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manubsingh

I'm confused about how Helix + Power Amps work

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Hey everyone,

 

Now I've done my best to read about this as much as I can, but am having trouble find even the most basic information here.

Most of the information I found is about the differences between FRFR and Power Amp, and that's not what I want to figure out today.

 

I have a Helix currently linked to my FRFR EV ZLX-12P. Because of how much I like the Helix, I've been selling my old pedalboard along with my Marshall Amp Head and Cabinet. From the research I found, I noticed that people who play with the Power Amp through the Cabinet with the Helix found it's touch sensitivity much more like a tube amp and that's honestly what I've been missing playing with the Helix. It just doesn't feel right no matter how good it sounds and now I can see that maybe I can fix that.

 

So I have some questions here:

1) Does the Power Amp replace the Amp Block on the Helix? If so, doesn't the Helix just become an FX-unit basically?

2) If that isn't correct, is there a place I can read about how the power amp and helix work and what I need to do for it? I can't seem to find anything on the manual for it

3) What's a good Power Amp that people like? I've seen ones that are very expensive, and a bit out of my budget for now. Ideally <$500

4) Does anyone have any experience with the ISP Stealth Power Amplifier? I saw this a few times and wasn't sure if it's even something worth looking into.

 

Like I said, I've really got myself a bit confused here so any help would be very much appreciated.

 

Thank you!

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As I see it, there's two components to "feel".

 

First is the interaction between the amplifier components - the PRE amp and the POWER amp.

Second is the interaction between the power amp and the speaker.

In Helix, there's a VIRTUAL PRE amp that interacts VIRTUALLY with a VIRTUAL POWER amp.

When you pick a full amp model (not just a PREamp), that interaction is modeled.

When you pick a AMP + CAB model, the full chain is modeled (I think).

Once you start replacing the Helix AMP + CAB with AMP + IR, you start to lose part of the interaction.

Once you leave the VIRTUAL world and start physically amplifying the Helix, there's a different "feel" thing going on.

There's no interaction between the physical amp and the Helix. There IS a feel component between the PHYSICAL amp and the PHYSICAL speaker.

Tube aficionados will prefer tube amps, and talk about "warmth" and "harmonic content" and "sponginess" and whatnot.

SS aficionados will talk about clarity and response.

 

Ten people are about to jump in and nit-pick what I just said, and none of it matters.

Get a tube combo and run the Helix with a full amp model (no cab) into the FX Loop Return.

Get a SS amp and speaker cab and do the same.

If you can get a Powercab112+, try it using the speaker emulations (not IRs).

 

Buy the one you like best. Our opinions are just that.

 

So here's mine:

My HR FRFR112 is meh. Usable. I tend to prefer Helix Amp+Cab models to Amp + IR. And I've tried a LOT of IRs.

I like the sound/feel of Helix full Amp model (not Amp+Cab, not Preamp only) into the FX Loop Return of my 15 watt 6v6 1-12 open-back tube combo ($350), AT HIGHER VOLUMES.

I don't like the sound/feel of my EHX .44 Magnum into a 1-12 closed-back speaker cab (sterile). There are better SS power amps available. Quilter is very popular.

I'm currently thrilled to death with everything about my Powercab 112+ ($475 used).

 

YMMV to the max!

 

 

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rd2rk's answer is good and worth the read, but I just wanted to clarify something in case it wasn't already understood: a real amplifier typically consists of a pre-amp (which provides a lot of the tone) and a power-amp, all inside the same amp head. When you use the Helix with a tube power amp, you set up your patches to just use a pre-amp block rather than the amp or amp+cab. They are their own category of effect in the Helix, and each amp modeled in the Helix also has just the pre-amp modeled by itself. Then you run the output of the Helix into your power amp, which completes the "pre-amp + power-amp" of a full amplifier.

 

That said, I think I've read that some people have preferred the results of using a full amp block in Helix this way (without the cab, amp only!), rather than just a pre-amp block. So, it's worth some experimentation.

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Thanks for the advice! That's a pretty cool analysis on the "feel" part and helps me with that.. but I still don't really understand the relationship between Helix Amp + Power Amp

 

So with this:

"Get a tube combo and run the Helix with a full amp model (no cab) into the FX Loop Return." - I have an amp on the helix and I have tube amp?

"Get a SS amp and speaker cab and do the same." - I'm not a solid state person so I'll skip this

"If you can get a Powercab112+, try it using the speaker emulations (not IRs)." - you mean the Helix cab simulation right?

