LINE 6 HELIX NA­TIVE (SOFT­WARE)

LINE 6 UN­VEILS THE LAT­EST EVO­LU­TION OF HELIX, AND THIS TIME, IT’S BYO HARD­WARE.

Australian Guitar - - Reviews - BY PETER HODG­SON

Line 6 has been at the fore­front of amp and ef­fects mod­el­ling since the days of the leg­endary kid­ney-shaped red POD and the clas­sic Amp Farm and POD Farm soft­ware (for those un­aware, that brings them all the way back to the tech­no­log­i­cally clunky days of the late ‘90s). When they came out with the POD HD se­ries of pro­ces­sors in 2010, it felt like the com­pany had hit a new high, but then they went and sur­passed it with the Helix. The Helix line of de­vices hasn’t been out for very long, but it’s al­ready spawned a more stripped-down ver­sion for those whose bud­gets don’t quite ex­tend to the full-priced and full-func­tion unit. And now you can get your hands and track­pad on the Helix Na­tive soft­ware, which is es­sen­tially to the Helix what POD Farm was to POD.

NA­TIV­ITY SCENE

Helix Na­tive is a plugin that de­liv­ers the HX Mod­el­ling tech­nol­ogy of the Helix to your desk­top, giv­ing you the same vin­tage and modern am­pli­fier recre­ations, speaker cab­i­nets, mi­cro­phones, ef­fects and ex­ten­sive sig­nal-rout­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties as the orig­i­nal unit. Its pre­sets are com­pat­i­ble across the en­tire Helix fam­ily, so whether you have a Helix Floor, Helix Rack or Helix LT, you can eas­ily trans­fer your sounds from one model to another. There are also var­i­ous price op­tions that give you a dis­count if you’re a reg­is­tered user of one of the hard­ware units.

Of course, what you miss by this be­ing an app in­stead of a hard­ware item is the ease of in­te­grat­ing it within a live rig. That’s cer­tainly not im­pos­si­ble, though – hell, if you have a good enough in­ter­face, you could use Helix Na­tive on a lap­top, have your drum­mer play to a click track and have all of your sound changes han­dled with­out hav­ing to ever step on a pedal if you don’t want to. But it also means that, to a cer­tain de­gree, the fi­nal sound de­pends on the qualit y of your dig­i­tal and ana­log con­vert­ers. If you want au­then­tic re­spon­sive­ness and sig­nal-to-noise ra­tio, you’re go­ing to want to use an in­ter­face with an amp-style im­ped­ance in­put.

Helix Na­tive of­fers 64-bit per­for­mance on AAX, AU and VST3 plat­forms, and it’s loaded with 60 am­pli­fiers, 30 speaker cab­i­nets and 100 ef­fects. And if our past ex­pe­ri­ences with Line 6 are any­thing to go by, they aren’t go­ing to stop there.

GO­ING NA­TIVE

We’ve al­ready re­viewed the Helix Floor and LT in these pages, so the ques­tion be­comes, “What does Helix Na­tive of­fer that’s unique?” Well, for starters, it’s much more cost-ef­fec­tive be­cause you’re not deal­ing with the ex­tremely high-qual­ity hard­ware in­volved in the Helix Floor, Rack or LT. And what you get in re­turn is a very DAW-friendly lay­out that puts the fo­cus on Helix Na­tive when you need it in a hurry. The user in­ter­face is also very in­tu­itive – not only for the amp and ef­fect con­trols, but par­tic­u­larly for the ap­pli­ca­tion’s sig­nal rout­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The tones it can pro­duce are stun­ning, es­pe­cially with a nice record­ing in­ter­face and qual­ity mon­i­tors. Part of it is down to the stu­dio-qual­ity ef­fects, and the fact that you can cre­ate your sounds within your tracks in or­der to

make them fully sit within the mix. You can build a sound that per­fectly fits the song, right down to the am­bi­ence and EQ, then trans­fer that to your live rig if you have a hard­ware ver­sion of the Helix. The 16 mi­cro­phone mod­els give you plenty of va­ri­ety (al­though you can only se­lect dis­tance, not axis, so that lim­its your flex­i­bil­ity some­what). It would be great to have more stomp­box mod­els to play with (no di­rect TS-9?), but there is a TS808 Tube Screamer on­board. There are also other sur­prises to be un­earthed, like mod­els of the Kowloon Walled Bunny over­drive – a par­tic­u­larly ob­scure, but very cool pedal – the Z.Vex Fuzz Fac­tory, the Klon Cen­taur, Chan­dler Tube Driver and more.

Another great thing about Helix is that it gives you ac­cess to Hum and Rip­ple con­trols, which let you ad­just how much vir­tual ‘heater hum’ and ‘AC rip­ple’ there is to in­ter­fere with your tone. Ever felt bummed that amp sims sound just too clean, and you’re more at home with some­thing that in­cludes all the idio­syn­cra­sies of a real amp – even the less favourable ones? This lets you con­trol those neb­u­lous lit­tle fac­tors. These con­trols don’t seem to make a mas­sive, earth­shat­ter­ing dif­fer­ence, but they make enough of an im­pact to sell the il­lu­sion.

One thing that play­ers might have a bit of an is­sue with – and this goes for any plugin ver­sion of amp mod­el­ling soft­ware – is the lack of phys­i­cal con­trols. We’re all very much con­di­tioned to reach­ing for the tone, vol­ume and gain pots on an ac­tual amp, but what a lot of gui­tarists don’t seem to have cot­toned onto yet is that there are plenty of MIDI con­trol sur­faces that do this job per­fectly. A great ex­am­ple is the Launch Con­trol by No­va­tion: it has 16 con­trol knobs and eight but­tons that you can map to any con­trols in Helix, in­clud­ing amp and ef­fect knobs.

THE BOT­TOM LINE

Helix Na­tive is great if you want to fig­ure out if the hard­ware ver­sion is right for you, since you’ll be able to get a taste of Helix’s li­brary of in­cred­i­bly life­like amp mod­els, ef­fects and sig­nal-rout­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. And if you al­ready have a Helix but it doesn’t re­ally fit in with your pre­ferred DAW work­flow, it’s a pretty rea­son­able in­vest­ment for the abil­ity to craft song-spe­cific sounds in the record­ing process that you can then trans­fer to your on­stage rig.

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