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Line 6 Helix Multieffects

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Just spent 2 hours reading every word, listening to every demo of this review.

This is one damn impressive piece of gear!

I cannot imagine how much time you must have put into this review Craig. Stellar Review!

 

Thanks for the kind words...but the review is by no means done. The whole point of a Pro Review is to go deeper than any other type of review, but more importantly, allow interaction and questions so bias is not possible. There are thousands and thousands of people looking over my shoulder, so I have to be totally on target.

 

I will say this is indeed "one damn impressive piece of gear" which is why it's definitely not cheap...$1,400 - $1,500. So far the effects have been exceptional. The "analog" quality took me by surprise. We'll see what the amps bring, but my initial impressions are favorable.

 

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I'm almost done with the effects, so amps and cabs are next. They're reworked from the HD500 so we'll see...

Only three amp models in Helix are from older units—Line 6 Epic, Line 6 Doom, and Line 6 Elektrik. All other Helix amps and cabs have been built from scratch using the new HX modeling engine.:D2

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Thanks for the insights...I'm glad you kept the Line 6 Doom and Elektrik. Just out of curiosity...how similar is the Particle Verb to the one in the HD500? I love that effect.

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Just out of curiosity...how similar is the Particle Verb to the one in the HD500? I love that effect.
The raw component algorithms for the reverbs and eight of the ten wahs came from HD but were rebuilt with the new engine, so they have more nuance and depth. All other effects have been created in HX from scratch. We hope to add more HX reverbs and wahs down the line.

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Update Time!

 

There was an update released at the end of January, and if you’re not running software version 1.06.5, you’re missing out on some cool stuff not included with the original Helix.This includes nine new effects and three amps, as well as the usual fixes and optimizations that are a part of the typical software update.

 

The updating process is relatively painless. Updating involves four main components: a USB driver so Helix can talk to your computer, the latest Line 6 Updater, the latest Application installer, and the firmware file itself that’s loaded into Helix. If you go to the Support section of the Line 6 site and have ever done any updating before, it’s likely the process will be obvious: Choose Helix from the list of products, all software, your operating system, then hit Go. There are only a few cautions...

  • Read the instructions and follow them carefully.
  • Don’t connect to USB through a hub, Connect to a USB port on your computer.
  • If the software you’re installing tells you not to have the USB cable connected...don’t.
  • Don’t interrupt power to any device during a firmware update. This is just one of many reasons I have an uninterruptible power supply in my studio.

The entire process took a few minutes and is definitely worth the effort.

 

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Pitch/Synth

 

This section has five effects, Pitch Wham, Twin Harmony, Simple Pitch, Dual Pitch, and 3 Osc Synth. I’m generally not a big fan of pitch shifters, because of how they affect fidelity...let’s see how Helix fares.

 

But first, Pitch Wham was something that wanted a pedal, it was late, and I didn’t remember how to assign a pedal. Instead of digging into the manual...well, this is Helix. Action button? No. Clearly it wouldn’t be Bypass, Save, Home, or Amp, so that left Menu. I hit it, and there was Controller Assign. Hit Learn Controller, move the pedal...yup. Controller assigned. Once again, you gotta love the user interface.

 

Also, Simple Pitch and Dual Pitch arrived with the most recent firmware update. When I first tried Helix, I wished I could get simple pitch changes without having to use Pitch Wham, and dual pitch changes that weren’t related to harmonies, like the Twin Harmony did. The update took care of those issues.

 

Pitch Wham (Position, Heel Pitch, Toe Pitch, Mix, Level). The Pitch Wham is excellent, within the genre’s limitations. Position acts like a manual control, with the excursion set by the Heel and Toe pitch; the total range is plus and minus one octave. It does the dive bomb thing just fine, and while as expected it gets a little rough on chords, listen to the audio example which uses distortion and actually sounds quite good. This is also excellent on single notes, although we have the Simple Pitch to do that more...simply. However there is an audio example of octave lower single notes, and distortion before Pitch Wham pushed up an octave. This gives an octave above effect that I prefer over the Tycoctavia Fuzz, even if the latter is more “authentic.”

 

Twin Harmony (V1 Key, V1 Scale, V1 Shift, V1 Level, V1 Pan, Mix; V2 Key, V2 Scale, V2 Shift, V2 Level, V2 Pan, Level). This a two-voice harmony generator; it’s not intelligent in the sense of creating harmonies based on what it hears, so you need to enter the key, scale, and offset for each voice. If you’re into the Allman-style twin leads this does exactly what you want, with better-than-average fidelity. But after checking out the Harmony Delay effect—which also does two harmonies but adds the element of delays and arpeggios—that sucker’s going to be the first-call harmony box. I do have one suggestion for a future update: a “Neutral” scale that would let you do octaves and fifths. I think it might be quite cool to have simultaneous octave below and fifth above, or octave below and octave above.

