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3 + Days with a Helix ..... for an Axe and Kemper owner / user....

benifin

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,329
Hey all

Finally got to "steal" [ borrow :) ] a colleagues Helix whilst he and his family are away for the holidays ... he's back on Friday ... so the Helix goes back then ..... heres what Ive been doing.

- Ive only used / tweaked 5 amps on his recommendations .... he's knows I like classic-rock brit tones so he suggested I mess with the Marhall 2204, Park 75, Plexi and DC 30 ..... I stuck to these 5 so I could concentrate on tones in my ball park ..... actually I strayed on to the Archon Lead also for some heavier fun :)

Thought so far re: everything other than tone / feel


- the UI is astonishingly silly-stupid-easy to use and tweak - I have loaded the Editor but it is so quick to do on the unit its ridiculous ...... its designer is an industrial-ergonomic genius :)

- pedal is good - no problems - prefer the travel on my Mission, but no biggie at all

- no issues with the FSW's

- on-unit controls / buttons are a joy to use

- the 6 continuous controller buttons are a bit too close to each other for my fat fingers

- I think the 6 continuous controller buttons would well do with a steel-kick-bar for extra protection

Putting the UI aside, the Sounds / Tones / Feel so far

- all my messing around so far has been in to my CLR at stage volume [ at home studio ] ... loud !!

- I didnt use any in-built Cabs as I wanted to use the same 2 IR's I use in my Axe and KPA for comparative / consistency reasons

- I use a %50 / %50 mix of 2 x Sigma Audio IR's - Zilla 3B and Zilla 5A ... these are the exact same cabs and 50/50 cab-mix I use in my Axe presets ..... and I also did an exact 50/50 .WAV file cab mix of these 2 IR's for my Kemper ..... my ears are really familar with these Cabs as they are my "go to" for my Axe and Kemper .... a great combo for gritty classic rock in to a CLR

- my guitar is my "Stratele" in my avatar ... Kinman 6.4k Broadacster in the neck and Ashtray Tele Bridge with through body strings .... I'm biased, but its so freakin' awesome sounding .... :)

- the 2204 and Plexi are as good as anything I have in my Axe or KPA

- the Park 75 sounds like a [very good] cross between a JTM45 and a Dirty Shirley but in a lower gain-range ie: a good thing

- the Archon really reminds me of the Engl Severe in the Axe but with a bit more bite .... with gain set lower, its a fantastic rock amp

- the DC 30 - said it before and I'll say it again - the Helix DC 30 Ch 1 and Ch 2 is utterly sublime ...... like the MB Profiles for the KPA and the Dirty Shirly and Tucana Amps for the Axe, the DC 30 on its own is worth the price of entry for Helix-world :)..... I have not heard a better modeller tone in anything else .... not hard I guess given that the Axe doesnt model Ch 2 of the DC 30 and all the KPA DC 30 profiles out there [ I have them all :) ] have none of the body a DC 30 [ my last and favorite real amp before going digital was a Ceriatone DC 30 head ]

- also, like the real DC 30, the jumped DC 30 model sounds just like the real thing ... a bit too futzy and a bit too flubbly for my liking, but thats just a personal thing .... there are plenty of DC 30 users who swear that jumpering 1 and 2 is audio heaven .... not me :)

- for the record, if you can hear fizz or squirrels in a Helix get your hearing checked :)

- I know others have said it, but to my ears, yes, the drives on the Helix are streets ahead of the KPA and yes, are also audibly better than the Axe's as well ... and yes, incl. 6.02 ... the Timmy in the Helix is just gorgeous

- the Snapshot idea / implemetation is brilliant ..... much better than Axe X/Y .... let not even mention KPA performances :(

- the Sag control [ like the Axe Sag control ] is just fantastic ..... like the axe, a little goes a long way

- easy comparison - compared to the KPA the Helix sounds like a "non-recorded" amp - the KPA has a much more-polished " edges rounded off " sound ..... not a complaint .... I love my KPA .... but the KPA sounds way more refined than the Helix ..... again, this is absolutly not to say the KPA is better or worse ... its a whole differnet beast altoghether ... in fact the challenge with using a KPA live for classic rock is trying to find and tweak profiles that sound less-recorded-less-compressed-and-more-gritty

