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Is Helix really as responsive and fun as a good valve amp?

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Hi, I have owned 5 PODs since 1999, and still have my trusty old V2 and XT, which I still use from time to time and get some decent tones from. I have always enjoyed Line 6 gear, and now I'm umming and arrrring about Helix .... BUT the very fact that all processor-driven devices time-out so quickly (= devalues fast) plus the fact that the cost of a Helix is not far south of a decent amp head makes this a completely different proposition. 

 

But i'm still curious, and there's one thing that might persuade me.

 

I'm a great believer in getting a good basic amp tone ... not masked by gain or other effects ... just a simple tone say, of a Plexi or AC30 with no heat dialed in at all. Over the years I have been able to get an approximation from the XT, but then when I A/B it against my Marshall 1987x or Blackstar Artist I am sorely reminded what all those components are doing! Both amps give great dynamic clean tones, and are a joy to noodle around with without any effects.   I well remember from my first beanie how important it is to have that benchmark, because it's so easy to go off piste with modelling. 

 

So is Helix really able to re-create the glorious base tones and dynamic of a good valve amp? Most of the U-Tube stuff tests hi gain models which I know L6 do well (remembering now my 500x) but I haven't seen evidence that Helix can perform well at clean and 'just clipping' tones.   

 

I'd like to hear from a Helix owner who doesn't always do hi gain tones, and has perhaps compared the playability of the Helix against a decent valve amp. 

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Here's the review I posted on TGP. hopefully this is helpful.

 

First, a little about myself, history and usage. I'm not a pro. I'm a piddler. I've run the gamut of gear. From high end boutique tube amps, killer pedal boards, all the way back to the OG Line 6 Pod, Flextone, Behringer V-amp rig through tube power amps for live etc. I've played in original rock bands, playing in bars and I've played at my church. Currently I only exclusively do the latter as I've got a wife and 4 kids and a career so playing in a band is just not a priority right now.

 

For the last 5 years of playing at my church I've run my pedal board with the usual suspects for this genre on it into the front end of either an Orange TH30, Matchless HC-30, Port City Pearl or 65 Amps Producer all into 1x12 cabinets, mic'd up with a 57 and a Cascade Fat Head mic. I've always struggled with getting the sound I hear coming out of the amp to translate well to what I hear in my in ear monitors and what comes out of the PA in the house for any number of reasons (my amp at home, backline at church, cab is in a small iso box not really treated well, mic placement variables, etc. etc.) So I decided to switch to DI in from a Helix to give me more consistency and flexibility in terms of effects routing in hopes that I could solve this problem. I chose the Helix mainly because the Kemper always seemed a little intimidating to me from what I had seen and I didn't really like the interface on either it or the Axe FX from what I had seen. The Helix, from the demo's seemed to be really good in that department.

 

I purchased an Alto TS115A for home monitoring to help me get my patches set up at home as closely as possible to what they might sound like through the PA at church. I figured if I want to match a PA I'll run it through a PA speaker.

 

First off, I never thought a modeler would give me the same responsiveness and feel of an amp. Man was I wrong. The Helix (for my taste) does it. The thing that's always been missing in modelers I've tried and used in the past was that "feel" and dynamic responsiveness. The Helix nails it. I'm beyond impressed by the quality of the amp tones, especially the low gain and clean tones this thing does. That's where modelers always seemed to really suck in the past and the Helix excels in that department.

 

2nd, I am super impressed by how good the OD pedal models are. Again, very real, very believable extremely usable. I'm not one to be pedantic when it comes to guitar stuff, I'm pretty much a pragmatist. Does the 808 model sound like an 808? I don't know. But it sounds good. And it is very usable unlike what I've experienced in the past with Line 6 modeled OD effects (mainly M series. Unusable). The other FX are also pretty great as well, but I'm used to that from Line6. They've always done well with mod/delay/verb stuff so I'm not surprised by that.

 

3rd. The interface is stupid simple. The default positions of all the amps and fx really seem to capture the "essence" of that thing, whatever it may be. In other words, if you want that classic "AC 30" sound from your amp, drop in the AC30 model and it's pretty much spot on with minimal tweaking. I find that to be insanely useful. For almost any OD, or amp model, I find I'm able to drop the model in, maybe tweak the drive a bit to taste and maybe adjust the treble control to suit my particular guitar and I'm 95% of the way there. Quick. Easy. No fuss, not hours tweaking and agonizing to get it just right. It just works. I love that.