 

Simple Pitch (Interval, Cents, Delay, Shift Level, Mix, Level; Shift Pan, Dry Pan). This is your basic pitch shifter, but with two notable extras. You can specify delay in cents, so you can obtain the type of chorusing effects that have always been popular with Eventide’s Harmonizer where you offset the pitch shift just a tiny bit. Also, Shift Level sets the level of the pitch shifted sound, which might make Mix seem redundant. However, if you want a lower volume level on the shifted sound but want to change the mix of that composite sound with the dry sound, then the Mix control is necessary.

 

Dual Pitch (Interval 1, Cents 1, Delay 1, V1 Level, Interval 2, Cents 2; Delay 2, V2 Level, Mix, Level, V1 Pan, V2 Pan; Dry Pan). This fills the spot between Simple Pitch in that the controls are similar, and the Twin Harmony; although Dual Pitch lacks the Twin Harmony’s harmonization features, it provides control over Cents and Delay and even better, covers a plus and minus 24-semitone range.

 

3 Osc Synth (Osc1Wave, 1DutyCycl, Osc1Oct, Osc1Freq, Osc1Pan, Osc1Level; Osc2 Wave, 2DutyCycl, Osc2Oct, Osc2Freq, Osc2Pan, Osc2Level; Osc3 Wave, 3DutyCycl, Osc3Oct, Osc3Freq, Osc3Pan, Osc3Level; FltPreset; FM3>1, Low Cut, High Cut, Mix, Level). Bias alert: I double on keyboards and I’ve yet to meet anything triggered by a guitar that comes even close to delivering that experience, with the possible exception of Roland’s SY300. Triggering is sketchy—you need to play carefully and cleanly, and articulate each note if you want to re-trigger an attack. Perhaps a sensitivity control, or even better a floating threshold with a pluck detector, could make this more reliable for different picking styles. Thinking it might be my use of a thumb pick, I also tried a light touch with a flat but that gave only a marginal improvement. Double bias alert: I’m not a fan of high resonance filter settings, and of the four filter presets, two of them sounded too “bwee bwee bwee” for my tastes. Although the first preset was also pretty resonant, it did give one of the more common synth bass sound, so it would fit in quite a few songs. Another filter preset does portamento glides, and for “O Lucky Man”-type synth parts, it’s eminently usable. Overall, this effect offers the kind of sound where you might want to spray out a quick single-note line using a novelty sound, but it’s not something I’d use much.

 

My takeaway has changed a lot since the Helix appeared. I initially considered this one of the weaker group of effects, but Simple Pitch and Dual Pitch came to the rescue: they provide the “bread and butter” pitch shift effects that I use more than anything else, and do so well. The 3 Osc Synth doesn’t do it for me, but it has potential which may yet be realized. I’d replace the FM3>1 parameter with a resonance control, and add some way to adjust sensitivity. It’s a noble effort, and I know these things are hard to pull off, but this is one effect that won’t get a lot of use in my world.

 

As to the Twin Harmony, if I hadn’t checked out the Harmony Delay first I probably would have gotten into it much more. To be fair, I think a lot of guitar players will like it and use it, and I’ll probably find places where it works well. But the Harmony Delay is a grand slam—why be normal?

 

The Pitch Wham is another winner. It not only does the whammy thing, but the octave above and octave below effects are excellent, useful, and predictable. I’ll be adding this to a lot of presets, and look forward to bringing in a quick, thundering suboctave when appropriate, or that octave-higher squeal that can really take a distortion-based solo to the next level.

 

Do remember that these pitch-shifting effects optimally want single-note lines. Any additional notes that are sounding can screw up the pitch detection and create dirt. In this respect Helix is more forgiving than some pitch-shifting effects I’ve tried; listen to the audio example for Simple Pitch - 5th Above with Arpeggiation, it sounds quite beautiful. Still, what you get out of pitch effects depends greatly on how cleanly and accurately you can articulate notes.

