks of gear I spoke about earlier? Well here's one way of controlling them right from this floor pedal. And I can do that on any control on the unit, whether its a switch or variable controller such as an expression pedal. It's even possible with the implementation on the Helix to externally load a set list to the unit remotely, or indeed a pre-set in a similar way. As someone once said 'This changes everything' and indeed, this time it does!
There are a few caveats regarding the MIDI CC messages as follows, these are reserved for the Helix system so basically avoid using them and you won't get any issues. Further down the review I discuss the 'control center' and MIDI commands available.
Section three of the Line6 Helix I/O
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The S/PDIF comprises of an in and an out. I can use this for connecting to rack gear or to my recording desk... or even to my Kemper amp.. now there's a thought. In any case they are industry standard and use 75 Ohm cable... don't use regular 50 ohm because you WILL have issues.
The AES/EBU is a standard in audio interface. The AES/EBU digital interface is usually implemented using 3 pin XLR connectors, the same type connector used in a professional microphone. One cable carries both left and right channel audio data to the receiving device. AES/EBU is an alternative to the S/PDIF standard so I guess you could use either. I was always ripped off when buying AES/EBU cables which in reality seem to be regular three wire cable wired differently to the pins.
The USB connection looks mundane enough for some people to ignore, but ignore it at your peril. With this simple interface there are loads of things you can do as follows:
- Audio streaming using high quality multi in and out (they don't say how many) 24bit 96kHz (and that's awesome) interface on Apple or Windows PC's.
- DI - so that you get great guitar sounds on the computer and software
- Re-amping... which some guys use to reamplify their sound from a cleanly recorded original. Best to do it right first time and you'll never use this feature.
- MIDI over USB. Now common place really but its nice to know that its here as well as the MIDI ports.
Now I have had feedback that the USB connector on the Helix is (in their words not mine) 'rubbish' and the Helix should have had a 'professional' USB connector fitted. I would agree there is little cost difference, but I do also have to say that I have used USB since the day it came out and have never once had any issues with the type of connector that is used here. So for me I don't really think it would make a bean of difference. You make up your own mind depending on how you go about breaking things.
The Helix uses the same old 'Kettle' lead that all the other pieces of gear use. Nice. One cable fits the lot.
But more importantly, this is a 100 to 240 volt unit that is auto switching so you really can gig this Helix anywhere in the world that has anything between those voltages. Its about time, so let's not get ripped off by makers using specific power supplies by country. Line6 did a great job of this and I'm sure it will increase sales no end.
This concludes the back I/O section of the Line6 Helix.
The User Interface from above on the Line6 Helix
Just in case you have had your lights off while looking at the Helix you might not have noticed that while there are a bunch of control knobs on the surface of the unit, I could name other guitar gear with far more on there. And that will be by design. Line6 tell us that this Helix took around four years to make from start to finish. I'm not entirely convinced that comment is much more than the 'HD' they claimed they had and how it made everything sound awesome... in fact I'm still waiting to hear any real difference to that audio. In any case, whether it took four years or four months it matters not because the human interface on the Helix is ergonomically designed while looking cool too; it has a pretty minimalist number of knobs (bearing in mind how much there is to control) on this unit.
I'm not going to spend hours describing each and every knob on the helix... there are far more better things to describe and features to mention. So below is an image of the surface of the Helix and if you click it, you can stare in wonderment (is that a word) at the top and minimalist info.
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There are a few noteworthy controls that (if you did not know) look just like those on other floor pedals, such as the pre-set buttons. But in reality they offer more than your average run of the mill buttons found on most floor pedals. Here's a short description of some of them:
Joystick: One of the mainly used buttons for selecting things. It works as you might imagine and can be used to (for example) select a block on the main screen (1). In conjunction with the action button its easy to move a block, but also the joystick can be pressed down which then allows for changing the blocks model and much more.
Bypass: Can be used to enable or disable the global EQ if you press and hold it down.
Knobs 1-6: As well as turning these to change parameters above the knobs, they can also be pressed to select choices that may be displayed above the knobs.
Footswitches: These are not your every day switch. In fact they are (believe it or not) rather like a cellphone screen. They use a method of detection called 'capacitive discharge' that allows the switch to be aware when you touched it! The switches have rings around them that light up when chosen so from a stage point of view these are wonderful. The choices for these switches are firstly 'Pre-Set' mode (self explanatory), then 'Stomp Switch' mode (get to that by simply touching a switch) and lastly there's the 'Pedal Edit' mode which allows you to edit each switch function.