 

4th. My "Alto Speaker as Home Monitor" setup worked like a charm. What I dialed up at home, sounded consistent and as expected in practice. I was very intentional about using the high and low cuts on the cabs (more on this later) to make sure I approached it more from "cab mic'd up to a PA" position than an "amp in a room" position and that worked beautifully. The sound guys said he had cut it a little bit at about 150 Hz and then a little notch in the 2.5k to 3k range which is pretty standard for guitar. Otherwise, he was very complimentary about it and really liked that it didn't have that "speaker in box" low/mid thing we're always having to fight with the current setup.

 

5th. I bought the Ownhammer Studio Pack of IR's. Huge upgrade. Line 6 cabs sound good. Ownhammer sound much better. More alive. More open. Totally worth the money.

 

Finally: It did exactly what I wanted it to do. My IEM sound of my guitar has never sounded better. What I got in my ears is exactly what I heard in my house and what I had intended it to sound like. It was majorly refreshing. It DOES NOT sound like being in a room with a cranked amp. It sounds like a really awesome amp being mic'd up in a studio. And it does respond and FEEL like a real amp. That's what I love about it.

 

Am I hard core in the modeling camp and swearing off tube amps forever?? No. But I will say, for the circumstances and the scenario that I'm subject to at this particular venue at this particular time, I believe I've found the best solution. If I was in an original band again, playing bars with an amp on stage and a floor wedge, I'd go back to my amp/pedalboard setup in a heartbeat. Tube amps are just fun!!

 

Hope this has been helpful!

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to answer your question simply put:  YES I think the helix behaves and reacts just like a real tube amp. That was one of the very fist things I noticed about it.  Oh and the Helix does "Clean" very very well with alot of harmonic content. I actually did a video on that aspect of the Helix concentrating on Clean sounds.

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I think a lot depends on how you're approaching something like a Helix.

 

You will hear a lot of comments from people they can't get the "amp in the room" kind of feel from the Helix.  And that's true.  Because it's not an amp in the room.  However, if you were to mic that amp in the room and play it through a FOH system or record it, it would be the same.  That's because the Helix is designed to be a complete production guitar system, not just an amp.  It will model the amp and the effects.  It will also model the cabinet and the mic and the placement of the mic.

 

The best way I've found to think about the Helix is that it's almost the same as having a portable recording studio filled with equipment that you can wire up and capture any way you want.  Combine cabinets, combine amps, place effects in creative ways within the signal chain.  But you can do it easily and get these advanced/creative setups at the touch of a pedal in a live or studio environment.\

 

That being said, although it's a relatively easy environment for doing such things, it does require a bit more detailed understanding than simply plugging into an amp and playing.  In order to master it you may need to increase your level of understanding about cabinets, mics and mic'ing techniques, EQ, and signal routing that you may never have encountered before if you want to get the most out of it.  Nothing HAS to be that complex.  You can certainly just plug in and play, but it will ultimately be a mic'd amp sound.

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Yes, just basic tube amp tone and feel is as simple as dropping an amp and cabinet model into a preset, and letting 'er rip. If you want "amp in a room" sound, connect Helix to a powered PA speaker (or two) and let 'er rip. 

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I've had lots of tube amps and lots of Line 6 products, the last one being the Pod HD500. I think the Helix is miles ahead of anything Line 6 has produced previously. And yes, there's a lot of clean and semi-clean amp options in it including a wonderful sounding model of the Vox AC-30. Semi-clean/dirty models were something that I used to perceive as problematic with Line 6's DMAs, but not anymore! I think the amp models are at least 95% as responsive as their tube amp counterparts and Helix is way more fun than any all-tube amp because it can do so much more! The only thing you might miss is the "plug in and play" factor. You can tweak a great tube amp to taste in a matter of 2 minutes; it's going to take more effort with Helix. But a little patience and determination is going to be well worth the effort if you ask me! For the first time ever, I don't have any nostalgic impulses to go back to tube amps.

