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Ongoing helix sound quality issue - digital harshness?

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I love the Helix, but I have had trouble getting a warm, rich, clean sound, and a recent discovery maybe hints at a problem.  I have tinkered endlessly, reading forums for advice, trying user presets, etc.  I have experimented with hi/low cuts and those are definitely important.  I'm using a ribbon mic and adding quite a lot of reverb, and I have compression setup per Jason Sadites and other advice.

 
I have long noticed that adding certain blocks including delays causes the sound to get unexpectedly tinny, shrill, harsh, digital.  It seems to change the background/ambiance of the tone.  It is subtle, but I eventually started avoiding delays, sadly.  Recently I noticed something else which was really surprising.  I bought a recorder pedal (TC Wiretap) which simply takes in a signal and records when you stomp.  I added a "send" block to my clean preset and bingo, the sound degradation issue that I get with delays appeared.  It really seems to affect the reverb and ambiance of the sound, and adds a digital harshness.  With a single coil strat, I'm really relying on the reverb to warm/thicken up the sound, so the overall effect is not good.
 
I tried bypassing the send block, which had no effect.  I tried physically removing the patch cable sending the signal to the recorder pedal, and even that had no effect.  I then deleted the block from my preset entirely, and that did it - the sound went back to normal.  It's subtle, but who wants to add "just a little" tinny digital harsh edge to their guitar tone?!  
 
I had thought that delays just do something to the tone that I don't like.  But a send block?!  That should have no effect on the sound whatsoever, especially if the cable isn't plugged in!  (eliminating grounding issues, etc.)  And much more importantly, I'm now wondering if all the advice I've received from this forum over the past year for how to thicken up my tone (delays, reverb, pitch shifters, etc.) has been counteracted by this issue, because when I try these blocks, it often layers in this sound quality problem.
 
Other setup details:  Firmware 2.8, but this issue has stayed constant through several firmware updates over the past year.  American Elite Strat with neck pickup for warmth, Yamaha HS7 studio monitors or headphones for playback.  The sound quality issues are most noticeable with headphones. (could this be only a headphone-related problem somehow?)
 
Thanks in advance for advice.  I've tried to figure this out on my own and just can't.  Also, any other tips related to adding thickness/warmth to a single coil strat are much appreciated.
 
Joel

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I've never noticed anything like you described.

As an experiment I set up a Jazz Rivet (cleanest amp in the box) with a Room Reverb (because you add reverb). I then cycled through all of the MONO delays, playing with the mix level as I strummed a chord.

While the repeats on all of them sound slightly different (as would be expected). None of them changed the fundamental sound in any way that I could detect.

I also tried adding a Send, and that had no noticeable effect either.

I'm not saying that you're imagining things, just that I don't hear it.

If you attach a sample preset which demonstrates what you're talking about I'll have a look at it.

 

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Well, on paper every send/return are extra D/A/D conversion, so Im not surprised if that is affecting the tone, other than adding more noise to the noise floor.... and yes - it does.

 

I do certainly get a better tone out of my Iridium when used alone, than when I put it inside an Helix path, using an FX loop. Im pretty sure it's mostly about that extra AD/DA cycle, which cant be totally seamless. Not a deal breaker for sure, totally usable in the mix, but difference it's there.

 

 

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4 hours ago, jaw5jaw5 said:

The sound quality issues are most noticeable with headphones. (could this be only a headphone-related problem somehow?)

 

Hi,

 

As you say this is most noticeable with headphones, then telling us the make, model and impedance would be a big help. I can’t understand why, if you detect this “digital harshness” through the ‘phones, it should be glaringly obvious through your Yamaha HS monitors.

 

I would do as suggested by “rd2rk” in the post above, and attach an example preset for checking out.

 

Hope this helps/makes sense.

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Hey guys, thanks so much for the replies so far.  Super helpful.  Attached is the preset I'm using.  Pretty run of the mill except for a lot of reverb as it seems to help me get a nice ambiance/soundstage in my headphones which I'm normally using.  It's trickier to do careful A/B comparisons using my HS7's as my room is a lollipop show with echo and other problems (not to mention I can barely even pick a path to my guitar area through all the kid toys and debris).

 

Headphones are Sony MDR7506, very standard, with 1/8" jack and 63ohm impedance.  I have to use a 1/4" adapter, and because of the high impedance, the volume knob on the phones output is very low (like 8:30 o'clock).  I wonder if all of that sets up a situation that is susceptible to noise and audio degradation.  If you guys think that's possible, then I will order/borrow some 1/4" low impedance "studio" phones and try those.

