Submitted March 12, 2016 by Richard Chapman in Rosamond, CA
"First Impression Bad; Second Impression Fantastic"
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Iv'e been playing through an "old school" analog pedalboard and Marshall stacks for about 40 years, but I finally caved in and decided to try a digital rig. So I bought myself a Helix, based on its reviews and its bang-for-your-buck ratio. Well after my first day with this contraption, I was ready to send it back to the music store. Because as I went through many of the various factory presets, everything sounded fizzy and "sterile" to me. But I knew that I had 45 days to return it, so I decided to hold off and give it another chance. So on my second day with the Helix, I got into its menus and started tweaking things...
After tweaking various parameters for only about a half-hour, I was able to find "my sound" fairly easily. This is a complicated device and it definitely has a bit of a learning curve, but once I started getting the hang of it, the sounds that I was looking for suddenly burst out of the Helix and quite honestly, the quality of the sound totally blew me away. This is a very responsive unit and not only that, its low noise was a big surprise to me. Once you drop a noise gate or two into your effects chain, and tweak their settings, you wind up with a rich, full sound that is almost dead silent when you stop playing. So far, I'm loving it.
Best features..? Well, it's a complex but highly configurable device and its menus are fairly easy to navigate. For assigning footswitches and the like, the touch sensitive switches are a brilliant addition. The on-board display is large enough that you don't need to squint to read it. And the back-lit, ever-changing "scribble strips" above each footswitch are very, very cool.
Ease of Use
Once you get everything set up to your own personal taste, the ease of being able to quickly change just about EVERYTHING on-the-fly, just by switching between one bank to another.... and to another... and to another... is as simple and as easy as can be. There is indeed a learning curve, as one might expect, but once you lean into it, everything begins to make sense to you. And the sounds are gorgeous... but only AFTER you start tweaking the various presets.
I have no idea how long it will last... many years, I hope. Physically, it is very solidly built and it has a fair amount of heft to it... which is always a good sign. Solid aluminum all around. A good, logical placement of switches and knobs. I should also mention that it looks very cool.
Given the fact that most of these high-end digital rigs cost anywhere between $1,000 to $5,000... I'd say yes, it's price-to-value ratio is very high. It's manufactured in China, like most things these days, so we'll have to wait and see how reliable it turns out to be. So far, so good.
So far, I have not had to deal with them.
The Wow Factor
Mainly what appeals to me about the Helix is the way that it squeezes hundreds of different sounds and features all "under one hood," without being so complicated that you end up walking away from it in frustration. I'm not quite ready to give up my old Marshalls yet, but the Helix is working beautifully through them... so that too is a major plus: it plays nice with my tube amps.
Playing guitar for 45 years.
Blues, rock, metal.
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