So as you can see, although the layout of the human interface appears very simple, when you are using it there are loads of 'hidden' functions. Think about it this way, 14 switches x 3 = 42 possible switches all effectively layered over each other depending on the mode chosen.
It all sounds really difficult but to be honest (as I always am) I picked all of it up within about an hour of playing. Don't think I'm some kind of genius either, I'm basically just like you and have never even seen a Helix before I got it out of the box, so my learning curve in many ways is exactly your learning curve. It is, as you use the Helix, a very intuitive device that I can confirm is less than on the Axe or Kemper in my own experience. In fact the only other unit that is as intuitive is probably the Multiamp to use. But the Line6 Helix gets easier every time you switch on.
By the way, if you don't want to use the capacitive discharge touch switches its possible to turn that feature off in the global settings.
There's little else to say about the interface in general except that it does look really cool and if you need the 'cool' factor for your gig then this is probably the nicest looking pedal in the world available today.
This concludes the Top Interface section of the Line6 Helix.
The Helix Display Screen and what it all means
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The above screen actually shows the worst possible screen that you can have on a Helix. Its shown that way by Line6 to demonstrate each and every feature that the screen can show. It all looks a bit daunting especially if you have never used a 'block' type of system or screen before. But although there is lots of information on there (click the image to see) actually it is not all that difficult. Notice that the delay icon (or block) is selected and that it has a white square around it (that's how it looks when you selected it). Now near the bottom of the screen you can see that in Green there is text showing that the 'block' is in fact a Delay 'Harmony Delay' and that little sign after it shows that this delay is stereo. Below that are the six things you can change with those six knobs... and on the right you can see (with those three lights that there are two more pages of variables that you might want to change.
Suffice to say that the above image gives you everything you really need to read the screen successfully. I did not have too much trouble in understanding it all and frankly neither will you.
This concludes the screen section of the Line6 Helix.
General Pre-sets and Models on the Line6 Helix
There are a multitude of pre-sets and models within the Helix both for guitar and let's not forget our bass guitar friends either. In fact I counted around 10 x 32 pre-set's giving 320 in total if I got it right. In any case no matter how many there really is more than you could ever reasonably use.
Make no mistake, while the Helix does not have as many pre-sets as other older competitive gear I am sure that Line6 will update rapidly. Bear in mind that (for example) the Axe-FX II has been on the market for some time and has had that time to build up the number of pre-sets and even other features on that unit. And from my experience of Kemper, DV-Mark Multiamp and Axe-FX II every single unit improves from it's first release of that there is no doubt.
When those products were originally launched there appeared to be lots of effects, pre-sets, cabs, amps and other stuff, but in every single case if you compared the products to those now compared to when they launched you would see a big difference of software updates, added sounds and effects and other software bits and pieces that are often 'tagged on' as a way of trying to keep the gear fresh.
So let's consider what we have on launch as supplied by Line6 by way of models of effects, dynamics, EQ, delay, reverb, pitch-synth models, wah models and volume-pan models. Remember these are all at launch so they will change and likely grow bigger in numbers.
Distortion and Dynamics Models Included
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So there's the list and I'm really glad that they have included the original distortion and dynamics that the Helix models are based on. Its all well and good having a list of these models but if we can't figure out what they are supposed to be then maybe we could call them anything - as in fact on the unit itself they do! None of that really impresses me.. look, a Vermin Dist (as they call it) clearly is a Pro Co Rat! so why not just say so on the model. And Line6 are not alone in this, nigh on every maker of simulators and computer based effects etc. all do it. There can be no logical reason because the fact is (as you see here) they are saying what these models are! Maybe one day someone will just do it.
Of the distortions I tried I found the Scream 808 to be probably the best in there especially when you're using say a 'Brit Plexi Brt' or a Marshall Plexi to all of us. Obviously there are other really cool distortions in there but that one was my favorite. I also used the red squeeze (compressor) and the noise gate both very worthy partners for different amps etc. In particular, I did demo somewhere on the video exactly how effective the noise gate was and between the playing on one of the heavy driven metal amps it was perfect and totally quiet.
Delay and Reverb Models Included
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Notice with the delay and reverb models included that many of them are new to the Helix and are Line6's own models. The few that are 'named' are in any case certainly a minimum regarding choices in this area. But I have to say that these reverbs sounded like what they are supposed to be and so did the delays. Personally I'm not a huge fan of loads of delays, a nice easily adjustable delay with the correct reverb for the music is all I need. If you're an 'edge' hey don't ask me.
