Here is my first impression of the Helix, obviously it has only been out a few days so these comments may change or even be moot as Line6 hopefully continues to improve the product with future updates. I have separated my initial observations into three categories, "THE GOOD", "THE BAD", & "THE UGLY":
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Seems to be excellent build quality. It is a heavy (heavy in that good solid way) unit and seems like an exceptionally well constructed piece of hardware. The interface is revolutionary and astounding. The no-hands ability to modify settings on the fly with footswitches and pedals is a game changer. Fantastic idea. The internal routing options are incredibly flexible and intelligently laid out. The flexibility on footswitch assignations is great. Several knobs that live on the backs of other units are on the top of this one and very easy to see and manipulate in a live situation. Back panel has an incredible array of outputs and provides enormous potential and flexibility. This is critical as software/firmware can be changed by updates but you are pretty much stuck with whatever available hardware ships from the factory. Scribble strips!!!!!! What can you say, just magnificent. First encountered these on the Behringer X32 boards and again they are a game changer. They make the product so much easier to use and so much more informative at a glance. Different colored customizable lighted rings on footswitches. Again, just fantastic! Touch sensitive capacitance sensing foot switches that instantly jump you to a screen with the parameters for that amp/pedal. So cool, this makes programming changes from the pedalboard so much easier. This board will make you want to play bare-footed just to take advantage of the cap sensitive switches! If you already play barefoot, you must have this! You can make all your amp/effect pedal changes while standing up. One of my favorite features is the humble Hold/Edit button. This can instantly jump you from a pedalboard view with presets to a pedalboard view with each of your selected preset's pedals(each switch corresponding to a pedal instead of a preset), depending on how you assigned the pedals. This means you can essentially easily toggle on the fly between a preset and individual pedal view and all of the footswitches that correspond. This allows you to potentially toggle them with, up to I believe, 8 footswitches (10?), depending on your configuration. This feature alone is almost worth the price of admission. Pressing the bank switch can allow you to choose a preset and instantly revert back from individual pedal view to preset view. Inspired! The sounds seems pretty good. Have yet to encounter a multi-effect/modeler that I did not need to tweak to sound good to my ears and be an acceptable replacement for an analog rig. Time will tell on this account. Don't understand why every manufacturer seems to put out clean presets that sound so anemic. The distorted heavier presets seem to be better straight out of the box. I am fairly confident I can get this thing to sound amazing. The unit is responsive to volume changes, e.g. cleans up when guitar volume is attenuated but this is no longer such a revolutionary feature, other units can do this as well. Amazing detail on the amp/cab models with lots of nuance that can be customized, e.g. hum, sag. Nice job on this. Have not had a chance to play with the IR's yet. The control pedal is heavy duty and seems to have decent travel. Some criticism of this pedal in the "The Bad" section Lots of control switches with flexible configuration allows this board to be catered to the user. Bottom row preset change, top row pedal stomp; all pedal stomp; all preset stomp; etc.. Very well thought out. Larger screen although it could still be a bit bigger for maximum visibility. More on this in the "The BAD" section. The scribble strip above the control pedal with the default labels of "EXP1" and "EXP2" can be customized to indicate the assigned pedal's function. It also reflects values when you are editing pedal parameters. This all-in-one box is a high quality modeler and effects pedal board with lots of horsepower and functionality that does not require a separate rackmount and pedalboard or even a separate foot pedal (although apparently the Helix will be available soon as two separate units if you prefer). This one-stop compact solution to my live sound is one of the most compelling features to me in my ongoing efforts to streamline my rig. I have been going direct from my previous multi-effects/modeler to my PA for over two years now and I am sold, I almost never use an amp and pedals any more. With rare exceptions I never bring an amp/cab or FRFR to my gigs. A modeler/multi effects unit makes load in and load out much simpler with less back strain and I have more flexibility, require less tap dancing on my pedals and I don't have nearly as many possible points of failure as with my setup with tube amp, pedals, and cables. Despite all of the virtues of pedalboard direct to PA, I have never been quite able to hit the warmth, feel, and tonal complexity of my old school analog and tubes rig. I think the Helix is the unit that will finally deliver! I am looking forward to what I think will be a far superior and more consistent sound and user experience with the Helix. Can't wait to get this thing gig ready.