- tricky comparison - the Axe XL - I jumped on board the Axe-train with Q 1 ..... since then, to my ears, the FW updates seem to have oscillated between tonally-more-polished to tonally-less-polished ... but for all FW's from Q 1 to Q 6 [so far at least] to my ears, the challenge again is to "de-polish" / "re-dynamic " the tones for live use ...... again, this is absolutly not to say the Axe is better or worse ... for what it is, simply put, the Axe is astonishing

To the Helix

- compared to the KPA and the Axe, the Helix is much more in-your-face-gritty-sounding ..... whereas with the KPA and Axe the challenge is to " de-polish " and " re-grit " the sounds for live use, the challenge for the Helix is if you want your tones " more-refined" / " more polished "

After a few days of messing around I am left with one overwhelming feeling. ..... for me, having come from 40+ years of crap and brilliant tube amps, the older I get, the more I want ...no ... the more I crave " spitty gritty tubeness " .... the very thing I strive to " tweak in to my Axe and Kemper " is instantly there in the Helix ..... its just got that vibe going on in spades ..... it was clear within mins of messing around.

Im not saying the Helix is better or worse than an Axe or KPA .... Im not saying sell your Axe or KPA to buy one ... Im not saying the Helix " is it " .... if youve got an Axe and/or KPA and love, move on ... theres nothing here for you :)

What I will say though is that if you find the Kemper or Axe too polished / too refined even after tweaking your profiles / patches , give the Helix a try ...... it may be too-raw for some ... especially given how accusomted we have all become to playing with "post-recorded" tones ...... but just maybe, your ears might start to " re-love " that "harsh beauty" that can be extremely elusive when using a modeller live .... and you may well be very pleasantry surprised

Its going to be very hard to give this thing back :) ..... honeslty, if I didnt already have a KPA and Axe, my credit card would be smoking already :)

Regardless of whatever platform you prefer and use .... tweak less ... play more .... and enjoy the music you play and make !!! :) :) :)

Peace to all.

Ben
 

Metal Tiger

Member
Messages
783
Thanx for the review!
I play tube clean amps and use a lot of great pedals for dirt. When I had an ax8 for a couple weeks, I got the same "post recording" feeling you were talking about. I might order a helix at some point.
 

ColdFrixion

Senior Member
Messages
5,736
Fortunately, that polished and refined tone is exactly what I need when recording. I will say from what I've heard, the KPA puts out exactly what's put into it. Profile something that sounds gritty and unrefined, you'll get something that sounds gritty and unrefined. Some have noted the Kemper's tendency to improve extremely minor (unwanted) characteristics (as noted in a couple of Chapman and Anderton videos) but the essential nature of the tone is practically indistinguishable, though it depends on who's making the profile and what they're profiling.
 
Last edited:

benifin

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,329
Fortunately, that polished and refined tone is exactly what I need when recording. I will say from what I've heard, the KPA puts out exactly what's put into it. Profile something that sounds gritty and unrefined, you'll get something that sounds gritty and unrefined. Some have noted the Kemper's tendency to improve extremely minor (unwanted) characteristics (as noted in a couple of Chapman and Anderton videos) but the essential nature of the tone is practically indistinguishable, though it depends on who's making the profile and what they're profiling.
^^^^^ Totally agree :)
 

Onemileguy

Member
Messages
447
Great review. I enjoyed the alternative and likely more accurate perspective about the real differences between 3 great moderlers. Personally I like gritty and uncompressed rawness especially for gigging.
 

-Empire

Member
Messages
5,975
Hey all

Finally got to "steal" [ borrow :) ] a colleagues Helix whilst he and his family are away for the holidays ... he's back on Friday ... so the Helix goes back then ..... heres what Ive been doing.

