Into the deep end?

Discussion in 'Digital & Modeling Gear' started by crxshdxmmy, Nov 27, 2017.


  1. crxshdxmmy

    crxshdxmmy Supporting Member

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    A few years back, I sold the majority of my gear with the intent of switching over to an Axe FX setup. In fact, I was sitting there with the cash in my PayPal and my finger hovering over the BUY button and, for whatever reason, just couldn't pull the trigger.

    But now I'm in a different space where I'm less skeptical about digital gear and find myself once again pondering the prospects of ditching my "traditional" setup in favor of an AX8...

    ...but I'm still nervous about it.

    I play in a church where I've always struggled with stage volume, so something like the AX8 seems ideal for that because I can go direct. BUT... deep editing has always annoyed me, and that seems like a necessary evil that could be entirely overwhelming out of the box. The advent of the Fractal editor seems to be a win in that regard...

    ...but I'm still nervous about it.

    I also like the idea of having the ability to integrate scenes and stompbox-style controls, to take full advantage of all the amp models. But that's so different from how I've been playing forever...

    ...and I'm still nervous about it.

    It just feels like, if I go through with this, I'll be diving into the deep end of the digital world... and I don't want to drown in it. So, I'm sure there's been conversation here like this in the past, but I'm looking to hear from someone who (hopefully) found themselves in a similar position. Did it work out? Did you hate it?

    Just looking for some insight, I guess. As well as a better understanding of how the unit works in real time. I don't mind tweaking some, but the experience I had with, for instance, the PODxt Live some years back left a particularly unsavory taste in my mouth that I clearly haven't been able to get past.

    I don't exactly have the financial ability to do both, so I'd like to avoid the unfortunate reality of hitting the reset button if I can avoid it to begin with.

    Thanks for your help.
     
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  2. Gtrman100

    Gtrman100 Member

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    Not being a fanboi, but if editing complexities are not your game, definitely check out a Helix. The UI is easy to master, and you can go as deep or shallow as you want.
     
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  3. redmonda

    redmonda Member

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    Check out the P&W board:

    https://www.thegearpage.net/board/index.php?threads/p-w-rigs-pedalboards.1540066/

    There are a bunch of Helix converts over the past year or so, starting with @-Empire who has put out a lot of great videos showing the Helix potential (you can get the same kind of results in the AX8; some say the modeling is "better" but it's very subjective. Helix wins hands-down for ease of use overall IMO...)

    There is a learning curve - you model a close-mic'ed cab (or whatever type of IR you use) so you'll need to EQ it appropriately. No different than recording a real amp though... Same with AxeFX or Helix in that regard.

    Both units offer incredible tone. Will it match your pedalboard EXACTLY... probably not. Can it sound equally as good and offer excellent switching options with scenes or snapshots, tones of variety in tones etc., absolutely. You can also get bogged down constantly tweaking (I'm guilty of this), but you can control that. No different than tweaking your effects, adding/changing pedals, etc.

    I like having a large array of effects available to add/remove as needed. I like having a single unit to bring to my church, pack in/out in a single trip. I like the ability to share tones with others in the community. There will be some learning curve, but there are a lot of resources available for either unit to help you out.
     
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  4. DigiPOV

    DigiPOV Member

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    Boss Katana. Give it a try in place of your amp, it sounds great at lower volume. You won't be going off the deep end and you know there are a ton of pros gigging with them. If you don't like it, return it and get an AX8.

    I do think its a bit irresponsible to spend that kind of cash without trying the alternatives.
     
  5. -Empire

    -Empire Supporting Member

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    Thanks for the shout out. Agreed.

    Went kemper first for a year, then 14 months ago I got a Helix and a month later I sold everything (about $8k worth of high end amps and pedals). Changed my life. Will never go back to lugging amps around and buying $250 ODs.

    As long as you’re comfortable monitoring a mic’d signal (as opposed to a guitar cab directly in the room with you), and you’re willing to put the work in to learn what is essentially an entire studio in a box, you won’t be disappointed. Bottom line is that the accuracy is there now.
     
  6. crxshdxmmy

    crxshdxmmy Supporting Member

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    Thanks for the info. Any idea how steep that curve is? Like, out of the box... how long would it take to set up something for the average set?