 

[video=youtube;M9-eQ2mgd0M]

 

The Audio Examples

  • Pitch Wham with distorted chords
  • Pitch Wham, octave lower soloed
  • Pitch Wham, distortion with added octave higher
  • Twin Harmony, with A major scaling
  • Simple Pitch, jazz octaves
  • Simple Pitch, 5th above with finger-picked arpeggiation and 30 ms delay on the 5th above
  • Simple Pitch, “industrial” bass with Triangle Fuzz, Simple Pitch down an octave, Cali 400 Ch2 bass amp+cab, and a Hi Cut EQ.
  • 3 Osc Synth, filter 1 synth bass-type sound
  • 3 Osc Synth, filter 3 portamento effect with lead
  • 3 Osc Synth, filter 4 sound
  • Dual Pitch, with octave lower and 5th above
  • Dual Pitch, octave lower, tonic, and 5th above feeding distortion to create power chord

Edited by Anderton

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The Wahs

 

All I can say is someone at Line 6 is really into wahs—there are ten of them, and they all do convincing emulations. Now, I have to confess I’m not much of a wah connoisseur, because I fell in love with the original Clyde McCoy Vox wah-wah, still have it, and never felt the need to stray too far away from it. So whether these are spot-on emulations...I don’t know, but a wah is a relatively simple effect to emulate compared to something like distortion, so I suspect they got it right.

 

Wahs have more similarities than difference, and I didn’t want to get all “wine-taster” on you (“the Teardrop is pert, yet unassuming, with a subtle and enveloping high end..."). So I figured the audio examples would get across the differences, and while they did to some extent, so much of knowing what the response is going to sound like depends on the guitar itself. What to do...

 

Then I hit on what I hope y’all think was a good idea, as opposed to geekiness gone insane. I fed pink noise into Helix, then moved the pedal from heel to toe and back again while recording the results in Cakewalk SONAR. Furthermore, SONAR’s spectrum analysis window from the QuadCurve equalizer was opened up to show how moving the wah affected response. I didn’t change the levels of any of the examples, as one of the differences among various pedals is volume levels.

 

This may not be a very musical test, but it is quite revealing. You can see where the low peak is, how high it goes, how the resonance (sharpness) changes (or doesn’t), and the falloff at the higher and lower frequencies. Of course hearing how these changes affect the sound doesn’t hurt, either. Here are the wahs, what they’re emulating, and their parameters. Note that you can set the lowest and highest frequencies on some of these, indicated by Fc Low and Fc High respectively.

  • UK Wah 846 (Vox V846), Position, Mix, Level
  • Teardrop 310 (Dunlop Crybaby Fasel Model 310), Position, Mix, Level
  • Fassel (Dunlop Cry Baby Super), Position, Fc Low, Fc High, Mix, Level
  • Weeper (Arbiter Cry Baby), Position, Fc Low, Fc High, Mix, Level
  • Chrome (Vox V847), Position, Fc Low, Fc High, Mix, Level
  • Chrome Custom (Modded Vox V847), Position, Fc Low, Fc High, Mix, Level
  • Throaty (RMC Real McCoy 1), Position, Fc Low, Fc High, Mix, Level
  • Vetta Wah (Line 6 Original), Position, Fc Low, Fc High, Mix, Level
  • Colorful (Colorsound Wah-Fuzz), Position, Fc Low, Fc High, Mix, Level
  • Conductor (Maestro Boomerang), Position, Fc Low, Fc High, Mix, Level

The video tells the story, but some attributes are really obvious. For example the Tearbrop 310 starts at a lower frequency than the UK Wah 846, and the resonance becomes broader at its highest frequency. The Fassel doesn’t have a volume drop at higher frequency, and the Vetta Wah has a volume boost at higher frequencies. The Chrome Custom has the broadest resonance, the Maestro has that “boomerang” effect at the lowest frequency, and so on.

 

[video=youtube;INwkguDGzrg]

 

The takeaway on these effects is...if you want the sound of a wah pedal, you sure have a lot of choices, and they all bring their unique flavor to the party. And, it's considerate that when you insert a Wha block, it defaults automatically to being controlled by Expression Pedal 1.

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Like the Wahs, Pitch Wham is automatically assigned to EXP 1, so no pedal assignment should be necessary (unless you want it on EXP 2 or 3, of course). It also has a range of -24 ~ +24 semitones, so two octaves instead of one.

 

FWIW, Volume Pedal and Pan are automatically assigned to EXP 2 when added.

 

Very cool video on the wahs, Craig!

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So Mr. DI, this just proves that even if you don't know what you're doing, you can still make it happen :) Also sorry about +/- 12, I don't know why I typed that instead of 24. Maybe I had lowered expectations. BTW glad you liked the wah videos. I'm trying to figure out a way to record a sequence of guitar sounds and playing them through the Helix amps to give a "profile."