- Ive only used / tweaked 5 amps on his recommendations .... he's knows I like classic-rock brit tones so he suggested I mess with the Marhall 2204, Park 75, Plexi and DC 30 ..... I stuck to these 5 so I could concentrate on tones in my ball park ..... actually I strayed on to the Archon Lead also for some heavier fun :)

Thought so far re: everything other than tone / feel


- the UI is astonishingly silly-stupid-easy to use and tweak - I have loaded the Editor but it is so quick to do on the unit its ridiculous ...... its designer is an industrial-ergonomic genius :)

- pedal is good - no problems - prefer the travel on my Mission, but no biggie at all

- no issues with the FSW's

- on-unit controls / buttons are a joy to use

- the 6 continuous controller buttons are a bit too close to each other for my fat fingers

- I think the 6 continuous controller buttons would well do with a steel-kick-bar for extra protection

Putting the UI aside, the Sounds / Tones / Feel so far

- all my messing around so far has been in to my CLR at stage volume [ at home studio ] ... loud !!

- I didnt use any in-built Cabs as I wanted to use the same 2 IR's I use in my Axe and KPA for comparative / consistency reasons

- I use a %50 / %50 mix of 2 x Sigma Audio IR's - Zilla 3B and Zilla 5A ... these are the exact same cabs and 50/50 cab-mix I use in my Axe presets ..... and I also did an exact 50/50 .WAV file cab mix of these 2 IR's for my Kemper ..... my ears are really familar with these Cabs as they are my "go to" for my Axe and Kemper .... a great combo for gritty classic rock in to a CLR

- my guitar is my "Stratele" in my avatar ... Kinman 6.4k Broadacster in the neck and Ashtray Tele Bridge with through body strings .... I'm biased, but its so freakin' awesome sounding .... :)

- the 2204 and Plexi are as good as anything I have in my Axe or KPA

- the Park 75 sounds like a [very good] cross between a JTM45 and a Dirty Shirley but in a lower gain-range ie: a good thing

- the Archon really reminds me of the Engl Severe in the Axe but with a bit more bite .... with gain set lower, its a fantastic rock amp

- the DC 30 - said it before and I'll say it again - the Helix DC 30 Ch 1 and Ch 2 is utterly sublime ...... like the MB Profiles for the KPA and the Dirty Shirly and Tucana Amps for the Axe, the DC 30 on its own is worth the price of entry for Helix-world :)..... I have not heard a better modeller tone in anything else .... not hard I guess given that the Axe doesnt model Ch 2 of the DC 30 and all the KPA DC 30 profiles out there [ I have them all :) ] have none of the body a DC 30 [ my last and favorite real amp before going digital was a Ceriatone DC 30 head ]

- also, like the real DC 30, the jumped DC 30 model sounds just like the real thing ... a bit too futzy and a bit too flubbly for my liking, but thats just a personal thing .... there are plenty of DC 30 users who swear that jumpering 1 and 2 is audio heaven .... not me :)

- for the record, if you can hear fizz or squirrels in a Helix get your hearing checked :)

- I know others have said it, but to my ears, yes, the drives on the Helix are streets ahead of the KPA and yes, are also audibly better than the Axe's as well ... and yes, incl. 6.02 ... the Timmy in the Helix is just gorgeous

- the Snapshot idea / implemetation is brilliant ..... much better than Axe X/Y .... let not even mention KPA performances :(

- the Sag control [ like the Axe Sag control ] is just fantastic ..... like the axe, a little goes a long way

- easy comparison - compared to the KPA the Helix sounds like a "non-recorded" amp - the KPA has a much more-polished " edges rounded off " sound ..... not a complaint .... I love my KPA .... but the KPA sounds way more refined than the Helix ..... again, this is absolutly not to say the KPA is better or worse ... its a whole differnet beast altoghether ... in fact the challenge with using a KPA live for classic rock is trying to find and tweak profiles that sound less-recorded-less-compressed-and-more-gritty

