Line 6 Helix LT Review
Hefty multi-fx shows evolution of veteran brand
As a younger player, making my way through the initial stages of learning the guitar, the name Line 6 really started to take off. The company produced mostly amplifiers with all kinds of unique techno-frippery inside. You could make your guitar sound like it was coming out of all manner of different amps. Thanks to the widespread adoption of its Spider range of practice amps, Line 6 became as ubiquitous as soup or pavements.
The thing was though, being diplomatic, Line 6 always came across as being aimed at ‘younger’ players. Its branding screamed ‘alternative punk who refuses to tidy his bedroom’ and the sounds from the amps were sketchy at best. I seem to remember one having a button called ‘insane’ which achieved little more than raising the already high noise floor of the in-built distortion circuit. The point is, no serious player would consider using a Line 6 Spider back then.
The future is bright
Anyway. Times change and companies evolve. Come 2010, Line 6 launched its new Pod HD line of amps, effects and rackmounts. Gone were the cheesy graphics and edgy slogans. In their place came a proper, grown up piece of music tech which found favour with players from across the genre divide.
Fast forward again, and the music technology landscape has changed. The guitar world now has names like Kemper and Fractal offering high-end experiences and capabilities to more advanced players. The two companies we name there had taken the ethos of what Line 6 offered – digital modelling – and taken it to a whole new level.
Line 6 clearly had to respond, and respond it did with the suitably space-age looking Helix. This monstrous beast, tooled from the finest extruded aluminium, housed the pinnacle of Line 6’s digital expertise. It was (and still is, it hasn’t died) intuitive to use. It’s capable of producing extremely high quality tones and it has the technological smarts to reside in any given studio for the next 10 years.
One small problem though. You see, high end goods require high end components. And high end components don’t come cheap. So the Helix was, understandably, not inexpensive to buy. Those who did use it found it to deliver on the promises. It sounded great, felt substantial and met the requirements of those who needed more than the mid-range gear could provide. But that price…
Step forward the Line 6 Helix LT. Containing exactly the same digital and audio tech as the Helix, the Helix LT can stand against any other elite sound processor and hold its own. The only concessions were the metal housing (bent steel instead of aluminium) and some connectivity points. Other than that, you get the full Helix experience for around three quarters of the price. Let’s take a look at what’s happening in our Line 6 Helix LT review.
Flex those muscles
There’s no getting around it, the Line 6 Helix LT is a monster. It is huge. And exceptionally heavy. Across the front you have eight switches for navigating through preset banks, or for turning your individual effects on and off. You’ll also notice the large screen which sits above the switches. This attractive, bright display shows exceptionally clearly where you are, what is going on and how much extra distortion you just added by accident. Useful. There’s also a rocker pedal to the right, switches to bank up and down, control knobs under the screen for parameter tweaks and small joysticks to help you navigate your way around the screen. So far, so normal.
Of course the real magic happens inside the unit. Following a recent firmware update, the Helix LT features no fewer than 62 amps, 34 cabs, 16 mics and 104 effects. And, if that wasn’t enough, it also gives players the chance to install their own impulse responses (IRs). These, if you didn’t know, are kind of A Big Deal. IRs allow you to apply a certain set of characteristics to your signal chain. It could emulate a specific vintage tube mic, capturing an actual Matamp cabinet, while playing through the natural reverb of Sydney Opera House.
The point is, IRs are available to download and add to the Helix LT. So if one of the available presets isn’t quite doing it for you, chances are someone somewhere has created an IR which may be closer to what you’re looking for.
All about those sounds
Another neat trick is the ability to include up to two separate pedals using the internal effects loop. You may have a certain favourite delay sound from an existing pedal, or maybe something more esoteric, and want to incorporate it into your overall Helix LT setup. Well, thanks to the routing options on offer, you can.
The sounds themselves are pretty incredible, across the board. With the actual sound quality being the exact same as what’s found in the flagship Helix model, you can instantly appreciate the depth and clarity of the amps and effects on offer here. No corners have been cut in giving players not only a huge wealth of available options, but also the ability to really delve in and tweak these sounds to their own liking.
The included software editor – which comes on a dongle, dongle fans – takes out a lot of the back-curling knob twirling normally associate with floor based multi-fx. For editing on the fly, the navigation and clarity of the screen make things straightforward enough though. There’s an almost computer amp-sim feel to simply dropping in new amps or pedals across the signal chain to experiment with.
The Line 6 Helix LT is, put simply, a beast of a unit. It is robust enough to survive a decade of stage use, yet offers the exceptional levels of control the modern player demands. The sounds are – to a fault – superb and will give pretty much everyone something they can use and expand on.
The only criticism is one that it’s almost unfair to level at Line 6, and that is the fact that multi-fx are by their very nature slightly limiting. You have the effects in the box, plus whatever IRs you find, and that’s your whack. But for many players, carting around wheelbarrows full of pedals just isn’t important. They want all the sounds they’ll use, in fantastic sonic quality, and the reassurance that they will deliver night after night. In that, the Line 6 Helix LT can only be considered a huge success. Just start working on those core muscle groups if you plan on hauling it around a lot…