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No audio examples of the delays? Kinda want to hear what the harmony delay sounds like in action.

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Amp + Cab Time!

 

We've covered all the effects except some that were added in the last update, and some that are more utilitarian (e.g., using the pedal for panning). So let's get to the 41 amp+cab combinations. But first things first: I went into the global settings and enabled the input pad. As I've mentioned before, I use heavier-than-average gauge strings (0.10 instead of .009 or .008), a thumbpick that hits them harder than a thin flat pick, and a 2014 Les Paul Standard with beefy humbuckers. I tend to play hard, and using the pad made all the amps just that much sweeter.

 

Anyway, I've spent the better part of the evening trying to figure out how to possibly demo these. Sure, I can call up a preset and play, but what does that tell you? Nothing, except that I can call up a preset and play. I would prefer something more analytic, so you can understnd the gestalt of the amps, because they each have their own personality. So while I'm figuring this out, here are the highlights.]

 

Responsiveness. By and large, all these amps are more responsive than previous-generation Line 6 amps in that there's more interaction based on your playing style and pickup settings. Unlike amp sims that kind of put a coat of tone on your sound, the sound is more complementary and does more give-and-take with your playing. This gives more of the "feel" of playing with an amp, even when going direct and listening on headphones. Throw a little ambience on it, and there's more of a room feel. Actually pushing air with speakers adds another element of interactivity. Amps aren't just about tone, but feel; this generation of technology is definitely a step forward.

 

Versatility. This goes hand-in-hand with responsiveness, because you can coax a lot of different sounds out of a given amp+cab. For example, I felt the Line 6 Epic has a lot of emphasis around 2 kHz, which is just above the "honk" range and to my ears, sounds way too pushy in a mix when you're playing power chords. But when palm muting, that boost adds a lot of definition - and for use as a power chord, I dialed in a fairly deep cut at 2 kHz and to compensate for the dullness, gave a very low Q (0.1) +3.7 dB boost at 7 kHz. This resulted in a smooth, well-behaved sound with power chords, even with the treble pickup...and by the way, the sound varies considerably based on the pickup, volume, and tone control settings. Part of the reason I play the LP Standard is because with the various pickup switching options, it can do 14 distinct sounds without onboard electronics - so basically, this means 14 different sounds with each amp. See what I mean about being difficult to demo?

 

Brittle or not? One of the issues I have with all amp sims is their natural tendency toward brittleness. Sorry, they just do; those harmonics from extreme gain and distortion don't like the limits of digital audio. Fortunately, this can be tamed. Those who've used my CA-X amp sims in Cakewalk SONAR know what kind of sound I like - smooth, without "fizzing" and brittleness; but they took a lot of effort and processing to get there. Helix comes much closer to that ideal without doing anything other than loading an amp+cab, but you can polish these to a fine sheen (if that's what you want) with a little pre-amp and post-amp EQ. So while I give solid marks to the "native" sound, what's even more significant to me is how little effort it takes to tweak the sound to your liking. Oh, and have I mentioned that the user interface is really good so this is even easy to do?

 

The Controls. The amps+cabs have more similarities than differences. Most have three pages, with the first page including the typical amp controls of Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence, and Channel Volume. However this isn't always a given, depending on the amp being modeled; there may be two Drive controls for different channels, a Midrange Frequency control, a Tone control to accommodate other controls, the Cut control you'd expect from a Vox amp, etc. The second page is typically Master, Sag, Hum, Ripple, Bias, and BiasX. The third page is usually Cab settings including Mic (with 16 choices spanning models of popular condenser, dynamic, and ribbon mics), Distance (1" to 12"), Low Cut, High Cut, Early Reflections, and Level. If you think this multiplies the versatility even further...you're right. If you find that exhilarating, great. If you find that overwhelming, just dial up different amps+cabs and leave the experimentation for later.

 

The Cabs. It seems like Line 6 is doing something fundamentally different with the Helix cab technology. Maybe it's the amps but I'm ascribing the changes to the cabs; in any event, you don't have those "hollow" and "whistling" sonic anomalies common in many amp sims. The overall effect just sounds a lot more real.

 

So that's just the overview...and it took me almost two hours just to write this up! So let's get to the takeaway, but that requires an Ableton Live story.

 

I was at the Frankfurt Messe, and Ableton had come out with a new version of Live. Gerhard Behles asked how I liked the new features, and I sheepishly had to say I was still using Live pretty much the way I'd been using the previous version because it did what I needed. He wasn't offended at all, in fact he said that's fine, Live is a toolkit and you choose the tools you want.