- tricky comparison - the Axe XL - I jumped on board the Axe-train with Q 1 ..... since then, to my ears, the FW updates seem to have oscillated between tonally-more-polished to tonally-less-polished ... but for all FW's from Q 1 to Q 6 [so far at least] to my ears, the challenge again is to "de-polish" / "re-dynamic " the tones for live use ...... again, this is absolutly not to say the Axe is better or worse ... for what it is, simply put, the Axe is astonishing

To the Helix

- compared to the KPA and the Axe, the Helix is much more in-your-face-gritty-sounding ..... whereas with the KPA and Axe the challenge is to " de-polish " and " re-grit " the sounds for live use, the challenge for the Helix is if you want your tones " more-refined" / " more polished "

After a few days of messing around I am left with one overwhelming feeling. ..... for me, having come from 40+ years of crap and brilliant tube amps, the older I get, the more I want ...no ... the more I crave " spitty gritty tubeness " .... the very thing I strive to " tweak in to my Axe and Kemper " is instantly there in the Helix ..... its just got that vibe going on in spades ..... it was clear within mins of messing around.

Im not saying the Helix is better or worse than an Axe or KPA .... Im not saying sell your Axe or KPA to buy one ... Im not saying the Helix " is it " .... if youve got an Axe and/or KPA and love, move on ... theres nothing here for you :)

What I will say though is that if you find the Kemper or Axe too polished / too refined even after tweaking your profiles / patches , give the Helix a try ...... it may be too-raw for some ... especially given how accusomted we have all become to playing with "post-recorded" tones ...... but just maybe, your ears might start to " re-love " that "harsh beauty" that can be extremely elusive when using a modeller live .... and you may well be very pleasantry surprised

Its going to be very hard to give this thing back :) ..... honeslty, if I didnt already have a KPA and Axe, my credit card would be smoking already :)

Regardless of whatever platform you prefer and use .... tweak less ... play more .... and enjoy the music you play and make !!! :) :) :)

Peace to all.

Ben
Great review. You put into words what I always felt but couldn't explain with the kemper when I had it for a year. It replaced all my tube amps and I was happy with it because of the convenience, reliability, and weight. But the helix just blows me away every time I turn it on and it's just so darn convenient to have your whole rig on the floor in front of you.
 

jmtaylor22

Member
Messages
1,160
Nice review!

I have noticed that most people who really dislike the Helix used the stock cabs and are conflating cab modeling with amp modeling. If I couldn't load IR files into the Helix I would not have liked it nearly as much. I think you can get decent results from the stock cabs. I played around with them, and with enough tweaking and filtering I got ok results. However, when I use my normal Ownhammer IRs that I use in every device the sound is there with not much tweaking at all! With the stock cabs some of the options sound absolutely terrible IMO, if you choose one of those I too would hate the Helix, but not because of the amp modeling. I think with the stock cabs, because they basically give every option on each cab, some of them are really bad and if you happen to just be using one of those it sounds really terrible.

It cannot be stated enough that the cab is a huge component of what people think of as "amp tone". All you have to do is turn off the cab modeling in both devices to hear how terrible both sound without any cab modeling.

If you truly want to compare "amp modeling", which really is the preamp + poweramp of whatever amp they modeled you MUST use the same cab IR for both.
 

mikah912

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,654
Nice review!

I have noticed that most people who really dislike the Helix used the stock cabs and are conflating cab modeling with amp modeling. If I couldn't load IR files into the Helix I would not have liked it nearly as much. I think you can get decent results from the stock cabs. I played around with them, and with enough tweaking and filtering I got ok results. However, when I use my normal Ownhammer IRs that I use in every device the sound is there with not much tweaking at all! With the stock cabs some of the options sound absolutely terrible IMO, if you choose one of those I too would hate the Helix, but not because of the amp modeling. I think with the stock cabs, because they basically give every option on each cab, some of them are really bad and if you happen to just be using one of those it sounds really terrible.

It cannot be stated enough that the cab is a huge component of what people think of as "amp tone". All you have to do is turn off the cab modeling in both devices to hear how terrible both sound without any cab modeling.

If you truly want to compare "amp modeling", which really is the preamp + poweramp of whatever amp they modeled you MUST use the same cab IR for both.
Well said.