 

I did some more A/B comparisons, and I can maybe better describe the change in sound.  Before adding the "Send3" block, I hear a warmer, silkier, more natural sounding tone that has a lot of reverb and a nice soundstage (at least to my ears).  When I add the Send3, I hear a slight digital harshness, a reduction in reverb, and a collapse in the soundstage.  The tone sounds digital, less natural, and the ambiance sort of disappears.

 

That ping pong delay is the only one I've found that lessens the sound degradation compared with other delays, although it still causes the problems above.  Maybe the reason I find it most tolerable is that it at least doesn't collapse the soundstage (by design).  But it does sound less natural and more digital for sure.  And the other delays are unusable.

 

Please keep the ideas coming - I really want to figure this out and will try any and all troubleshooting steps!!

 

Also Helix is 2.92, Floor model, sorry I mis-spoke before.

Clean Record.hlx

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29 minutes ago, jaw5jaw5 said:

Hey guys, thanks so much for the replies so far.  Super helpful.  Attached is the preset I'm using.  Pretty run of the mill except for a lot of reverb as it seems to help me get a nice ambiance/soundstage in my headphones which I'm normally using.  It's trickier to do careful A/B comparisons using my HS7's as my room is a lollipop show with echo and other problems (not to mention I can barely even pick a path to my guitar area through all the kid toys and debris).

 

Headphones are Sony MDR7506, very standard, with 1/8" jack and 63ohm impedance.  I have to use a 1/4" adapter, and because of the high impedance, the volume knob on the phones output is very low (like 8:30 o'clock).  I wonder if all of that sets up a situation that is susceptible to noise and audio degradation.  If you guys think that's possible, then I will order/borrow some 1/4" low impedance "studio" phones and try those.

 

I did some more A/B comparisons, and I can maybe better describe the change in sound.  Before adding the "Send3" block, I hear a warmer, silkier, more natural sounding tone that has a lot of reverb and a nice soundstage (at least to my ears).  When I add the Send3, I hear a slight digital harshness, a reduction in reverb, and a collapse in the soundstage.  The tone sounds digital, less natural, and the ambiance sort of disappears.

 

That ping pong delay is the only one I've found that lessens the sound degradation compared with other delays, although it still causes the problems above.  Maybe the reason I find it most tolerable is that it at least doesn't collapse the soundstage (by design).  But it does sound less natural and more digital for sure.  And the other delays are unusable.

 

Please keep the ideas coming - I really want to figure this out and will try any and all troubleshooting steps!!

 

Also Helix is 2.92, Floor model, sorry I mis-spoke before.

Clean Record.hlx 15.85 kB · 1 download

Your preset sounds good to me. Everything always sounds harsher to me in headphones. I leaned early on with the Helix to NOT create or edit presets with headphones, because they never sound right when I go back to using speakers. For me, anyway.

 

For headphone use, on your amp model, turn down the treble and presence, and turn up the bass. A little goes a long way. This will sound better in your phones, but will sound too dark when you go back to speakers. IME anyway. Good luck.

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I hear you about not expecting headphones and speakers to sound the same.  I don't, and they don't.  I will try the presence setting - have not experimented there before.  My use case is a bit unusual - I'm not gigging with the Helix, just using as my personal all-in-one pedalboard and as the anchor for my practice area, so phones are pretty important.

 

I still need to figure out this sound degradation issue, and wanted to return to the issue of the send block adding noise/sound degradation, and the possibility that this is made worse by my non-studio headphones.  Also, 63ohms isn't THAT low, so I guess to test the previously mentioned noise issue, I would need true studio phones with 250 ohm, etc.  Do people think this is related?   Can someone try using headphones (ideally low impedance non-studio phones) and picking some notes, then removing the send block entirely from the preset, and picking some more notes.  An independent A/B would be really helpful.

 

What else could be causing the send block and delay blocks to alter the sound in such a bad way?

 

Thanks,

Joel

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On 12/22/2020 at 1:14 PM, Rocco_Crocco said:

Your preset sounds good to me.  

 

Which is why i often think that these complaints come down to a monitoring issue...or even a placement issue.

 

One thing ive noticed was when i moved my FRFR from my studio, to my bedroom, my favorite presets were no longer my favorite presets.

Of course i just left them alone because ive made this move multiple times now, for cleaning, construction, maintenances, or whatever, and those presets are tried and true, and were built in a preferred acoustical environment, but i definitely needed to make adjustments to get the sound i wanted....whether a person decides to lay them down monitor style, use them upright PA style, stand when they play,  sit in front of the tweeters, headphones, you name it, it all makes a tremendous amount of difference. 

