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Helix into loop return - amp/preamp, and how to set levels?

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Sorry for the speculative nature of this question but I don't have my amp at home and can't experiment for myself easily.

 

I've created some patches with my new Helix where the intention is that I'll run it into the return of the effects loop on my Bugera 6262 (basically a cheaper Peavey 6505 clone, for the uninitiated). The chain looks like this:

 

guitar in -> OD -> PV Panama Amp -> chorus -> reverb -> Send 1 -> Cab sim -> 1/4 out

 

The idea is that I can test the tones at home with headphones and hear it with the cab sim, but in a live setting, I can just take a cable from Send 1 to the Return of my amp, and hopefully the resulting sound will be much the same (slight cab differences aside).

 

The complicating factors are these:

 

1) The effects loop on the amp presumably leads into the power amp. So I'd potentially be running a simulated power amp and a real power amp. I know I can swap out the PV Panama Amp for a PreAmp model, but this makes it a bit harder to test adequately at home because the levels from it are too low. (Makes no difference to modulation or reverb I expect, but it's difficult to know whether I'm gain staging correctly).

 

2) The Send can be Instrument or Line level, and I believe my effects loop requires an Instrument level signal. But it's not clear whether the Instrument level is an attenuated version of what goes in, or whether the Line level is amplified, or whether I am just misunderstanding the concept entirely. I feel like I need to understand this in order to get the gain staging right. Ignore this: I guess that as long as I manage to match the setting to the amp, it'll work out about the same.

 

3) If I bypass a cab model on a normal amp -> whatever -> cab chain, the eventual output is much hotter and appears to be clipping, even if it doesn't clip at all with the cab model in place. I think I saw this with some of the factory presets too. This makes it difficult to know whether I'm gain staging things correctly in a situation like mine where I have a send before the cab model. To compensate I set my Send block to output at -12dB, but I'm not sure if this is the right approach to the problem.

 

So, I'd like to understand all the above a bit more, but most importantly - what are the recommended settings for sending the output of amp models into the effects loop of a Bugera 6262 or Peavey 6505, or similar?

 

(I'm not using the 4CM method for now - the Bugera distortion is great but if the PV Panama sim is good enough then I won't need it, or indeed the extra complication of the additional loop.)

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That's bizarre, I'm trying the exact same thing as we speak and struggling to get a nice transparent tone.

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If I understand what you're trying to do, try it like this:

 

Helix Guitar IN->A/B Split route 100% to B->A->FX->AMP+CAB (or amp+IR)->FX->whatever OUT you monitor from

                                                                    ->B->FX->Preamp->FX->SEND1/2 (or 1/4") to Bugera RETURN

 

Setup a switch for the A/B. Now you've got totally separate paths with many gain staging possibilities on each.

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I don't have a problem with the routing, I have a problem with knowing what the levels should be. (And I don't want separate paths anyway. I want to be using as close to an identical set up for both environments as possible.)

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Nobody can tell you what the levels "SHOULD" be. You'll have to experiment, as every FX addition/subtraction from the signal chain will affect the gain staging downstream. The routing I presented will allow you to duplicate the setups as close as possible, and compare them in real time. HOWEVER.....

 

"The idea is that I can test the tones at home with headphones and hear it with the cab sim, but in a live setting, I can just take a cable from Send 1 to the Return of my amp, and hopefully the resulting sound will be much the same (slight cab differences aside)."

 

Gain staging and final sound/tone are separate issues. Your headphone signal with cab sim will ALWAYS sound SIGNIFICANTLY different from helix preamp(or full amp)->Bugera power amp->REAL cab. Just the nature of the beast. The routing I suggested will help with GAIN STAGING issues UP TO the output to the Bugera. That final level needs to be set with the BIG KNOB if you're using the 1/4" out, or the Send Level if you're using a SEND. There's been much discussion about the lack of level indicators in the Helix, and there are a number of entries in Ideascale if you'd like to add your vote on the subject. Best workaround is to send your signal to a DAW and use the level indicators, spectrum analyzers, etc that are available in that realm. 