 

Helix's options can be overwhelming, not because they're difficult to understand, but because there are so many ways to bend the sound. You can't help but think "Hey, this sounds pretty cool but what happens if I just try a different mic model..." and then you go down the rabbit hole of applied tweakology. Well, at least I do.

 

So here are some suggestions for wrapping your head around this,..

  • Open a user preset with nothing, and create one block for the amp+cab.
  • Dial up each ap+cab, and note which ones you like best. Pick a half dozen, and really get to know them.
  • Try different guitar electronics settings and pickup combinations to hear how they interact with the amps.
  • Play with the amp+cab parameters to understand how they affect the sound.
  • Resist the temptation to add effects so you don't alter the essential amp+cab character.

Once you have a go-to set of amps with which you're familiar, then you'll have a good foundation for experimenting with the routing possibilities, and creating your own presets.

 

Now, let me go back to thinking about how I can demo them in an effective way...

Edited by Anderton

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Craig, how does it do on semi-clean / semi-crunch type sounds? In my experience those tend to be some of the most difficult for amp sims to do convincingly.

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Craig' date=' how does it do on semi-clean / semi-crunch type sounds? In my experience those tend to be some of the most difficult for amp sims to do convincingly.[/quote']

 

One of the aspects of Helix that impressed me immediately was how well the amps handle the clean-to-breakup curve, they don't "switch" from clean to distorted.

 

I think the best way to demo the amps is to create a track with a variety of short guitar clips playing with varying degrees of force, as well as some palm muting, and feed the same track into Helix while calling up different amps. That way there will be a consistent method of comparison.

 

Although that doesn't illustrate the amp sounds in the context of playing, we'll have plenty of time for that when we get into assembling presets.

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I wanted to give an update, because it's been a few days.

 

Helix has 41 amp/cab combinations for guitar, as well as 7 for bass (and yes, we'll be covering bass as well). But the amps all have multiple parameters, there are miking options, you can mix and match amps and cabs...the bottom line is there are a huge number of options, so how can you possibly demo them?

 

After I realized "you can't," the next question was what would be meaningful? As I played with the amps, it became clear each had its own raw character; I immediately bonded with some of them, and not with others. So I recorded a 30-second dry guitar riff (bridge and neck pickup together) that starts off with palm muting, does an eighth-note figure that builds in terms of dynamics, and ends with three power chords, with the last one allowed to sustain so you can hear how how the sound goes from distorted down to nothing. I then played the recorded riff back through each amp/cab and recorded the sound of each option.

 

Of course, these are both the best and worst conditions to hear the amp models. Worst, because you invariably wrap other effects around them that dress up the raw sound. Best, because you can hear the "native" sound of the amp, so if you like a particular amp/cab, you know that's the one where you want to take advantage of the user interface and build a preset around it. For example, I'm already getting a lot of mileage out of the Interstate Zep and Mandarin 80 amps, and some of the Vox AC-type amps really sound good too. There were some other amps that were fine except for some annoying frequency response bumps, but preceding or following them with EQ gave just the sound I wanted.

 

Anyway, now that I have the clips recorded I'll put them into one of my audio/video demos, render, and post Friday night. After that, we'll take some of the amps and show how to turn them from raw amp sounds to polished presets.

 

 

 

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And now...the Amp+Cab presets. This is not for the impatient, as there are 41 guitar amps, and with about 30 seconds per amp, the audio example is long...about 23 minutes. However, before any rude comments get posted :), let me explain why this exercise is really important. (And bass players, don't worry...we'll cover the 7 bass amps as well.)

 

I’ve mentioned the user interface a lot, and with good reason. I know lots of people just like to dial up presets and aren’t interested in creating their own sounds; I understand that, because their goal is playing music. Others, certainly including myself, want to be able to tweak sounds to fit a particular context, as well as come up with new sounds. Helix is rich with possibilities, and even people who haven’t gotten into creating their own “signature sounds” might be tempted to do so with Helix.

 

But, you really need to know your “raw ingredients,” hence this exercise of playing the same exact riff into each amp so there’s a somewhat relevant basis of comparison. In the process of doing this, I found certain amps that I loved immediately; those are the ones around which I want to build presets. Others, like the Small Tweed and Divided Duo, I’ll probably never use. But, there were others that maybe had a little too much low end or didn’t break up nicely when hit really hard, but with a little bit of processing blossomed into their own.