EQ and Modulation Models Included
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For me the EQ models were entirely adequate and with a bit of jiggery pokery you could do almost anything relating to EQ as a guitarist or bass guitarist might want to achieve. But moving on to the modulation models I particularly liked the Shin-ei Uni-Vibe and with that Brit Plexi I swear I could hear Hendrix and machine gun from those tones. For that matter there were plenty of foxy ladies, a guy called hey Joe and one really mean voodoo chile - make no mistake that effect remains awesome and this one included is exceptional. By applying an external pedal and controlling the depth or swirl you can really get to where Jimi was... but without the talent of course. Still it IS a real pleasure to get those tones.
Other notable Modulations I liked include the MXR Phase 90 (think Eddie) and I liked the Fender optical tremolo effect too. There are more obviously but some will love them and some guys less so as its all subjective when we get to tones.
Pitch, Filter, Wah and Volume-Pan Models Included
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Looking through these models for pitch and synth I noticed an Eventide H3000 which was interesting. I own an Eventide H7600 an updated version derived from this original box. While I can confirm that the H3000 is years away from the H7600 the H3000 still did sound like the Eventide on a reasonable day, and for me, the Eventide gear is exceptional at what it does; what I would say is that if you have the remotest interest then take a look at that model. I also tried the Digitech 'Whammy' but if the truth is known for me it is not really useful, but I can confirm that sure enough it sounded authentic.
On the filter stuff I can't really say that those models are good or bad as I have little experience with them, suffice to say they are included.
Now when it comes down to Wah pedals that's a different matter. I have used many over the years and still have a great if ageing collection of one of my favorite effects. Installing the Wah pedal was simplicity itself. And best of all, there are a multitude of settings relating to getting the wah to operate and sound as you want it. For example it was a walk in the park to create that Michael Shenker half cocked wah that he is so famous for. I liked most of these wah's, sometimes I did change the parameters a bit (some are really in your face) but overall I am very happy with the wah models on offer. My favorite was the Dunlop Crybaby Fazel. The Vox V847 did not sound quite right to me. The RMC 'Real McCoy' I assume to be like a Fulltone? well sort of...
The Volume and Pan pedals well what can I say? That's exactly what they are! and as I don't really have any other Line6 to compare I have no other comments on those.
One thing to note is the great mix of mono and stereo models throughout the Line6 Helix model lists. Often there is little overhead (it seems) difference between using mono or stereo. I did find that to get the best placement of a given model however was a little harder and I used as decent set of headphones while setting up the placement of stereo imagery that I wanted to achieve. Sure you can listen to the amps or P.A. speakers or those FRFR setup's but the simplest and least time consuming for me was by using the headphones specifically for this purpose.
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I did try out every single amp model and speakers, sometimes with different speaker and cab mixes and sure enough as expected the sounds can change quite dramatically. Of course I always knew that in real life amplifiers are one of the most incredible items of a guitarists arsenal to achieve great things. That can also be said with speaker cabinets (or IR's in this case) but my take on it is that if you don't have the right amp in the first place then no amount of faffing around with cabs is going to solve your tone problems. Currently I have at least 11 or 12 amplifiers and each and every one of them is different enough for me to keep them. If anything, my reckoning is that they are the most important thing a guitarist owns even more so than the guitar used. One reason some guys buy cheaper guitars these days... but I'm not too convinced about some of the cheaper amplifiers.
In any case, these amp models generally sound very good to (in some cases) perfect and so if you choose a 'fender' that's what you get, if you choose an Engl that's also what you get. On through the list of included amplifiers I was very impressed at these results (using the cabs they were associated with from the factory) and sounds were pretty cool to say the least.
I can't advise you which were 'cr*p' as not a single one was! But among the list of amps that I personally like are: Fender Deluxe reverb, Orange OR80, Marshall Super Lead 100 Bright (which was my favorite amp in there), the Marshall JCM800, Bogner Shiva and Uberschall, Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, the Engl, Soldano SLO 100 overdrive and one of the Line6 originals (I forgot which).
Note that you also have at hand the pre-amplifier's that match an amplifier model and are able to use those. And the good news is that they take less of that DSP power too.
Often I have talked about how no manufacturer would ever put pre-sets or models in to the unit that were cr*p. Think about it, you invest maybe millions in the R&D, go to all the effort (over years in this case), then put cr*p sounds or effects in there so no one buys the unit? right... not. The Line6 Helix is a really good example of a manufacturer getting most of the pre-set's and models just about right; maybe a small tweak here or there to reduce some levels and bolster others but that was it. Clearly some will disagree and that's their prerogative, but for me, I always tell it the way it is in a review as I find it, good or bad, it makes absolutely no difference to me... so I tell the way I find things and always have.
