Line 6 strips down its venerable Helix unit into an easy-to-manage stompbox that you can chuck in a gigbag or even a cargo-pant pocket. Words by Peter Hodgson.
Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #131. Subscribe to our print edition here!
The Line 6 Helix is ridiculous, in the best possible way. In its floorboard format, it’s the most performance-friendly processor on the market and can do pretty much everything. But it’s also priced justifiably high, and not all players need every feature it offers. For those who want a more streamlined onstage experience, Line 6 now offers the diminutive little HX-Stomp: a professional-grade processor which packs Helix amps, cabs and effects in an ultra‑compact pedal.
The HX-Stomp is still loaded with plenty of sounds – over 300 amps, cabinets and effects, plus a looper. We’re talking all of the same HX models found in the Helix line, plus the legacy effects library from Line 6’s M-Series pedals and stompbox modellers like the iconic DL4.
In their marketing, Line 6 suggests using the HX-Stomp as a ‘super stompbox’, a backup or travel rig, an add-on tone expander when combined with other modellers, an audio interface, or even a complete guitar or bass rig. That last point deserves more emphasis; the full-sized Helix is great for all the other uses mentioned, but the stripped-back control layout and gigbag-sized format means the HX-Stomp is a really great option for players who maybe need just a clean, a rhythm and a lead sound per gig, rather than an entire warehouse worth of gear.
Say you have a metal gig coming up; load up three metal-friendly tones in a bank and there’s your entire setup for the night. Blues gig? Get yourself a clean Dumble-like tone, a jangly overdriven Fender tone and a Tube Screamer‑into‑Marshall tone, and you’re set.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s look at the streamlined control layout and connections. Around the back, you’ll find stereo inputs (use the left one for mono), an expression pedal jack and a USB output, along with the 9vDC, 3A jack. On the right side of the unit, you’ll find a stereo effects send and return, and on the left side are a headphone output plus MIDI In/Thru jacks.
Top controls are really minimal: a Master Volume, plus a few button-knob combos for scrolling and saving. Then there are three buttons underneath the full-colour screen, which become whatever control you need them to be.
Finally, there are the four stomp switches which can be colour-coded and assigned to call
up presets or toggle effects on and off. You can use the HX‑Stomp in all sorts of ways – plugged into the front of an amp, as a USB recording interface, in ‘four cable method’ with an amp (where you effectively insert the amp’s preamp in the loop of the HX-Stomp so you can then route effects both before and after your amp’s preamp), in a hybrid amp/direct setup, into powered speakers, with headphones, or with another modeller (especially when employing
the HX‑Stomp’s MIDI capabilities).
STEP ON IT
Sonically, this is very much a Helix, so if you’ve played that unit before in its floorboard or rack‑mounted configurations, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, imagine incredibly interactive amp models that respond in just the right way, combined with extremely high effects parameter editing capabilities that allow you to do anything from create a real-feeling amp setup to ultra whacked-out laser sounds, and everything in‑between.
One thing that hardcore Helix owners will notice is that you’re limited to six effect blocks here, so depending on your needs, you may need to be a little more restrained in your effect choices, because each block represents one aspect of the sound. A lot of players will want delay and reverb on all the time, and of course you need an amp, so that means three blocks are already accounted for.
Then again, if you really want to go overboard with effects, maybe the bigger Helix options are more your speed. This unit really seems to be about making a Helix available for anyone who can benefit from one, and that includes players who don’t need a dozen effects.
It’s also worth noting that the HX-Stomp is great as a bass rig, giving you plenty of amp models and effects in a footprint no bigger than the average DI box. There’s plenty of flexibility for any bass gig, and some of the more out-there effects will really come in handy for players who need the odd synth, sub-octave or envelope filter textures.
Add an expression pedal, and you can indulge in your greatest Doug Wimbish Whammy Pedal freakout, or fade in synth-pad textures underneath your bass notes.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Line 6 established this format of ‘A POD for all seasons’ back in the company’s early days, and it’s great to see it continue through the Helix family of products. It really allows everyone to get their hands and feet on these highly desirable and expressive sounds, and the HX-Stomp is the perfect option for those who want the sounds, but not the plethora of footswitches.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Hundreds of sounds
• Plenty of I/O options
• Colour-coded footswitches
• Works as a USB interface
• Easy to set and forget
• Easy to edit too
• Great onstage visibility
• Only six sound blocks
Ph: (03) 9693 5111