Helix vs AX8 vs something else

A number of forum members have tried Line6's Helix and/or Fractal's AX8, and have written about their experiences. We've not had any review of either unit. This might be because both units are much more complex than a guitar or pedal, So this thread is for collating what others have said.

For those people who don't have the patience to read everything the conclusions are:
1. Both units are incredibly capable. Never have guitarists been so well served.
2. There is no "better". It all depends on what you want to do with it, and how happy you are to learn how to get the best out if it.

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  • RolandRoland Frets: 4263

    peteri said:

    Helix LT

    I got the LT back in July, when it arrived I excitedly unboxed it and got to playing. Headphones presets sounded pretty solid and I liked them, and I quickly got some sounds I liked on headphones.

    Set-up a 'pedal board' using pre-amps which sounded ok at home.

    Went to a rehearsal room, at the time I was looking at it as a replacement pedalboard, plugged it into a LOUD amp. Was disappointed, Helix sounded flat, not bad - but just very compressed and uninspiring.

    At that point, I was pretty convinced it would go back.

    Partly because of laziness I didn't send it back and a week or two later having read more threads on here, I gave it another go. Spent a lot of time configuring it, making sure only inputs and outputs I needed were 'turned on', made the big knob not controling the main outs, played with input impedance etc.

    That and disregarding the controls position (obvious but old habits die hard) really helped, and gradually I got the hang of it. By middle of August I was really enjoying it - had good sounds dialled in, keeping the gain level really low (on the scale, not the sound) had cured the compressed feeling and I found I wasn't using my G2/Strymon main board.

    There were a few sounds I wasn't quite getting, notably:

    Phaser - just wasn't chewy enough for me, too polite

    Trem - not enough 'throb' without it getting intrusive (oh-er)

    Reverb - sounded ok, but wasn't great

    Off the back of this, I was running my MXR 95 in front of the Helix, that sounded great, and then my Flint for the reverb/Trem in a loop. This actually worked really well and I was pleased, freed up some footswitches too.

    To goose my tele - I put my King of Tone in the front end of the Helix, most of the time this was off - but it was there if I needed it.

    Off the back of how this was sounding I decided to sell my G2/Pedals - it's a heavy, large box taking up space. Around the same time we decided to move to a more central (but smaller) place, so that became a much better idea.

    Because of this decision, I thought, well if I'm going all in I should try Fractal. I didn't want a rack unit (did that in the 80s) but liked the idea of the AX8 as a grab and go board.

    Some obvious limitations, including the lack of headphone socket - but 60 day return policy - why not?

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  • RolandRoland Frets: 4263

    peteri said:


    This arrived just under two weeks ago, great customer service from G66 - they really impressed me.

    Out of the box, I preferred the size of the AX a lot.

    Started off again trying 'pedalboard' which for me means reverb on most of the time, a crunch, rock and lead sound. Ability to add phaser/chorus/trem and delay

    .Only used AX-Edit to do this.

    Initially I tried using amps, and turning off cab/power amp simulation. This worked well, and for some sounds I've stuck with this - but as my amp has no loop, you're obviously doubling up tone stacks. So latterly I've gone back for pedals in this configuration.

    First points - I found it all much 'easier' to use. When setting the pedals up, the knob values seemed to match more what I'd expect on the real unit. The sounds also matched a little more.

    Definitely a much stronger, tighter bottom end.

    (Maybe because I've got better at this) - no problem with the over compression.

    Drives worked really well for me.

    Modulations and reverb sounded significantly better to me than the Helix.

    Delay lacked a little, but nothing I couldn't live with - just with the Helix the delay sounded 'right' quicker.

    So with the exception of delay the AX was a significant upgrade for me, I found it took me minutes to get sounds just right, almost like the defaults were closer matched to my requirements and then I was just tweaking. As I began to understand using the filters that proved very useful and intuitive too.

    The range of amps is astonishing, I really enjoy all I've tried - there's actually too much in many ways, I've not even tried a boogie or Soldano yet for example, but the Fender and Marshall are really good.

    Other things I liked, the flexibility in the use of footswitches (not having to set the split between pedals and snapshots as a global for example). And I didn't miss the capacitive footswitches, they're cool -but often I'd trigger them in editing when I didn't want to and it would annoy me.

    What I didn't like to so much was the scene automation, although I can absolutely make it work for me - the Helix is clearly more flexible there, and you're not (or I wasn't) so aware of CPU limits as on the AX. You can have 4 amp models compared to 2 on the AX (X/Y) - reality is I can work around this fine.

    I really like the X/Y feature and use that a lot - very useful and also saves footswitches. It has caused me the odd hassle, when a 'Y' is set to bypass 'null' and the sound goes dead for example.

    Once I got a (£27 cheap!) m-audio headphone amp and I tried the amps/IRs full fat I was amazed, sounds amazing and this is definitely the most enjoyable headphone sound I've ever had. Again lots of bottom end and detail, very responsive and real. And the reverb really shines.


    The Helix LT wins on a number of points for me:

    • Price, remember this is £7xx!
    • Ease of programming without an editor, it really is easy to do
    • Analog/tape delay sounds
    • Automatically mixing down to mono - like that
    • Dedicated Headphones
    • Overall it's a very capable unit, some of the effects are still not there, but I could work around. And would be completely happy to have one but...

    The AX8 scores higher (for me) in some key areas (again for me):

    • Range of amp models, actually it's too much - but they all sound sooo good. It's amazing and means it's very easy to try something new instead of tweaking
    • The drive pedals, not an amazing range - but what there is achieves most things, and again - just a great, full sound
    • The other (non delay) effects, the chorus and phaser in particular are wonderful
    • The dynamic response of the unit, my girlfriend could hear a small difference (she mentioned the bottom end, and a more obvious high end 'tizz' in the Line 6), but that could be worked on and fixed - but under the fingers, it just sounds and feels real
    • Configuring footswitches is a dream
    • Size of unit
    • X/Y - it's wonderful on things like Chorus/delay
    • Tuner, the Line 6 one is just too slow - sorry
    • I don't need the Flint/MXR 95
    • Values match what I think they should be/sound like

    So that's what I've ended up with, a Pedal train Classic 2 board, with the AX8, small expression pedal (for wah which I don't use much), Stereo Ditto and King of Tone - it's tight but all fits and sounds great.

    I think Line 6 are to be congratulated on the quality/price point - but honestly I just think the AX/Fractal sounds a different league better for me.

    What I've found is mirroring a comment someone made earlier in the thread, I could make the Helix sound great with some tweaking, setting certain things a certain way - and I enjoyed that.

    The Ax, whilst having tons to learn - I didn't need to learn it, take a JCM 800, stick a TS in front and a delay/reverb behind - barely move off the preset values. Sorted!

    I'm still tweaking, but it's fun - and I've not once felt I'm working against the unit. And most importantly I'm enjoying playing more than ever, and have a small(ish) setup I can carry over one shoulder to a rehearsal space.

    The only thing I'd sell the AX8 for is if they do one with two CPUs, would be nice to really push parallel amps, or maybe one day a Axe-FX if I go rack.

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  • RolandRoland Frets: 4263
    Also worth reading is @Clarky's thread where he tried to replicate in the Helix what he does with an AxeFX. Clarky has particular requirements, and leads us through his exploration http://thefretboard.co.uk/discussion/108823/clarky-and-the-helix/

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