 

Although the reason for doing the audio example was to accompany this Pro Review, that wasn’t my only motivation. I saved out the examples as an “audition file” that I can load into Sonar, and move the Now time around among the different amps to choose a suitable candidate on which to create a preset for a song. As such, it’s a reference I’ll be referring to in the future. Sure, you can spin the dial on the Helix interface, but being able to jump around the various clips gets you going in the right direction fast because with the same riff going through a range of dynamics, comparisons are easier.

 

So, take the time to listen to the “naked” amp examples, bearing in mind that you can see the amp types in the thumbnail above the timeline if you want to compare and contrast quickly. And also remember this is showing the amps in their rawest, least flattering—as soon as you start adding other effects, creating parallel paths, adding some judicious EQ, and getting some time domain processing involved it’s like one of those makeover shows on TV where they take some housewife and turn her into the picture of glamor.

 

The following shows the Line 6 Amp+Cab name, with a brief description. The video shows the Line 6 name and the name of the amp being emulated.

 

WhoWatt 100: Good crunchy amp with solid dynamic response

Soup Pro: Chunky, beefy distortion sound

Stone Age 185: Okay, but the distortion lacks focus and is rough

Tweed Blues Nrm: Bassy, too flabby, gets a bit bright when hit hard

Tweed Blues Brt: Same

US Small Tweed: The Fender Champ was never smooth enough for my tastes, so I’m not a fan of the emulation for the same reason

US Deluxe Nrm: Fat, solid sound on the dirty side of crunchy, gets bright when hit hard

US Deluxe Vib: Same

US Double Nrm: Convincing, fat, clean all-purpose Twin sound

US Double Vib: Same

Mail Order Twin: Has that pawn shop prize vibe, a little rough but still okay

Divided Duo: Don’t like the distortion character...sorry

Interstate Zed: Fat, responds really, really well to dynamics—one of my favorites

Jazz Rivet 120: Definitely a Jazz Chorus sound, but would probably use the Twin for clean sounds

Essex A-15: Too much “intermodulation distortion”-sounding for my tastes

Essex A-30: Another one of my favorites: great dynamic response, AC-30 tone

A-30 Fawn Nrm: Opens up well when hit hard, but don’t like the breakup as much as the Essex A-30

A-30 Fawn Brt: Same

Matchstick Ch 1: Tough, rough sound straddles clean and dirty well, good dynamics

Matchstick Ch2: Neither fish nor fowl...not a favorite

Matchstick Jump: Okay, but not a lot of dynamic variation

Mandarin 80: I’ve always liked Orange amps, and I like this emulation despite the lack of dynamic variation

Brit J-45 Nrm: Your big, fat Marshall but scatters when hit hard

Brit J-45 Brt: Same

Brit Plexi Nrm: I know this is for lead, but the distortion still sounds quite smooth with chords

Brit Plexi Brt: Again that fat Marshall sound, and the bright channel aspect works well

Brit Plexi Jump: Definitely a lead sound, not chord-friendly

Brit P-75 Nrm: Thick, gooey distortion that sounds really big when dialed back—another favorite

Brit P-75 Brt: Same, with the bright element doing what it’s supposed to do

Brit 2204: JCM-800 lead sound, still sounds good with chords if you want heavy distortion

German Mahadeva: I really like this sound’s character, one of my favorites

German Ubersonic: Quite bright, but if you trim EQ going in, you can tame it

Cali Rectifire: Sometimes I really like MESA/Boogies and sometimes not, but trimming the bass going in makes me like them more

ANGL Meteor: Cuts through mixes great with solos, a little excessive for chords

Solo Lead Clean: Clean sound with character, a chimier alternative to the Twin, another favorite

Solo Lead Crunch: Crunch is hard to get right, but this works well if you don’t drive it excessively hard

Solo Lead OD: Great lead sound, solid, big chords if you pull back drive a bit

PV Panama: This is a great all around amp, despite the limited dynamic response; it lends itself really well to processing via EQ

Line 6 Elektrik: Another amp that knows how to cut through a mix, although I find the distortion too jagged...but I want to try taming it

Line 6 Doom: Although intended to be big, bassy, and fat, you can coax quite a bit of variety out of this with EQ

Line 6 Epic: I liked this in its HD500 incarnation because its character isn’t like other amps; just don’t hit it too hard.

 

[video=youtube;hfD8n1Jcdjo]

Edited by Anderton

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Hi Craig,

 

What FW is currently running? The latest (1.06, released shortly after NAMM) includes 48 amp models. Also, earlier firmware versions had a bug where all amp models reset everything to the SM57 at 1", even though the model defaults were dialed in with other mics and distances. As you're well aware, an SM57 at 1" ain't the most pleasing tone in the world, unless you're trying to cut through a busy mix.