 

Basically here is where I'm at. I have my Marshall 1960A 4x12 Cabinet, and I was just trying to see and figure out how to link this to my helix. Like do I need a tube amp? A power amp? What settings do I need on my Helix (like yes amp, no cab..explaining kind of how I have a an amp on the helix and power amp and/or tube amp?).

 

Also suggestions for Power Amps are definitely appreciated because like I said I was looking at the ISP Stealth Power Amplifier and am not sure if this is a good idea or not

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***Update: thanks Qwerty, you answered a lot of my confusion right there.


Ok so now that i understand pre amp vs power amp, can I get some recommendations for what would be a good power amp to use?

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Just now, qwerty42 said:

rd2rk's answer is good and worth the read, but I just wanted to clarify something in case it wasn't already understood: a real amplifier typically consists of a pre-amp (which provides a lot of the tone) and a power-amp, all inside the same amp head. When you use the Helix with a tube power amp, you set up your patches to just use a pre-amp block rather than the amp or amp+cab. They are their own category of effect in the Helix, and each amp modeled in the Helix also has just the pre-amp modeled by itself. Then you run the output of the Helix into your power amp, which completes the "pre-amp + power-amp" of a full amplifier.

 

That said, I think I've read that some people have preferred the results of using a full amp block in Helix this way (without the cab, amp only!), rather than just a pre-amp block. So, it's worth some experimentation.

 

As I said, the interaction of VIRTUAL pre and VIRTUAL power amp are modeled in the Helix full amp model. That interaction DOES NOT (CAN NOT) exist between the VIRTUAL PRE amp and the PHYSICAL power amp. When using Helix with a PHYSICAL amp, you get the VIRTUAL Pre/Power interaction in the Helix, and the Power amp/speaker interaction ITRW.

 

Personally, I found that using the Helix Pre with an external power amp sounded thin and felt wrong. Using the full amp model may seem theoretically better, but I don't think so.

BUT....if it works for you, go for it. "If it sounds good, it is good!"

 

Some people have reported that using a PRE amp model in front of a FULL amp model gives results similar to AIAB pedals ITRW. I tried a couple of combinations and wasn't convinced.

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2 minutes ago, manubsingh said:

***Update: thanks Qwerty, you answered a lot of my confusion right there.


Ok so now that i understand pre amp vs power amp, can I get some recommendations for what would be a good power amp to use?

 

I'm afraid I've got no experience with any of them -- I use my Helix by itself because I currently live in an apartment :) So hopefully others here can give recommendations!

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8 minutes ago, manubsingh said:

So with this:

"Get a tube combo and run the Helix with a full amp model (no cab) into the FX Loop Return." - I have an amp on the helix and I have tube amp?

"Get a SS amp and speaker cab and do the same." - I'm not a solid state person so I'll skip this

"If you can get a Powercab112+, try it using the speaker emulations (not IRs)." - you mean the Helix cab simulation right?

 

1) Yes. See my response to qwerty42.

2) Common advice to children: "Don't say you don't like it till you've tried it!"

3) The Powercab112+ can be used with Helix cabs or IRs like any other FRFR. You can also use "speaker sims" which turn off the tweeter and EQ the speaker, which is essentially a relatively flat guitar speaker, to sound like a variety of well known speakers - Greenback, V30, Creamback, Jensens and others, more to be added in future updates.

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2 minutes ago, rd2rk said:

As I said, the interaction of VIRTUAL pre and VIRTUAL power amp are modeled in the Helix full amp model. That interaction DOES NOT (CAN NOT) exist between the VIRTUAL PRE amp and the PHYSICAL power amp. When using Helix with a PHYSICAL amp, you get the VIRTUAL Pre/Power interaction in the Helix, and the Power amp/speaker interaction ITRW.

 

 Yep, that was understood. I was just breaking it down to the basics because the wording of OP's post implied he/she might not have been familiar with the pre and power amp construction of a real amp circuit, which is necessary baseline knowledge to be able to understand your post.

 

It definitely won't be exactly like a real amp without the interaction between those circuits, but some people still seem to like that setup, and some don't.

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Ok wow, took me a long while to really read through, and read through again everything just to see if I can understand it correctly.


Thank you both for the clarification. I'm a *he, but that doesn't make a difference

 

rd2rk

-I have a tube combo amp, but you said this works better at higher volumes, so that's maybe not my option

-I also don't get how it's like pre-amp -> power amp -> helix preamp + cab (in the fx loop) -> amp cab? Just seems a bit confusing altogether fo rme

-You sound like you preferred the Powercab112+ like you said in the first post. Is that something you would say is good to look into? How do you feel this compares with an FRFR instead? And does it have two channel inputs/outputs?

