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New modeler: Helix 3.11 vs Axe FX 3 (and FM3)


Mikey_S
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Hi guys,

New to this forum.

After quite a lot of time working with analog effect pedals, tube amps, etc', I've decided that it's time to move to an entirely digital, or at least mostly digital rig.

I'm not new to editors, guitar VST plugins, IRs, etc' for home recordings, so I assume the learning curve won't be that much of a problem.

I'm leaning between Helix, Axe FX3 (FM3) or Quad Cortex. I tend to favour the Line 6 or Fractal products since they have quite a good reputation in the hardware department and support.

I loved the fact that the Helix ecosystem has the Helix Native which you get in a great discount when buying one of the Helix products. I think it's an amazing advantage over the other competitors since it's so valuable for recording and the much easier re-amping.

 

That being said, mostly people I've asked say that the Axe is a superior unit to the Helix in terms of sounds, and "feels" more natural and like a real amp.
I know that both Fractal and Line6 made some major upgrades to their units (Cygnus and 3.11 respectively). How are the two compared to each other after this update?

 

Regarding which specific model to buy, I actually liked the "all in one" approach of the Helix Floor or LT, which even includes an expression pedal, but that's not a deal breaker for me (I actually loved the form factor of the HX Stomp and Quad Cortex the most).

 

Thank you very much!!!

 

Miki

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The fact is, digital modeling is consistent regardless of manufacturer.  It's nothing more than taking measurements on a circuit board and implementing mathematical algorithms that duplicate those behaviors.  As long as the computing resources are consistent (which they are on all units), the difference will be in how familiar the person using the modeler is with how to use the facilities of the unit to get the sound they want.   A person that's familiar with any two units will be able to produce equivalent sounds as has been demonstrated on Jason Sadites YouTube channel.  So you can pretty much dismiss all "product A sounds or feels better than product B" as nothing more than confirmation bias.  That doesn't mean that there aren't meaningful differences when it comes to any individual user or situation.

The important factors in evaluating the various units are going to be amps and effects have been modeled, how often they provide updates, ease of use, and flexibility for building signal chains, and practical features that allow you to interact with the outside analog world be that inputs and outputs.  For my money, THESE are the factors that have Helix written all over them, particularly when you examine the Floor, Rack, and to a lesser degree the LT.  What comes with smaller form factors are usually limitations in usability and integration ability.  All Helix units have the same amp and effect models, but have limitations on the complexity of signal chains you can build.  So a lot depends on how you intend to use the unit and what you will be using it for.

For example, I have two Helix floor units.  One unit is dedicated to my studio and serves as a backup for my other unit which is used for live performances.  In my studio the Helix works as my audio interface to the DAW and has my vocal microphone, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboard, bass, and drums constantly connected so I can easily select the preset for which instrument I want to record on a given track, arm the track and start recording while monitoring the tracks and inputs either through my studio speakers (Yamaha HS7) or through my headphones.  My live system is connected to my QSC Touchmix 30 mixing board and is connected to Yamaha DXR12 speakers for gain staging purposes at home.  In addition to my guitar input I also have my BeatBuddy drum pedal attached to the mixing board and controlled via MIDI from my Helix floor.  These are the real practical examples of what differentiate the modelers and where you'll find the most practical differences between the different units.

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Here at the Line6 Community, we like Helix.

 

Over at the Fractal Community, they prefer AXE.

 

SURPRISE!

 

As DD stated, if you know what you're doing, either will make tones indistinguishable from the other.

 

FEEL is so subjective as to be a waste of time to discuss. It feels right or it doesn't, only you can decide.

 

One interesting thing to note. You can buy a Helix from a store with a returns policy.

 

Once you've sold a family member to buy a Fractal product, it's a done deal.

 

Got a free afternoon? Go over to the TGP Digital and Modeling forum.

 

You'll discover MANY who've bought one or the other, sold it, bought the other, sold it and switched back.......

 

You'll also find TONS of discussion over the pros and cons of both, and QC too! And Mooer and Amplifire and .....

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8 hours ago, Mikey_S said:

That being said, mostly people I've asked say that the Axe is a superior unit to the Helix in terms of sounds, and "feels" more natural and like a real amp.