Cab Models Included
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There is simply no way of getting away from it, these cab models change the chosen amplifier tones in some cases dramatically. There are many guitarists familiar with the IR's and how they can affect the tone for sure, but not everyone is completely switched on to these. Guitarists are not all computer wizards and that's a fact; many guys like to stay with tube amps and so will be unfamiliar with this idea about these IR's or what basically is a definition to make a cab, mic and other bits and pieces. So I would say get used to them as they don't appear to be going away anytime soon.
Think of IR's as simply a computer file that has a load of standardized parameters inside it that you can load in to any program that supports this IR standard content. And I can tell you there are quite a few. So, we have our IR and when you load it in to the Helix, effectively you just loaded another speaker cab (and those other bits) in there it's really that simple. Some might want to make it obscure and difficult to understand but ultimately that's all it is... a file. And above are the cab models that Line6 include in the Helix.
In the Helix, you can actually connect any amplifier model with any cab model so the choices are huge. Personally speaking I thought the pre-sets from the factory were a very nice match actually and for every demo sound or playing that I did, not once did I feel that I should be changing the cab. Now that does not mean that cabs IR importing won't be for me (or you) but I was comfortable with the ones that had been matched by Line6 as it seems they did a pretty good job. As I indicated earlier, load a Fender amp and cab (as Line6 pre-set) and it sounds just the same as the real deal. Maybe a tiny bit of adjusting if you insist, but I could tell the Fender stuff with my eyes closed and you would too... partly due to the provided IR matching the amp so well.
Just for your info I did like the Marshall 1960 cabs, the Engl cab... well the truth is I liked most of them.
Within the cab settings you are able to make some changes and choices including the microphone, the distance the microphone is from the cab, up to 12 inches (25.4 cm), low and high cut filters, early reflections (from the room) and lastly the cab level, so there really is a lot that can change the cab tones if you don't like what you have. It's also entirely possible to change the Impulse Response (IR) settings per IR. Firstly you can choose any one of the 128 that you can have in memory at any one time, there's a low and high cut filter, you can change the mix (of the cab) with that of a dry unaffected signal and lastly adjust the overall levels too.
Microphone Models Included
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I tended to leave these as is in the settings and have no real preference except to investigate other tones from the amp and cab. There really is a pretty diverse range of microphones included and I do feel that for most purposes these are more than enough... at least for me!
Well so much for the models included in the Line6 helix, there are many and room for may more to come. I just have a sneaky feeling that Line6 will be busy. I sincerely hope that the additions all remain free and not like I've seen other sounds before where they sell them to you as a collection or extra bank or some other silly thing. All the other makers these days provide them free and I really think that Line6 will be no different. Let's wait and see.
This concludes the models section of the review
The Pre-sets Included with the Line6 Helix
There appears to be no complete list anywhere of included pre-sets with the Helix so here's a list for what it's worth:
Click any image for a larger view and here's a link to a downloadable PDF Pre-sets-HERE which will be useful if you are a new owner.
Now one thing is for sure, some of the contents of the pre-set list I have made is immediately understandable because of the names that Line6 have used for a given pre-set; for example it does not take much grey matter to understand what 'Bottle Message' might sound like (Message in a Bottle by the Police). And indeed that pre-set sounds just like it! But the problem is then compounded somewhat with a pre-set like 'Prehensile Nose'. While I'm sure some of you will 'get it' I for one must be on another planet and have no clue as to what it means.
The real problem is that it's just as likely you won't 'get it' either! And Line6 in their wisdom did not make a chart showing what these pre-sets really mean. There should have been a document for this because many guys will have problems. It's not insurmountable and my little list will help at least with where each pre-set is in the unit, but it would have been nicer with the real deal don't you think? I do too because I'm really just like any other ordinary user.
The Templates are a wonderful idea to get you making your own pre-sets in a hurry. With these there's not that much thinking having to go on. And with names like 'Super Serial' when you have watched my video you should know all about a long and winding serial track.
Please note that you might well find that these pre-sets will increase over time with updates from Line6 and as I have already suggested they should be free to the user. Let's hoe that Line6 follows protocol of most other simulator makers out there and offers them for free when you upgrade something or other on the Helix. I won't bore you with more about these pre-sets simply because in text it's pretty hard to let you hear them even for me! If you want to hear examples of the tones watch the video at the bottom of this page.