 

qwerty42

-The Pre amp vs power amp definitely cleared up my first major confusion

-What's your current setup if I can ask?

 

 

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19 minutes ago, manubsingh said:

Basically here is where I'm at. I have my Marshall 1960A 4x12 Cabinet, and I was just trying to see and figure out how to link this to my helix. Like do I need a tube amp? A power amp? What settings do I need on my Helix (like yes amp, no cab..explaining kind of how I have a an amp on the helix and power amp and/or tube amp?).

 

 

There are very few tube power amp only units. They are usually rack mount and heavy. Mesa makes one, or at least used to, that's well thought of.

Any tube head with a serial FX Loop will do the job. I chose one with 6v6 tubes because they're very neutral sounding even at high volume - think Fender Deluxe clean.

If you need more power from tubes, getting something with WAY more power than you need will give you more clean headroom before the "color" of specific tubes starts to kick in.

OTOH, you're using a Marshall 4-12 cab. You must like Marshall sound, so anything with EL34s will get you there.

 

Yep, you're right - what have you accomplished if you're either going to need a heavy rack-mount tube power amp or a regular big heavy guitar amp head?

Nothing. BUT, if you insist that only tubes will do, and you NEED a 4-12, there it is.

 

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1 minute ago, manubsingh said:

rd2rk

-I have a tube combo amp, but you said this works better at higher volumes, so that's maybe not my option

-I also don't get how it's like pre-amp -> power amp -> helix preamp + cab (in the fx loop) -> amp cab? Just seems a bit confusing altogether fo rme

-You sound like you preferred the Powercab112+ like you said in the first post. Is that something you would say is good to look into? How do you feel this compares with an FRFR instead?

 

We're just typing fast and furious here!

 

1) IMO. YMMV. Try it. 

2) It's all VIRTUAL. NOTHING IS REAL! Try every combination and see what you like best. There's no ONE RIGHT answer. Subjective. You decide what's best. see my first response re the different levels of interaction and the border between VIRTUAL and PHYSICAL.

3) Yes. If you can get a PC112+ to try out, DO IT!. READ THE MANUAL! Read some of the posts in the Powercab threads both here and over on The Gear Page>Digital and Modeling forum. BUT...keep in mind that a 1-12 will NEVER sound like a 4-12, no matter how loud it is. It's just physics.

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34 minutes ago, manubsingh said:

-What's your current setup if I can ask?

For now, I'm stuck playing through headphones most of the time, sadly. I use an old (but great!) set of Sennheiser HD580 headphones with the Helix, and they work very well together. For the occasions where I decide I'm going to be a bit of a jerk to my neighbors, I just use an old set of Logitech Z-2300 200W full-range speakers+subwoofer which sound surprisingly good from the Helix output. Not gigging with any of it currently.

 

FWIW, I spend a lot of time tweaking patches and building tones with the Helix, and I think the biggest payoffs to be had come from that -- just my opinion. It's tweakable enough that feel, touch response, stereo imaging, frequency response, etc. -- all of those things can be finely-manipulated within the Helix itself. But I also very much understand those who just want to put a couple simple blocks in their patch, plug in to a monitor, and immediately have the sounds of a Marshall full-stack without any extra tweaking.

 

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I have gone through my own personal  journey of sending the helix out to a cabinet for a bit. I had a powercab and just did not love it.

 

I then picked up a used Mooer Tube Engine, which is a 20Watt tube power amp. I was only looking for something to amplify my helix into a regular guitar cab. I have a few cabs that cover quite a lot of ground and wanted to use those.

 

I tried it with just the preamps, because theoretically I only needed a pre because the Mooer was the power amp, and discovered that the interaction between the pre and power amp modeling in the helix was key to the amp models sounding the way I expected them. There are several of the amp models that rely on Power amp distortion to give the amps true character. The tweeds are a good example of this. 

 

When you the tweeds the break up from the preamp only just did not sound right at all. 

 

I also found that many of the pres are at different levels of output and it takes feeding them into the modeled power amp to get the levels right. 

 

So then I went to trying to run full models into the Mooer and that did not work for me  either. The emulated power amp being fed into an external power amp seemed to muddy up the tone and change the character of the amp model in a bad way, to my ears. 

