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Axe-Fx II XL vs HELIX

Discussion in 'Axe-Fx II Reviews' started by phantomofalfred, May 9, 2018.

  1. phantomofalfred

    phantomofalfred
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    I have been an Axe user ever since it came out and gave me another direct option besides line 6.
    Just out of curiosity, i decided to try the HELIX and return if i did not like it. I had heard that the HELIX was much better amp modeling than the POD HD Series. Some rather popular metal bands are using them so i thought what the hell. I will give it a shot. Once it arrived I only spent my time tweaking on the HELIX and ignored the Axe II I usually use. I did not want to go back and forth. I just wanted to spend time alone with the HELIX and give it its best fair shot. I did love the interface but at the end of the day, it was nothing more than a POD XT with a nice slick interface.
    I was a bit mislead by a HELIX user making statements, like " everyone buys the Axe II to sound like MESHUGGAH, but MESHUGGAH never made one album with AXE FX, he want on to state that NOTHING (pod pro), CATCH 33 and I (POD XT) were all Line 6 and the ones before it were real amps. That may be true, but he left out some important facts in history which was kind of misleading. Back in their ozz-fest days, MESHUGGAH could not afford to drag their MESA amps and cabs everywhere, so they looked for a compact alternative,. At the time, Line 6 gear was the only alternative. "Line 6 POD PRO Racks" for NOTHING. then they used other Line6 gear for the same reason. Once the Axe FX1 came out it has been all they use live. "the Line 6 user failed to mention that part of history", He also failed to mention that they would rather use VST Plugin guitars than use Line 6 again. I wont mention his name or knock him, because i do believe he enjoys using their equipment more. He also relies on Variax technology to change tunings during songs without switching guitars. So understandable. I just found some of his comments misleading. After all the tweaking i did, i discovered that if you have the patience, you can get much more realistic tone out of Axe FX II. I am not saying better or worse, just more realistic. MESHUGGAH did not choose line 6. At that time in history, it was their only option on the market. Once the Axe FX 1 came out as an alternative for MESHUGGAH, they have used only AXE 1s live.
    Why? I assume it's because they can make the modern pod sounds with it if they want, they can also accurately recreate all their older material live with the "Realistic Amp Models" included in the Axe FX. I have to say i really wanted to like the HELIX, I just could not get over how bad the amp models and controls were. Moving a slider almost 40% made almost no difference, you had to go over 50% for any sound to change. None of the sounds impressed me in the least. In fact i thought my old POD HD500 sounded just as good if not better. HELIX is cool if you want to use a variax to change tunings on the fly, also cool to have a rig in one box. HELIX does do some things that the Axe FX cannot do yet. However, getting the best possible realistic amp sound is not one of them. I would also mention that using HELIX to change tunings, to low, will cause artifacts and fake sound that cannot be avoided. Ever try to palm mute on a piezo pickup? Your palm muted hand being in front of the pickup source instead of behind it? It just doesn't sound right to my ears.
    Just my 2 cents. And again.. I am not bashing line6, I myself used them for years, until the first Axe FX came out. I am just saying that for me, realism is more important than convenience. I will now wait patiently on the list for my AXE III. perhaps there will be even better features in the future due to the increased power and memory. Looking forward to the Axe III when my turn comes up.
    If there is any interest, i can post the sound test i did to make my final decision to send the HELIX back.

    Again, I am not bashing Line 6 or anyone who prefers their equipment. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and the above is mine. I feel I gave it a fair shake but I chose the Axe overwhelmingly. Even sent tone tests to friends and asked them to tell me which recording of the same tune they preferred.
    They all chose the Axe FX tracks in a blind test. Not one person chose the HELIX tracked guitars
    I used the comparable amp models "recto" and used the same guitar with the same pickups.
    Cheers,
    Phantom.
     
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  2. Bodde

    Bodde
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    Sorry but I don't really care what Meshuggah uses.
     
  3. stm113

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    I have had Line 6 products since 2001, I have had my Axe FX II since late 2011 so I think I can speak on the products...

    I have to start by saying, respectfully, that the assertion that a Helix is nothing more than a POD XT with a slick interface couldn’t be more wrong. I have owned the XT, still own an X3 floor and rack, a Vetta and the Helix LT.

