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Helix or Axe8 ? And do you still NEED compressors ?

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Greetings all

 

Just about to pull the trigger on a Helix or an Axe8. The long time Line 6 customer in me is leaning towards the Helix, especially since I have a JTV and a DT50 half stack. I'm very curious about the Axe8 as from what i can gather online from reviews and comparisons the Axe8 appears to have a very slight edge in modelling quality and tone. 

 

Getting to the point, with all the previous versions of the PODs you always had to put a compressor or a drive pedal in front the amp model to really get it sounding and feeling good and the gain really sizzling. As opposed to plugging into the real amp and rarely needing one. Is it still like this with the Helix ? I know this is a very subjective question, but a lot of Line6 users I know feel the same way. Unfortunately I'm unable to demo either in advance as no stores where I live will stock the Helix, and obviously Axe8 is by order only. 

 

Opinions and thoughts appreciated. Happy Monday !!!!!

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I only use the compressors for the "squish" on the front end of the modeled amps. Definitely not necessary in terms of tone. I also get "grit" from the amp models in a normally aspirated fashion, just cranking the gain on the model via snapshots. OD on the front end is not necessary to get the "feel". Again, ODs not necessary, but still useful depending on the sound you are trying to achieve. 

 

You may want to play a Helix first before making your decision. Since you are already familiar with Line 6 stuff, you will find it very easy to navigate. Coming from an M13, I found the interface to be very familiar and intuitive. 

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For mid-gain, or slightly more, lead tones, on the HD, I found myself automatically throwing a compressor at the beginning of the chain no matter what the amp used was. Not so for Helix. On the contrary, I find a compressor destroys, or at least diminishes, the rich and open feel from just the amp (the Mesa Mark IV). In fact, lately I find myself not even using any distortion models.

 

For higher gain, rhythm type tones, a compressor can help tighten things up and tame any low end, but it's not absolutely essential.

 

For cleaner type tones, I'll put a compressor at the very end of the chain.

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It seems like you are mainly interested in hi-gain tones.  The physical amps and the models based on them have plenty of their own gain, but the feel and response of them changes completely if you decide to boost them.  For modern high gain sounds, using an overdrive (gain off, level 80-100%) or compressor in front of the amp is just about always the way to go, with both physical amps and with modelers.  I've found this to be the case with my experiences using Axe FX Ultra, Ax8, Axe FX 2, Kemper, and Helix.  

 

The good thing about all the newer generation of modelers is that they also react very realistically if you decide to use a physical OD or comp stomp in front of the unit (just more very subtle tone options - the tubescreamer's nasally tone doesn't work for boosting every amp to my ears).

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do you mean a real pedal in front of the unit.?

 

No. The models inside Helix.

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the tubescreamer's nasally tone doesn't work for boosting every amp to my ears

 

No it wont. It does one thing real well. It tightens up flab. If you want a tighter low end,  then the screamer is your guy. If you like the lows you are getting then something with a flatter response might be in order.

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As the Helix is readily available from many vendors, and some also provide a product satisfaction period of 30 days, or more, you may want to consider trying the Helix first. If you're not sufficiently impressed, you can always give the other unit a go. If you've got enough room on your credit card you could start with both and return the one that doesn't do it for you.

 

As soon as I got the Helix in my hands, I knew I had made a great choice.

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There's two basic places to put a compressor in a guitar signal chain. The first is in front of the amp, often the first or nearly the first block in the signal chain. This compressor sees the raw input of your guitar and can be used to control pick attack, provide a bit of clean sustain, and even out small variations in picking and chording for a smoother, more glued together clean tone. When placed in front of a distorted amp, the compressor mostly changes the gain into the distortion which can change the coloration of the distorted sound a bit, especially for the attack. Use slow attack and fast release for smooth, natural clean compression. Use faster attack and slower release with really distorted tones to hit the distortion stages with a more consistent signal to provide a smoother, creamier tone.

 

The second place is after the amp, closer to the end of the signal chain. The L2A compressor model is a good choice for this situation. A compressor after a clean amp will have a similar effect as a compressor before the clean amp (since the gain stages are not distorted, i.e.: linear). The difference is the impact the compressor can have on the after the amp effects. If you put it at the end of the signal chain, it can help glue together the delays, choruses, and reverbs that provide time and frequency ambience. For a distorted amp, compression after the amp can have a similar effect as the amp sag, but the dynamics might be a bit different. 

 

So compressors can play a key role in many different tone styles, in Helix or any other context.

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The second place is after the amp, closer to the end of the signal chain. 

 

Thats where mine usually go, but before the delay and verb.

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Helix vs AX8 - Had the same dilemma myself, and here's why I decided on the Helix:

1. Better on-board UI

2. Practically the same tone - albeit with a lot more tweaking.

3. Great custom tone repository

4. Works as a USB audio interface - $ saved

5. Built in expression pedal - $ saved

6. Routing options

7. Dynamic DSP and no limitation on how many instances of a block can be used - I believe the AX8 allows only one instance of each effect or amp block - plus one DSP chain is dedicated to the AMP and the other to effects.

 

Of course, if you're in the US it's a lot easier to get one or both, try them and keep the one you prefer.

 

Re: Compressors - I dislike them for Hi Gain as they make the tone sound unnatural to me. For clean sounds however, I like this characteristic.

 

YMMV.

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I believe the AX8 allows only one instance of each effect or amp block - plus one DSP chain is dedicated to the AMP and the other to effects.

 

 Really? So I use three delays in one patch. Two in parrallel as multitap and that would not be possible on Axe?

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 Really? So I use three delays in one patch. Two in parrallel as multitap and that would not be possible on Axe?

https://wiki.fractalaudio.com/axefx2/index.php?title=AX8_versus_Axe-Fx_II#Effects_and_parameters

 

Under the section "Effects and Parameters":

 

"

Compared to the Axe-Fx II there are a few differences in blocks supporting X/Y switching. There is one instance available of each effect, for example a single Compressor block, Amp, Cab, Pitch etc, with some exceptions. All "types" within a specific effect (all amp models, all compressor types etc.) are included.

 

"

 

I think 2 delays and 2 drives are possible though. 

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Anyhow, I don't think the real comparison should be between the AX8 and the Helix.

 

It should be the Axe FX II vs the Helix.

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It should be the Axe FX II vs the Helix.

Axe FX II + control pedalboard is not in the same price range as Helix, is it ?

 

Also more effect loops on the Helix, maybe useless for most users. I was thinking about keeping my current fuzz and disto, and maybe even my tube amp (hard to totally cross the line :) ).

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Axe FX II + control pedalboard is not in the same price range as Helix, is it ?

 

Also more effect loops on the Helix, maybe useless for most users. I was thinking about keeping my current fuzz and disto, and maybe even my tube amp (hard to totally cross the line :) ).

 Which makes the Helix an even more attractive option IMO.

 

Regarding the multitude of I/O options..I don't use them much myself but it's good to know that they're there when you might need them right?

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