Line 6 unveils the latest evolution of Helix, and this time, it’s BYO hardware. By Peter Hodgson
Line 6 has been at the forefront of amp and effects modelling since the days of the legendary kidney-shaped red POD and the classic Amp Farm and POD Farm software (for those unaware, that brings them all the way back to the technologically clunky days of the late ‘90s). When they came out with the POD HD series of processors in 2010, it felt like the company had hit a new high, but then they went and surpassed it with the Helix. The Helix line of devices hasn’t been out for very long, but it’s already spawned a more stripped-down version for those whose budgets don’t quite extend to the full-priced and full-function unit. And now you can get your hands and trackpad on the Helix Native software, which is essentially to the Helix what POD Farm was to POD.
Helix Native is a plugin that delivers the HX Modelling technology of the Helix to your desktop, giving you the same vintage and modern amplifier recreations, speaker cabinets, microphones, effects and extensive signal-routing capabilities as the original unit. Its presets are compatible across the entire Helix family, so whether you have a Helix Floor, Helix Rack or Helix LT, you can easily transfer your sounds from one model to another. There are also various price options that give you a discount if you’re a registered user of one of the hardware units.
Of course, what you miss by this being an app instead of a hardware item is the ease of integrating it within a live rig. That’s certainly not impossible, though – hell, if you have a good enough interface, you could use Helix Native on a laptop, have your drummer play to a click track and have all of your sound changes handled without having to ever step on a pedal if you don’t want to. But it also means that, to a certain degree, the final sound depends on the quality of your digital and analog converters. If you want authentic responsiveness and signal-to-noise ratio, you’re going to want to use an interface with an amp-style impedance input.
Helix Native offers 64-bit performance on AAX, AU and VST3 platforms, and it’s loaded with 60 amplifiers, 30 speaker cabinets and 100 effects. And if our past experiences with Line 6 are anything to go by, they aren’t going to stop there.
We’ve already reviewed the Helix Floor and LT in these pages, so the question becomes, “What does Helix Native offer that’s unique?” Well, for starters, it’s much more cost-effective because you’re not dealing with the extremely high-quality hardware involved in the Helix Floor, Rack or LT. And what you get in return is a very DAW-friendly layout that puts the focus on Helix Native when you need it in a hurry. The user interface is also very intuitive – not only for the amp and effect controls, but particularly for the application’s signal routing capabilities.
The tones it can produce are stunning, especially with a nice recording interface and quality monitors. Part of it is down to the studio‑quality effects, and the fact that you can create your sounds within your tracks in order to make them fully sit within the mix. You can build a sound that perfectly fits the song, right down to the ambience and EQ, then transfer that to your live rig if you have a hardware version of the Helix. The 16 microphone models give you plenty of variety (although you can only select distance, not axis, so that limits your flexibility somewhat). It would be great to have more stompbox models to play with (no direct TS-9?), but there is a TS808 Tube Screamer onboard. There are also other surprises to be unearthed, like models of the Kowloon Walled Bunny overdrive – a particularly obscure, but very cool pedal – the Z.Vex Fuzz Factory, the Klon Centaur, Chandler Tube Driver and more.
Another great thing about Helix is that it gives you access to Hum and Ripple controls, which let you adjust how much virtual ‘heater hum’ and ‘AC ripple’ there is to interfere with your tone. Ever felt bummed that amp sims sound just too clean, and you’re more at home with something that includes all the idiosyncrasies of a real amp – even the less favourable ones? This lets you control those nebulous little factors. These controls don’t seem to make a massive, earth-shattering difference, but they make enough of an impact to sell the illusion.
One thing that players might have a bit of an issue with – and this goes for any plugin version of amp modelling software – is the lack of physical controls. We’re all very much conditioned to reaching for the tone, volume and gain pots on an actual amp, but what a lot of guitarists don’t seem to have cottoned onto yet is that there are plenty of MIDI control surfaces that do this job perfectly. A great example is the Launch Control by Novation: it has 16 control knobs and eight buttons that you can map to any controls in Helix, including amp and effect knobs.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Helix Native is great if you want to figure out if the hardware version is right for you, since you’ll be able to get a taste of Helix’s library of incredibly lifelike amp models, effects and signal-routing capabilities. And if you already have a Helix but it doesn’t really fit in with your preferred DAW workflow, it’s a pretty reasonable investment for the ability to craft song-specific sounds in the recording process that you can then transfer to your onstage rig.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• 60 amps, 30 cabs and 100 effects
• Easy-to-navigate screen
• AAX, AU and VST3 support
• Compatible with all three Helix units
• Easy workflow
• Great quality sounds
• Super intuitive
• None! Even the price is reasonable
Ph: (03) 9693 5111