I would like to discuss my first thoughts on the latest guitar processor unit from Line 6 called Helix that I purchased in early 2021. My previous processor was the Line 6 PODHD500X that I used for a little over 4 years. I have wanted a Helix for years now but was hesitant to purchase it, not due to cost but due to something, I will discuss later. Before I continue, this is a review of the Helix the way it came from the factory, I have not hooked it up to my computer yet to do any updates so all the setup of the custom patches I did through the actual unit, not the Windows or macOS app. The firmware that it came with is version 3.01. Let us begin…
The Modeling Software
I would like to talk about the actual guitar modeling software for the Helix. Later I will talk about the configuration & display software that comes onboard. I have to say, compared to the PODHD500X, Helix is far superior! The sound for most everything amp and effect that I have tried so far is amazing, and I am hearing frequencies that I have never heard before from my guitars. The main guitar I use is the Line 6 Variax that I purchased around 2005 and even that is much better sounding! To me, it feels like the difference I heard when I first played a CD back in the 80s.
There are so many amps and effects in the Helix, I do not think I will ever get to try them all out. How you set up your patches using paths has opened some very interesting routing that could not be done by any other Line 6 product. One thing I have been wanting to achieve for a long time is to play through three amps at once and now I can finally do that along with true stereo that sounds so good through my two Line 6 Powercab’s.
The only two effects that I have tried that sound a bit off are the pitch effects and Octo. It sounds to me the pitch effects do not sound like the DigiTech Whammy pedal which I own. The Octo effect does not sound as good to me as it did with my PODHD500X.
The Configuration & Display Software
Now I would like to talk about the configuration and display software that comes in the Helix. The reason I held off on purchasing the Helix was due to issues I had with the PODHD500X configuration software (both onboard and their Windows app). Besides the lack of documentation, the Windows app for it was bad! As a software engineer, I would have never released it since has so many problems. Here is a video I recorded a while back describing just some of those issues: https://vimeo.com/dotnetdave/dogfooding4. All my Tweets and message to Line 6 support fell on deaf ears. I was hoping things would have gotten better, but quality got a lot worse, and I have not even installed the Windows app for Helix! Now I want to make sure that this section is for configuring the Helix, not the modeling software which I feel is excellent.
- You can store your effects and apps into favorites, so it is easy to paste into a patch. But, every time I go to the end of that list, the entire Helix freezes up and is unusable. I must turn the power off then on to fix it, losing any changes I might have.
- Randomly, the onboard tuner just stops working! Again, I must turn off the entire Helix then back on to fix this. If this happens during a live gig, I am going to be upset!
- Randomly when I’m working on patches, the entire board just freezes!
- Not all the time, but sometimes, after going to a new patch, the text in the Scribble Script gets garbled. I must move to another one then back to clear it up.
- Saving Variax settings with a patch does not work most of the time. On top of that, just trying to learn how that works in the Helix was frustrating. Most of the time I cannot permanently change the guitar by using my Variax. This was much, much easier with my PODHD500X! Even if I configure a guitar for a patch, the Helix won’t change to it when I switch to that patch. This is a bad issue if you own a Variax. (STILL BROKEN IN V 3.11.0 & UNACCEPTABLE!)
Update June 20, 2021: I FINALLY FIGURED OUT THE ISSUE… IT WILL ONLY SET THE VARIAX “IF” ITS ONE OF THE CUSTOM SETTINGS! THERE ARE SONGS I CANT PLAY ANYMORE SINCE I SWITCH PATCHES DURING THE SONGS FROM ACOUSTIC, CLEAN AND DIRTY PATCHES!!!!
Support ticket: https://line6.com/account/tickets/edit/410872
- This one is super frustrating… when moving down the banks, it completely skips the 1st row of patches. Goes from the 2nd row, then the 32nd! What?!?!? (FIXED IN V 3.11.0)
- I do not know about you, but I cannot remember how many milliseconds a ¼ Trip is or a 1/8, etc. is. On my PODHD500X, if you chose, let us say 1/16, then press a button, it will show you the milliseconds. I used this a lot to slightly skew the milliseconds for my delays. I searched and searched the web and cannot find a listing of these for the Helix and even worse, it is not in the documentation. (STILL BROKEN IN V 3.11.0)
- If you change what pedal is controlling an effect, it wipes out the values. It should keep the Min Value and Max Value of Dual Delay, as an example. (FIXED IN V 3.11.0)
- Saving an effect to Favorites does not save the controller assignments. Even copying an effect, it loses the controller assignments! (STILL BROKEN IN V 3.11.0)
- I cannot figure out how to get Expression 1 pedal to highlight A/B text. I tried and tried and failed to figure out how this works. Nothing in the documentation. (STILL BROKEN IN V 3.11.0)
- One feature of the Helix is that you can make changes to amps and effects by just pressing the buttons or pedal on the unit. The frustrating thing is that if I am playing live or practicing, I cannot turn this off. What happens is that if I hit something wrong, it will change settings without me wanting to do it (since all the knobs and foot switches are too sensitive). For most of my flange or phase effects, I use the momentary setup (which I love) for the stompbox button but sometimes it gets stuck on while I am playing. The only way to fix it is to reload the entire patch. Something I do not like doing when I am playing. (STILL BROKEN IN V 3.11.0)
- Why can’t I set different settings for my Variax in Snapshots????
- Why isn’t there an indicator for the Volume and Phones setting? Why can’t I “lock” the Volume knob so it won’t move when playing live? Just the slightest touch will move it. NOT GOOD!