This concludes the pre-set section of the review.
The Looper Included in the Helix
Personally I'm no fan of looper's simply because I have no use for them really. But the Helix is being reviewed so I'll include it. Firstly it's important to note that anyone who want's two looper's (who knows why?) can't have them (unless you have an external one of course); the Helix supports one and only one internal looper for any given pre-set. The good news though is that the looper can be mono or stereo without any (what appears to be) DSP overhead. You can place the looper on any of the two paths available i.e. either one or two but not both paths. It's a pretty simple affair that you can easily control from the 'stomp box' mode (lightly touching the switches with your foot), then press the button called (guess what) Looper assuming you have it in the pre-set :) to turn it on or off. If you press the looper button down and stay on the button you get to control the looper. Recording, forward, reverse etc. are all there.
Settings include the looper playback volume, overdub (or you might consider it record), and low and high cut. One useful tip is that if you use the looper right out of the box as I did on standard supplied pre-sets you will find that the 'loop' you record is too loud and drowns out the guitar that you play for the lead guitar over the top. It's an easy fix, so adjust the looper volume with that playback volume knob - you can do this with your feet too if you insist. Once you do that (I found about 85% was cool) and you record the next part (assuming you want to do that), you will find that this next part is auto volume recorded relative to the sound you originally recorded. Line6 say its typically about 10% lower for each additional track you add.
But hey listen, if you just want to knock in some backing and play along to it, that all works perfectly assuming you get your timings for the in and out of the loop right. You can record up to two minutes Line6 say and I doubt that will ever be expandable from what I saw inside the unit with hardware and the fact that there is nowhere to put extra memory modules. In their wisdom they could conceivably assign more ram for the looper in firmware so I can't say they will never do that. These are early days indeed.
This concludes the Looper section
So we have all seen tuners before and there are some pretty snazzy ones out there that can almost do it all right? But this tuner (get it by pressing the tuner button and holding it down) is a pretty average mundane thing if I can call it that. Its not polyphonic so you won't be showing off your tuning abilities in that way. In fact other than having the slight advantage of being able to adjust each string relative to the primary 440 Hz you can do that. Some guys might use this but I just think its another thing that I probably will not use. The tuner as standard is great and as accurate as anything I have in my studio so there's little to really criticize. Its fast, accurate and you can even have the guitar tone on or off while you tune, you choose.
Moving on I am not going to spend much time showing how to press knobs and assign effects or pre-sets to knobs etc. its all a little pointless in a review like this one. Hopefully you will have already got a good 'feel' for the Helix up to now and there's still more to come regarding this effects processor (let's call it that for now).
The Command Center
Image (c) Line6
One of the things I discussed in my video review was the command center and how useful that could be especially if you want to interface the Helix as a 'control center' in its own right in to your rack gear or other external effects. I have had rack gear for years and have been a user of both Rocktron Midi Raider with a Patchmate8 switching unit and also a Ground Control and a GCX switcher for my other rack to control external effects and switch in and out other things. These have worked very well over the years and I have literally had the Ground Control stuff since the early 90's if I remember correctly.
Well all that's cool you might say, and you could say that I won't have any need for those external rack effects and other units any longer now I have the Helix! But I think you might be wrong in that assumption. Think of it this way, you might have a pedal board with 10 of your favorite pedals on there and I'm sure you would want to keep them right? with the Helix as the control center you can. You just might be a little limited on a regular pedal board and pedals (only if you can't control them via MIDI already using other gear), but on the rack gear with those switchers it all becomes near enough limitless as to what you can do. For example, through the use of MIDI (we discussed that earlier in the review and I listed the protected CC and other MIDI codes) I will be able to 'control' my Patchmate8 or GCX switchers (that have loads of effects that they control through their own loops) with the Helix MIDI implementation.
While this does sound simple, in reality it is far from that, the setting up and doing all this work is beyond anything I am prepared to discuss in this review but there is no doubt that you CAN do exactly what I'm describing and honestly it would make lesser rigs look and sound like toys in comparison. In fact many pro's use switchers in the way I have described for regular non-midi pedals. So it is entirely possible to use the Helix as part of a completely professional setup controlling more things than many guys could even imagine. Basically that way it is even possible to switch all the channels on the Mesa Boogie Road King (if I wanted to) or even the different speaker cabs that the Road King can use while playing through it live. The internal 'amp switcher' on the Helix has a maximum of two cable switchers so I would only need another.. xxx number, lets just say it can't switch the Road King (which is a good example) without the Road King using other MIDI equipment that is available (at extra cost again). For me, and maybe for many other users two switchers is inadequate, but with the utilization of the Patchmate8 or GCX (each bank of those units has up to eight loops or switches) I can control up to four banks of those so in effect I could have 32 loops or switches extra by careful control using the control center in the Helix. Now that really is the dogs... but its not for everyone for sure.