I get how people perceive the Helix to be "rawer"-sounding whereas the AX8 is "smoother/more produced", but I really think that's more in the default IRs for each device than the base modeling. You use a good Ownhammer with both, then it's more like "That AX8 sure has a great-sounding Plexi, and that Helix has a different - but also great - sounding Plexi."

Moreover, I don't think either's character is an insurmountable challenge should you wish to change it. The AX8 models all have bright switches and extensive EQ options, plus you can always load up an IR that just uses a SM57. The Helix models can be "tamed" with a good Ownhammer and/or high cut in the cab block.

I'm not a big fan of the default IRs on either, but I will concede that the AX8 "starts" from a better place with its cab models.
 

ColdFrixion

Senior Member
Messages
5,736
It's worth noting that the Helix tends to sound brighter compared to the Axe's somewhat darker tones which may explain why you think the Helix sounds somewhat grittier and a bit more raw. Personally, this is the very reason I thought the Helix tended to sound a bit thin in a number of demos, but after playing around with samples of both, this can be compensated for in either unit by cutting some of the high-end in the Helix or boosting it in the Axe, whichever you prefer.
 
Last edited:

jmtaylor22

Member
Messages
1,160
I'm not a big fan of the default IRs on either, but I will concede that the AX8 "starts" from a better place with its cab models.
Well I think the biggest problem is some of the Helix combinations are just really bad with the stock cabs. If you just quickly browse through them and use whatever it defaults to, some of them were IMO terrible and I can't imagine anyone saying they sound good. Especially with some gain, some of them were really bright and fizzy especially the smaller cabs (1x12).

If you are in a store just trying it out I can see why this would be a big turn off. Again this is "cab modeling" not "amp modeling" though. If you fiddle with them you can work with the stock cabs, but that takes some time and not what someone is likely to do in a quick demo of it.
 

Hellbound

Member
Messages
344
Thanks benefin for such an informed and unbiased review

It's rare to hear from someone who has good experience with these units give such a well written objective review

It seems pretty clear to me that we are now so lucky to have such technology at our credit cards disposal.

It also seems clear to me there is no overall "best" unit

Thanks again for taking the trouble to post your experience
 

ColdFrixion

Senior Member
Messages
5,736
Well I think the biggest problem is some of the Helix combinations are just really bad with the stock cabs. If you just quickly browse through them and use whatever it defaults to, some of them were IMO terrible and I can't imagine anyone saying they sound good. Especially with some gain, some of them were really bright and fizzy especially the smaller cabs (1x12).
Simply cutting a few dB in the highs / high mids tends to tame the stock presets, in my opinion.
 

jmtaylor22

Member
Messages
1,160
Simply cutting a few dB in the highs / high mids tends to tame the stock presets, in my opinion.
I agree you can definitely work with them, since there are so many tone shaping options in the box. But I am not sure how viable this is in a demo situation, or that the average guitarist might do something like that if they bought it. Some of the posts I have seen IR loading is seen as a huge chore not something they would do. If that is the case not sure how much EQ etc... would also be seen as "endless tweaking" and too hard.

My only Helix complaints:

1. The stock cabs are way too bright (for me anyway) and require aggressive EQ
2. The fuzz face has way too much gain is not very good (it sounds ok as an out of control fuzz but that is generally not my experience with most fuzz faces I have played. Even silicon versions don't have that much gain).
3. Too many presets slots vs. IR slots, would love another 128 IR slots
 
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-Empire

Member
Messages
5,975
I've had great luck with the built in helix cabs. The tones in my latest video are literally the stock "AC30 Fawn Normal" factory preset with the gain turned up a bit.

I tried the IR thing but there's too many options, even in the "quick start" folder.
 
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ColdFrixion

Senior Member
Messages
5,736
I agree you can definitely work with them, since there are so many tone shaping options in the box. But I am not sure how viable this is in a demo situation, or that the average guitarist might do something like that if they bought it. Some of the posts I have seen IR loading is seen as a huge chore not something they would do. If that is the case not sure how much EQ etc... would also be seen as "endless tweaking" and too hard.
Both the Axe and Helix have a global EQ. It's just a matter of turning it on and cutting at approx. 2.8k with a medium Q about 3dB or to taste, with the Helix anyway.
 

chris.l.naish

Member
Messages
174
Nice review!

