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Valve vs solid state power amp for Helix

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Hi - I'm looking at getting a power amp head/pedal, something like the Orange Pedal Baby or the Electro Harmonix 44 Magnum - that way I can take my helix plus a power amp to rehearsal and plug into the 4x12s there but also use it plugged into a smaller cab at home.

 

My question about these power amps, whose primary purpose is just to "make louder" the signal from my helix, is - is there that much advantage of using a Valve power amp over a solid state power amp given that all my "sounds" are coming from the helix? It's not that I'd be looking to push valves into overdrive - all I want to do is amplify the Helix signal and push it through a cab (not going the FRFR route here).

 

Cheers

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I have both.

A Marshall 9005 EL34 Power Amp and a Harley Benton GPA - 400.

The Tube Power amp is great for pre amps but will colour the sound so throwing in a Mesa or a Rev generator patch will change the eq curve of the amp so will not sound exact (EL34 have less bass add more mids)

The Solid State Power amplifier is Not so coloured so amp models come out better and so Get the sound of the amp from the helix most authentically.

 

On the plus side to the tube power amp it get rids of some of the digitall - ness of he amp.

 

So yeah its all what you really want.

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I have spent SO MUCH time with this exact problem.  Solid state power amps are so light and small, I wanted to make one work for me.  I used a Matrix GT1000FX for a couple of years when I first switched over to modeling until I played a gig with a guy who had just a fender amp and his amp sounded better than mine - then I was on my quest to get a real sounding/feeling amplified tone using solid state power amps.  I first tried a lot of tube power amps and thought the Boogie 2:50 was best for me - then I compared every solid state power amp I could purchase somewhere that had a return policy - the Boogie won every time.  (btw: the best solid state power amp I found was  an old Rocktron Velocity 300 that was pretty close to the Boogie!  I ended up keeping that one to use as a backup to my Boogie since it was so cheap - about $300 on Ebay or Reverb)   

 

As Daiganzen mentioned - tube power amps color your tone and impart their own sound to your tone.  So once you have a 6L6 driven power amp it always gives the sound and feel of a Fender type power amp - So all your non-Fender amp models will be a bit "Fendery" .  It would be fantastic if there was a solid state power amp that was able to amplify your signal without imparting its own solid state "plasticy" tone - But if you use a solid state power amp, instead of having all your amp models going through the same type of tube power amp with its color, all your models will go through a solid state power amp with its characteristic color.  (You dont encounter that problem when recording direct because the power amp models are good - just not able to push a speaker!)  I tried 9 solid state power amps (including the Magnum but not the Orange) and listened to people using a lot of others on youtube - and in my opinion, they all had imparted an unacceptable solid state plasticy tone.   It never bothered me until I played that gig with the guy who had a Fender!

 

I still dream of the solid state power amp solution and look at all the new FRFR amplifier/speaker combos coming out.  I have tried 2 of these (and returned them) - they both suffered from the same solid state power amp problem but now compounded with a "not an authentic sounding speaker" problem.  

 

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A FOLLOW UP TO MY LAST POST:  

 

There is an Andertons Youtube post where they compare Kemper and Atomic Amplifier to one of those old Line 6 Pods (the tiny red one).  They were trying to answer the question:  Are the new amp modelers better than the old ones from decades ago?  It turns out they ALL sound terrible in their own way in the video! 

 

 

The problem is in the testing procedure - all of the models are going through the same FRFR cabinet.  The combination of solid state power amp with inauthentic speaker cabinet twists the sound of all the modelers and the Andertons guys could not hear much of a difference between the old and new.  I think their conclusion is "Hey!  That old Line 6 Pod sounds as good as the new modelers!" - but, it really doesnt.  I used a POD and a BOSS GT700 in the old days and all the new ones sound better than those.   I love my Helix stomp and it sounds great through my Boogie power amp!!!

 

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Thanks for your responses. Yeah - it's a tough one as I want to be able to dial in tones at home and be (reasonably) confident they will sound similar at rehearsal/live - which is why I'm looking at the solid state stuff as (I imagine) their characteristics don't change as much as Valve the more you push them. (Plus they should be more reliable than a valve-based head)

 

I actually play into my 40w Egnater combo (all valve) at home and it sounds great going straight into the effects return. The other night at rehearsal I tried, out of curiosity, plugging into the Laney head (solid state) and 4x12 they have at the studios - it sounded amazing! Obviously what was at play there was the 4X12 vs the single 12 inch in my combo but I've decided not to take my combo in any more and just use the effects return of the stacks they have there as they sound great.

 

This doesn't help with consistency though so I'm still going to look for a portable head solution that I can use everywhere and get reasonably consistent results.

 

I've heard really good things about those Quilter tone block amps...

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There's always the Boss Katana head too. It's solid state but it isn't class D like most solid state amplifiers. I think its class A/B if I'm not mistaken. Pretty inexpensive too and works great! I just run into the fx loop and use all Helix for the tones. Another plus is should something happen to my Helix the Katana on it's own can act as a backup.

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When I got my Tweaker 15-112 I also picked up a .44 Magnum as a backup - tubes being the fickle creatures they are. I'd never tried it and when I saw this post i got curious so I pulled it out and hooked it up. WOW is that thing LOUD! I'd read that they start to distort if you crank them over 1/2 way, but I can't see that happening with the Tweaker's 50 watt (16 ohm) Celestion, and I have every confidence that it'll handle a second 16 ohm cab EASILY!.

