I change my rig on an 18 month to 2 year basis. Partly because gear takes a beating on the road and so needs renewing and partly because I love gear and like to try out new things. I got the Helix in the first place as I needed something that I could use stand alone, with no amp, when a silent stage was called for, but also use with an amp as the control centre for the rig. Its had somewhat mixed successes in these rolls.
Straight in to Front of House
Plugging the Helix into the desk and running without a ‘real’ amp the sounds can be very, very good. The key I’ve found is to use high quality IR’s (Impulse Response) from 3rd party companies. My favourite company to use is 3 Sigma Audio as they sound great to my ear and enable really great dynamics when playing. For me the difference between the stock cabinets and the 3rd party IR’s is night and day, and now all my patches use 3 Sigma Audio IR’s.
The problem I have when running in to the FoH desk, and this was the same when I used to have my Axe FX II, is that you are at the mercy of both the sound technician running the desk and the quality of the rig being used. So if you happen to have a good tech and rig then the sound can be epic, the problem is if you don’t then you can be in for a very long night fighting whats coming out of the speakers.
The benefit is that the sound you hear as a player, either thru FRFR (Full Range Flat Response) monitors or IEM’s (In Ear Monitors), is usually the same night after night.
4 Cable Method With Real Amp
Setting up the Helix to run in 4CM (4 cable method) is relatively easy, you just assign one of the FX loops to work as a send and return, wire it up, and you’re done. Drives, wah and compression sit in front of the amps gain stages, and modulations (sometimes in front), delay and reverb are feed into the FX return of the amp.
I’ve run 4CM with 2 amps; my Marshall JVM 410H and my Victory V30. Originally I thought that I would be able to run a 5th cable with the Victory using the Helix Amp Control output to change the channels of the V30 with a foot switch on the Helix. Whilst this does actually work, it creates so much noise on the clean channel of the amp that its unusable for me. I tried everything to try and eliminate the hum including using a Lehle P-Split, but nothing worked. I’ve since noticed that on the Helix video Anderton’s Music Store did with Paul Hindmarsh the Victory V30 they used is making exactly the same noise, so for whatever reason this amp and board do not get on when using the EXT AMP control.
When using the JVM I setup in 2 different ways. The most straight forward way was to still use the foot controller that comes with the Marshall for channel changes and then use the Helix as a traditional pedal board, which works great and is really flexible. The second way was I ran a MIDI cable from the Helix to the MIDI IN of the JVM. This meant that I could then program MIDI changes to be sent to the amp to change channel and then assign them to footswitches or patch/snapshot changes. This works well but I don’t like having a whole row of the Helix buttons taken up with the various channels of the JVM as it means less FX can be used. It also bothered me that I couldn’t find a way to assign the JVM Master 2 to the Helix like you can with the Marshall foot switch, so I mostly run it connected the other way.
Sound wise 4CM is great. I’ve noticed little to no ‘tone suck’ like some multi FX are prone to. Overdrives react exactly like they should with the different amps, modulations are clear, delays are lush, it all just works great.
Overall I’ve been very impressed with the Helix and what it can do. The quality of the sounds, with the custom IR’s, is great and having every pedal you could ever need with you at every gig is a life saver, definitely worth checking one out.