Helix vs Kemper vs Axe FX 2 - My Experience

Discussion in 'Digital & Modeling Gear' started by themightyjay, May 5, 2016.

  1. themightyjay

    themightyjay Member

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    So after being an owner of a Kemper for the last few years I recently decided to give the Helix a try.

    While attempting to offload said Kemper I got offered a straight trade for an Axe FX 2 (oops, though I have owned and gigged one ages ago.) so here's a brief overview of my thoughts.

    Kemper -
    Arguably the best modelling of the lot. Certainly sounds damn close when profiling a real amp.
    Easy to use interface, easy to tweak and set up patches.
    Doesn't play very nicely with valve amps, if you're planning to use it as a preamp this is the weakest of the lot, even with preamp profiles.
    Effects are hit and miss, modulation is pretty good, delay is great sounding but very limited. Drives are poor.

    Axe Fx 2 -
    Also sounds great for amp tones. Definitely has its own thing going, is darker and more polished overall which isn't a good or bad thing, personal preference.
    Sounds great with valve amps, especially as a preamp. If you want a preamp/power amp setup this is the one.
    Effects are amazing, BUT... They can be a faff. Simple effects are easy enough but more complicated stuff requires creative use of various different block and routing which arguably makes it the most powerful and also the most awkward.
    The interface is horrific, and I know how to use it just fine. It's just a pain and unintuitive, I can see how it can be learnt but after using the other two... Christ it's bad. Axe edit sort of makes up for this but it's not ideal.

    Helix -
    So far I'm still of the opinion that the modelling is the weakest of the lot. It certainly improves with IR's added, stock cabs are not my thing at all. A bonus is it somehow sounds rawer and more in your face than the others which I do like. Especially noticeable on the Recto model.
    Interface is amazing, I didn't think it would matter so much but it really is a joy to use and a snip if you need to change anything mid gig.
    Effects are great as well. Less complex than the Axe FX but great I their own way. More akin to a nice collection of stomp boxes rather than a studio rack processer. Delays especially are impressive, the analogue stuff is the best out of all three units.
    It works amazingly well with an amp too, not so great as a preamp but as a pedalboard it's the best multi effects I've ever heard, properly transparent and the drives are great.
    Lag between presets is awful, making it pretty much unusable in this way for me. You can work around it by having different tones in one patch but still, it's not ideal.

    There you go, any other questions regarding the units please ask. :)

    Oh, and any flamers / fan boys etc please give it a rest before you even start. It's about making music, not about who's got the best toy in the playground.
     
  2. ur2funky

    ur2funky Supporting Member

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    I have the Kemper and the Helix. Nice review!
     
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  3. Karl Houseknecht

    Karl Houseknecht Supporting Member

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    Can you elaborate on that? I've tried mine with some preamp profiles into a clean tube amp and it was phenomenal.
     
  4. Noah

    Noah Supporting Member

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    I had all 3 and kept the Kemper. I have nothing bad to say about the Helix or the Axe-fx II, but for my needs the Kemper raw amp tones (with the Britt packs) for live use can't be beat. I'm always wishing I had an Axe-fx II in the studio though!
    I agree about the drives though...To my ears they are pretty bad and make it a pain in the butt to EQ when they are added.
     
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  5. themightyjay

    themightyjay Member

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    Yeah sure, I could just never really get it to work for me for some reason. I even tried profiling my own preamps but couldn't get it anywhere close.

    It always seemed a lot weaker than the others and the actual valve preamp. To be fair in isolation it sounded quite good but up loud it was nowhere near as powerful as I was expecting.

    I'll elaborate and say that clean tones were good, it was higher gain tones that were most lacking. All IMHO of course.
     
  6. marshall2553

    marshall2553 Supporting Member

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    I've seen this repeated several times. I've compared several AxeFX/AX8 amp models to the real thing going through the same cabs. They sound almost identical. On recent firmwares I've never found the models to be darker or more polished, though that may have been true several firmwares back. They sound just as raw and nasty as the real thing.
     
  7. themightyjay

    themightyjay Member

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    I agree here, it can get close, but those M Britt profiles offer some of the best modelled / direct tones you can get on any piece of gear. This is especially for live used, they're profiled and EQ'd just right.
     
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  8. themightyjay

    themightyjay Member

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    This is me comparing tones straight out the box, for example grabbing an amp and cab I like and just listening to what I'm hearing. The Axe definitely felt darker and smoother.

    I believe Cliff himself has stated previously that he prefers these sort of tones so it's likely the IR's he's chosen that accentuate this.

    I'm running Quantum 3.2 by the way.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2016
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  9. marshall2553

    marshall2553 Supporting Member

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    Ok, I'm running the Axe into a real cab with no cab block so maybe the stock IRs are on the darker side. Going into the same physical cab as the amp is more of an apples to apples comparison.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2016
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  10. Bikedude

    Bikedude Gold Supporting Member

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    This!
     
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  11. Guitardave

    Guitardave Supporting Member

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    Thanks for taking the time to write this up!
     
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  12. Karl Houseknecht

    Karl Houseknecht Supporting Member

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    Right, it's all about personal preference, but in the KPA's case I'd also say it's about the right profiles. I found a great set of PT-100 profiles, direct and studio, that sound just amazing in all applications. I haven't bonded with any of the ones that most people rave about. In fact, my current favorite profile is one that I made of my Splawn. Go figure.

