Read the full article
This article was originally published in issue #54
To read the article in its entirety, view the digital magazine
‘Snapshots’ allow you to instantly capture your settings and save them to a pedal (like a digital photo) - want the same amp with a slight boost? Or slightly more delay? It's as simple as changing the parameter and moving to the next Snapshot.
Hundreds of tonal options at your feet
The cost could be out of reach for players on a strict budget
Amp modulation seems to be more en vogue than ever these days. With many products on the market that claim to be as good as (or even better!) than the real thing surely we can all trade in our hardware for its software surrogates, right? Is backline dead? Stuart Shields reviews Line 6's much talked about Helix.
Think of Line 6, and some players have an instant reaction; negative connotations and memories of the Spider series tones seem to divide opinion. So is the Helix a new direction (tonally) for Line 6. The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’!
The chief selling point of the Helix is the component level modelling. That’s right - the actual components of each amp and pedal are modelled - everything from the preamp valves to the power supply, basically any stage that affects or creates tone has been careful recreated in a software format - a virtual version of the hardware if you will. With 62 amps, 104 pedals and 37 speaker emulations there is a possible wishlist for any rig you might want to create.
I was instantly impressed with the interface and general usability of the Helix. A display screen displaying a blank signal path greets you when building a new preset from scratch. Then it simply a case of going shopping!! Drop in amp blocks and pedals anywhere along the chain, and they will behave as they would in a real set up. Line 6 proudly boast that you will never need to read the Helix user manual (they only supply this on a USB drive to support the point) and I have to agree. Navigating your way around the Helix is incredibly visually intuitive and quick, unlike some other competitor products which can require a few weeks living a hermit like the existence of knob tweaking!
Does it sound real? Yes, and more over it feels real. It gets nice and spongy with that natural compression which comes from a driven amp. Turn your volume down and things clean up and respond to your pick attack. There’s also some deeper options of more ‘organic’ editing - parameters such as the Sag or Hum (natural effect caused by the power supply) can be altered to create the behaviour and feel of your amp when it reaches that sweet spot, without the volume.
‘Snapshots’ allow you to instantly capture your settings and save them to a pedal (like a digital photo) - want the same amp with a slight boost? Or slightly more delay? It's as simple as changing the parameter and moving to the next Snapshot. There is also a handy feature which allows you to quickly assign any pedal in your chain from the screen to a real pedal on your board. A digital scribble strip instantly names the pedal and colours codes it for ease when playing live.
Routing options are abundant too! With 4 effects loops, you can also integrate your existing pedals and assign them to controls on the Helix. The message from Line 6 is that the Helix works with your current set up as opposed to a full replacement. Running out of the Helix there's XLR and 1/4 jack options and the opportunity to run more advanced Wet-Dry-Wet routing.
Some realistic downsides of any modeller is the fact that you are at the mercy of whichever interface/P.A./monitor you run the unit through and I have to testify that following this review I have had the opportunity to take the Helix on the road and test it running directly through the house P.A. This is really where this unit come to life. The built in cab sims on the Helix do require a little further tweaking and I found that in the studio the response and tone was a little brittle for my playing. However, the option of downloading 3rd party impulse responses is an instant fix for this and there are many companies specialising in packages for the Helix. I would strongly advise that you get some alone time with one of these, and from experience most dealers will have a number of routing (powered speakers etc) options so you can test the Helix yourself. In addition Line 6 are continuously providing updates and support is second to none.
Final word - Get out there and hunt one down!!!
Over 100 Built-In Effects
3.58" x 22.05" x 11.85"
Weight: 14.6 lbs.