The Helix Review for People Contemplating Switching From an Amp

Discussion in 'Digital & Modeling Gear' started by jbright44, Apr 18, 2016.

  1. jbright44

    jbright44 Member

    Nov 9, 2002
    First, a little about myself, history and usage. I'm not a pro. I'm a piddler. I've run the gamut of gear. From high end boutique tube amps, killer pedal boards, all the way back to the OG Line 6 Pod, Flextone, Behringer V-amp rig through tube power amps for live etc. I've played in original rock bands, playing in bars and I've played at my church. Currently I only exclusively do the latter as I've got a wife and 4 kids and a career so playing in a band is just not a priority right now.

    For the last 5 years of playing at my church I've run my pedal board with the usual suspects for this genre on it into the front end of either an Orange TH30, Matchless HC-30, Port City Pearl or 65 Amps Producer all into 1x12 cabinets, mic'd up with a 57 and a Cascade Fat Head mic. I've always struggled with getting the sound I hear coming out of the amp to translate well to what I hear in my in ear monitors and what comes out of the PA in the house for any number of reasons (my amp at home, backline at church, cab is in a small iso box not really treated well, mic placement variables, etc. etc.) So I decided to switch to DI in from a Helix to give me more consistency and flexibility in terms of effects routing in hopes that I could solve this problem. I chose the Helix mainly because the Kemper always seemed a little intimidating to me from what I had seen and I didn't really like the interface on either it or the Axe FX from what I had seen. The Helix, from the demo's seemed to be really good in that department.

    I purchased an Alto TS115A for home monitoring to help me get my patches set up at home as closely as possible to what they might sound like through the PA at church. I figured if I want to match a PA I'll run it through a PA speaker.

    First off, I never thought a modeler would give me the same responsiveness and feel of an amp. Man was I wrong. The Helix (for my taste) does it. The thing that's always been missing in modelers I've tried and used in the past was that "feel" and dynamic responsiveness. The Helix nails it. I'm beyond impressed by the quality of the amp tones, especially the low gain and clean tones this thing does. That's where modelers always seemed to really suck in the past and the Helix excels in that department.

    2nd, I am super impressed by how good the OD pedal models are. Again, very real, very believable extremely usable. I'm not one to be pedantic when it comes to guitar stuff, I'm pretty much a pragmatist. Does the 808 model sound like an 808? I don't know. But it sounds good. And it is very usable unlike what I've experienced in the past with Line 6 modeled OD effects (mainly M series. Unusable). The other FX are also pretty great as well, but I'm used to that from Line6. They've always done well with mod/delay/verb stuff so I'm not surprised by that.

    3rd. The interface is stupid simple. The default positions of all the amps and fx really seem to capture the "essence" of that thing, whatever it may be. In other words, if you want that classic "AC 30" sound from your amp, drop in the AC30 model and it's pretty much spot on with minimal tweaking. I find that to be insanely useful. For almost any OD, or amp model, I find I'm able to drop the model in, maybe tweak the drive a bit to taste and maybe adjust the treble control to suit my particular guitar and I'm 95% of the way there. Quick. Easy. No fuss, not hours tweaking and agonizing to get it just right. It just works. I love that.

    4th. My "Alto Speaker as Home Monitor" setup worked like a charm. What I dialed up at home, sounded consistent and as expected in practice. I was very intentional about using the high and low cuts on the cabs (more on this later) to make sure I approached it more from "cab mic'd up to a PA" position than an "amp in a room" position and that worked beautifully. The sound guys said he had cut it a little bit at about 150 Hz and then a little notch in the 2.5k to 3k range which is pretty standard for guitar. Otherwise, he was very complimentary about it and really liked that it didn't have that "speaker in box" low/mid thing we're always having to fight with the current setup.

    5th. I bought the Ownhammer Studio Pack of IR's. Huge upgrade. Line 6 cabs sound good. Ownhammer sound much better. More alive. More open. Totally worth the money.

    Finally: It did exactly what I wanted it to do. My IEM sound of my guitar has never sounded better. What I got in my ears is exactly what I heard in my house and what I had intended it to sound like. It was majorly refreshing. It DOES NOT sound like being in a room with a cranked amp. It sounds like a really awesome amp being mic'd up in a studio. And it does respond and FEEL like a real amp. That's what I love about it.

