Decisions, decisions.....Kemper vs Axe FX XL+ vs AX8 vs Helix....

Discussion in 'Digital & Modeling Gear' started by harmeet45, Jun 15, 2017.

  1. harmeet45

    harmeet45 Member

    Jun 8, 2017
    Time has come to purchase a new amp and I'm really into modelling. Can't decide between the 4 "giants" of modelling now. Will be doing both gigging and recording fairly often.

    Pros of the Kemper:
    - great amp tone with loads of profiles available
    - can capture other amps (but to be honest I will rarely use this feature)
    - headphone output
    - Total price for rack model + rack case + shipping comes to about $2100 - cheaper than the Axe FX XL without shipping.

    Cons of the Kemper:
    - effects aren't that great apparently
    - fixed routing - 4 effects before amp, 4 effects after. Something like the FX would allow for 1 effect before/7 after/etc.
    - no usb interface (even though there is a USB port separate to the USB drive?)
    - 3u rack so might be a tad big? (not really that much of an issue to be honest)

    Pros of the Axe FX
    - pretty good amp sims with tons of presets
    - effects are great
    - amazing routing capabilities - really leaning towards it for this but not sure
    - only 2u rack size
    - USB interface
    - "industry standard" - a lot of pros use them too, probably a lot of support/forum threads

    Cons of Axe FX
    - expensive! Cheapest used one would be $2000 otherwise I'd have to spend something like $2500 to get it shipped to me as well. I have the opportunity to get an Ultra for $1000 but I've heard they aren't very good.
    - menus might be hard to edit on the fly - honestly not really a problem as I'll mainly be recording.

    Pros of the Helix (pedalboard version)
    - Great interface
    - Easy to use/change settings
    - Routing capabilities are second only to Axe FX
    - Cheap - including shipping it would be something like $1500 at most.
    - tons of outputs including USB IIRC
    - Built in expression pedal

    Cons of the Helix
    - IR cabs aren't that great
    - Tone said to be a little weak
    - Bigger than the AX8

    Pros of the AX8
    - Cheap - around the same price shipped to me as the Helix
    - Most of the Axe FX processing included - so similar to the Axe in terms of sounds?
    - Footswitch means I don't need a MIDI controller

    Cons of the AX8
    - No USB interface
    - No headphone jack
    - No dual/stereo amp configuration due to limited power
    - No built in expression pedal

    Like I said, I'm a little confused and could use some advice. I'm looking to do both recording and gigging with this. One of my concerns/hopes is that when playing live, I can have two signal paths - one with a full cab/impulse etc that goes to the front of house, and one without a cab that I can run through a poweramp into a cab for on stage monitoring. Will mainly be playing rock/prog lead stuff (think Intervals and Plini) but really want it to excel at clean tones too. Won't be using anything else in terms of pedals or gear. Only a wireless and a MIDI controller if needed.

  2. mikah912

    mikah912 Member

    May 22, 2012
    Can't go wrong with Axe-FX II or Helix as an all-in-one recording hub. Axe-FX is significantly more expensive to make into a full live performance rig.
    Gearzilla and yeky83 like this.
  3. Guitardave

    Guitardave Supporting Member

    Feb 14, 2006
    Benicia, CA
    Have you listened to clips and found yourself generally preferring anything?

    For gigging you'll likely want the Kemper remote and the MFC for the AXE FX.
    yeky83 likes this.
  4. Ferg Deluxe

    Ferg Deluxe Gold Supporting Member

    May 13, 2003
    Axe-FX and AX8 will sound identical. They don't have "pretty good" amp models -- they have outstanding models and effects, class-leading.

    Also, you can easily get a used Axe-FX for less than $2000. A good deal less.

    I've never been bothered, even once, about the lack of either USB or a headphone output on the AX8. That's what my interface is for.

    I can see why "no dual amp" rigs would be a deal-breaker for some. I couldn't care less. If I want two amps, I'll record two tracks. Live, I'm running mono so dual amps doesn't get me much. YMMV.

    Expression pedals are cheap.

    Don't know much about the Kemper as I've never owned one.