    With my board now, it's pretty simple:

    1. Always-on Diamond Compressor, set low-ish for balance.
    2. Always-on Catalinbread DLS, set low-medium gain as a platform.
    3. Add the Timmy for more intense rhythm tones.
    4. Add a fuzz for lead stuff.
    5. 3-4 go-to delay sounds from the Timeline. (Moderate tape, swell delay, dotted analog, long tape)
    6. Several other delay sounds used as needed
    7. Reverb, usually a hint ... but cranked up if needed.
    8. Judiciously used Tremolo.

    And, to get a sense of what life is like ... is this something you're always tweaking everything on? Or is it more like, you set up one scene or whatever that works and then move on to something else?
     
  7. -Empire

    -Empire Supporting Member

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    It’s really easy to set up basic sounds:



    How much you tweak is up to you. I have my core sounds: AC30 Normal, Top Boost, Plexi, Supro, etc, and every couple of months I’ll learn something new about a studio technique or EQ trick and I’ll apply it to my presets as an experiment. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The key is to get a good set of monitors or headphones and remember that you’re hearing the signal from an amp mic’d up in another room. Dial in your sounds at live volume, check with backing tracks, and go.
     
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  8. redmonda

    redmonda Member

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    Your board above is very do-able. Here are some thoughts:

    1. Always-on Diamond Compressor, set low-ish for balance.

    No Diamond comp model, but the SP compressor model should work for you just fine.

    2. Always-on Catalinbread DLS, set low-medium gain as a platform.

    Pretty sure DLS is a MIIB pdeal. You can use either the OCD model or any of the Marshall pre-amp only models (set it to a footswtich and use it like a pedal)

    3. Add the Timmy for more intense rhythm tones.

    They have a Timmy model, and it's great

    4. Add a fuzz for lead stuff.

    They have Fuzz pedals. Don't use them myself - if you do, make sure you either put it first in the chain or change your input impedance to a lower value (really easy to do, play around with it in the input block). This is how real fuzz pedals interact with your signal chain - they prefer to be first in line...

    5. 3-4 go-to delay sounds from the Timeline. (Moderate tape, swell delay, dotted analog, long tape)
    6. Several other delay sounds used as needed

    I have 4 delay pedals in my patches, no problem. There is a good overview by @WiresDream that reviews the Helix and Timeline delays. Helix are pretty good. Certainly in the ballpark, some models he prefers I believe.

    7. Reverb, usually a hint ... but cranked up if needed. \

    Helix Reverbs are currently the weak point - they are the same algorithms as the M series pedals (i.e. M5, M13, etc). Not BAD, but not Strymon quality. Drop the high-cut to ~1k on each and it's fine for live use (you won't tell a huge difference in the mix anyay...). That said, there are updated algorithms confirmed to be coming in the next update (Late Jan/Early Feb time-frame)

    8. Judiciously used Tremolo.

    There are a a few Tremolo models, I'm sure you can find what you need.

    For me, I find that I like to tweak in my sound to get it JUST right. I likely over-analyze as most of the nuances will get lost in the mix anyway...

    What I like to do is set up a patch with my amp/settings and use that as my base patch.

    When I practice for the week, I'll copy the preset to a new slot for each song. I'll adjust the BPM and create the snapshots (just like scenes, a snapshot captures the on/off state of every effect and allows you to tweak effect values per snapshot. for example: Snapshot 1 turns on 1/4 delay and light verb. Snapshot 2 has 1/4 and .1/8. Snapshot 3 has those delays and adds a drive pedal and increases the reverb duration and mix, etc.) I like to name the snapshots (chorus, bridge, pre-chorus, etc). All in all, it takes <5 min per song.

    After the week, I throw away the specific presets. That way, if I make changes to my base preset week-to-week, I only have to change it in one place. Snapshots are so easy to create, it isn't necessary to save them IMO.

    You can also just use it like a pedalboard. Assign pedals to the switches and stomp away. I'd still save a patch per song with the BPM entered, but that's preference.

    Once you get your patch sounding good, you're done. I just picked up the MBrit Helix pack (~$30) which includes IR and base amp presets. He's known for tweaking in amp tones for live use, and IMO they do not disappoint and provide a great base template for you to add your effects/delays/etc and create your own P&W patch.

    If you go this route, shoot me an PM and I can send you some base patches.