    My Vetta used to be my main rig live, I really diug the tones I got out of if, the XT couldn’t come close, the X3 into a tube poweramp was pretty good in 2008. When I first got my Axe FX II, my Vetta had been my backup rig for a while, and for the first few Firmwares (i got mine on like 3.04) there wasn’t a huge difference especially if you knew how to dial your Vetta, then around fw 10, and especially by 17 I tried using my Vetta on a couple of dates to leave my AFII home for some recording and there was NO comparison the tone, AND feel of the AF2 had far surpassed my Line6 gear.

    Enter the Helix... I got a stupid good deal on a 5150iii head and got a Helix just for FX. Great sounding rig. It didn’t take long though to get tired of running all of the cables and “test” out the Helix as a modeler. Is it an Axe FXII? Not quite yet, but it’s getting close in many respects, a few more updates and it may be a viable QUALITY alternative for those who can’t swing the price of an Axe FX, or an AX. As a matter of fact, since FAS.for their own reasons, don’t want to do a plug-in version of the AF, if the L6 modeling gets much better I think Native would be a VERY good option.

    One thing I would highly recommend is checking out 3rd party IR’s and tweaking the amp settings, the 5150 model in there didn’t come alive until I cranked the master volume fairly high. It’s not, and will probably never be the at the level of accuracy of Fractal gear, but to say it sounds like a POD xt is just plain wrong.
     
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  4. Muad'zin

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    Me neither. But I reckon many wouldn't care for the stuff my favorite bands use.

    Personally I have always enjoyed my Line 6 stuff. Sure, the amp modeling was never quite like a real amp, but for home recording some demos and for the odd quick gig where fast changeovers were important they did their trick. And my ears are not that sensitive that they find much digital offense. All that stuff about artifacts this, and fizzle there, I just don't hear it. Maybe if it were pointed out to me it would. But I am always of the firm opinion that to most listeners 99.9% will never notice. I've always like Line6 FX and FX units. Big fan of the colored modeler units, and at one time I also had all of the three pro units as well. They seem to be well suited for sonic abuse. I still use an M5 unit in my Axe FX rack, and if I have to grab a single delay pedal the Echo Park is one of the candidates.

    I was happy with my Pod XT Live, but it was limited in the number of FX you could put in series. The HD 500 was a big step in that regard, being able to do 8 amps and FX at the same time, but it was limited in its DSP power. My Axe FX is lightyears ahead of them in those regards, but as a higher end and more modern unit it should be. I haven't tried the Helix yet, but I wouldn't mind trying it out. The ability to use several pedals in separate loops looks really interesting for making it the heart of a more traditional pedal board. Will the amp models sound less then my Axe FX, maybe, but I'm sure I will probably not notice the difference.
     
  5. Randalljax

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    Line6 has done a great job with Helix ,there are a few models in there that are stellar
    The Friedman ,The Archon, Matchless . I have both the Axe3 and Helix side by side and while Axe has a little more depth and detail The Helix with the right IR's is very good watch Jons tutorial of mixing the Archon in a modern track
    Line6 is also killer with the Workflow
     
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  6. laxu

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    I've only been able to try Axe-Fx 2 and Helix Native side by side and while the Axe-Fx sounds just a little bit better, the difference is not night and day and I would be happy with either. This was done using Axe-Fx 2 as the audio interface so the only real difference is the modeling and a bit of additional latency using the VST. I had to double check several times which was which when playing so I definitely feel Helix is in the same ballpark.

    I really don't know why OP goes on this tangent about older Line6 units and Meshuggah. The Axe-Fx Standard and Ultra were a lot better for years than anything else on the market so it's no wonder that Meshuggah moved to them instead. Bands use all kinds of gear because it works for them and they are not some authorities on what sounds good.

    I am the opposite of OP and I don't consider having the absolute most realistic amp modeling the most important. Usability matters a lot too and I struggle with this on my Axe-Fx 2. I use Axe-Edit 99% of the time and have my own software to give better immediate control to my unit. In the end I might pick a used Helix Floor and see how I get along with that.

    I think the Helix is a pretty great product and a healthy push for Fractal to up their user interface design game. Fractal may have the best amp modeling available but we are entering an era where competition is close enough that other factors become important too.
     