    If I was looking to get into the modelling world, I would be seriously looking at the AX8 and also the Helix LT. If the LT sounds are equal to the AX8, I'd probably go Helix.
    buddy7168, yeky83 and pomfret like this.
  5. Gtrman100

    Gtrman100 Member

    Feb 12, 2008
    So Cal
    I think you have TGP-it is. Any of the units above can have stellar tones. Don't listen to all the chatter; it can make you crazy. Try them out, and which ever you bond with- keep it.
  6. RiGLEY

    RiGLEY Member

    Oct 10, 2007
    Budapest, Hungary
    "Cons of the Kemper:
    - effects aren't that great apparently"

    IMO the delays and the reverbs are pretty great actually.
    otter5555, jjb, justin and 3 others like this.
  7. fairness

    fairness Member

    Apr 27, 2017
    Correct me if i'm wrong since the two times i really tested the Kemper properly were years apart so it might be just a placebo effect but i do believe they improved/added effects over time to the Kemper, the 'rumor' that the effects in the Kemper are bad are mostly from its early days.
    If you already have pedals, the Kemper works really well with pedals.
    If you primarily use it for recording you can always add 3rd party effects in your DAW so that's a non-issue anyways.

    I have an Axe Fx 2 in the studio and it's just great as a full suite for recording/reamping device. Really powerful and full of effects and amps. The software editor is really good too.
    But you are right, it's pretty expensive and not really ideal to take out on a gig.

    FWIW i wouldn't pay 1000$ for an old Axe Fx, waste of money.
  8. m~Dan

    m~Dan Member

    Oct 5, 2010
    Frankfurt - Germany
    The Kemper effects surely aren't bad ... the might be not as customizable as on other devices but most of them sound really good. The new delays are killer.
    otter5555, jjb and Stevo57 like this.
  9. Allthesound

    Allthesound Silver Supporting Member

    Apr 19, 2012
    I have owned the Axe FX Ultra, Axe FX II XL and the Helix floor. haven't had the pleasure of trying the Kemper yet so i can't speak to it.

    Ultra is dated but still sounds pretty good but no more updates obviously, only 10 slots to load IR's , IR's are low res, noisy fan.

    Axe FX II XL has great sound , best FX out of any of them. more amp models, but i found there to be alot of overlap in the models with many of them sounding the same. IR loading is not as straight forward as others. IR's must first be converted to sysex format to load. Front panel UI is about 25 years out of date and clunky to use. Editor is great and provides deeper editing than any of the others. Very good routing but second to the Helix in that regard. If you want a foot controller its gonna cost ya deep in the pocket.

    Helix i still have and use everyday. Great sounding unit , very good effects. Routing is more powerful & flexible than the others. UI is second to none IMHO editing from the front panel is pretty much the same as the PC editor. IR loading could not be easier just drag and drop into a slot in regular .wav format. I actually find the stock cabs to be pretty good and usable , but i invested alot into ownhammer and Celestion IR's when i had the Axe so i use them most. Nice big display and scribble strips make it easy to edit hands free while still playing. 4 FX Loops is awesome for integrating outboard gear. Very good midi implementation. I find using it as a audio interface to be a lil smoother and more reliable than the Axe FX. Owners of Helix will be given deep discount off Helix Native which when released, will make Helix the only option available in both hardware and software configs. Helix is a much better value at the end of the day more bang for your buck.

    Just my opinions and observations of course.
  10. Opzouten

    Opzouten Member

    Oct 23, 2015
    The one that fits your needs the best. The all sound great :)
    MusicLaw and MIJLOVER like this.
  11. Allthesound

    Allthesound Silver Supporting Member

    Apr 19, 2012
    The axe has 4 times the ir slots as the helix. As far as automatic converting that may have changed since I had it. Last I used it you needed cab lab to do the conversion.

    I'd also add firmware updates are more seamless on the Axe FX. And with the built in firmware recovery is less prone to bricking the unit than the Helix if a update where to fail. I find the updating process more cumbersome on the Helix as far IR's are concerned as well.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
  12. Allthesound

    Allthesound Silver Supporting Member

    Apr 19, 2012
    Helix has 128 user slots not counting the built in cabs. Honestly the most i have ever had loaded on either the axe or helix was around 50. I never found a need for more than that. Realistically i only use maybe 15 different cabs i found i realy like.
    Ferg Deluxe and standard24 like this.
  13. -Empire

    -Empire Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2016
    Las Vegas
    The cabs are great, especially after 2.2.

    Tone is also great. All these big units sound like the original amps, it is pretty much like picking between 4 different vintage JTM45s at this point. They're all gonna sound slightly different but none are "weak".