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I've had lots of tube amps and lots of Line 6 products, the last one being the Pod HD500. I think the Helix is miles ahead of anything Line 6 has produced previously. And yes, there's a lot of clean and semi-clean amp options in it including a wonderful sounding model of the Vox AC-30. Semi-clean/dirty models were something that I used to perceive as problematic with Line 6's DMAs, but not anymore! I think the amp models are at least 95% as responsive as their tube amp counterparts and Helix is way more fun than any all-tube amp because it can do so much more! The only thing you might miss is the "plug in and play" factor. You can tweak a great tube amp to taste in a matter of 2 minutes; it's going to take more effort with Helix. But a little patience and determination is going to be well worth the effort if you ask me! For the first time ever, I don't have any nostalgic impulses to go back to tube amps.

This has been my experience as well. Almost exactly...lol

 

I am very impressed with Helix - just for a test, I set up the deluxe reverb and tried to replicate my Allen Accomplice for tone. It took some tweaking. Honestly, I could use either the Helix or my Accomplice and you'd be hard pressed to tell which is which.  I need a better way to amplify the Helix - likely going down the DXR10 or 12 path. 

 

I also agree with one of the previous posts on the OD's. With my valve amp, I use a Fulltone Fulldrive, Timmy, and MXR Carbon Copy - the FX in the Helix sound pretty much the same as my pedals. 

 

I never could get the tones and responsiveness with the HD, or XT, or my old Bean POD - not even close. Helix is miles ahead.

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In my experience, YES. Absolutely YES.

Its advantage is you can get the response you want at ANY volume level... unlike a tube amp which has to be stinking, eviction notice inducing and get fired from the gig for playing too loud loud.

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If you are a guy who has to have the "amp in the room" then nothing else will do.

If your idea of success in modeling is to have the modeler going through an FRFR sound exactly like the amp through a guitar speaker, the modeler will fail.

 

If you want to model the whole signal chain, or need to go direct, or need to record mainly, or never have your amp right near you when you do play live with an amp, a modeler can be as good or better than a tube amp on many levels.

 

But the OP says...

 

...Over the years I have been able to get an approximation from the XT, but then when I A/B it against my Marshall 1987x or Blackstar Artist I am sorely reminded what all those components are doing! Both amps give great dynamic clean tones, and are a joy to noodle around with without any effects..

 

I will be honest. It sounds like the way you are evaluating the sound that only a real amp will do if that's the way you think.

 

And there is nothing wrong with that.

 

Helix is definitely better than an XT, a 2.0 Bean or an HD 500. But it's not a real amp.

If you, however, send the Helix using preamp only models into a real guitar cabinet moving real air in a real room... it might be very satisfactory to you.

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My response to your post is related to recording - not live. If you are as you say, an old schooler, relying on just the amp to do the work vs pedals etc, then you would be ecstatic with the Helix. The Marshall, Vox, Orange and HiWatt configurations are really really good.  You WILL NOT get the same vibe as sitting / standing next to an early 60's Marshall with 4  - 25W Celestions. A good set of studio monitors will do OK. I use my Yamaha 8" powered monitors. But getting sustain is still an issue for me and I will be posting that problem soon.

You will not be disappointed.

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 Most of the U-Tube stuff tests hi gain models which I know L6 do well (remembering now my 500x) but I haven't seen evidence that Helix can perform well at clean and 'just clipping' tones.   

 

I'd like to hear from a Helix owner who doesn't always do hi gain tones, and has perhaps compared the playability of the Helix against a decent valve amp. 

 

I've always taken issue with this as well with YouTube vids and most demos for that matter.  I had to take a leap of faith when I bought the Helix - a big one because I hated the only other Line6 product I had owned, the PodXTL. So glad I took a chance and got the Helix as it is simply head and shoulders above anything I've tried.  Its clean and medium gain amp models' transition into clipping is so good, so smooth and so eminently playable.  To me it's in the subtleties where I find most modelers' weaknesses. They seem to typically do the extremes ok, either super clean or super saturated but the sounds in between these two extremes leave a lot to be desired... Until now.

At this point, I have pretty much waved Adieu to the persnickety tubes.

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But getting sustain is still an issue for me and I will be posting that problem soon.

 Interesting.  That has not been an issue for me.

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 Interesting.  That has not been an issue for me.