 

Yes, when we found that bug, we spent the afternoon in a fetal position in the corner, sobbing.

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Parallel, Splits, and General Mayhem

 

So far, we’ve covered many of the various “ingredients” in Helix. However like cooking, the whole point of ingredients is not eating them individually, but combining them together into something very cool—so that’s what we’re going to do next. Now that we know the basic collection of effects, amps, and cabs, it’s time to get creative and start crafting presets.

 

But first, we need to explore something that’s very cool about Helix: its routing capabilities. Most effects setups use a series routing, where the output of one effect feeds into the input of the next effect, and so on until the last effect feeds into an amp.

 

A parallel routing splits the guitar signal into two separate paths. This can provide stereo because now you have separate signals for the left and right channels, or you can re-combine the two paths back into mono if you want a more complex mono sound..

 

The way Helix is set up, you can combine series and parallel routings. For example, you can send the guitar through a compressor, then split after the compressor into two different distortion devices, which in turn feed two different amps—and each one of these can feed a different reverb, chorusing effect, chorus + delay, etc.

 

But wait - there's more! Helix inherently has a stereo path with right and left channels. If you assign both to your input of choice (e.g., multi, guitar, etc.), that’s already a split with two paths. Granted the concept of series and parallel routing isn’t exactly new, but what Helix brings to the party is the ways it can split each of those two paths into two more paths, for up to four parallel paths. Here’s how the splits work, and some typical applications.

 

Y: Sends the signal equally to two parallel paths.

  • Feed two amps that give complementary sounds. When combined back together in mono, this makes for a bigger sound than either amp by itself.
  • Create a big stereo image by having one amp in the left channel and a different one in the right channel.
  • Create EDM-friendly stereo imaging with tempo-synched effects in the two channels that run at different rates.
  • With bass, run the straight sound in one path, then put the effects in parallel so no matter which effects you add, the bass will always retain its bottom end.

A/B: This lets you change the ratio of the signal going to each path.

  • Helix gets extra points here because you can assign the A/B split to a footpedal, thus sending the guitar to two different sounds you can blend however you want. If combined back into mono, you can “morph” between two different sounds. For example you can set up a rhythm sound in one path and a lead sound in the other, then use the pedal to transition between them, which gives you two different sounds in a single preset.

Crossover: Send the high frequencies to one path, and the low frequencies to the other path.

  • Note you don’t have to use the crossover function; you can use EQ right after the split. But having a crossover is more convenient, and it guarantees that your signal is distributed evenly between the two paths—there won’t be any “holes” in the frequency response.
  • Send only the highs through reverb for a bright, articulated sound while the lower frequencies aren’t processed.
  • Use different delay times for the high and low frequencies (I tend to prefer setting the high-frequency delay for twice the speed or the lower delay).
  • Chorus the high and low frequencies independently.

Also note that you don’t have to use the same type of split for each pair of paths. For example the top path could be split with a Y block, and the lower path split with an A/B block.

 

Now that we have the basics down, let’s construct some programs that take advantage of this stellar feature.

 

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Dr. Igloo, I'm running the latest firmware, I should have been more clear that these were only the guitar amps, and the bass will come later during the "how low can you go?" segment of this review. Frankly I think Helix is great with bass and it deserves its own treatment. BTW loved the update...thanks for the extra stuff!

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I just noticed that post 55 mentioned the 41 guitar amps and 7 bass amps so I didn't omit the info completely...but I'll edit the amp post to make it clear what's up. Thanks for pointing this out.

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Epic Split Battles of History: Y Split vs. Crossover

 

In this corner...a standard Y split that feeds equal amount of guitar signal to the Line 6 Elektrik Amp + Cab and Line 6 Epic Amp + Cab in parallel.

 

And in this corner...a crossover split that feeds the guitar’s low frequencies into the Line 6 Elektrik Amp + Cab, and the high frequencies into the Line 6 Epic Amp + Cab, both in parallel,

 

 

[video=youtube;du2aQc-YK6E]

 

Check out the audio example. The first part has the standard Y split, while the second part uses the crossover split. The second example has a smoother, more rounded tone because there’s less of what’s called intermodulation distortion. The smoother sound is because one amp deals with distorting only low frequencies, while the other amp deals with distortion only high frequencies.

 

What’s particularly interesting about this example is I just loaded up two amps and the default crossover settings. My original plan was to tweak the preset so the difference would be obvious, but even with YouTube’s barbaric audio compression algorithm, the difference was clear enough I thought it would be even more impressive that I didn’t tweak it. But never fear, this is the first in a series and more extensive tweakage is yet to come.