    Helix LT is $899 after 10% off from Sweetwater and it has a built in 2-in-1 expression pedal. It also only weighs 12lbs and is slightly bigger than AX8.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2017
  14. mikah912

    mikah912 Member

    May 22, 2012
    My Helix is loaded with multiple Allure, Ownhammer, Celestion, Fremen and acoustic IRs....and I still have 10 open slots.

    Between them, I have multiple types of Greenback, Scumback, Creamback, V30, K12-100, T75, and Eminence Governor captures....and I can mix and match them at will.

    I think your impulse response management game needs to be stepped up....
  15. David Garner

    David Garner Supporting Member

    Aug 12, 2009
    Yorkville, Georgia
    As someone waffling largely between the Helix and Kemper, but who occasionally gets the nutty idea to spend a couple grand more on an Axe FX II XL, this post is very helpful. Thank you for posting it.
    Allthesound likes this.
  16. acroberts

    acroberts Member

    Sep 29, 2007
    N.E. Ohio
    I have a 2-year-old Kemper with 250-ish purchased profiles sitting on a desk next to an AX8.

    The AX8 gets used 90% of the time.

    The Kemper is *outstanding* once you'd dialed in a profile, and is used by many, many pros. Many of whom want a direct replacement for their preferred amp, many using their traditional pedal rig with the Kemper.

    That said, the Fractal platform has an over Kemper, for me, in the following ways:
    • Deep, but easy amp & cab editing (if that's your thing)

    • Effects. Kemper has added amazing delays and has promised additional reverbs, but the breadth and flexibility of the Fractal effects is light years ahead.

    • Support. Users have direct access and maniacal (in a good, good way) support directly the Fractal owner & developers. On the flip side, the Kemper Ivory Tower almost seems to delight in being unavailable. They are maniacal (also in a good way) about stable firmware, but major updates like the new Delays were previewed 6 or 7 months before they were in beta, which was another 4-5 months, if memory serves. Users have been itching about a lack of an editor (hello, it's 2017) for 4 or 5 years. Response is silence.

    • Updates. Fractal has set the bar in firmware updates. I'm astounded by the pace, and everything is usually rock solid.

    • User Base. So many users and so many resources easily and freely available for Fractal users.

    • Desktop Editor. Huge for me. I play 5 new songs every week (church band) and dialing in patches via Desktop Editor for my AX8 is a breeze. Punching knobs and endless scrolling on the Kemper ends up pissing me off, and I fear for the longevity of buttons and knobs on my Kemper. Had I known 18 months ago that a Kemper editor didn't exist and on the horizon, I'd have never bought the Kemper. I likely will sell mine, in large part due to this frustration and not needing both.
    RolandKorg and vinceh like this.
  17. burningyen

    burningyen Vendor

    Jan 4, 2002
    The Kemper's pitch FX are also outstanding.
    yeky83 and JerEvil like this.
  18. handyman

    handyman Member

    Jan 25, 2009
    Austin, TX
    The Fractal editor directly loading from WAV files is a relatively recent change. No more need to go through Cab Lab, thank goodness.
    ejecta likes this.
  19. Jarick

    Jarick Member

    Jan 25, 2006
    Saint Paul, MN
    I don't have experience with the Kemper, but here's my take on the Helix vs Fractal.

    If you're recording in a home studio, all the devices should work well. If you're going into a professional studio or laying down tracks away from your computer, the Helix is probably going to be the easiest unit to use on its own. That said, once you get the hang of the Fractal interface you can dial in your tones on the fly, but programming more complex switching patches is a pain away from the computer.

    The Helix does also have the benefit of a USB interface, headphone jack (although a Y-cable gives me plenty of output for headphones with my AX8), mic inputs, dual paths, scribble strips, and ability to use dual amps (i.e. gapless switching between amps in one patch). Again, if you need the flexibility you get a lot of bang for your buck.

    On the flip side...Fractal has way more pro users touring with their gear. In my opinion, the sound quality is a notch higher. Far more amp models for a better starting point, including a ton of boutique stuff. AX8 is going to be more of a stripped down device primarily for live use, although you can definitely record with it as the modeling is the same as Axe FX. The Axe is far more expensive with the controller but you're getting twice as much CPU power and more goodies.
  20. Ni6htWalker

    Ni6htWalker Member

    Jan 16, 2017
    most of the AXEFX dont use the dual/stereo amp configuration.


    Kemper,the effects on the Kemper are pretty good.

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