Please let me know how you deal with that - in the studio. Lets say I am recording the last note of a lead via my Helix (Hiwatt amp and Cab sim with a decent amount of gain.) I am listening to this through my Yamaha 8" powered monitors. I cannot yet get an unlimited sustain on that last note as I easily would through an old "real" Marshall rig. Again, I will be posting this issue on another thread. 

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Thanks to everyone for your feedback, very grateful, all of interest.... I am sure the tones will be good... after L6 are the pioneers in this, wasn't it 1998 or so when the first bean came out? So they've had time to perfect the tones... my concern is more to do with using those tones in battle! You know how it is, you get a great tone at home and then you go to the rehearsal and discover there's no head room when you need it. And that takes some modeling... listen to the range and dynamic that someone like Robben Ford gets even out of a deVille...can anyone attest to hElix performing well in battle?

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So is Helix really able to re-create the glorious base tones and dynamic of a good valve amp?

 

 

Go to a music store and play one. That's the only way you will know if it suites you.

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If you want it to perform well in battle, then you have to set it up as if you were in battle. Don't set up your presets using headphones, then plug into your amp/FRFR/PA and expect it to sound the same. Set up your presets using the very same equipment you will be using in battle, even close to the volume levels. 

 

Even then, you may have to adjust global eq a bit depending on the battle space. 

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Please let me know how you deal with that - in the studio. Lets say I am recording the last note of a lead via my Helix (Hiwatt amp and Cab sim with a decent amount of gain.) I am listening to this through my Yamaha 8" powered monitors. I cannot yet get an unlimited sustain on that last note as I easily would through an old "real" Marshall rig. Again, I will be posting this issue on another thread. 

 

Compression, midrange and sag are key - at least in my experience.  If you're scooping the kids too much, it can be difficult to get feedback.  You need to have a bit of volume too. The speakers have to be loud enough to able to excite the wood of your guitar. 

Ooh... that last bit sounds indecent!  lol

Unlimited sustain though... takes yet more volume. Not sure there's any way of getting around that.  One other thing to consider is the positioning of your monitors versus the position of your guitar cabs.  The cabs are likely at about the same level as your guitar - that makes it easier to get feedback.  The studio monitors may be at a disadvantage here.  See what happens if you stand up and get the guitar near or at the same height as the monitors.  See if that improves things.

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my concern is more to do with using those tones in battle! You know how it is, you get a great tone at home and then you go to the rehearsal and discover there's no head room when you need it. And that takes some modeling... listen to the range and dynamic that someone like Robben Ford gets even out of a deVille...can anyone attest to hElix performing well in battle?

 

 

If you want it to perform well in battle, then you have to set it up as if you were in battle. Don't set up your presets using headphones, then plug into your amp/FRFR/PA and expect it to sound the same. Set up your presets using the very same equipment you will be using in battle, even close to the volume levels. 

 

Even then, you may have to adjust global eq a bit depending on the battle space. 

 

^

Yep, this! Although I did initially build my presets with the headphone jack. This forum convinced me to get an FRFR powered speaker to use with Helix, so... when I started working on adapting those patches to work with the powered speaker, I immediately had to use some hi and low cuts with the global EQ (and yes, I was playing at a similar volume to what I would use at a gig; thank God my wife and I bought a house 8 months ago; I don't have to rent a rehearsal space to do that anymore). I cut highs with the global EQ using my brightest clean sound and lows using my thumpiest distortion patch. Then I still had to do some patch to patch EQing, but the global got me in the ballpark. And I'm loving my live sounds now! Like I said, I've had a lot of tube amps and playing Helix live with my powered speaker doesn't leave me wanting more.  

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The Helix is amazingly versatile!

 

Its crystal clean, edge of breakup, and high gain, amp profiles, FX, and overall features must be seen, heard, and felt to be believed!

 

A great deal depends on what you use to listen to the Helix. It sounds great through just about anything, but it will absolutley reveal the characteristics of what you use to listen. The good part is that it is a cinch to adjust the Helix to get the best from your listening gear.

 

The Helix is so easy to use, it almost feels like magic! I find it as much fun to use, as to play guitar!

 

I use mine with IEM's, Headphones, near field Studio Monitors, Amps as Powered Cabs, and FRFR Monitors.

 

If you'd consider a used unit, there's one that was just put up for sale Today on MyLesPaul Fourms. Looks like a good deal.