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  7. josephyballew

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    I have both a Helix and Axe 3 - Each has their strong points. I love both units for their strong points. The Helix does not have custom scales on the harmonies, tone match, and good selection of cabs. You have to do cut on highs and lows on the cabs to make them sound good. Using Ownhammer cabs, the models sound really good. Most of the effects are about the same with both units. The reverbs and delays on the Axe are way better, but most other effects and drives sound pretty close. The fuzzes in Helix really suck because you can not turn down the fuzz enough. Only the multi delays are better on the Axe, but all the reverbs are better. The TriChorus is also better on the Axe. The axe doesn't have scribble strips yet and their 12 switch scribble strip only cost $400 for their rack controller. The Helix has 8 scenes, inputs and outputs galore, easy to program and that I can get close to the Axe 75% of the time and has a foot Controller built in. The Helix is only $1500 that is a good back up to me. Also when you choose and amp, it gives you default settings and cabs, but you can change them. So is the Axe 3 worth the difference? YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. I know we do not have a controller yet, but this thing is a beast. More models, better reverbs and delays, and about 4 time the processing power of a Helix. Another note, the Helix does not sound good out of the box, but when you program it, it is a killer unit. When most do these comparisons they are just don't know how to make a Helix sound good. Another thing, it is good guitar players and good programmers that make these units sound good. Another thing that I have noticed is when I say something like Line 6 is catching up to Fractal, then Cliff comes out with out of this world updates. I had an Axe 2 and the 3 is 20 percent better. Let me say this, with 4 times the processing power of the Axe 2, what are Cliff's updates going to look like now. Before, corners were cut because of process power. I have filled up a whole row and only used 50% processing power. I do a lot of twin leads that I need custom harmonies, and I want lush reverbs and delays and the Helix won't do those, not even close. The Helix is $1500 and the Axe 3 will be about 3500 with a controller. It is a price point with most, but I just need a unit that will do everything. For those not needing all the things the Axe will do that Helix won't, get a Helix. Cliff is always on a mission to stay ahead of the game, and I like that. Both Fractal and Line 6 both has great customer service.
     
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  8. #8 zenaxe, May 15, 2018
    Last edited: May 18, 2018
    zenaxe

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    Axe II > Helix. Not even very close. IMHO. Not that they are terrible or anything... the Helix line are good products and provide a great value in terms of features, design, etc, at their price, but they do not have the tonal quality, three dimensionality, and nuances/dynamics of the Fractal modeling. FX are a no contest. If tone is your thing it is a pretty easy choice for my tastes. If you have issues with the FAS GUI or need the Helix loops or plugin, cool. You have a really good option now.

    I'm a tone over everything dude though so, of the items I have direct access to: Axe > Amplifire > Helix. YMMV.
     
  9. DLC86

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    I agree with the OP, I tried Helix Native demo a few weeks ago and obviously compared it to my ax8, especially and extensively on the amp I owned for several years and with which I'm more confident, the Hiwatt.
    To exclude every possible external factor I also used the ax8 as the input stage:
    Guitar -> ax8 input -> only shunts preset -> spdif out -> PC running Helix -> cab-lab loaded with the IR I usually use

    The result on that amp model was quite embarassing for the Helix, compared to the real amp (and the ax8 spot-on model) it had a compressed feel and a nasal quality that I couldn't manage to dial out, despite trying for several days, and it completely lacked the harmonic richness of the Hiwatt. Actually I could get a closer sound with a fender model and this says it all about the accuracy of their simulations.
    While doing this comparison I was wondering how the heck most people on TGP could say that Line6 is on par with Fractal and Kemper, they should be deaf.. but then I thought that maybe it's just this amp that is not particularly well modeled, so I tried a bunch of other low gain amps, especially fenders and ac30. I have no extensive experience with the real counterparts of those, but the results were mixed here, some sounded quite good but Fractal models simply sounded "realer" and more defined all around.

    The last thing I tried was what TGP has been raving about since the Helix release: fuzz
    Here probably comes into play personal taste since neither the ax8 models, even though I can tweak them to be really close, sound quite convincing compared to my real fuzzes (bc108 fuzz face, skreddy lunar module, cornish G2, various big muffs), but I found all the helix models sounded quite farty and nasty. They're probably good for playing crunchy chords but not for soloing. And the interaction of drive and amp models is not quite there.

    All this obviously doesn't mean that the Helix can't produce good tones cuz it was proven several times it can, but IME it requires much more tweaking than the axe fx and this sort of defeats the great UI of the hardware version. All in all I reckon the Helix is a big step up compared to the POD HD I owned a few years ago, but I don't think they can stand up against Fractal quality.
     
