Line 6 has always pioneered amp modelling and effects, but the Helix aims to be king of
them all. By Peter Hodgson
The Line 6 Helix is a revolution in guitar signal processing. This is what folks in 1980 might have imagined the guitar would be like in 2017. It’s a full-function sound centre that does pretty much everything you’ll ever need a guitar device to do - how the heck do you review something like that? We’ll give it a shot!
SO WHAT IS IT?
At the most basic level, the Helix is a multi-effects floorboard processor and amp simulator, but it can be more or less than that depending on what you need it to do. In other words, it can function as a controller for your existing system, it can be your entire signal chain apart from your guitar itself, or it can integrate seamlessly with the rest of your rig in all sorts of interesting ways. For instance, you can use it in ‘four cable method’, or you can plug four separate pedals into four separate loops to be integrated within your patches at will.
Equipped with Line 6’s new HX modeling engine, the Helix contains brand-new models of modern and vintage amps, cabs, mics and effects, and it has limitless signal-routing capabilities. Inside, you’ll find 50 amps, 30 cabs, 16 mics and over 70 effects, and you can use up to four simultaneous amplifiers and a whopping 32 simultaneous effects across four discrete stereo signal paths. Yes, you can plug a guitar into one input and a bass into another and have two completely separate rigs, cutting down on your setup time and freight costs. Between the large colour LCD display screen, the fully-writable screens above each of the (colour-changeable) foot switches and the array of physical knobs, it’s an incredibly intuitive system to use. If you find yourself in a bit of trouble, there’s a home button that takes you back to safety straight away. If you need to get to the amps, there’s an amp button too. There’s also an XLR mic in, an 8-in/8-out USB recording interface (seriously), built-in expression pedal, inputs for three more expression pedals, an amp control input for changing channels on a physical amp... There’s a huge amount of power here to make the Helix anything you want it to be.
The new firmware update - 2.10 - brings a stack of new features to the Helix, including control improvements and a pair of new amplifier models inspired by the PRS Archon, the new Line 6 Litigator model (think Dumble), new Stupor OD mono and stereo distortions, and a new Pitch Echo delay effect.
So, how does it sound? Well, that’s where things get really fun. Helix’s models sound incredible, especially when you really explore exactly how touch sensitive the medium-gain models are. Just like a tube amp, it rewards players with great control. The high-gain sounds are monstrous, the clean sounds are pristine, and the effects are great. Perhaps the delays and reverbs sound more ‘studio quality’ than ‘stompbox-style’, but that’s a very minor issue: “Oh no, my delays and reverbs sound too good!” You can get ultra-creative with your effects, including some very nice simulated bass sounds and some great pitch-shifted delays. From a usability standpoint, too, you can create song-based snapshots with different intro, verse, chorus and solo sounds. You can treat the Helix like an amp with a bunch of effects pedals, or you can use it as the pre- and post-gain effects for your physical amp - or, you can integrate it with a Line 6 Variax guitar for even more control. Basically, it just does everything you could ever ask for.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Helix’s biggest competitors are the Axe-Fx and the Kemper Profiler. Like any piece of gear, each has its strengths. The Helix will appeal most to those who need extreme flexibility and aren’t scared to go deep into the editing process, but the way everything is laid out makes it extremely intuitive to learn. It may not have the sheer number of available amps as its competitors, but what it does have is incredibly adaptable and there will be more amps in further firmware updates.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Dual DSP-powered HX modeling engine
• 50 amps, 30 cabs, 16 mics and over 70 effects
• 6.2” LCD display
• 12 touch-sensitive footswitches for editing
• 10 inputs, 12 outputs (including 4 effects loops)
• Incredibly flexible
• Very roadworthy
• May take a little while to learn if you’re not into digital
Ph: 03 9693 5111