We have been taking a look at Harley Benton Guitars lately, and seeing what the budget guitar brand has to offer. How is the flagship Harley Benton DNAfx? Today we take a look, and see if it’s worth it.
Harley Benton DNAfx: Budget Effects That May Surprise You!
Harley Benton Guitars has been a huge buzz in the guitar community lately due to the popularity on YouTube and other social media influencers checking out the products. These are well-equipped instruments for outrageously low prices that have surprised veteran players and beginners alike.
We have tried out the Fusion Series, and the new Amarok guitars. Much to our surprise, these were not just cheap knockoffs of better instruments. They were well made, and the Amarok could easily be a professional instrument for a guitarist on a budget.
So the nice people at Thomann Music actually have all kinds of Harley Benton products geared towards musicians, that range from cables and accessories, to amplifiers and pedals. The Harley Benton DNAfx is the company’s first attempt at making a full range FX unit. Now I can’t imagine this will rival something like the Helix, at such a low, budget price. But I have been wrong about Harley Benton before!
Today we are going to take a look at the Harley Benton DNAfx, and see how it stacks up to other models in it’s price range. I imagine this will be something like the MOOER products, but we won’t know until we really dig in to all of the features. So sit back, grab your favorite beverage, and let’s take a look at this Harley Benton DNAfx unit.
Harley Benton DNAfx: Features and Specs
I think that sometimes with effects units, simplicity is key. I was a huge fan of the HX Stomp because it was so small and easy to use for desktop recording, and adding to your existing FX loop for gigs. It looks like the Harley Benton DNAfx has taken some cues from Line 6 when it comes to being compact, and user friendly. This can work as a floor unit, but also doesn’t take up much desk space if you are recording.
There is a ton of features to go over, so let’s start with the basics:
- 55 Classic and modern high-quality guitar amp models
- Non-linear amp modelling technology with real tube amp sound, feel and response
- 26 Classic and modern impulse response (IR) speaker simulations with additional support for third-party IR files
- 151 Different classic and modern effects: Drives, compressors, noise gates, EQs, modulation, wah, pitch, filters, delays, reverbs and more
- Up to 9 types of effects can be used at the same time
- Large, easy-to-read LED colour display
- 80 Second phrase looper
- Modern drum computer with 40 drum patterns and 10 metronome rhythms
- Integrated expression pedal for easy setting of the effect parameters
- Up to 200 preset patches can be saved
- Tap tempo function
- Easy-to-read chromatic LED tuner (435 – 445 Hz)
- USB connectivity for editing, direct audio recording (DAW) and software updates on PC/Mac
- Programmable outputs for easy integration with any live or studio setup
- Headphone output and AUX input for playing and jamming to tracks from external devices
- OTG function supports smartphone and tablet software for direct audio/video recording and live streaming
- Sampling rate: 44.1 kHz
- Sampling resolution: 24-bit
- Robust housing made of ABS (top part) and aluminium (bottom)
- Dimensions (W x D x H): 230 x 156 x 32.8 mm
- Weight: 1 kg
- Power supply unit included (9 V DC 300 mA)
Perhaps we should start with the build quality, because this is really surprising. I was expecting this thing to be all plastic construction. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this processor is actually metal! The expression pedal, and the bottom of the unit is aluminum, which is very surprising considering the cost. This should be durable enough to gig with, no doubt!
The knobs and switches all feel very solid as well, and it is pretty simple as far as layout goes. You have a bank up switch and a bank down switch that takes you through your saved patches, and you can save up to 200. These two switches also act as the tuner and the looper if you hold them down. Your three knobs control the values and volume on the presets that you can customize on the fly.
The rear panel has just about everything you need to play on stage, or record directly with the Harley Benton DNAfx. You can run the unit in mono or stereo, depending on the modulation effects you plan on using. You have a 1/8” headphone jack, so you can practice in silence if need be. There is an Aux port that can be used to plug up your phone/MP3 player and play backing tracks into the unit to jam with. This could be a great practice buddy with headphones and your phone!
The screen is pretty small, and you would have a hard time seeing anything but the bank you’re currently selecting while standing up. However, it’s pretty easy to see up close. The GUI may be a little hard to get used to at first, as you have to click a lot of buttons to get around. It took a while to get the hang of it, but it is actually easy once you get into the flow of the menus.
Unlike most modern FX Units, the factory presets on the Harley Benton DNAfx are actually pretty good! The first 15 presets or so, all have some really high quality sounds. I was thinking to myself that I could probably make an actual song, just using the first few presets, without adjusting them too much. All of the presets are “classic” kinds of sounds, with a few that show off what the unit can do, modulation wise with deep reverbs. But what about the amps?
The sound of legendary amps and effects, from vintage valves to the latest hi-tech gear, in a robust, road-ready housing: that’s the DNAfx Git advanced amp modelling multi-effect processor! Create your perfect guitar tones selecting modelled gear from a plethora of classic and modern amps, cabs and effect. DNAfx is a great-sounding, super-portable guitar rig for gigs, practice or song-writing sessions!
There are tons of amplifier models (55 to be exact) and they range from pristine clean, to straight up shred. There are typical Marshall and Fender models, with a few high gain emulations. The cool thing about the amp models, is that you can change the entire amp if you want. There is a setting where you can go through the EQ and volume controls like a regular amp. But you can even change out what kind of tube setup the amp is using. Do you want a Metal amp with EL34 preamp tubes? You can do it!
