HeadRush MX5

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My thoughts and impressions of the MX5 after a weekend of use coming from 5 months of Line 6 Helix LT use.

I really enjoy how the Helix sounds first and foremost. It is well documented as one of the best in its class and the HX modelling certainly is some of the best, whether it is the Helix floor/rack, LT, stomp or even Pod Go. For me, the main turn off, as primarily a home player, was its overall usability. That’s not to say it was particularly difficult, it just had moments where it wasn’t intuitive, and if you don’t use HX Edit on a computer or laptop, can be a bit of a faff to build rigs from the ground up. Of course with enough perseverance you can get the hang of it on the board but generally, HX Edit was my go to way of creating rigs.

It’s size also didn’t really suit as a home user with kids, it’s a large unit and on the odd occasion I did take it out for jam sessions, it’s very bulky and whilst more portable than a traditional amplifier, was still just a large unit to take out for a couple hours.

The solution was obvious, as someone who really enjoys the HX modelling, the general interface of Line 6, and who didn’t need all the various long effects chains and routing of the bigger Helix models, the Pod Go was surely the ideal replacement. Compact, lightweight, uses HX modelling, easier to use on the unit itself but still has a edit app on Windows. A bit more straightforward for a home user like me. It’s limited on DSP but you kind of have to expect that on a cheaper unit, shoudn’t be an issue. Easy, sorted, right?

I had never really given a thought to Headrush until I was researching FX units whilst waiting on the funds from the sale of my Helix. I came across the GigBoard and thought, hey sounds cool, like the idea of the touch screen and such, bit disappointing that it doesn’t have an expression pedal and I left it there, as at £500, was also considerably more expensive than the Pod Go which was £360 at a few places but generally around £420.

A week or so later, HeadRush announce the MX5, and then the next  day, it releases. It took my attention straight away, a compact unit, with a touchscreen, expression pedal, good I/O  on the back for a user like me, and, crucially in the fight against the Pod Go, the full DSP that the GigBoard and the PedalBoard both enjoy. Sounds too good to be truealmost, especially as it weighs in at virtually the same price as the Pod Go (£429 at time of writing). Well my mind was made, despite having never experienced a HeadRush product, I went with my gut, drove to PMT Norwich after work and purchased 1 of the 2 they had in for launch. First MX5 buyer in the UK? Quite possibly.

So, what convinced me? Why the MX5 over the Pod Go that I had comfortably decided on a few weeks prior.

Firstly, as mentioned, it can utilise the same DSP as the bigger HeadRush products, this is a huge advantage over the Pod Go which is quite limited in its signal path and DSP. Giving you effectively 4 customisable blocks as things like the amp, cab, EQ, wah, volume and FX loop are part of the chain and can’t be altered. Now fair enough, for most people, 4 blocks is fine, an overdrive/distortion, modulation, reverb  and delay and you’re good. But there are times when I need more than that, not to mention, the DSP hungry stuff can still be limited as soon as you choose something. With the MX5, I have been able to create surprisingly complex paths without hitting the DSP limit. There’s 11 blocks, assume that 2 will be your amp and cab, that leaves 9 for everything else. I could create a dual amp and cab rig, with every block full, using some quite DSP heavy items such as ambient reverb, fancy delay, and a multitude of other effects to max out the blocks, and even as I put the 11th one in, it still wasn’t limiting what I could put in (other than a 3rd amp/cab). So the MX5 completely beats the Pod Go when it comes to this aspect.

Another thing with this signal path thing, they both have loopers, however, the Pod Go requires you to use one of your blocks for the looper, whereas the MX5 has what I would call an ‘always on’ looper, it is always there, you can use it in any rig and even switch between rigs while looping. This isn’t possible on the Pod Go unless you create a set list of your own rigs that all have a looper and even then it can still trip out. This is a huge plus point for the MX5, particularly for those who like to use loopers.

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  • Tonally, there’s plenty of demos out there of the various Headrush and Line 6 products, to a point it’s a case of make your own mind up of which you prefer. The range of amp models and effects is slightly different between the Pod Go and the MX5.

    Amp models:

    Pod Go – 86        MX5 – 46

    Cab Models:

    Pod Go – 41        MX5 – 15


    Pod Go - >200    MX5 – 67

    Mic Models:

    Pod Go – 16        MX5 – 10

    Naturally the Pod Go has the numbers, which given Line 6 long history of modelling is hardly a surprise. There is of course some crossover with models, typical things like Fender Deluxe, Vox AC30, Marshall JTM45, Soldano SLO100 and Ampeg B-15N Portaflex for the bass players. That said there’s still some models the MX5 has that the Pod Go doesn’t, things like the Fender Super Reverb, Orange AD30, Bogner Ecstasy 101 and various modded Marshalls.