 

Here's a couple of links that you might find helpful:

 

https://www.sweetwater.com/sweetcare/articles/whats-the-difference-between-mic-instrument-line-and-speaker-level-signals/

 

and a Google search on Gain Staging:

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=gain+staging+effects&rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS655US656&oq=effects+gain+staging&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0.9471j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

 

Maybe someone else would like to chime in on tips specific to Helix?

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I think I didn't make myself very clear, so I'm sorry about that. I know what the different line/instrument levels mean relative to each other, and I know what gain staging is (I mixed and mastered 3 of my own albums so I had ample time to learn!) It's just that the ways to significantly alter the gain in this case, such as things like the choice between amp sim or pre-amp sim, or whether I drive sufficient signal into a power amp to start hearing saturation, or maybe sending too much... those start to potentially affect the tone. I wanted to hear from any Helix owners who'd already attempted this, to hopefully save me some experimentation.

 

However, I did manage to try some experimentation tonight; not with the Bugera, but with an Orange amp. (Not sure which model, exactly.) It turned out that the Preamp only models were too quiet, even with their master/channel volumes up between 7 and 10 and the maximum of +6dB on the Send block. I had an identical preset with the Preamps switched to Amps, and they were loud enough. I eventually had them running with the Send at -3dB. It's possible that the amp I was using had a Line level loop rather than a Instrument level, so maybe I just needed to switch Send 1 from Instrument to Line and stick with the Preamp models, but in the end I didn't notice any significant colouration difference between the 2 settings. (Though that's hard to judge with the levels being quite different.)

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The sends and returns should also have their own level adjustments, so you are not stuck with what just the preamp models output is. 

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That's what I was saying in the 2nd paragraph in the last post - when using the Preamp models, I had the Send output level at the maximum of +6dB and that was too quiet. Could be that I needed to supply Line level instead of Instrument level to that particular amp, but I'm not sure.

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Hi - I'm doing this as well (into an Amp return jack) and have found a few things useful. I set up a template which has a Pre-amp of some variety followed by an Amp of the same variety. On the second path (or first if you have the DSP available) set up the cabinet that you want. Lastly, add a Gain block.

 

Set the Pre-amp on and the Amp/Cab off - assign all to a footswitch (or a snapshot). This setting is to go direct into the Return and if the resultant sound is too quiet add gain in the gain block.

 

If you hit the footswitch that will toggle the pre-amp off, and full amp and the cabinet on. That's the setting for listening at home through headphones (or an FRFR feed), adjust the gain block accordingly.

 

I am running the Pre-amp only patch into the back of one of 3 amps - a Blackstar HT5R which does not produce great volume but OK for bedroom levels. A Marshall DSL40C which provides plenty of volume and a Laney 50W Hi Gain amp which provides more or less the same as the Marshall. In all cases, the sound of the Pre-amp only into the Amp Returns is really good. If I put the amp model (rather than pre-amp) into the return jack (no cabinet block on) the volume is huge and doesn't quite have the bite that just the pre-amp does. 

 

When I get my presets down, I level them all in a first-pass by firing up Garageband, open a project and open the EQ Analyzer and play through the presets (with a riff recordrd on a looper pedal) to get them all balanced.

 

It's worked for me with final tweaks on the gain blocks at band practice with Gig volumes

 

Also - for line/instrument level question, the Laney has a setting for Instrument/Line and I use the Instrument level setting, same with the blackstar. The Marshall doesn't and I use instrument level and it's good. If you have problems even after adding the gain, then use Line Level from the Helix and see what happens

 

One last thing! If you just have a pre-amp and a cab for monitoring via headphones it will sound awful, you have to have the full amp model I found anyway...

Edited by pfocas

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