Below are the MIDI settings that you can use in the Control Center and other useful information regarding standard switching in the Helix:
Manual excerpts (c) Line6
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This concludes the command center section
The Global Settings
You know what it's like, you get to the gig... it could be a nice warm place with plush curtains and carpet, or it could be wooden floorboards and the size of a cavern with some hefty reflections going on. You might well have all of your sounds worked and honed to perfection and spent some time getting there... we have all been there for sure. In any case, you switch on and do a sound check and something is just not right. Your sound has magically mutated in to a mush of flatness (lets go for the carpet gig). So what are you going to do? go through each pre-set and hack at them? of course not.
This is exactly why the global EQ exists (just in case you did not know). Now its simple to apply an EQ that affects everything (except the send, digital or USB outputs) and 'fixes' your problem instantly. Just get to it from the global settings menu and choose global EQ.
Simply adjust the knobs under the screen to taste and away you go. The global EQ on the Helix is a three band parametric eq and also variable low and high filters thrown in. And when you get back home its easy to reset the global EQ through the action button.
As well as this important EQ there are a load of other useful global settings in this general area of the Helix including, inputs and outputs routing, microphone settings, control of those four sends and returns, reamping, control of what the volume knob actually controls, digital output control and sample rate of which the usual culprits are there as 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz and 96 kHz for incredible sound quality. These are used for the digital frequency aspects of the digital domain.
There's also MIDI/Tempo control, Footswitch control, Display control and a nice info button for telling you the latest firmware (even though that comes on the screen at startup).
There's little else to discuss in the global command area... just remember to use that global EQ if you need to - its particularly useful if you put the Helix through a P.A. as I did and in to the video camera directly from the desk in stereo. Watch the examples on my video and that's the tone I got and that's how I did it. All pre-sets were factory with just a wah added to the 'Brit Plexi Brt' pre-set.
This concludes the global settings section.
USB and Audio Streaming from the Helix
Designed right in to the Helix is a USB port that for streaming audio operates as a USB two compatible connection. The fact is, that often as well as actual audio USB ports also feature as MIDI ports (with a sort of reverse engineered serial port driver). Now you don't need to worry about all of that. Simply get your Apple or Windows PC and connect the USB (assuming your Apple has one) cable to it. Leave the Helix off for now.
In the case of a windows PC you need the Line6 ASIO driver from www.line6.com/software so go and download that and install it if your DAW software does not have the Line6 ASIO drivers already in there. These drivers are the most critical part to getting your Helix streaming audio to and from your computer. You will need to set your windows PC ASIO driver settings specifically and those settings are included in the manual.
Once it's all installed turn on the Helix, jump in to the DAW and make sure everything works in the way you think it should. I cannot go in to great lengths of how to do this as there are many DAW's out there and most systems are different.
On the Helix make sure that the input's and outputs are set to 'multi' and it should be all good to go. The best thing about the 'multi' settings are that you get latency free (near enough) monitoring as you play to tracks and record. Anyone who has used a DAW for any time and tried to play with high latency will attest that its nigh on impossible to get it right on the recording and you end up faffing around for hours. Not so with the Helix... in fact for monitoring its not too dissimilar than my Steinberg MR816 series interface that is now sadly discontinued... zero latency too!
Use the tracks on your DAW to capture USB 1 and 2 and you will have the Helix output being recorded in stereo. You can also patch in other I/O so take a look at this diagram as it shows the routing default info really well:
image (c) Line6
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I did not really find any of the above too difficult and used Steinberg Cubase 8 Pro to test the equipment in my studio. I do have to say that I don't personally record to my DAW in this way through USB connectors and would always prefer to record with a microphone which to me produces a less 'sterile' and 'clinical' sound than through modern day USB systems such as used on the Helix - and I don't limit that comment to just the Helix either. My preferred methods of recording are NOT with simulators and I tend to use real tube amps for occasions where it really matters. I have recorded a few albums over the years and never used streamed audio for those master recordings.
Now don't forget that you can record the dry output from the Helix to your DAW without effects if you insist by using the Helix USB 7 and 8 ports incoming to the DAW software from Helix.