Edited by Anderton

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It's important to note that all of Helix's four paths are stereo. With an A/B split, you're actually splitting both the L and R signals to two stereo paths. The Merge block then acts as a mixer for both stereo signals. Because of this, "Balance" would've been a more accurate name for the Mixer's "Pan" parameters, but it wasn't as familiar.

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The Helix Editor: This Changes Everything...

 

Having an editor available will certainly be welcome during the descriptions of building patches...taking pictures of panel settings is less than optimum, so I’ve kind of held back hoping the editor would be here soon. And it is, but more importantly, it exceeds expectations.

 

Currently this is a public beta, which means no one thinks your unit is going to blow up, but if it does, you have only your spirit of adventure and living dangerously to blame. That said, I wasn’t too concerned because so far, everything Helix-related has gone smoothly.

 

Using the editor requires a firmware update to 1.10. It was painless, and the documentation was clear about what needed to be done, so props for that. A few minutes later, the editor was open and ready for business. The window is resizable; I “squeezed” the width and height a bit to make the image easier to see in the forum context.

 

L8osg5c.png

 

I realize I’ve emphasized how great the hardware interface is, and the software is equally good. Although an editor is not as indispensable as with some other products because the hardware interface is so transparent, it’s super-easy to use. If the hardware and software editing capabilities don’t inspire people to create their own presets, then I don’t know what more anyone can do.

 

A few things impressed me immediately.

  • The look is very modern, quite “Windows 10”-ish. It also represents a melding of understated “Euro-neutral” grays and blacks, with more American-like splashes of color. It’s very pleasing to the eye, I could stare at this for hours...and probably will.
  • It’s made for touch, so much so I suspect someone in a back room at Line 6 has an iPad editor on the drawing boards. Several months ago I started using a 28” Planar touch monitor so I could do touch control in Cakewalk SONAR, and have come to regard touch not as a replacement for mouse and keyboard, but to supplement them and therefore allow for a more fluid, two-hand workflow. The Helix editor is a monster for touch control—from adding blocks, to moving them around, to changing the virtual sliders, and re-ordering presets. It’s brilliant, and totally intuitive.
  • It’s fully bi-directional. That’s to be expected these days, but still, it’s a good thing.
  • Despite being a beta, I tried to get it to malfunction because I wanted to see if it was in good enough shape to recommend, but also, companies always like it when you can find a reproducible bug. Admittedly I haven’t explored all the nooks and crannies, but it all worked as expected. If you want to try it out, I have yet to encounter any reason not to download the software. However, I do need to give the caveat that I’ve tried it only with Windows 10, so I don’t know how other operating systems will react.

Before I sign off for the evening, let’s zoom out for a second. It’s probably obvious that for me, Helix knocks it out of the park. I did not expect to be saying that about a multieffects in 2016; I’d gone over to the Dark Side of amp sims a long time ago. It’s not just about the sound and the user interface, though. With the update, the editor, and new presets, it sure seems my theory that Helix is a platform, not just an effects device, is on target. Helix may be Line 6’s iOS or Windows 10 in the sense of being something that keeps evolving over time rather than having a “start” and an “end.”

 

Unfortunately I’ve been kind of consumed with a big project lately, and will be away this week, so I won’t be able to follow up much. But if you like creating your own sounds, I highly recommend downloading the editor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s made for touch' date=' so much so I suspect someone in a back room at Line 6 has an iPad editor on the drawing boards.[/quote']Helix's editor was originally supposed to be iOS/Android only. Syncing 1,024 gigantic presets over Bluetooth took forever, and pros typically use Macs and PCs anyway, so we punted early on. AMPLIFi and Firehawk's UI paradigms are actually predated by Helix's, but we released them sooner, and since they have 128 much smaller presets, Bluetooth wasn't an issue. There's definitely a family resemblance though, both visually and UX-wise.
Edited by Digital Igloo
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Helix's editor was originally supposed to be iOS/Android only. Syncing 1' date='024 gigantic presets over Bluetooth took [i']forever[/i], and pros typically use Macs and PCs anyway, so we punted early on. AMPLIFi and Firehawk's UI paradigms are actually predated by Helix's, but we released them sooner, and since they have 128 much smaller presets, Bluetooth wasn't an issue. There's definitely a family resemblance though, both visually and UX-wise.

 

 

Cool, insider info :) That makes sense. I guess the only alternative would be to do a "programmer-only" iOS/Android app that tweaked whatever preset was selected on Helix.

 

BTW AMPLIFi 30 is very cool. More on that later!

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