I have noticed that most people who really dislike the Helix used the stock cabs and are conflating cab modeling with amp modeling. If I couldn't load IR files into the Helix I would not have liked it nearly as much. I think you can get decent results from the stock cabs. I played around with them, and with enough tweaking and filtering I got ok results. However, when I use my normal Ownhammer IRs that I use in every device the sound is there with not much tweaking at all! With the stock cabs some of the options sound absolutely terrible IMO, if you choose one of those I too would hate the Helix, but not because of the amp modeling. I think with the stock cabs, because they basically give every option on each cab, some of them are really bad and if you happen to just be using one of those it sounds really terrible.

It cannot be stated enough that the cab is a huge component of what people think of as "amp tone". All you have to do is turn off the cab modeling in both devices to hear how terrible both sound without any cab modeling.

If you truly want to compare "amp modeling", which really is the preamp + poweramp of whatever amp they modeled you MUST use the same cab IR for both.
Well said.

I get how people perceive the Helix to be "rawer"-sounding whereas the AX8 is "smoother/more produced", but I really think that's more in the default IRs for each device than the base modeling. You use a good Ownhammer with both, then it's more like "That AX8 sure has a great-sounding Plexi, and that Helix has a different - but also great - sounding Plexi."

Moreover, I don't think either's character is an insurmountable challenge should you wish to change it. The AX8 models all have bright switches and extensive EQ options, plus you can always load up an IR that just uses a SM57. The Helix models can be "tamed" with a good Ownhammer and/or high cut in the cab block.

I'm not a big fan of the default IRs on either, but I will concede that the AX8 "starts" from a better place with its cab models.
Amen to both of you! I found the same thing when I started using 3 Sigma Audio IR's. Night and day difference for me compared to the stock cabs. That, combined with a +5-6 dB mid-boost somewhere between the 800-915 Hz range via a Simple EQ block, as well as using the Cali 5-band EQ block on distorted tones, makes all the difference for me. Some people always try to argue in favor of the stock cabs, and more power to them if that's their experience, but they just don't work for me. So grateful for 3rd party IR support in the Helix! I will confess that the Fractal platform does a really amazing job getting that pleasing sounding Friedman HBE/nicely overdriven plexi/80's rock sound, but I believe I can get there in the Helix also. :)
 
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AtomicBlaze

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
770
Thanks benefin for such an informed and unbiased review

It's rare to hear from someone who has good experience with these units give such a well written objective review

It seems pretty clear to me that we are now so lucky to have such technology at our credit cards disposal.

It also seems clear to me there is no overall "best" unit

Thanks again for taking the trouble to post your experience
I don't know about unbiased, I think it has always been his opinion that all the top modelers sound equally as good. So big surprise that his unbiased test proved his theory all along.
 

Frank Ritchotte

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
6,486
I don't know about unbiased, I think it has always been his opinion that all the top modelers sound equally as good. So big surprise that his unbiased test proved his theory all along.
Based on the adoption rate of Helix among pro's and the market results I would say they ARE all very capable of creating amazing tones and rig flexibility. I am unclear why this is so hard to believe?
 

tjontheroad

Just Wanna Be Misunderstood
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
9,018
Nice review. Helix does have a gritty raw quality that I also found appealing. Be sure to also try the Fender and HiWatt models where IMO the rawness really makes a strong case for the best of Helix sound.
 

ColdFrixion

Senior Member
Messages
5,736
Based on the adoption rate of Helix among pro's and the market results I would say they ARE all very capable of creating amazing tones and rig flexibility. I am unclear why this is so hard to believe?
I wouldn't claim the Helix isn't capable or flexible. I've looked at the list of artists who are using the Helix on Line6's site and only a few stand out as fairly big names. Maybe there are others that aren't listed.
 






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