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1 hour ago, willjrock said:

 

Which is why i often think that these complaints come down to a monitoring issue...or even a placement issue.

 

One thing ive noticed was when i moved my FRFR from my studio, to my bedroom, my favorite presets were no longer my favorite presets.

Of course i just left them alone because ive made this move multiple times now, for cleaning, construction, maintenances, or whatever, and those presets are tried and true, and were built in a preferred acoustical environment, but i definitely needed to make adjustments to get the sound i wanted....whether a person decides to lay them down monitor style, use them upright PA style, stand when they play,  sit in front of the tweeters, headphones, you name it, it all makes a tremendous amount of difference. 


THIS^^^^ is one of the most misunderstood areas in modeling regardless of what setup you're using as an output method.  And you're exactly right as far as placement and your own positioning can make a huge difference.  And it all really comes down to a lack of understanding about the differences in what an output system is designed to do.

With PA style powered speakers floor placement can suffer from bass coupling unless your speaker provides DSP facilities for correcting it.  Even when placed upright on a pole, PA speakers will sound harsh if you're too close to them simply because they're made for projecting over long distances.  This is why you don't want to stand in front of a FOH PA system either.  But with about 6 feet of distance it will sound more normal.  The good news is that because they're designed with a very wide sound cone, you can stand quite a ways off axis and the sound won't change.

Studio monitors are even more susceptible to placement problems and suffer greatly if not placed correctly relative to walls and the position of the person listening to them because that is what they're designed to do as reference monitors.

Headphones run the full gamut of problems depending mostly on who they're marketed to.  So many headphones are designed for recorded playback which causes them to add inappropriate tone coloration to live performance music.

Even going through a traditional amp 4CM can be a problem depending on the amp and how the manufacturer has designed it in terms of signal level input.  Beyond that it will also suffer from the same things they've always suffered from which is the listener's placement relative to the speaker cabinet for the same reasons that mic placements have such a tremendous influence on their sound. 

What I never imagined is how many people have such a limited amount of knowledge about the different speaker characteristics, so they naturally place the blame on the modeler...which really has little to do with it.

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Fully agree about the drastic impact a room has on sound and tone.  And thank you for these posts, as there are some tips in there that I will try with my monitors.

 

BUT, I still think that a carefully controlled A/B comparison - with headphones - where you add and remove a send block, should not alter the tone in the way I've described.  Totally agree that every pair of headphones will sound different, but here I'm keeping that, and all other variables, constant.

 

I think there is something here to be discovered and fixed, which is why I keep trying to figure it out!  Maybe a noise problem, power problem, level/impedance problem, etc.  Or maybe it is to be expected that adding a send block should change the sound, per some of the comments above about D/A's etc.  That would be disappointing though, and would certainly erode my confidence in the Helix.

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On 12/21/2020 at 11:17 AM, jaw5jaw5 said:

 With a single coil strat, I'm really relying on the reverb to warm/thicken up the sound, so the overall effect is not good.

 
Joel

Perhaps this is a matter of semantics but I know of no reverb that can "warm up or thicken a sound."

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21 hours ago, jaw5jaw5 said:

Fully agree about the drastic impact a room has on sound and tone.  And thank you for these posts, as there are some tips in there that I will try with my monitors.

 

BUT, I still think that a carefully controlled A/B comparison - with headphones - where you add and remove a send block, should not alter the tone in the way I've described.  Totally agree that every pair of headphones will sound different, but here I'm keeping that, and all other variables, constant.

 

I think there is something here to be discovered and fixed, which is why I keep trying to figure it out!  Maybe a noise problem, power problem, level/impedance problem, etc.  Or maybe it is to be expected that adding a send block should change the sound, per some of the comments above about D/A's etc.  That would be disappointing though, and would certainly erode my confidence in the Helix.

I would absolutely agree that a send block shouldn't have much, if any, effect on the overall tone given the core signal path is gain staged appropriately.  Obviously there will be a D/A conversion that happens which could be affected by a signal that's too hot, but that would apply to any number of blocks that might end up in the signal chain, particularly with delays which is why they include a headroom parameter to adjust for that.