 

 

This is what gets everybody in trouble when they first ditch their tube amps. No modeler...and I do mean NO modeler... it's ever gonna "feel" like a tube amp. The "amp in the room" tone you're used to is not to be had...because they're not tube amps. End of story. Don't care who's product we're talking about. So if that's gonna be your yardstick, it's very likely that you'll be disappointed no matter what you buy.

 

But, once you make peace with that fact, then you're decision boils down to the form factor, the UI, and how much money you want to spend (cough... $$FRACTAL$$... cough, cough) . Because the truth is, if you know what your doing you can make any of those units sound good. 

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30 minutes ago, datacommando said:

 

I thought it was a couple of vital internal organs, so it's actually less than I expected. ;-)

 

Everything is always worth more when you part it out... only difference is it's harder to hide a chop-shop for kidneys than exotic cars... the cars don't scream as much. ;)

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Newly created rumor - how long will it take to make it 'round the world -

 

Fractal modelers are actually made from 3D printed human organs. That's why they have superior "feel".

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All modellers sound good in 2021.  Unless you use a unit from 10 years ago, then it'll be inferior.  You don't need to have identical bells and whistles.  It's like Apple vs. Android -- both allow you to make phone calls, play music, browse the internet.  It's just how familiar you are with your specific ... piece of equipment.

 

Axe FX is a rack unit.  It needs a midi controller and an expression pedal.  Line 6 Helix Floor/LT is an all-in-one contained unit.  Helix floor has scribble strips, and a solid heavy duty expression pedal.

 

Do both sound good?  Yes!  Do both provide instant sound switching.... like there is no gap when switching between your solo and rhythm sound?  Yep -- scenes v. snapshots--same thing.  Can both get the same sounds?  Yes!  both have the same capabilities, similar hi-fi amps and effects.

 

To make purple, you take blue + red paint.  If your arts supply store does not have purple paint, you go and make your own out of individual ingredients.  Same thing, if you don't have some weird specific fuzz + octavia, you go and create your own out of fuzz + octavia + eq.  Etc.  

 

Quad Cortex is pretty neat...but where the heck is the exp pedal?  It's missing (gasp!).  You need to buy an external one.  It has twice the processing power of the Helix... Wow!!!  But, have I ever felt that I am running out of DSP on a Helix?  Never!  Does a touch screen make sense?  It does if you want your piece of equipment to feel like a giant iPad.  Do you like integrated buttons/knobs?  They'll probably break faster than dedicated buttons, same for the touch screen.  Do you like having an editor on your computer (Helix), or do you prefer to edit things on a giant iPad-looking thing that can connect to WiFi? 

 

Do you want to model your specific amp, pedals, to create a digital clone of it?  I personally don't.  What if you want to tweak your parameters on this digital clone.... you can't!  But you can digitize anything you want with the Quad Cortex. 

 

Bottom line: rack units are .... so 1998.  Why get all that if you can just get a Headrush board, Helix, Boss, Kemper board.  mkay?  And Helix is pretty good with a ton of power and it gets better and better.  What makes you feel inspired?  What looks like a piece of gear that you will use for 5 years live and in the studio, that will satisfy your musical needs, and be ergonomically ... "good"?  that's what you should buy.  You can recreate anything with any piece of equipment... nearly... trust me. 

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1 hour ago, theElevators said:

Bottom line: rack units are .... so 1998.  Why get all that if you can just get a Headrush board, Helix, Boss, Kemper board.  mkay? 

 

Well, bar gigs, drunks, destruction of a $450 Helix Control (or $200 FCB1010/UNO2) vs $1700 Helix Floor....just sayin', s*&t happens..... :-)

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7 hours ago, theElevators said:

It's like Apple vs. Android

 

I stopped reading right here.
You're comparing – literally, so to speak – apples to androids.
So, to get the facts straight:
"Apple" is the name of a company that sells a wide palette of hardware and software products and services.
"Android" is a computer (in the widest sense) operating system brand by a company that rhymes with schkroogle.
Vive la différence.

 

Now, let's compare, say, Line 6 (company) to Windows (operating system brand). How will that work out, I wonder? ;)

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7 hours ago, theElevators said:

Bottom line: rack units are .... so 1998. 

