Should you join Helix
Line6 Helix Rack & Control in the test
After the Helix for the floor, the rack version with a matching floorboard is now also available. The firmware version 2.0 is also available for the test.
We have already presented the Line6 Helix in the version for the floor in (see here). At that time the rack version was announced, but not yet available. With the software version 2.0 further features, amps and effects have been added. Let's see to what extent a completely new device is in front of us.
A noble appearance
Like the floor version, the Helix Rack looks very classy and tidy. The large display comes into its own thanks to the 3U at the latest. For such a complex device, there are surprisingly few buttons. The six potentiometers under the display, which change the parameters displayed, immediately catch the eye. So it's almost like having your normal amp or effect pots in front of you. The size and placement of the volume control also make it clear: Here, emphasis is placed on direct and simple operation. The back is a bit more lavishly equipped. No wonder, since the generous possibilities of the floor version have another connection for an expression pedal (now three), a buffered guitar thru, AES / EBU-In and a word clock connection with terminator switch.
That was almost due to the differences between the devices. The Line6 Helix Control Floorboard looks like it has been cut out of the floor helix. It is made of metal and therefore looks very robust. Due to the well-chosen size, it also fits in a 19 ″ rack and can therefore be transported very easily. Here, too, there are 12 foot switches, each with their own scribble strips (the small displays) that show how the button is assigned. Clearly one of the killer features of these devices and otherwise only available in top-of-the-line MIDI boards such as the Liquid Foot + or the RJM Mastermind GT. There are also the colored LED rings around the switches. Freely configurable and very practical.
There is also a general display showing the preset name. As with the rack, you can connect three expression pedals and a switch here. There is also a USB port for potential updates. The floorboard can be connected directly to the Helix Rack via the so-called "host" using the approximately 7.5 m long CAT-5 cable supplied. Conveniently, the floorboard receives its power as well as the control signals via this connection. So only this one cable is necessary, which is laid on the stage towards the front of the board. Great feature. Unfortunately, the test device did not come with a cable (a previous tester had accidentally plugged it into his PC! This is hardly a problem at home, as the cables required are normal network cables. In a live setting, however, it will be difficult to find someone on a stage who can lend you one. At this point, Fractal Audio has better solved the problem with an XLR cable that is almost everywhere available and much more suitable for the stage. But whatever. If you buy two CAT-5 cables and have peace of mind.
Rack vs. floor multi
Let's briefly estimate what the respective version of the Helix would cost us: The bottom Helix: approx. € 1500 plus approx. € 140 for a case. So: approx. € 1640. The rack version: € 1400 for the Helix Rack, € 400 for the Helix Control, approx. € 70 for an Expression Pedal (like more ...), € 80 for a 3U rack, € 100 for a Pedal board. All in all, around € 2050.
So it boils down to the old question: why should I spend more money on the rack solution? Well, there are of course good reasons that everyone must know for themselves how important they are to them. Does your band often play in narrow venues and someone can land on your helix during pogo? Or are your bandmates or your audience known for spreading their appletinis over the floor in the heat of the moment? Well, in such cases, you might be happy to just have to buy a new foot controller instead of a completely new device. Thanks to the Helix's effect loops, you can also conveniently banish any floor effects you may still use to a rack drawer so that they are no longer exposed to the rough tour tides. If, of course, you want to readjust them and therefore need them on the floor in front of you, you have to pull long cables back and forth from the rack. I had it - it's no fun.
But in addition to these considerations, the rack version also offers the other connections already mentioned. For example, if you want to connect your equipment using AES / EBU-In, you will inevitably have to buy the rack version. The same applies if your shows are clocked via a word clock. In this case, the rack version can receive the clock signal of your interface and synchronize its own output to it. If you are also concerned about the compatibility of the systems, here's the all-clear: Presets can be freely exchanged between the floor and rack version.
New firmware, new features
One of the big open questions in the previous test was Line6's update policy. While Fractal Audio, for example, is known for regularly providing the Ax-Fx with free updates, which often bring new functions or amp / effect simulations, the situation with Line6 has looked more mixed up until now. Often there were only very few bugfix patches and when new amp sims were available, they often cost additional money.