 

It did get me thinking about a Quilter or Powerstage with it's own tone stack.....

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I tried my helix with a Diezel amp, Friedman, Engl and Marshall... Buy the Seymour Duncan Powerstage 170.. Thank me later ;)

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I really would like to try one of those Powerstages. Nobody stocks them in my area though. Not to say I don't like my current setup, but those do look cool from what I've seen and heard. What advantages did you find from it compared to the amps you tried your Helix through?

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10 hours ago, andrelast said:

I tried my helix with a Diezel amp, Friedman, Engl and Marshall... Buy the Seymour Duncan Powerstage 170.. Thank me later ;)

 

Yup - this is what I'm looking at - most likely my next purchase.

 

I can take that thing to rehearsal and hook up to the 4x12s they have there and also use it at home with a smaller cab - pretty much looks like the best solution.

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Well Matrix make some brilliant Class A/B Rack mounted Power amplifiers.

That Are very price competitive with the Other Brands

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Just resurrecting this thread rather than starting a new one..

 

I was looking at the Power Stage 170 and also the Pedal Baby 100. A local shop had the Pedal Baby in stock so gave it a try (they have a helix set up in the shop as well) and ended up buying it. Also got an Orange 2x12 cab. So - my setup is pretty simple - helix into pedal baby into 2x12 (I also run a boss SD-1 before the helix just because...).

 

How does it sound? To my ears it sounds incredible.. I'm seriously impressed - every patch I went through sounded incredibly alive - almost like the helix was finally allowed to shine..

 

Previously I ran the helix through a Headrush FRFR and then an all-valve combo which both sounded ok but this is on another level. The guitar/amp relationship seems so much more responsive and, surprisingly, even compared to the valve combo this set up feels the most organic/natural. I spent an hour so last night going through my patches amazed at how good each of them suddenly sounded.

 

Anyway - there's a mini review of sorts - really impressed. Pic of setup below.

 

IMG_2917.jpg

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When using your Helix with a power amp where do you set your volume on the Helix output? Do you max it out and use the power amp's volume level? 

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Give or take.. I set the Helix volume dial to near max and adjust slightly if I need a quick volume change.

 

That pedal baby must be seriously loud when pushed - at home I have it set somewhere between the first 2 dots and it's loud enough.. First band practice with it tomorrow night so will be interesting to see how it stands up to a drummer/band.

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Since I went through pretty much this exact scenario as well, I'll throw in and share my experience with it. I was using an old Mesa/Boogie 50/50 power amp in conjunction with the preamp-only model in the Helix. That worked pretty well, but man, did I ever get sick of having to lug that heavy 50/50 around. I'd heard good things about the ISP Stealth, so finally decided to get one and try it.

 

When I first plugged the ISP in and fired it up, it sounded AWFUL, and I was sure that I'd made a mistake in buying it. That's when it dawned on me that it was a 100% clean power amp, providing little if any coloration to the tone. Switching to the full amp models in the Helix (instead of the preamp-only models that I'd been using with the Mesa) instantly solved the problem.

 

A while later, I finally got to do the A/B test with my Helix/ISP setup, using the Cali Rectifire model, against a real live Mesa Solo Rectifier, using the same cab for both, and trying to match the amp settings and output as closely as possible. It wasn't a 100% identical tonal match, but let me tell you, it was DAMN close. Close enough to satisfy me, certainly for live purposes. Add to that the fact that the ISP weighs all of 1.2 pounds, and I'm as happy as I could be with it.

Edited by errxn
Heh, it changed my mild curse to "lollipop", so I just rewrote the phrase to omit it.

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1 hour ago, jonkuenning said:

When using your Helix with a power amp where do you set your volume on the Helix output? Do you max it out and use the power amp's volume level? 

 

I set the amp to it's "sweet spot" (not so important on SS amps), and set Helix Volume to control final output. Some people claim that unless you max the Helix Volume (unity gain) it sounds different. I don't hear it. YMMV.

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1 hour ago, rd2rk said:

 

I set the amp to it's "sweet spot" (not so important on SS amps), and set Helix Volume to control final output. Some people claim that unless you max the Helix Volume (unity gain) it sounds different. I don't hear it. YMMV.

 

yeah - I think for a valve amp you would want to use that approach - I'll find out tomorrow when I crank the Pedal-Baby if there is actually sweet spot although I suspect it will be consistent from low to high volume.

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2 hours ago, errxn said:

When I first plugged the ISP in and fired it up, it sounded AWFUL, and I was sure that I'd made a mistake in buying it. That's when it dawned on me that it was a 100% clean power amp, providing little if any coloration to the tone. Switching to the full amp models in the Helix (instead of the preamp-only models that I'd been using with the Mesa) instantly solved the problem.

 

 

I tried pre-amp-only patches first with the pedal-baby and it actually sounded ok but certainly moving to a full amp block (obviously no cab/IR) sounded better... or at least fuller plus it gave me way more tonal options.

 

Each time I've improved what I play the helix through, I've gone back to my patches and tweaked them a little because with each step up I hear more and more detail in the helix and I keep getting more out of it. 

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