I find it interesting that the one response to your posting of your preset didn't appear to hear the same artifacts you're mentioning.  I downloaded and inspected your preset although I wasn't able to play through it due to time constraints on Christmas, but I didn't see anything that really stands out to me as "weird" other than your fairly aggressive high cuts on your low and high cut block.  I commonly play both my Strat Elite and the Tele Elite through a range of different amp models including the Fender Twin model as you're using. and I've never felt the need for such deep high cuts.  Granted, I do all my high cut adjustments using a parametric EQ block which has a steeper rate of adjustment than does the simple high and low cut block.  But even then I can't ever remember needing to cut belor 8khz, and normally I'm much higher than that.  I do typically have a fairly minor notch applied to the 4.2khz area to alleviate some of the twanginess on heavier, more driven tones.  But I don't see how any of those things would account for what you're describing.

Of course "digital harshness" is a pretty objective term and can mean lots of different things to different people.  Maybe after I get past this weekend I'll have a chance to load up your preset on my live Helix and try it out with my elite strat into my Yamaha DXR12 and see if I can make out what you're hearing and experiment with it a bit.

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If you haven't already seen it, Jason Sadites has a great video on this general topic of 'none of us having ever actually heard what our presets really sound like'

It's well worth the 30min watch.

 

 

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I finally had a chance to listen to your preset. When Send 3 is activated there's a difference in the way it sounds, but the only difference I hear is a change in the panning. It seems to be more to the right. You may be perceiving that as harshness. As DunedinDragon pointed out, we all have different ears.

 

I went backwards through the blocks before Send 3, deleting one at a time. Nothing made a difference until I deleted the Reverb Block (Legacy Hall). I replaced it with a MONO Reverb (Ganymede) with MOD OFF and Delay down. No problem. I tried a couple of different Stereo vs Mono reverbs with the same result. The problem only affects Stereo Reverbs. I then created a totally simple preset with the US Double Vib/Cab on Path A and a Stereo reverb on path B before a Send 3 Block. Same problem. I tried different Send Blocks. Same.

 

What does it mean? I have no clue, and I haven't time to do extensive research. Since the Send is one-way (no return) the DA conversion shouldn't matter and at any rate wouldn't explain why it only affects Stereo Reverbs (it may affect other stereo stuff, but that's all I have time to test).

 

Unless somebody can run with what I've shown and come up with an explanation, I'd open a ticket with support. You MAY have discovered a genuine bug! This is easy to duplicate - use the simplest chain Amp/Cab>Stereo Reverb>Send - so that the poor overworked support guys can't possibly be confused by unnecessary complexity.

 

And PLEASE - come back and tell us what support makes of this. It's a very interesting anomaly

 

Merry Christmas!

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On 12/24/2020 at 7:03 AM, DunedinDragon said:

What I never imagined is how many people have such a limited amount of knowledge about the different speaker characteristics, so they naturally place the blame on the modeler...which really has little to do with it.

 

Quote of the month! In fact- in most cases It's not the modeler, or the speakers either.

 

Its "people"..., That group always throws a wrench in the works. Get rid of them and enter toneful bliss.... ; )

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Thanks to everyone for the thoughts and for taking the time to try out the A/B on my preset.  I will open a support ticket tomorrow to report this issue, and I promise to close the loop on this forum thread when I have a response from them.

 

I'm continually surprised at how important basic amp settings (treble, gain, etc.) are to overall tone, and even though I constantly get this advice, I find myself monkeying around with effects and advanced settings rather than the basics.  That was a good tip above, and I think I really improved my headphones vs monitor preset differences.  Presence was a helpful additional knob as it is subtly different than treble.

 

Also will try the notch/parametric EQ approach, watch that Sadites video, and explore mono reverbs rather than stereo (as workaround for send block problem).  Ah, the life-long search for the perfect tone...

 

Happy holidays and thanks again.

 

Joel

 

 

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@jawinick.... that video from Jason is outstanding.... thanks for posting it. 

 

That is stuff I am very aware of and familiar with, but I have such a hard time explaining to people.

I'm going to keep that video link handy and let Jason explain it from now on - LOL!

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Hey all, just wanted to post the response from Line 6 on this issue:

 

Thanks for your patience. After speaking with some of my colleagues, the preset you've provided is functioning as expected. Its just summing everything to mono since it's coming after your stereo effects. This is normal behavior when you have a mono block after stereo effects.  I'm sorry to inform you but this isn't a bug. You can tell the difference if you insert a stereo FX Send in your signal chain instead.

This is great news, and is just something to be aware of.  The confusing thing about this is that it is not at all clear that many of the reverbs are stereo, as they, for some reason, do not always have the stereo icon after them in the display window on the Helix.  So be aware of that as well.

 

Thanks to all for the posts here.

 

Joel

 

 

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