    Am I hard core in the modeling camp and swearing off tube amps forever?? No. But I will say, for the circumstances and the scenario that I'm subject to at this particular venue at this particular time, I believe I've found the best solution. If I was in an original band again, playing bars with an amp on stage and a floor wedge, I'd go back to my amp/pedalboard setup in a heartbeat. Tube amps are just fun!!

    Hope this has been helpful!
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2016
    jmp, Calaban, Mookyshoots and 19 others like this.
  2. MrLahey

    MrLahey Member

    Nov 2, 2014
    Near some trees.
    Thanks for sharing. Glad to read a detailed layout ofnhiw and why the helix works for you. Got my feet in both camps as well. Realy like the options of midelers but still have a tube amp of mine stored away as well
    mbenigni likes this.
  3. shawnshack

    shawnshack Supporting Member

    Nov 3, 2008
    Great review. I love my Helix. I have several of the drives that Helix models and they are all nearly identical. Incredibly responsive. But honestly, I rarely use them. I just switch amps when I want a different sound. I got my Helix in the first round that was sent out (October?) and I'm just as excited about it now as I was then.
    mbenigni likes this.
  4. Shades of Blue

    Shades of Blue Member

    Jul 15, 2010
    That review parallels my experience for the most part. Great review!!!

    I've played in church bands for years, and I've gone from a Strat and a cranked Marshall Class 5, to a Two Rock, to an HD500. I miss the Two Rock terribly, but my most previous church adventure required a silent stage so I bought the HD500. The only patch I liked on the HD500 was the Dr Z model, and it was passable. I now longer player at church with family obligations, but the HD500 went away quick. I've tried going back to real amps, but now I almost require all of the routing flexibility that modelers provide as far as direct recording and headphone capability. I actually sold my Dr Z Maz 18 when I bought my Helix and thought I'd really miss it. I don't. Helix sounds AMAZING and feels great and I am playing more than tweaking finally.
    vinceh, mbenigni and MIJLOVER like this.
  5. mbenigni

    mbenigni Member

    Jul 6, 2015
    Spot on.
  6. Mookyshoots

    Mookyshoots Supporting Member

    Feb 25, 2009
    Here, there and everywhere
    I'm so on the fence right now over getting one of these and losing my Marshall/pedal rig.
  7. dazco

    dazco Member

    Jul 25, 2003
    Thats exactly my experience, tho not a helix but another modeler. That is my #1 requirement and in the past i never played a SS or modeling amp that did that very well let alone exactly as good as a great tube amp. I don't want to make this my amp vs the helix because thats not the point. The point is, in recent times they cracked the code for true and 100% real tube amp dynamics/feel. When i bought mine it was on a fluke. I never thought to even consider replacing my tubes with a modeler. I didn't believe they would ever nail the feel to this degree, at least not for years because i had played many in recent years and they all failed miserably. Then i hadn't played one for a couple years and i happened to play thru mine while demoing a guitar at GC and i was a bit taken aback on the way this amp i never even knew about felt. I passed on the guitar but bought the amp figuring what the heck, it's cheap and if i don't like it i can return it on the return policy. Then in a few months the unthinkable happened and i sild my tubes and it's been my only amp for 2 years and i still have no desire to buy or play anything else ! So yes, i'm with you on this 100%. It's amazing, but they truly have cracked the code and it's a game changer the like of which i don't think the guitar community has ever seen.
    iim7V7I7 likes this.
  8. DunedinDragon

    DunedinDragon Member

    Mar 23, 2016
    I think the experience of the OP is fairly common for folks that may have tried modelers a few years back and dismissed them, then encounter the current generation of modelers and have a "moment of revelation" when they discover what's been happening in the digital world over the last few years. It shouldn't come as any surprise really when you consider the leaps in digital processing power over the last 5 or 6 years. What really catches people off guard is the standardization of modeling processes such as IR's which opens a whole new world of modeling possibilities along with the standardization of effective modeling techniques that most of the leading manufacturers use nowdays to really capture the essence of amp behavior.

    Bottom line, modeling has become mainstream...
    iim7V7I7 likes this.
  9. jmp

    jmp Member

    May 17, 2006
    I sold my last amp a few months ago and have been rocking the Helix into a studio monitor at home ever since. I concur with the OP completely. It's doing everything I need and I have not missed the "real" amps at all. To the contrary, I no longer feel like I am fighting against too high a volume just to get decent tone.

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