The Line 6 Helix Series Has been out for a few years now. Is it worth tossing out your traditional amp for live gigs? Today we take a look at all of the features, and see if The Helix is the All In One live solution.
Modeling technology has come a LONG way in the past decade. It started on rocky territory to say the least, with the original Line 6 POD series. 20 years ago, modeling technology was at worst; a toy. Then at best, it was a fun little practice device. You still needed a rig with an actual amplifier if you wanted to play live gigs, and probably a pretty extensive pedalboard to boot.
There was one in the first studio I ever recorded in. It was…cute.
But that all changed, when big bands like Meshuggah started using the Line 6 stuff, which was in it’s 5th generation or so at the time. people started to realize that it was not just a toy, this was a bonefide’ recording asset. Line 6 saw that opportunity and ran with it.
The Line 6 POD HD series came next, and it was a huge leap in the right direction. I bought one a month after release and I used it to record 3 albums worth of material. As I write this article, the POD HD unit is sitting to my right in the studio rack. I still use it!
While the POD HD is definitely a nice unit, it was not future proof. Technology just usually doesn’t work like that. The CPU could only take so much when it came to layering different effects and amp sims. Line 6 spent the next 4 years making that potential “future proof” device. That brings us up to speed, with the Line 6 Helix Family.
Line 6 Helix Reviews: What’s The Word Online?
There was a huge leap in technology between the POD HD and the Line 6 Helix. The processing power is way ahead of it’s predecessor, and has been updated now several times to make it even more useful.
Powered by next-generation HX Modeling technology, the Helix family recreates amps, cabs, mics, and effects with accuracy and precision. Vintage and modern tube amp models give an authentic sound and feel, and are designed to interact with your playing like the originals. These amp models are the closest you can get to the real thing.
Because of copyright issues, the Line 6 Helix cannot use any actual names of popular amps. But we know certain amps that have names like “American Treadplate” are definitely a Mesa Boogie. You just have to be a little clever with the choosing of amps and effects. Unlike Guitar Rig, it does not have official license. But don’t let that fool you, these amps and effects sound very authentic.
Line 6 Helix also has a community that makes patches, as well as an official site that has “artist” packages. I have been able to peruse these settings, and they not only sound really good. They sound real as hell. One that I downloaded was the Steve Vai lead tone, and it was perfectly dripping in chorus and delay.
So what do the reviews from the other pros around the web say?
Playing through the onboard amps is uncannily like playing through the real thing. As good as the POD HD models were, Helix’s efforts have an increased level of both accuracy of sound and playability, and will react to the nuances of your playing style – these are sounds that can stand side by side with Kemper or Fractal models.MusicRadar
The Line 6 Helix is an ambitious multi-effector with nearly 200 amp and pedal models, a built-in expression pedal, and exceptional rear-panel connectivity. It seems designed to go head-to-head with modeling rigs like Fractal Audio’s Axe-Fx II and the Kemper Profiling Amplifier, but it’s configured as a pedalboard rather than a rackmount box or head.
Meanwhile, Helix’s $1,499 street price is well below that of its rival products, and here you edit sounds via a large, full-color LED screen, as opposed to the rather stingy LCD windows of its competitors. (Though in all cases, users can connect to a computer via USB and edit on a dedicated software interface).Premier Guitar Online
The amps are probably the most critical feature of this unit and I really have to commend Line 6 for those. While they may not perfectly replicate the real thing (for example, a real Rectifier has like a thousand different modes), they get really, really close.
One crucial aspect where most modelers have suffered is in feel, and these amps just FEEL real. They respond exactly like I’d expect them to. The tweed model is just as nasty as the tweed mode on my Roadster. The Rectifier chugs, the tweeds growl, the Soldano wails… everything is just right. My only sort of gripe is that I don’t think the tone controls respond exactly like the real ones, which is to say that one would think that I could theoretically match my real Rectifier’s settings to the ones here and get the same results, but that simply isn’t the case.
Nitpicks aside, I really have nothing bad to say about the amps. A+ work, guys. I am a little disappointed that there isn’t a Rockerverb model, though…Tone Snob
This impressive array of connection choices offers a utility that far surpasses anything I’ve seen in a “guitar processing” unit. In theory, it has the utility to act as the brain of your set-up, providing low-latency digital audio and MIDI data flow via USB and MIDI DIN connectivity. Connect a MIDI controller, a laptop, some monitors and … oh yes … a guitar and you’re ready to go.