    Big learning curve points:
    1.) Learning to use both signal paths. There are 2 physical processors and on the screen you'll see 2 paths. If you don't use both, you'll run out of DSP. Not difficult to work around (they talk about it in the manual) and once you see it, it all makes sense.
    2.) Learning to apply EQ. If you use the stock cabs, they are bright and boomy by default... just like a real amp. Some IR manufacturers pre-eq the IR so you don't have to. If you use stock cabs (or some commerical IR) you'll need to apply a high/low EQ block. You can use the blocks in the cab/IR blocks themselves, but they have pretty shallow slopes so the actual High/Low EQ block works better IMO. Start with ~100Hz/8-10KHz and adjust as needed.
    3.) If you use stock cabs, try blending 2 with the cab block. Maybe the same cab with 2 different mics. This is just like micing a real cab. SM57 or 409 + R121 works pretty good...

    There are a couple of global parameters I would change by default, but that's getting into the nitty gritty. If you get a Helix, let me know and I can tell you what I change and why. That's a "do it once and you're done" type thing.

    Also, update to FW 2.3 before you do anything else...
     
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  9. Pastafarian

    Pastafarian Member

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    That is more of a personal question than a gear question. You certainly can go down the never ending rabbit hole with a Helix but that's true for everything not just all in one modelers. If you are someone who is OCD(ha) about their tone then sure it can happen. I will tell you that no matter what I plug into my Katana I get nothing but goosebump inducing tones with minimal tweaks. I am questing also right now but my quest is more about GAS than finding something that works. I have found something that works for sure but now what? LOL
     
  10. crxshdxmmy

    crxshdxmmy Supporting Member

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    Thanks guys. Can you give me a quick rundown on AX8 vs Helix?

    From the reading I’ve done, the AX8 has more models and some think it sounds better head to head, but the Helix sounds good and the onboard functionality is far more intuitive. But it also costs more and some people like the fact that’s fractal seems more human as far as company interaction goes.
     
  11. bbgie1223

    bbgie1223 Supporting Member

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    I had an AX8. Great great sounding unit. But if you're concerned about drowning in complexities, the AX8 is not the unit for you. Easiest and least complex is the Headrush. It doesn't get much love here but it's a solid unit. The interface is fantastic. I owned that too. Sold it and went with the Helix. I'm extremely happy now. It can really do everything you need and is very easy to edit on the fly. The new update that just came out was the best update I've ever seen and the new HX reverbs should be done soon.
     
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  12. WiresDream

    WiresDream Member

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    A lot of my patches have 6 delays in them!
     
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  13. redmonda

    redmonda Member

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    Whew, this can open a can of worms ;)

    Here is MY personal opinion. *I've not owned the AxeFX, so take that into account.

    Helix Thoughts:
    • The on-board UI is vastly superior. The interface is intuitive, the ability to touch switches to select blocks is really clever. The Joystick and screen are top-notch, it's a breeze to edit on the unit itself
    • There are less amp models, but they cover all the bases you'd likely care about. They have loads of Marshall options, AC30 varients (Top boost, non top-boost, /13, DC30, Dr Z, etc), a large number of Fender varients).
    • The Amp modeling is top of class. Some prefer Kemper. Some prefer Axe. Some prefer Helix. Helix tends to be more "Raw" and Axe tends to be a bit more polished/compressed. Bump up the SAG parameter and they get pretty close.
    • The Helix Stock cabs are a love/hate. They CAN sound pretty good if you add High/low cut and play around with the mics. But they need a little tweaking. As I mentioned, use Dual-cab block and either blend cabs or use the same cab with different mics. Play with distance. And plan to use a high/low EQ after the cab block
    • Helix has far more DSP ability than the AX8. You can place dual-amps (which you can't do at all on the AX8), plus 4 delays, 2 verbs, 3 drives, EQ, etc. On the AX8, you'll run out of DSP after 1-2 delays and 1-2 reverb.
    • Helix has built-in recording support via USB and a built-in headphone jack
    • Helix effects are very well regarded. All on-par with AX8 minus the reverb (*for now. As I mentioned, updated reverb are coming and we'll see how they stack up then...)
    • Includes an expression pedal, which makes the unit bigger but is also very versatile for volume pedal, tweaking parameters, adding a Wah, etc.
    • Helix LT available. Same DSP/Models. Only a few limitations compared to Helix Floor/Rack:
      • Less FX loops available
      • No built-in mic pre-amp
      • Limited to 8 foot-switches assignable to effects (vs 10 for full floor/rack)
      • No scribble strips (they use an alternate display that is very workable)
      • Price is ~ the same as AX8.