- (NEW) I use pedal 3 to control the delay in my patches. I just discovered that it does not kick in until the pedal reaches about 50, then it kicks in at 50! So, if I want to slightly increase the delay, THAT DOES NOT WORK! Support ticket: https://line6.com/account/tickets/edit/409410. They say that the expression pedal needs to support 10k potentiometer. Well, that is not in ANY of the documentation and expression pedals online don’t even list what they support. At this point, I feel Line 6 owes me money for the expression pedal that I purchased that DOES NOT WORK! After going back and forth with Line 6 tech support for a long time, they recommend the Mission EP-L6 expression pedal.
- (NEW) I have been creating new patches based on old ones in a new set list. Somehow when I switch back and forth between the two set lists, my Helix is deleting new patches I have created in the second list! I have to keep creating the same patch over and over.
- (NEW) Sometimes, when I try to assign the min and max in an effect like Delay to a pedal, the min and max knobs stop working. The only way I can get it to work is to delete one of the other effects, most of the time it will start working. I am assuming its a DSP issue, but don’t know for sure.
- Something that is very frustrating is that it’s very hard to tell what snapshot is active! The only way to tell is to look at top right of the display of 1 (as shown). This is very hard to see quickly. Why not dim the snapshots that aren’t selected? They can do this, but have not implemented it! (STILL NO FIX)
There are more issues, but I think I will stop here since I am not their quality assurance engineer!
New Issues in V 3.11.0
- One thing I liked with the previous version is that when I have an effect, like delay, and set the mix to pedal 3, I could also change the mix with Snapshots. Well that does not work anymore for some of the effects 😦 The Helix needs better regression testing!
Here are some issues I have found with the Windows software to edit my Helix.
- Changing scribble strip from lower case characters does not work. While on the preset I can see it, but if I move off of it, it looses the change to uppercase! 😦
I do like the Helix unit itself except for one major thing. For me, the two rows of stompbox buttons are too close to the same level. The level for this on the PODHD500X worked fine for me, but with the Helix, when I press one of the buttons on the top row, I usually hit a button on the bottom row, which I do not want. This issue happens to me when I am wearing shoes. If I am not, then everything works fine but since the springs in the stompbox buttons feel stronger than the PODHD500X it is causing calluses on my feet.
The controls are too sensitive! If you are moving around a path and slightly twist the selection knob (by mistake) you will end up with the wrong effect configured. One time after modifying some patches, three of them had no sound output due to somehow out my normal output was changed to ¼ jack (which I do not use).
Also, I wish it had a guard bar near the buttons, so I do not hit them by mistake while playing. The PODHD500X had one of these bars.
New Hardward Issues
I have had my Helix since March of 2020 and now I am experiencing some bad hardware issues. As I am writing this in October of 2020, here are the issues…
- In all of my patches, I use the FX Loop. Ever since I got my Helix I have had issues with the return for FX Loop 1. I thought it was my cables so I purchased a few brand new ones and NONE of them work. Only one of my older cables. The issue is that from time to time the signal strenth gets really low (un-usable). I have now discovered the the connector for the retun is a bit too large so it allows the cable to not connect correctly except for that one cable.
- All of my footswitches are not working correctly now. ALL OF THEM! First it started with the bank up and down, then it spread to a few of the switches I use the most. Now its all of them. Even one acts like a momentary switch.
I am reporting these issues to Line 6 on October 28th, 2020. Due to the poor experiences with their tech support in the past, I don’t have much hope.
Since the Helix costs so much, I hoped for great documentation (guide). Not only does it not come with one (only online), it is so bad and not much help at all and is just a practice in frustration. NOTHING how the amp settings work, NOTHING on effects or how they work. NOTHING on creating complex paths, NOTHING on how to deal with clipping… well you get the point. It is almost completely useless. The main way I was able to figure out how things work is by spending countless hours trying to figure it out on the device.
Thank goodness that I used the PODHD500X for four years some I am used to it. But if this were my first guitar processing unit, I would be lost. NONE of the videos on the Line 6 website are of any help. They seem to be mostly towards marketing the product.
Giving the documentation a grade of F is being kind! Line 6 needs to understand their customers are not them! Write documentation as if it WAS the first guitar processing unit the customer purchased!!!! Pretend you are a teenager and just got the Helix as a Christmas gift!
What Needs to Be Improved
Here are a few more items.
- QA the apps! Shows a lack of care and looks bad for the company.
- Line 6 does not act like a software company (giving up on updates and improvements quickly). My Variax is 16 years old and I can’t even configure it anymore because Line 6 does not want to update their USB drivers. Big failure!
- Support needs to be A LOT better. None of my interactions with support fixed anything and it takes a week or more for them to even respond!
In the End
I was hoping that the Helix would have better configuration & display software and better documentation and I was let down. At this point, this will be the last Line 6 guitar processor I will purchase unless they get a lot better at the things I described. I know I am very hard on the software since I am an award-winning software engineer and author. That is part of my job! If I released software this bad, I would be fired.
Come on Line 6, I purchased your very first amplifier and all my amplifiers are Line 6, and my main guitar is Line 6. I expect a lot more from you. Now, don’t you wish that reviews in guitar magazines like Guitar Player, Guitar World, or Premier Guitar were this thorough?
After all the fricking time I have spent finding the many, many problems in the Helix, I think Line 6 owes me their next generation of Helix for FREE!!!!
Have you had issues with the Helix? Please make a comment below.