 

That's a so 2010 cliché...

 

When you don't want to spend your days folded in half, you discover racks. The most natural device for the human being.

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On 5/18/2021 at 1:46 AM, Mikey_S said:

How are the two compared to each other after this update?

 

Thank you very much!!!

 

Miki

 

You get one of each, and then play one after the other.

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God help me, I love these discussions that go nowhere and solve nothing....;)

 

Like rack units? Get one. Like floor units? Get one. Perfectly happy with a crappy old Pignose and a pawn shop Tele? Awesome. In the end, anybody's personal preference for one over the other(s) isn't worth two wet farts.

 

We now return you to your regularly scheduled "tastes great/less filling" debate.

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I've seen a video on youtube by Rhett Shull demoing the ability of Quad Cortex to emulate the sound of your existing rig (amp+cab) - seems like it'd be helpful for players who have nice amp and cab collection that they'd like to take with them to the gig without having to haul the amps/cabs.  At least I thought it was pretty cool for players who already had their sound and wanted to put that sound in the box with little trouble.  Seems like this component is a different approach than the modeling approach of the Helix, if that's what might appeal.

 

 

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The comparison can make sense between all the available hardware. There's no bad hardware to me, but more than the Helix unit when you choose a Line 6 Product you are able to "profit" of the entire Line 6 system. In my opinion it's one of the most complete. You can have a Variax with Helix, a Powercab and Helix Native if you want get all your patches on your DAW without the Helix . You can get the entire chain and everything is fully assignable by the Helix itself. 

 

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  • 5 months later...

" It's nothing more than taking measurements on a circuit board and implementing mathematical algorithms that duplicate those behaviors"

 

Oh come on. Far from being this simple. This (the modeling approach)  is the main differentiating factor between manufacturers. Some model circuits, some model sound, some model human ear reception. You name it. Even if some random two will  follow the same approach, say circuit modelling, how they model it will make a huge difference. 

A tube is a non linear device. Do you think it's a simple task to come up with a digital model of something so unpredictable? There will be dozens of ways to do it. So yes, different "modern" units do sound different.

 

But who am I to judge.....

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All of these units go so much deeper than it might appear on the surface. The more you dig deep into what's possible, the more you'll like the unit you chose.

 

When Helix first came out 6 years ago, it had four parallel paths and I could do multiband processing. That's an important part of my sound, so I wanted it. Over the past six years, I've developed lots of presets, favorites, etc.

 

But here's the main point: Even if something "better" came along, it would take me six years before I had exploited it to the same depth as the Helix. These days, all the gear is good, and all of it has limitations. Choose whatever has the least limitations for your specific needs, devote yourself to learning what it can do, and you'll be happy with it.

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I've had/have all of the aformentioned. Toured the AxeFX for 10 years, the Kemper for 7 and had most of the line6 stuff since the orignal pod. I've used them all extensively, professionally live and in many released recordings. I can give you a short answer to this in 2021..

 

They can all sound like each other these days but you just won't have the time to truly learn them all in greater depth. So go with the one that has the most intuitive interface/software/hardware for you, then start peeling back layers. They all have presets that mostly suck and that is no way to judge any of them. Of the three Line 6 offers incredible value, reliable intuitive software and tons of history knowledge in modelling. Do your research, go with what you feel will work for you and your budget best and just get your hands dirty!  

 

As a guitarist there is no greater time to be alive! (well... except maybe the 80s, but most of those guys and girls cant hear anything anymore lol)

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The deeper is the editing, the bigger is the wasted time behind these things. I mean, it's cool to have all those params to deal with, but at some point we need to decide if we like to play the damn guitar or we'd like to work as sound engineer.

 

I'm in a age that the less the better...(which means way more time to play and improve for me...)

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5 hours ago, neilius said:

As a guitarist there is no greater time to be alive! (well... except maybe the 80s, but most of those guys and girls cant hear anything anymore lol)

 

My hearing survived... :)

 

Those were great times, mostly because there was no shortage of live shows and a living to be made.

Even back then I owned a modeler for recording... it was called a Rockman.

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On 5/18/2021 at 9:46 AM, Mikey_S said:

Hi guys,

New to this forum.