As simple as it is to edit directly on the Helix, programming becomes even easier when you use Helix Edit, the free editing application from Line 6. The interface mimics what you see on the Helix to a large extent, but the parameter controls are accessible via large graphics sliders instead of the physical encoders, and nested menus can show significantly more choices on the computer screen than the LCD.
But the biggest advantage is the drag and drop functionality for moving blocks around in the signal path. Much faster than the joystick approach. It seems to me that even if you plan on using the Helix without a computer in practice, editing and programming with Helix Edit is definitely the way to go. Also, you can access the Line 6 site directly from the application to purchase and download additional presets or IRs and change preferences such as patch numbering schemes.Pro Audio Files
Line 6 Helix: Specs And Features
The biggest feature the Line 6 Helix sports is the powerful DSP. For those that don’t know, DSP is short for Digital Signal Processing, or a process of converting analog, real-world signals into a digital format in which they can be mathematically manipulated before being converted back to analog. The Line 6 Helix is not just digital sounds, these are sounds that were captured by actual effects and amplifiers. This takes tons of power.
The Line 6 Helix has enough power under the hood to run all of these amps and effects, with power to spare. You can have tons of different effects running at the same time, without latency. As it’s been said, the Line 6 helix can literally be the entirety of your rig, studio or live. Or at least, the “main” source of your rig. Let’s check out what the Helix has..
- Dual DSP-powered HX modeling engine
- Over 300 amp, cabs, mic, and effects models
- World-class polyphonic pitch-shifting effects
- 6.2″ LCD display
- 12 touch-sensitive footswitches for editing
- 10 inputs, 12 outputs (including 4 effects loops)
- 8-in/8-out USB audio interface
- 3 expression pedal outs
- Mic-level XLR input
- S/PDIF, AES/EBU, and L6 Link digital outputs
- Capacitive touch-sensitive switches for parameter recall
- Assignable RGB LED color rings
- Customizable LCD scribble strips
- Preset or stomp box modes
- Integrated looper
- Solid-aluminum construction
- Tour-grade footswitches
- Supports third-party impulse responses (IRs)
- True preset spillover
The coolest thing about the Line 6 Helix is just how much you can do with it in a live situation. The inputs/outputs on the rear of the device allow you to do just about anything. If you want to use the Helix all by itself, and use the amp models, you can do that. The outputs on the rear allow you to plug directly into a venue’s sound system. Or, you can use an external speaker on stage. You can do this by standard speaker cable, or XLR cables.
But maybe that isn’t your thing, you like the Line 6 Helix for it’s effects only. This is another viable option for live playing. You can use the Helix in “stomp box” mode and this lets you do exactly what it suggests. The amp models are completely bypassed, and you can use the Line 6 Helix in tandem with your amplifier rig, as an “effects only” unit. Just run the Helix through your amp’s effects loop!
To be fair, you could do this with the POD HD series also, but it never worked well for me. I tried the “4 cable method” and everything else under the sun trying to get it to work. The Helix has taken this concept and ran hard with it. The switchover is now seamless.
There is also yet ANOTHER way to the Line 6 Helix, and the input/output system. You can use the unit as a recording interface. This bypasses the idea of using a traditional Studio Interface system. The Helix plugs right into your computer, and records into your DAW.
The Big Question: Can The Line 6 Helix Replace Your Rig?
In a word?
YES. 100% Yes.
You can easily use the Line 6 Helix as your entire rig live. This is especially true for bands that are just getting started. It would be easier to gig with than lugging around a full on amplifier. You could also program out your entire setlist. It would all be right there at your feet.
This is also perfect for someone in a cover band. I know, I know…cover band is often a “bad word”. But look, there’s nothing wrong with being in a cover band. It’s a great way to make money, and do something you love. Just like being in an original band, the Helix can be programmed to cover your entire setlist. In fact, I have recently seen tons of bar bands use the Helix.
The Helix could also be the brains of your recording operation. You can use it either as an interface, or as a bank of sounds for creating tones. Either way, it’s a win/win.