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If you want it to perform well in battle, then you have to set it up as if you were in battle. Don't set up your presets using headphones, then plug into your amp/FRFR/PA and expect it to sound the same. Set up your presets using the very same equipment you will be using in battle, even close to the volume levels. 

 

Even then, you may have to adjust global eq a bit depending on the battle space.

 

So. Much. This...

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Thanks to everyone for your feedback, very grateful, all of interest.... I am sure the tones will be good... after L6 are the pioneers in this, wasn't it 1998 or so when the first bean came out? So they've had time to perfect the tones... my concern is more to do with using those tones in battle! You know how it is, you get a great tone at home and then you go to the rehearsal and discover there's no head room when you need it. And that takes some modeling... listen to the range and dynamic that someone like Robben Ford gets even out of a deVille...can anyone attest to hElix performing well in battle?

 

There are quite a number of us here that play live every week using the Helix.  In my case I cover a pretty significant range of styles from rock, to R&B, funk, blues, jazz and country and I've never felt as capable or as confident in handling that range of material on any other setups as much as I do with my current one.  But the Helix is highly dependent upon what type of output you decide to use with it and the type of people you play with.  My rig consists of a Yamaha DXR12 as my output speaker which I position behind me on the floor as a monitor in a traditional amp fashion with a separate line going direct into the FOH.  My normal band consists of 7 people and I certainly have no problem hearing myself or not being heard by the rest of the band at any of the venues we play from medium to large bars, outside events, or proscenium stage concert events.  We've been performing together for about 6 years now and and we're all experienced enough to be able to manage our stage volume reasonably and leave the heavy lifting to the FOH people so there aren't any "volume battles" on stage.  I've sat in with other bands with a variety of equipment and never had any problems keeping up though.

 

I actually have two DXR12's.  One I leave at home and one stays at our rehearsal space.  As mentioned before, it's really important to use the same type of system for setting up patches as what you'll be using on stage.  One of the reasons I use the system I do is because it tends to match well with most FOH systems.  Generally most FOH systems we use are line array systems, and the DXR12 duplicates that sound pretty well.

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XT is a joke compared to the Helix. 

 

To answer the question in the title, Helix is as responsive and fun as a good valve amp that is mic'd up and monitored through the same speakers you're using with the Helix. 

 

Factory AC30 preset: 

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XT is still capable of some good stuff, and in the house and in the mix, might still sound good for some.

"a joke"? I think that's harsh.

Would I go back? Uh... no...

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I've had 50s tube amps and modern boutique things as well as gotten my hands dirty fixing those things...

In my most used gig patch I have no speaker IR or onboard speaker emulation in my chain.

The end of my chain goes out the FX loop 4 output and that goes to an EHX 44 Magnum and on into a 10" Vox Night Lil' Train cabinet.

It feels fantastic and sounds amazing. YES like a tube amp does.

Yes my guitarist purist buddies are annoyed. :)

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As per my knowledge the default positions of all the amps and fx really seem to capture the "essence" of that thing, whatever it may be. In other words, if you want that classic AC 30 sound from your amp, drop in the AC30 model and it's pretty much spot on with minimal tweaking. I find that to be insanely useful. For almost any OD, or amp model.

 

pcb turnkey assembly

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On 2/9/2017 at 9:43 AM, GlennDeLaune said:

to answer your question simply put:  YES I think the helix behaves and reacts just like a real tube amp. That was one of the very fist things I noticed about it.  Oh and the Helix does "Clean" very very well with alot of harmonic content. I actually did a video on that aspect of the Helix concentrating on Clean sounds.

Yes, Yes and Yes!! Glenn delaune has dialed in some awesome clean amps. Go to his site and check out what he has done!! The Helix does it all!!

 

 

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So is Helix really able to re-create the glorious base tones and dynamic of a good valve amp?

 

So what determines a "good valve amp"? A certain brand? You mean a Fender Twin sound? Or a Mesa Mk V? Or maybe a Plexi?

Or is this an individual thing that only the individual can judge for themselves?

 

Like I said earlier, go to the store and play with a Helix, its the only way to know for sure if it will suit YOU.

 

 

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Current Helix firmware (version 2.71) delivers Line 6's aggregation of improvements to default Amp model parameter configurations (and FX). As a result, the same Helix unit sounds better today than it did running firmware two years ago. Moreover, it is not unrealistic to anticipate things will continue to improve....  