So far, this policy does not appear to be followed by the Helix. In the meantime there were various smaller updates and in July version 2.0 finally appeared, which among other things brought new amps, effects and a "snapshot" feature. At the time of the test, 2.01 was already released, again with minor adjustments and bug fixes. It can go on like this.
Now what are snapshots? If you come from the fractal audio corner, you already know a very similar feature under the name "Scenes". If not, here is a brief explanation: With presets, you change your entire setup. With preset 1 you can play with an overdrive in a simulated marshall and refine it with a delay. In Preset 2, however, you might want to play a chorus into a fender. No problem. But when switching presets there are inevitably short pauses and there are often problems with letting a delay or reverb fade away (in short, this is very computationally intensive). You can now think of a snapshot as a fixed setup in which you can "only" change parameters.
So you can't use a Fender amp at once where there wasn't one before. But you can switch from one (already installed) amp to the other within a preset and switch off the chorus, change the gain on the distortion and turn up the flanger that you've always wanted to use. Line6 describes this very charmingly in the great operating instructions (in English): "Have you always secretly wanted to be an octopus in order to be able to constantly change amp and effect settings during the song?" So you have the option of up to eight snapshots here to save in a preset and thus to use eight completely different versions of your setup.
In addition to this great feature, new amps and effects have also been added. The three channels (Rhythm 1, Rhythm 2 and Lead) of the Mesa Mk IV are particularly noteworthy. The 5-band EQ of the Mk IV is also available as an independent EQ. A new fuzz, tremolo and vintage digital delay have also been added. In terms of sound, the old and the new firmware do nothing. My conclusion from the last test is still valid: The models sound very good and authentic, the modeling is at a very high level. Personally, I still like the Ax-Fx II better because it feels a bit more authentic, but who knows, maybe Line6 will add something to this one soon. You could do that with the reverbs, by the way. These are still taken from the old modeling generation and now that I have known the device for a long time, it is noticeable that these are not on the same level in higher mix settings as those from an Ax-Fx II or a high-class stand-alone -Reverb like the last tested Empress Reverb (test in issue 10/2016). Not a big problem in the mix, but a bit of a shame if you take the other - sometimes very high-quality - effects as a reference.
... the market offers quite a few, of course, but Line6 has cleverly placed itself in the middle. If you want high-end modeling, you can buy an Ax-Fx II XL (approx. € 2700) with a suitable MIDI controller (MFC-101 for approx. € 800). With the same sounds but less processor power, the AX8 is a good alternative to the Line6 for around € 1700 (see test here). If you prefer to use ready-made sounds instead of building them yourself, use the Kemper (approx. € 1700, € 2150 with floorboard). If all this was too expensive for you, you might find your slimmed-down modeling luck in the Atomic Amplifire for around € 630.
As with the floor version of the Helix, Line6 does a lot right and impresses primarily with its excellent usability and a flat learning curve. The sounds are in no way inferior to this and can rank among the highest realms of current modeling technology. Even if an Ax-Fx II or a Kemper sound a bit more authentic, these are nuances that can be neglected in most applications. The effects are similar, only the reverbs and maybe one or the other fuzz could be updated here, but they are by no means bad.
Is it now worth buying the rack version instead of the floor multi? Of course, this decision is very much dependent on the intended use and personal preferences. Personally, I would probably reach for the rack. In addition to the advantages mentioned above, this can usually also be set up more comfortably at home to play or program sounds. When I had the thick ground battleship on my desk, it was a bit annoying. In addition, I would not like to trample € 1500 more often than necessary, because the pure controller seems more durable to me.
The bottom line is that I can only recommend the floor and rack versions of the Helix. The price is very reasonable and the operation so simple and well thought out that everyone will have a lot of fun with the device very quickly. There is a lot of jerking on the Ax-Fx-Throne!
- Connection variety
From guitar & bass 11/2016
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