A much better screen than former Line6 multi-effects but the screen is still only a barely adequate size. It still does not compare screen real estate, brightness, or clarity with a decent tablet screen. It seems to be fairly low resolution and not very bright. Maybe I am just spoiled by modern tablet screens. The screen on the Helix is perfectly adequate for programming but not very impressive for live use and I wonder how visible it will be on an outdoor gig. Additionally the still relatively small size of the screen makes maximal useability and visibility of the home screen and its icons almost impossible. The home screen is more effective for programming than live use. More on my issues with the icons below. Wow, here we are in the touch screen era and users are still being forced to move blocks around and similar operations with a combination of button pushing and toggling. Future iterations of the Helix should employ a touch screen. I grant you Line6 made many of these operations as painless as possible with a very well thought out interface but it is still laughable when you compare it to how much easier many operations would be to manage with a touch screen. A touch screen would have made all sorts of operations much faster, more intuitive, and simpler. Although many of the Helix's features are inspired and game changing, in this one respect (no touch screen), it feels like they simply made the best horse and buggy possible. The Helix is an obvious candidate for a touch screen. Would love to see them add Bluetooth and an iPad app interface in the future. Although the build quality seems high I find myself concerned with some of the knobs such as the parameter, "Preset", toggle, "Volume", and "Phones" knobs. It seems like one errant kick of a foot or a clumsy person in the band or audience might easily break them off. Several of the knobs on this unit should have been protected with "fences" from accidental contact from stomp button changes or audience or band members. Either that or changed to less breakable knobs. Am also curious to see how well the toggle switch in particular will hold up over prolonged usage. My recommendation to Line6. Get out a good editor to reduce usage of the toggle and really all buttons. Good editors add ease of use and reduce warranty claims and repairs. With that said the programming ease and conception of the Helix are extremely well executed. Buttons like "Home", "Bypass", "Action" look like they may be particularly vulnerable to moisture. These buttons feel and look great but I wonder how immune to a bit of moisture they are. Some gigs the stage juts out practically into the audience area and I would hate to see this thing die from just a small bit of beer or water spilled on it. Icons, icons, icons. This is a bit of a preference thing so I almost hesitate to put it under "THE BAD" heading.. The icons that represent the blocks, e.g. amps, effects, routing, etc. are a bit small and as a result hard to differentiate in some cases while standing up if you don't have perfect 20/20 vision. Additionally, the icons are only by category e.g. amp, modulation, distortion, etc.. I would prefer to know whether I am looking at a preset with a Fender Twin or a Marshall Super Lead, a flanger or a chorus. Simply showing a general icon for "Amp" or "Modulation" is too vague. I would love to see each effect and amp have its own icon even if they were only slightly varied. Yes, you can drill down and see the specifics but it would be nice to be able to detect the effect or amp type from the home screen. Perhaps we could see cusomizable icons in the future so the user has the option to create a picture more meaningful to them. I also tend to prefer abbreviations unless icons are big enough to be clearly differentiated and large enough to offer a meaningful visual representation of what they refer to. This may become a non issue for me as I get more familiar with them. It might be nice to have the option to toggle between text or icon. Where are the inputs on the back panel for additional external control switches? Many multi-effects have this capability. Given the exhaustive array of input/output options on the rear panel I was surprised not to find this capability. I know you can use an expression pedal for some of this functionality but it is a nice option to be able to add a couple of external switches (often to work the bank changing) so that the existing switches on the Helix, for example, the bank switches, can be assigned for other purposes. Did I miss something here? Do the external switch jacks exist and I just failed to spot them? Is the slot on the top of the Helix chassis that the pedal recesses into isolated with a sleeve or separate compartment? If not this seems like an ideal location for humidity and dust or even worse for a spill to find its way into delicate electronics. The control pedal has a huge hex wrench that is required to adjust the travel resistance of the pedal. To be fair this is a great option. Just not sure I like the idea of always having to have the wrench handy. I also noticed that when you press the pedal toe-down to activate it, the rubber grommet underneath the pedal feels almost like it is sticking to the pedal board for a moment before you move it toe-up.
Why do I feel like I am the villager shouting "The Emperor has no clothes!" when it comes to Line6. The lack of amp models and particularly effects models on the Helix is shocking and in my opinion unacceptable for a unit this expensive. Cheap $150 pedals match this unit for the number of effect emulations. Most boutique effects and even very commonly used ones are totally missing with the exception of a few (would love to see a "reverse" effect btw). The lack of selection on even basic bread and butter effects is abysmal. I believe there is only one phaser option.. The one phaser (a simple MXR Phase 90 emulation) has almost no adjustable parameters and like the oriiginal pedal it emulates does not even allow the number of steps to be selected, e.g. 4 steps, 8 steps, 12 steps. There is no biphase option as far as I know. I don't mean to sound obsessive about phasers, I use it to illustrate a point. There are so many basic effects that are either missing or only provide one or two options where other units provide many. There are shockingly few distortion and overdrive pedal choices although this is probably one of the better populated of the categories and it is still pathetic for a unit of this price and potential. There are zero, I repeat zero reverb emulations other than Line6 emulations, no Lexicon, nothing! The list goes on and on as in, there are very few options in every effect category with the possible exception of wah choices. Wow! This is a situation that Line6 absolutely must remedy! What gives guys? This is simply unfair and needs to be fixed with software updates. I agree with people that say, "better one good effect than ten crappy emulations" but this is just ridiculous! Hire some programmers, get them with some musicians with good ears and please address this. It is an outrage that so little effort was put into providing adequate choices and options. How can you guys not see this is a huge problem? Looking forward to firmware updates that include new amps and effects! No one is saying you need to cater to every single request for each user's favorite amp or pedal but the Helix has yet to hit even an acceptable baseline for the number of available amp/cabs and effects. If more and I mean many more amp and pedal choices are coming in the future please let us know or the usual trolls and idiots will start saying that we don't need them and picking a fight with everyone who is pointing out such an obvious shortcoming in what appears to be such a stellar piece of hardware. No wonder Line6 kept the list of amps and pedals on the Helix under wraps for such an unusually and atypically long time. Were they scrambling right up to the release date just to get the few in that exist? I don't know whether this is the result of an overly complicated development process, a need to deliver particularly high quality emulations, and/or a lack of manpower, or something else but this is a very disturbing, disappointing, and gaping lack in the Helix. I think most of us really expected to see a fully fleshed out selection of amps and effeects in this "flagship" product. Thankfully this is a problem that hopefully can easily be addressed with firmware updates if Line6 realizes how serious this issue is and is willing to commit the resources to fixing it. I would hope there is enough spare memory already on board to add additional amps and effects. The current list of amps and pedals is just embarassing. I promise you, the majority of your general user base needs, wants, and IMHO at this price point, deserves more high quality amps and pedal choices in every category! Thanks!