    In terms of tonality to my ears, the cleans are both extremely good between the 2, very little to choose between them, interestingly the Fender Super Reverb model on the MX5 has been my favourite clean model so far and is not on the Pod Go. When it comes to the driven amps, particularly the Marshalls, the MX5 edges ahead for me. There’s a lot more dynamic nuance to the Marshall models generally in the MX5 and are much more pleasing to my ears. The higher gain amps like the Soldano, Duel Recs and 5150 again are much more pleasing to my ears than the equivalent Line 6 models. Much more nuanced character and dynamicness, if that is such a word.

    Where the MX5 lags behind the Pod GO is in the cabinet modelling. You do feel the lack of cab models. With a lot of amp models lacking a matching cab such as Soldano, Peavey, Orange, in essence, all the high gain modern amps. The focus seems to have been on Fender and Marshall, with 10 of the 15 cab models being aimed at those 2, 6 Fender and 4 Marshall, you then have 2 Ampeg bass cabs, Vox, Bogner and for some reason, a Roland JC120, despite there not being a JC120 model. So line 6 wins on this front.

    The effects is an interesting one, again both units nail the effects modelling. The Big Muff Pi model (Tri Fuzz on MX5, Triangle Fuzz on Pod Go), sounds excellent on both for example with little to choose between them. Both units mimic the real controls of the pedals they’re recreating so you can really dial in that real life tone. What I like here with the MX5 is the fact that every effect has a selection of presets built in. So say, when I select the Big Muff effect, I’m presented with 7 options to choose from; defaut, beef, bright heavy, crushy, soft, tizz and warm body. So you can choose a start point closer to what you want and dial from there rather than the standard all at 12 o clock, this is  great if you aren’t sure what you want to tweak or if you’re new to certain pedals. Using the Muff as the example again, if I select Beef, it sets volume to 29%, sustain to 60% and tone to 80%. Crushy on the other hand goes, volume to 51%, sustain to 11% and tone to 35% for a totally different character. And this is on every effect pedal.

    Fortunately it is very easy to move around and switch between these settings and tweak, thanks to the absolutely amazing touch screen interface. Navigating the MX5 is a joy, it is so intuitive and easy to build up rigs, tweak settings, pick new things, switch things around in the signal chain, assign buttons, it truly is a standout feature. It’s not that the Pod Go is particularly difficult, but it’s probably a little too big for most peoples desktops, so you need to have it on your lap or be on the floor with it to control the parameters and switch things in and out. If you have a big enough desk then this is fine. You do also have Pod Go Edit on the PC which works much the same as HX Edit for the bigger models, this is absolutely OK to use, though it still isn’t as intuitive as I would like, especially when compared to the MX5. The MX5 is also tiny, so it sits perfectly on a desk when creating and editing stuff. This is also pretty essential due to the touch screen being 4 inches, making it smaller than most smart phones and a good 3 inches smaller than the GigBoards display.

    It is very bright, very clear, and extremely responsive to the touch. As someone who works with mobile phones, I was worried it would have that, lower, mid-range smart phone feel with a tiny bit of lag and cheaper feeling screen. But it pleasantly surprised me, with the screen itself it has a feeling not unlike the Samsung or Apple flagships in its smoothness, while the touch response itself, while not as sharp and quick as those same flagships, you wouldn’t be disappointed with it if was your smart phone display.

    And for me, that’s where the real magic of the MX5 is. Because it is so easy to alter stuff and build new rigs, I have already found myself creating more rigs from scratch than I ever did with the Helix. You can pump out a full 11 block rig in 10 minutes if you wanted to, its just that fast and intuitive to use that it encourages you to play around. And with the effects having presets, theres plenty to experiment with, without having to spend hours tweaking. When you do tweak, usually with the amps and cabs, its very easy, very straight forward and there is no lag between switching stuff so you can A/B stuff with zero issues.

    All in all it is an excellent unit that takes everything great about the bigger more expensive HeadRush products, and turns it into a ridiculously compact, intuitive and easy to use item that in my opinion, is now the leading product in the sub £500 modelling category.

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  • you still liking it?

    I've just sold my Boss GT1000 which I reallly liked, but am thinking of getting something I could use in the house or as a backup to my main pedal board.

    How is the lack of footswitches?   That was what killed the HX stomp & Boss GT1000 core for me anyway.
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  • andy1839andy1839 Frets: 2194
    Nice review, I'm pleased you're happy with it.

    I've had mine since launch day and have been using it quite a bit.
    I also have a Pod Go.

    I really dislike the MX5.

    Are you using your own IRs or just the stock ones?

    I can't seem to get a decent tone out of the thing at all.

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  • goldtopgoldtop Frets: 5947
    andy1839 said:
    Nice review, I'm pleased you're happy with it.

    I've had mine since launch day and have been using it quite a bit.
    I also have a Pod Go.

    I really dislike the MX5.

    Are you using your own IRs or just the stock ones?

    I can't seem to get a decent tone out of the thing at all.

    Let me know if you're selling - I'm interested in adding one to my little desktop setup.
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