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5 hours ago, MusicLaw said:

Current Helix firmware (version 2.71) delivers Line 6's aggregation of improvements to default Amp model parameter configurations (and FX). As a result, the same Helix unit sounds better today than it did running firmware two years ago. Moreover, it is not unrealistic to anticipate things will continue to improve....  

Source on this? Honestly, I'm pretty sure that the modeling has not changed except in a few cases where they've said they made changes, particularly the HX Reverbs which were re-formulated after initial release.

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Eric "DI" posted essentially this to the TGP Forums within the past month or so. As I recall, it was no so much that the modeling changed. Rather, the default settings of the Block Types for some of the Amps were tweaked. If I remember the point, I can ask Eric at NAMM in a few weeks. 

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Eric "DI" posted essentially this to the TGP Forums within the past month or so. 

 

Heh, I guess that's the place to be these days for any new Helix info....

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I am still a valve amp guy, and i've owned a few over thirty or so years of gigging , though i've come to the conclusion that whether i'm using a Fender ,Orange, Marshall, whatever, .. my current Mesa, that i just end up getting them all to sound the way i like them to sound.

The problem i have live is the mic'ing up of an amp, which can fluctuate massively based on there being so many permutations,.. so the Helix could cure that problem ?

 

Absolutely,.. i'm using the Helix in the fx loop of my amp, so i still have the amp in the room thing going on , yet i get a consistent pa sound without a mic, and tbh it sounds way better front of house than the old mic ever did.

 

 

I've plugged into a lot of those valve amps that i mentioned , and on first impression was less than impressed ,then spent some time tweaking them till i really liked them.

 

The Helix is no different, but it does so much more as well, and i'm still very much loving scratching the surface.

 

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My experience using the Helix in live environments is VERY positive. I run it direct to FOH and using wedges, or into a Crate Powerblock and 2 x 12 cab unmiced for very small clubs, or direct to FOH "and" to an on stage amp fx loop/cab, or mic'd cabs with tube amp heads or the power block ... All with great results. You have so many useable options.

 

There are very few places now that accept cranked tube amps, I have much better results with the Helix. You can dial it in to any type of environment, and for recording, it's amazing

 

I also had very good results with the Pod X3 Live, and the Helix takes to it all new level, outstanding in my opinion. 

You do have to learn how to use the cab mics and high and low cuts and eq's, but once you do .. lookout, fun times.

Small adjustments to amp settings and dirt box settings go a a long way. (large adjustments too). 

You can definitely find your "go to" dirt boxes that will please you (I'm partial to the OCD and the fuzzes)

 

Have fun 

 

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On 2/9/2017 at 5:25 PM, Monter said:

BUT the very fact that all processor-driven devices time-out so quickly (= devalues fast)

 

What exactly do you mean by time-out? Do you mean some failure of the unit making it inoperable? How quickly do you expect that to happen, if that's what you're referring to? Thanks.

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The HX is an amazing catch-all and it's fantastic for direct recording, I have probably saved thousands of pounds on real equipment by experimenting first with the HX and then deciding what approximated my taste, but I find (from my own A/B testing and subtle frustrations) that HX amps are not as responsive as the real thing.  Unfortunately no opinion will count unless you've tried to replicate the tones you love in the Helix and either succeeded or failed.  Some guitarists find everything they need in it but it's a big ask to replicate valve preamps/amps and real speakers and cabs with DSP in a live setting.  My opinion is that for real live situations at high volume you will develop a taste for the real thing, there's a connection between you and your guitar that is complemented by a real amp and cab and that's a relationship very hard to give up if you are used to it.  If this is you then my guess is you'll always find modelling units lacking in a live setting.  If you are playing at bedroom volumes or direct recording then with some effort I believe you'll get extremely close results to those achieved with real amps, mics and cabs, and the versatility is unbelievable.  I think personality plays a big part here, I don't enjoy using HX Edit or turning HX dials that much, it's all in the black box and it's like casting a magic spell every time I turn a dial, I get a real kick out of knowing exactly what's going to happen when I switch on a valve preamp and set everything to noon, it's limited and simple and gives me less options, that saves me time tweaking so that I can play the guitar.  Just an opinion, BEST OF LUCK!

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