Do the amps on the Harley Benton DNAfx have that “real tube response” that other more expensive processors have? I think it does, for the most part. It responds really well to the guitar’s volume control, and the usual dynamics of playing harder/softer. The sound quality actually changes when you scroll through the preamp tube options, and the amps respond accordingly. This is pretty impressive for a cheap unit, and I was not expecting it to be so accurate.
The actual effects are all high quality, and you have a couple that mimic stereo modulation, like delay. Some of these are better than others, like the chorus and delay effects. The delay in particular you can dial in to the millisecond, just like a real delay pedal. Every effect is very usable, and the overdrive pedals that you can add to a high gain amp really boost the signal. The reverb effects are all awesome, and you can really dial in some neat “whale call” sounds. You can set the values with a tap tempo, or dial in the actual milliseconds.
Most surprisingly, the pitch shifter effects work extremely well. Usually on these cheap units, the pitch effects have a hard time tracking and keeping up with fast passages and legato. Strangely enough, the Harley Benton DNAfx has several pitch functions, and harmony effects that really work and keep up with faster runs. For the price, this one single effect is worth the money! My harmonizer pedal by Eventide costs three times as much!
The expression pedal is programmable for each patch. So you can make the pedal control just about any effect value you want. It also acts as a volume pedal by default, and this works great with the high gain sounds, as you can bring the gain down quickly with the pedal. The Harley Benton DNAfx expression pedal is aluminum, so if you kick it on for a wah wah controlled solo, it can take the beating.
But the “make or break” feature on any FX unit, is the cabinet IRs. The Harley Benton DNAfx cabs are… just okay. They do their job, and most of the cabs sound pretty good with the right amps. For example the 1960 Cab (Marshall 4×12) works great with all of the high gain options, but falls flat with the Fender style amps. But the good news is, you can load your own IRs from any source! So of course, I did that! With my IRs, it sounds next level with the high gain tones. I loaded 5 of my own, and I have no idea how many the unit holds, unfortunately.
That being said, the USB editing program is less than spectacular. But to load your own IRs, you’re going to need it. Beyond loading up your own cabs, there really isn’t anything the program does that you can’t get done with the actual knobs and screen. In fact, I found it easier to just dial in the tones from the unit itself, as there is a little bit of delay between the unit and my computer. Might just be my Harley Benton DNAfx, I’m not sure.
The built-in drum machine is okay. It certainly doesn’t blow me away, but I honestly don’t think that is what it’s for. I think it is meant to be used a writing tool. Once you have a drum beat set, you can then write a riff over the drums, and loop it. Once you have a loop going, you can come up with a melody or guitar solo! But if you expect to use the Harley Benton DNAfx drum machine live, you’re going to be very disappointed.
The unit works amazingly with an FRFR cabinet, and there is even a special deal at Thomann that sells the pedal and the FRFR cab as a package deal for $414.00. This is a crazy deal for a fully functional live setup. If you only have a few tones that you need live, this is the perfect solution. You only have the simple up and down buttons on the unit, so if you program it correctly you could easily pull off a show with this rig. Alternatively, you could also add this to your pedalboard.
Speaking of playing live, the OTG function on the back of the unit can be used for streaming with a tablet or phone. I watched some videos on how to do this, but I didn’t try it out myself. So I imagine you can use this to stream on any platform, without dealing with room noise. That’s really cool for people who stream live all the time. I have seen people on Twitch and Instagram do this, but I have zero knowledge on the setup. The Harley Benton DNAfx seems to do a little bit of everything!
Harley Benton DNAfx: The Verdict
Technology is crazy these days, and I would’ve killed for something like the Harley Benton DNAfx unit when I was just getting good at guitar. And for such a low price, this thing is a steal. It could be a great addition to your existing live rig, or even take the place of a bigger live rig with the addition of an FRFR cabinet. A lot of these sounds really blew me away, and I am pretty hard to impress when it comes to amp sims.
I skipped over the USB recording feature of the Harley Benton DNAfx in the review because it is much easier to just plug the unit up to an interface. The USB recording works, but there are latency issues and that can be complicated to fix. That being said, I got it work as a recording interface after I downloaded some drivers and changed the bit sample rate on my DAW. If that sounds like an alien language to you, just plug it up to the interface.
The Harley Benton DNAfx is a great beginner’s processor, but it can also be appreciated by pros on a tight budget. I always go into a review with a hint of skepticism, no matter what the product may be. But there are honestly some great tones to be had with this unit, with minimal effort. This is great as a compact practice/writing tool as well. Thomann just recently got a new batch of these in, so the time to buy is now!
Can I Record With The Harley Benton DNAfx?
You can use the unit itself to record with using the USB and your computer. But the easiest way to record with the unit is to just plug it in to your interface.
Can I use My Own Impulse Responses With The Harley Benton DNAfx?
You can load custom IR files up to the unit, using the editing software. The processor comes with tons of IRs preloaded, but if you have one that you use all the time, it can hold your custom IRs.
How Many Patches Can I Program On The Harley Benton DNAfx?
There are 200 available patches on the processor. The unit comes pre-programmed, but you can make your own patches using the physical interface, or the studio software via USB.
Christoper HortonChristopher has been playing guitar and piano for 27 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. He has toured for years with several bands and music projects. He worked in LA as a studio musician and engineer working with bands like IAMSOUND, Baroness, Kylesa, Black Tusk, Reflux, and Tripping Daisy. In between giving private lessons, he is recording a solo album for 2022-2023. Christopher plays Schecter guitars, BOSS amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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