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  10. KSPeace

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    i own both the Axe FX II XL+ and the Helix (the one with the scribble strips, crappy pic included) and I will agree with what was said earlier in the thread. They both have their places. They both have pro's and cons. The Helix just has more cons than the Fractal. But, for rehearsal, and smaller shows, the helix is worth its weight in gold, at least to me.
     

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  11. phantomofalfred

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    Again, I really liked a lot of things about HELIX. The user interface is the best i have ever seen. The ease of use was great. The input/output was great. But the drives, amps and cabs just did not seem like ones i wanted to use. I did try some of my own IRs in there which made a big difference. I guess I mentioned MESHUGGAH because they were mentioned in a selling point that had me thinking i should try it. "I happen to be a huge MESHUGGAH fan." Again, I really wanted to like it and keep it. I just could not get it to sound the way I wanted it to. It sounded good, just not real. "and for the HELIX user who had convinced me to try it "The Axe sounded real, just not good" Two different opinions is all. I also still own some Line 6 gear. I still use my HD500 for travel. I even purchased an AMPLIFI FX100 that I love cause it has Spinal Puppet amp model, which reminds me of the good ole days. I think I may even try Line 6 in the future again. I am not putting down anyone's product or talking it up. For me, It was easier to get the sound I wanted with Axe II, for someone else, it may be easier to get their sound with HELIX. The bottom line is I was happy to try it and glad Line6 has stepped up their game. This means competition, and when there is competition, we all win. Quality goes up, Prices go down "FOR ALL OF US" use whatever gets you there. Who knows, maybe Line 6's next product will capture my needs. I will not write anyone off. I will always try to keep an open mind and open ears, be willing to at least try something new to see if it works for me.
    Cheers all.
    Phantom.
     
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  12. tonyi

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    I saw Pete Anderson at the Dallas Guitar show a few weeks ago. He talked about how he still uses the Line6 bean-shaped unit. I gigged for years with a Line6 Flextone II and the accompanying pedalboard. I found only one amp simulation that I thought sounded good but I could add in the onboard chorus, flange and delay and get all I needed for small gigs. Nowhere near the variety of sounds from my XL+ of course but I could pick up spare units for $200.
     
  13. Sonofiam

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    Thanks for taking the time to write this up. I was a longtime Line 6 user (XT Live) both for practice and live use. When the Helix came out I was excited to see them make a product to compete with Fractal. I started doing the research, listening to clips and reading reviews, and found that the Helix still had some of the 'digital artifacts' that reminded me of the POD. Took a gamble and went to the dark side, I bought an AX8 and to be honest have never thought twice about it nor have I ever felt the need or desire to try a Helix. Your review confirms what I originally thought, Fractal's modelling has a more authentic feel and sound. Like you, I'm not knocking Line 6, I just found something in the AX8 that gives me more of what I am used to with my 'real' amps in a compact unit without compromise in any area..
     
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  14. rrogers

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    The Line6 stuff is good for what it is. Buying Line6 is like getting a stock Mustang GT off the lot, while buying a Axe II or III is like getting a Saleen.

    I think Andertons did a video where they compared the old Pod 2.0 to some current mid-level modelers. You can obtain good tones from the old 2.0 if you run it through some IRs. However, that doesn't make it equal to current generation modelers because of the signal flow options, limited fx options, lack of variety in tones, etc.
     
  15. josephyballew

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    Helix is a great unit but you have to replace cabs with IRs. Look at the better Helix users, players, and programmers, their tone is great. I have an Axe 3 and like it better than my Helix. I would be willing to say in a blind test with a good player, programmer, you would not be able to tell the difference. Out of the box, Helix needs a lot of tweaking and IR's. Ease of programming I would give to Helix hands down, but Helix does not have Custom Scales, Tone Matching, amp models, and effects that Match the Axe. I do like the Helix Mesa Mk4 amp model better, but like the Axe better on all others. I have notices that Cliff must be looking a Helix programmability, because the updates show it. I made a rash statement a year ago and said, in a few years line 6 will catch up to Fractal. I was wrong. Cliff is always on a mission more than his competitors to make the Axe sound better, work better, and program easier. The amp models in the AXE are more accurate because of IR's, algorithms, and the edits you can make within the model. I would say soon that you will have more parameters on effects and more processor intensive amps and effect just because of the power of the Axe 3. Because of the power of the Axe 3, look for it to become a monster in 6 months, 50 percent better than it is now. Cliff an company are always on a mission to be the best and stay there.
     

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