After quite a lot of time working with analog effect pedals, tube amps, etc', I've decided that it's time to move to an entirely digital, or at least mostly digital rig.

I'm not new to editors, guitar VST plugins, IRs, etc' for home recordings, so I assume the learning curve won't be that much of a problem.

I'm leaning between Helix, Axe FX3 (FM3) or Quad Cortex. I tend to favour the Line 6 or Fractal products since they have quite a good reputation in the hardware department and support.

I loved the fact that the Helix ecosystem has the Helix Native which you get in a great discount when buying one of the Helix products. I think it's an amazing advantage over the other competitors since it's so valuable for recording and the much easier re-amping.

 

That being said, mostly people I've asked say that the Axe is a superior unit to the Helix in terms of sounds, and "feels" more natural and like a real amp.
I know that both Fractal and Line6 made some major upgrades to their units (Cygnus and 3.11 respectively). How are the two compared to each other after this update?

 

Regarding which specific model to buy, I actually liked the "all in one" approach of the Helix Floor or LT, which even includes an expression pedal, but that's not a deal breaker for me (I actually loved the form factor of the HX Stomp and Quad Cortex the most).

 

Thank you very much!!!

 

Miki

 

Welcome to my world mate..

 

Only difference is, I've had the Helix for years but did quite a lot of research on the Fractals recently. The basic upshot is that if you have the budget, An Axe III is the best unit you can get. That is rather reinforced by the long list of stellar performers who are using it - regardless of what anyone says, there is a reason people rate it so highly.

 

I was considering an FM3 but the release of the FM9 muddied the waters a bit, both of those units are producing very high quality sounds, just less power than the Axe fx.

The Helix loses out a bit on the sound quality, but I still believe it to be the best all round unit for the price because the versatility is un-matched. It's just down to how much you value the extra quality the fractals are delivering. Naturally you're going to get people defending the Helix, including me.. I am really enjoying my Helix and getting improved tones now I understand it better and the speaker output options better, so I've delayed my jump to Fractal, but it will come eventually.

 

I've spoken to a lot of guys who were Helix owners who went over to Fractal, they all liked the Helix but say the Fractals are so good out of the box, it was a no brainer.

Some people have said all modelers can sound identical. I would dispute that. I know I can get my Helix to sound similar to the same type of patch on a fractal, but ultimately the amp models, especially high gain, are just better. If they weren't, you would not have so many people move over to them. There is a reason many people go from Helix to Fractal, they never go the other way!

 

In summary, I would say if you want to do the best job possible on the lowest budget, get a Helix, no contest, it still is a great piece of kit. If you have an unlimited budget and just want the all out best thing, then it's the Axe III, followed by an FM9. 

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Personally, I think the workflow fit is a bit more important. If the tweaking approach doesn't fit, it doesn't really matter how great something can sound....By the time you figure that out, the lightning might very well have left the bottle before you could get a cap on it.

 

Tweaking an AXE reminds me of tweaking a PCM70...I know so many players that have sold off the AXE because of the workflow...maybe it's better now, I don't know...I tried an AXE2 and it reminded me of a PCM70 and I kicked it to the curb....The sound is great...That 1980s interface killed it for me. 

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45 minutes ago, spaceatl said:

Personally, I think the workflow fit is a bit more important.

 

4 hours ago, PierM said:

I mean, it's cool to have all those params to deal with, but at some point we need to decide if we like to play the damn guitar or we'd like to work as sound engineer.

Those are important points.

 

I create all my own presets, so a computer-based editor is essential for creating custom presets. Helix has HX Edit and Axe-FX has Axe-Edit, however AFAIK, Axe-FX doesn't have the equivalent of Helix Native. The advantage of software for the studio, hardware for live, and the ability to switch presets back and forth between the two is a big deal for me.

 

 

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6 minutes ago, Anderton said:

 

Those are important points.

 

I create all my own presets, so a computer-based editor is essential for creating custom presets. Helix has HX Edit and Axe-FX has Axe-Edit, however AFAIK, Axe-FX doesn't have the equivalent of Helix Native. The advantage of software for the studio, hardware for live, and the ability to switch presets back and forth between the two is a big deal for me.

 

 

 

duh....Native is a huge deal for me...I didn't even mention it...lol!

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