    AX8 Thoughts:
    • More amp models. Some are variations of existing models, but more none the less.
    • Amp models are smoother and more compressed by default. Much of this is the built-in IR which are fairly dark and the default presets which are dialed in darker (per Cliff's preferences)
    • Better reverb. (*Same note as above)
    • Slightly greater flexibility of routing... but you'll run out of DSP far sooner than the Helix
    • Smaller unit
    • On-board UI is pretty rough (from what I've read on multiple threads) and comes nowhere close to Helix
    • Some prefer the editor. Helix just had an editor update, haven't seen any comparisons since it was released though.
    • Also has well regarded effects
    • No recording interface (requires external device) and no headphone jack

    Personally, I'd go Helix LT. Give it a shot, return it if you don't like it. Harder to do with the AX8. They're about the same price, but I prefer the usability of the Helix platform.

    And with regards to the Helix company interaction, it's best-in-class IMO. @Frank Ritchotte and his team have worked their butt off to build a strong community interaction, and it has really paid off. They are actively involved on this board and on FB, their forums, etc. They answer questions, they jump in to help and they have earned a well-deserved positive reputation in the past few years. Can't say enough good things about them...

    You can't go wrong with either product. I'm likely showing Helix bias because I'm an owner and a huge fan. Good luck!
     
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  14. ColdFrixion

    ColdFrixion Member

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    The AX8 can sound great with very little tweaking, however the unit has far more tone shaping options than any other modeler on the market. You certainly don't have to use the advanced parameters to create great tones, though it doesn't hurt understanding what some of them do.
     
  15. X-Mann

    X-Mann Member

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    You are about to take a very cool journey that can be a lot of fun.....

    Almost all of the “All in one” modeling devices will give you way more than you’ll ever need to sound great.

    The best advice I can give you is to look at what amps & FX models you already like to play through or want in a device & find that device 1st. Then read the on-line manual to see what a device can and can’t do. You might go over to YouTube if you want some basic sound examples. Try to find players at your level & that play in your chosen style or close to it.

    In the end, take what you’ve learned & go with what your gut tells you....then make a purchase. Test things out in your environment & with your guitars, gear & ears. Learn the unit you purchase inside & out.....even if takes a little longer then you thought it would, it’s worth the time put in.

    You may be surprised at what you like in the end.....

    I’m went in one direction 1st & ended-up in another......& one I never saw myself in at all. Lol

    I have all the tones I’ve ever wanted & learned how to get the best out of my chosen unit through lots of reading, forums & a little reverse engineering or other users presets.

    Good luck on your tone quest!

    Peace! X-Mann
     
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2017
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  16. crxshdxmmy

    crxshdxmmy Supporting Member

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    If accurate, this is easily the most compelling argument for the Helix IMO.

    That said, how much overlap — sonically speaking — is there between the FX on, say, the M9/13 and the Helix?
     
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  17. MoPho

    MoPho Formerly known as tripp2k. Silver Supporting Member

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    It took me 15 minutes to get 4 tones I still rely on a year later after getting a Helix. Whatever you do or what your needs are today will adapt.
     
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  18. ColdFrixion

    ColdFrixion Member

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    The reverbs in the AX8 sound notably superior to the Helix. That said, you can run 2 delays, a reverb, a couple of drives, amp, cab, and filter block with CPU to spare:

     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2017
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  19. crxshdxmmy

    crxshdxmmy Supporting Member

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    This is cool, thx a lot for sharing. I see an option for a 2nd amp in there. Seems to go against the previous statement that you couldn’t do that.

    I’m curious though, with the X and Y toggles... seems you could do a clean/dirty on the same amp sim. Of course, edgy Vox cleans and Marshall grind is the ideal.

    Possible?

    Or not enough power to have both and a lot of other stuff happening?

    I’m just surprised that it’s limited in any way with processing power, but what do I know about it?

    Also... this seems fairly manageable from an editing standpoint. Nothing too overwhelming so far, though I’m sure there are lots of things to do with all those sub controls.

    A couple of other questions: how are you all using these things at home? FRFR cabs? Studio monitors?

    Right now, I’m imagining a stereo kind of thing with a couple of small cabs and power amps could be cool. Not sure what that would mean for all the cab sims though.
     
  20. redmonda

    redmonda Member

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    The video above was for the AxeFX II, which gives extra options not available on the AX8. I know that AX8 only supports a single amp model (but does support dual cabs).

    You can find other comparison threads where people complain about DSP limitations. You can find more details there, but Helix has far more DSP and is more comparable to the full AxeFX II in that regard.

    I monitor with an FRFR monitor or headphones at home, go direct to board with XLR at church.

    If you use a power amp and cabs, you can simply disable the can Sims (just use separate amp/cab blocks instead of the combined blocks)
     
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