Recording Clean and Re-amping
The Helix has a few settings that make the trip of doing this easier. Those USB 7 and 8 outputs are able to capture to the DAW an unadulterated clean guitar (actually routed from the guitar inputs that you can change) sound if you set it all up correctly with the ins and outs. In global settings choose Re-amp source (Src) USB7 and Re-amp source (Src) USB8 and ensure that the its set to 'guitar' for the dry tracks. Use USB7 and USB8 in the DAW as inputs from the Helix as a stereo pair. On the output side of the DAW use USB1 and USB2 (of the Helix) as outputs for the Masters.
Set the DI tracks output to Helix stereo USB but NOT to USB1 or USB2 (helix). Make a new stereo track in the DAW and set the input to the same settings that you just set for the DI tracks. You must set the input block on the Helix also to this same stereo pair and load your amps and effects on to the current Helix pre-set. That's it!
Now it all sounds difficult, but if you take your time its not rocket science and if re-amping is your thing the best of luck to you. Remember the Helix actually was developed for re-amping in mind when Line6 were thinking of what to or not what to include. Lucky for you they did.
This concludes the USB and audio section.
Comparisons With Other Simulators
It's a fact that because of the way that the Helix is built on dual processors that guitarists will want to compare it with other companies equipment. Thinking about this for a while there are really only a few companies that could be included for comparisons so let's take a look at the contenders.
DV-Mark Multiamp. This is an amplifier simulator from DV-Mark of Italian fame. I did an inside and out review of the DV-Mark simulator HERE and as you can see it's not a bad piece of equipment. But it is in my opinion a simulator that in operation for the most part 'copies' the way a real tube amp works... all those knobs are across the front so the resemblance is high. Although the Multiamp is far more than just a simple product, it does use similar technology but only uses one Analog Devices SHARC processor. There are no 'blocks' to contend with in its design and everything is really designed for a guitarist that does not want to sit there all day playing as if it was a computer as some of this other gear in fact can make you want to do. So it is NOT a contender for comparison in my opinion.
Kemper Amplifier, The Kemper amp came along a few years ago developed by C. Kemper and took the market at that time by storm. I did a review of the Kemper amp IS-HERE. Initially it was a pretty simple device, but over time with a multiplicity of upgrades the Kemper amp has become harder to use because of an incredible number of settings in the firmware. There is no Editor (there is a librarian) so getting completely new pre-sets set up exactly as you might want them involves some 'twiddling of knobs'. The unit uses DSP chips probably Analog Devices SHARC (likely just one), but utilized in a different way than the Helix does. Kemper chose the 'profiling' method of achieving a pre-set sound and that was unique at the time of launch of the device. Kemper has no 'blocks' either. The Kemper in my opinion is most like a computer in a box of all the simulators I have ever owned. The Kemper can keep you using it and setting up things for long times, but really overall I think that the Kemper amplifier remains unique in the simulators contenders out there and it is NOT really a contender for comparison either in my opinion.
Fractal Audio Axe-FX II. This is a simulator that's been around for a fair few years in one form or another. I did make a video review of the AXE-FX II but that's a story you can read about HERES-THE-STORY. In my opinion the biggest 'improvements' have always been by software updates. Remember that's just my opinion. Usually sold in the form of a rack mountable unit, but Fractal are bringing out floor units now (they may or may not compare equally to the Helix) so the format may change in the future. This simulator has had multiple firmware updates on a regular basis and the unit has (using its editor software) something that we can call 'block' mode representation. More importantly the Axe-FX II utilizes two Analog Devices 'Tiger' SHARC processors (they said) so again there is a pretty close similarity to the Helix type of technology. I would relate the AXE-FX II as a contender for comparison based on all the many similarities between the two products; and remember that Line6 are releasing a rack version of the Helix presently so there's probably even more facets that one could reasonably compare between these two devices.
As I write this review it was inevitable that the boys on a competitors forum would criticize my review and I guess its pretty obvious why if anyone has had experience of those guys attitudes. Fortunately I don't have to listen to people that are clearly biased in one way or another towards other competitive equipment. However, I have to this point had many thousands of emails that tell me I did a great job of the reviews for the Helix and I prefer to believe the many compared to the few. So let's move forward with this Helix written review as I intended - completely unbiased and as a paying customer of all the brands I mention and have used.