 

Again, I am only playing at home, so having gig level volumes were not important to me. 

 

At this point, I took a shot on a Mooer Baby Bomb. It is a solid state power amp that adds, to my ears, very little character to what is fed into it...given that you do not crank it up and drive it into breakup. This allowed me to run the full amp model, sans helix cab or ir, into my guitar cabinets. 

 

To date this creates my favorite tones I have gotten from my helix providing an amp in the room experience. 

 

The one thing I will point out about the Baby Bomb, in case it becomes a consideration for anyone, is that the power supply is not grounded. I got major hum and noise from it because of that. I had on hand a few of those Hum-X adapters on hand and using one of those fixed the problems I had with the baby bomb. 

 

There are several other solid state power amps and I am guessing most of them would work just as well, if not better than the Babay Bomb. But in my opinion to get an accurate representation of the amp model with a guitar cab, having the power amp model is key to it sounding like the rel thing. then to amplify it, you need a neutral sounding power amp device that does not color the model taking away from the models intended sound. 

 

 

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Thanks for the all responses! I spent a lot of time looking into forums and reading/listening to many clips, and I ended up going with the EHX 44 Magnum after listening to several clips and reading on the forums about it seeming it like the best option. I also read from people that the Quilter may be better [basically everything you said rd2rk :) ], but i wanted to at least try out the EHX 44 magnum to see how it sounds in the first place (and it's the most basic of the options so I can just test drive the concept to see if it matches what I could like).

 

-Just for clarification, with this setup of Helix -> EHX 44 Magnum -> 4x12 Marshall Cabinet, does that mean I set my Helix to "Amp" or "Preamp"? I know that I'm not going to be using the Cabinet block, but I wasn't sure what to do before it

-Does anyone have experience on a good signal flow for using the EHX 44 Magnum and/or any solid state power amp? Not sure if it changes anything I thought I might ask

-Any other tips I should be aware of?

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I would use the full amp model, if you are expecting it to sound and react like the amp you are selecting.  Like I said in my previous post, I found preamp only lost the interaction between the preamp and power amp that some models need to sound like they are supposed to.  The Magnum is pretty much the same thing as the Babybomb I am using, a neutral power amp. I run the full amp model without a modeled cab or ir into my guitar cabinets and think it sounds great. 

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14 minutes ago, manubsingh said:

Just for clarification, with this setup of Helix -> EHX 44 Magnum -> 4x12 Marshall Cabinet, does that mean I set my Helix to "Amp" or "Preamp"? I know that I'm not going to be using the Cabinet block, but I wasn't sure what to do before it

-Does anyone have experience on a good signal flow for using the EHX 44 Magnum and/or any solid state power amp? Not sure if it changes anything I thought I might ask

-Any other tips I should be aware of?

 

SS power amps like the EHX need the full amp - remember what I said about the interaction between pre and power amp, and how that's lost as soon as you leave the virtual (digital) realm? And with the EHX there'll also be no interaction between the EHX and the speaker. One reason I suggested Quilter is that their circuit attempts to mimic that interaction (depending on the model).

 

Signal flow is simple - 1/4" L/MONO out to EHX. Try the EHX Bright switch in both positions. One of he reasons I didn't like the EHX was that it seemed to add a lot of HISS through the speaker. It was less apparent at higher levels, and your Marshall cab is pretty dark compared to the speaker I was using so, as always, YMMV.

 

Only other tip is to be sure that everything is plugged into the same EMI/RFI filtered surge strip to minimize noise and prevent ground loops.

 

One last thing - just because you're not SUPPOSED to use a cabinet model (or IR for that matter), doesn't mean you CAN'T. IT"S NOT REAL! NO RULES APPLY except -

"If it SOUNDS good, it IS good!"

 

 

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Cool! So definitely full amps no cabs (or maybe try cabs), got it. Thanks to you both!

 

@rd2rk - Which quilter power amps are you referring to specifically (or have recommendations)?  I figured I might as well ask now just so I can keep it in the back of my mind in case i feel like the EHX is missing something

 

The power amp shipped today so I'll be excited to hopefully get it soon

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Hi Manub

 

Just to throw another thought in here. If you use a Line6 DT25 or 50 amp you can configure the power amp to run as Class A or  AB, Pentode of Triode so rather than just having 'a power amp' you have several. Helix connects to it via L6 Link and changes the power amp configuration physically inside the amp (listen carefully and you can hear the relays clicking in and out).

 

Hope this helps.

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