    I have all three units and agree with your observations, for the most part. Right now the Axe-Fx sees all the live action while the KPA sits on the desk at home. And I think I kind of like it that way as it seems to be what works for me. The Helix...I really like the effects but I've never bonded with the amp models, third party IRs or not, amp models into tube amp effects return, direct, nothing. I just don't like them. So the only use it sees is occasional 4CM with Splawn. Although I guess it could be cool with the KPA too.
     
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  13. Bogner

    Bogner Member

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    I am (still) and have been reluctant to go with a Kemper or Axe FX. I love my amps, will keep them but am still unsure what product to go with. I will get one but my concern is having to tweak things more than I get to actually play the dang thing. Anybody else have the same hesitations and taken the plunge? What are your thoughts after doing so?
     
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  14. Dr Git

    Dr Git Member

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    I am content playing many of the factory presets on my AX-8. I just may do minor tweaks and on some i didn't touch a thing. I don't play very much these days so i don't want to spend hours tweaking.
     
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  15. Jose7822

    Jose7822 Member

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    For me, I bought the Helix first, shortly after it was officially released late last year. In the beginning, it was really fun to play, but then I found myself tweaking a lot. That's when I decided to get the Kemper, which was originally meant to be a studio only device (while the Helix would be my live rig). Honestly, the Kemper was disappointing at first. It didn't sound that much different than the Helix, except for a few of the clean factory rigs. Those sounded amazing! Then I remembered Pure Cabinet, which is a feature that had been released not long before I got my Kemper. Pure Cabinet makes the Kemper sound close to the "amp in the room" tone you hear when playing with real amps. I decided to give that a shot and, sure enough, it made the factory rigs sound much better. It was especially noticeable on rigs that had distortion (Pure Cabinet doesn't really affect clean tones). Then, the tip of the iceberg came about once I learned about MBritt profiles. This was what completely sold me on the Kemper and turned it into my live rig along with the Helix. His profiles are perfectly tuned for live playing. I simply load a rig and make minor tweaks (sometimes none). I'm talking about quickly changing two or three settings, and I'm done! They already sound awesome by themselves, so there's really no need for endless tweaks. That's why I always try recommending both Pure Cabinet and MBritt profiles to new Kemper users. Both of these make a huge difference in how you perceive this unit.

    Anyway, I decided to keep the Helix, since there's nothing out there that gives me the same amount of functionality in a floorboard unit. It went from an FX processor for the Kemper, in 4CM, to simply a MIDI controller. I'd love to use it again as an FX unit, but currently there are a few limitations when wanting to hook up the Kemper digitally into the Helix (via S/PDIF in order to avoid extra AD/DA conversions). I've opened a couple of IdeaScale entries with more detail on these limitations if anyone wants to read about them (especially those who own both of these devices, you need to vote for this :):

    http://line6.ideascale.com/a/dtd/1-4-XLR-Output-Option/820221-23508

    http://line6.ideascale.com/a/dtd/S-PDIF-I-O-Option-for-FX-Loop-Block/820223-23508
     
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  16. ColdFrixion

    ColdFrixion Member

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    If you prefer plugging in and and playing(rather than tweaking), I'd go the Kemper route. I mean, I love my Axe FX II XL+, but it's extremely easy to get bogged down tweaking presets. Sound wise, the Kemper can clone practically any amp / cab / mic setup you throw at it to the degree that the profile is generally indistinguishable from the actual setup. If the original setup sounds fantastic, the profile will sound fantastic and vice versa. In my case, I use the Axe solely for effects in conjunction with the Kemper's amps.
     
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  17. Karl Houseknecht

    Karl Houseknecht Supporting Member

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    Same thought here. I use the KPA at home for practice where I want an instantly good tone but don't necessarily need complete control. The Axe-Fx satisfies my needs live to exactly dial in the tone I want.
     
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  18. themightyjay

    themightyjay Member

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    Kemper is by far the most plug and play in my opinion also. Helix is incredibly easy to use but you still need to audition amps, cabs, IR's etc to get your tone. Kemper is as easy as scrolling through the profiles to the tone you want and away you go.

    The buttons on the front for effects are handy as well, you can't get much easier than a bright button that says "delay" on it!
     
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  19. MKB

    MKB Silver Supporting Member

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    All the top tier choices are very good, but if you have your own tube amps that you love, the Kemper goes way to the head of the pack as you can profile your favorite tones and have them live. IMHO that is really the sweet spot for the Kemper, and makes it a no brainer if you have your amp tones already together and just want them easier to use live.

    Although there are so many great profiles out there it is mind bending, the profiles I use almost exclusively are of my own amps. It is so great to be able to get the tone of my cranked Marshall 100W stack in low volume situations, and the other benefits (much smaller solution, consistency in tone as there is no mic'ing, can have all the amps in one device) make it where I use it live almost 100% of the time.

    I found profiling is not difficult to do at all if you are patient and careful. And I LOVE the Kemper effects; the only thing I don't like is you are limited in your signal chain organization options (the only thing I miss from my old HD500). Also, keep in mind that Kemper software is always improving and you can expect amazing things in the future.
     
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  20. donbarzini

    donbarzini Supporting Member

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    all men are different, I have had all three, only the Helix stayed. I like real sounding, amp in the room, raw amp tones though….
     
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