The Helix in my video review achieved the ultimate accolade of 10/10 simply because I could find no manufacturing defects whatsoever, that the product was CE and RoHS compliant and marked on the equipment exactly as it should be, the unit has the country of origin actually printed on the unit also as it should by law, it is extremely easy to use, it costs less than $1500 (or £1099) on the street and has that vibe of 'dual' Analog Devices processors for the DSP that enhances the speed of the unit and allows for more 'blocks' to be used without the DSP side being unable to handle the extra load. Notice I did not say enhances the sound... they do not and never have. Whether there's one SHARC or two processors the sound quality remains the same. Also by far the majority of the pre-sets that are in the unit from the factory are useable and I would estimate just a few would be no use to me.
Comparing the Helix unit with the Axe FX II that I originally purchased shows why the Helix unit has achieved a 10/10 and when I did the Axe-FX II review I gave that a 7/10 which I felt was generous at the time from the experience I had with that unit. I still have the original review. My findings of the unit were very varied and included these features and issues. The unit had manufacturing quality issues relating particularly to the case which was very poorly welded, it had no CE or RoHS markings on it and I questioned the credibility of the CE approvals actually being carried out at that time as no test documentation from the Laboratory was forthcoming; The unit had no country of origin markings on it also required by law at that time as indeed it still is; I would say that the unit was more difficult to use (that might have changed now for the better hopefully); It was a very expensive unit at around £2300 (at least $3500 at that time) in Europe; it was the first to introduce dual DSP processors which was a plus compared to anything else at that time; the pre-sets that I heard were not really that great and while I did like many of the effects, the sounds of the amplifiers it was emulating in my opinion were not quite what I know tube amps to sound like.
But things have moved on in terms of products on the market these days compared to 2011 when I reviewed the original Axe-FX II that I bought. I never did go back and buy more so I cannot really say how the products from that maker have improved (or not) except to say that nowadays they do have CE, RoHS and country of origin markings on the latest products they make - probably because the law requires it.. as indeed I always said.
But many will compare the FA products with the Helix from Line6 today surely? Well I guess they will, and bearing in mind the difference in price between the Axe-FX II (or its latest rack incarnation) and the Helix Rack at £1099 (probably $1500) and both units having that dual processing power then it might be a hard decision to make. When you are considering what to buy from any maker there are many considerations including support, longevity of the product, quality, sounds, ease of use and of course price.
Bearing in mind that the price of the DSP chips now allows Line6 to retail the Helix for less than $1500 (£1099) that will surely have an effect of other manufacturers either coming out with 'also ran' gear or forcing others to reduce their price accordingly.
It's an interesting market in the amplifier simulator sector right now and I doubt that ANY of these makers are sitting on their laurels doing nothing about being at the top in this marketplace as it can for a manufacturer be a very lucrative place to be financially. But with that financial clout that the parent company of Line6 have - Yamaha have massive financials at their disposal for development and price crushing pressures to be yet really applied to the simulator sector I would not like to take bets on who will be the overall winners or losers. But one thing is for sure, Line6 is now a force to be reckoned with no matter which brand competes whether DV-Mark, Fractal Audio or indeed Kemper.
This concludes the comparisons section
I have spent considerable time on the Line6 Helix review indeed longer than any other product of recent times that I have personally bought. My views are simply personal views of how I found equipment to be and in the case of the Helix it borders on being near enough perfect especially at that street price; Line6 should be congratulated. As many readers will know I have not been a fan particularly of Line6 historically but I was genuinely surprised at what came out of the box when I opened it; genuinely happy with the build quality which was impeccable; genuinely surprised at just how good the unit sounded and genuinely amazed for what I got for such a reasonable price.
So the things that I liked can be summed up as follows:
- The build quality 100%
- The simplicity of use
- The actual sounds and effects
- The I/O
- The streaming ability
- The 'extra' power of dual processors
- The support
- The price
- The included accessories
and what I liked less:
- The librarian that needs work
- No editor as yet but is expected
If you have read this far, I recommend that you don't just buy one of these units, but go out and TRY it - or buy it where there is a guarantee that if you don't like it you can send it back. That way if it's not for you then nothing is lost. There is nothing worse than buying something that falls short in someway that you only learn about later once you own it. Anyone who looks the other way where the Line6 Helix is concerned is doing themselves a bit of a disservice somewhat and may be ignoring a really great product that is sure to be around a long time.
I have no reservations about the Helix and I can recommend it unreservedly. Well done Line6.
Here is the video review that shows other aspects of the Helix. Be warned it is a VERY long video review and covers a multiplicity of information with audio and music:
The video can be made larger in the usual way...
© A B Mckenzie 1997-2018. All Rights Reserved
Some manual extracts are © Line6