Review: Line 6 Helix LT

It’s time I got something off my chest: I’ve long been prejudiced against multi-effect boxes, so to write this review, some soul-searching was in order.
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It’s time I got something off my chest: I’ve long been prejudiced against multi-effect boxes, so to write this review, some soul-searching was in order. After much musing, I distilled out two basic reasons. The first is practical: For decades, multi-effects never sounded very good to me, at least in comparison to a suite of top-notch stompboxes. Sure, there were scores of practical advantages to using a multi-effect, most significantly memory banks and not needing a bunch of failure-prone patch cables—but still, I hadn’t heard a system that offered the same impact and euphonic depth as my fave pedals. My second reason is indefensibly shallow: Multi-effects just didn’t seem cool or fun. I still dig collecting pedals and get a visceral nerd-high from the ritual of assembling them into a killer signal chain on a pedalboard, reveling in the aesthetic satisfaction of all those garish colors and LEDs, operating in cacophonous synchronicity.

As with most irrational biases, growth came when I was forced to question the veracity of my misbegotten conclusions. The Line 6 Helix LT is one of a handful of products that signal the arrival of multi-effects as a viable and arguably superior alternative to individual pedals. Leveraging the latest in digital signal processing (DSP) and the availability of high-resolution color LCD displays, the Helix LT brings a level of sophistication, fidelity, and interactivity that’s matched only by a small handful of the highest-end digital outboard gear. While it’s aimed primarily at guitar players, there are more than enough bass-friendly features onboard to make it worth serious consideration here.

THE DNA

In essence, the Line 6 Helix LT is a digital signal processor and amp-modeler based on the company’s cutting-edge dual-DSP HX Modeling Engine. It includes a host of iconic Line 6 effects, as well as many dozens of new amp/cab/effect models that take advantage of the HX Engine’s horsepower. It packages its thorough feature-set into a rugged floor-mounted chassis with a best-in-class display and a dizzying array of analog and digital I/O. In short, when it comes to audio processing and distribution, there’s very little the Helix LT can’t do. It even offers a multi-input/ouput USB audio interface for connection to a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

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One of the major challenges with do-it-all processors is programming complexity and the quality (or lack thereof) of the user interface. Line 6 deserves big kudos for its intuitive menu hierarchy, the clarity and utility of its top-notch display, and the efficient utilization of hardware knobs, buttons, and a joystick. Amazingly, I could interact with and program the Helix LT straight out-of-the-box, only glancing at the manual a couple times to see how to navigate between modes. Best of all, the Helix LT can be edited via a computer-based app, an experience that once explored was quickly irreplaceable.

The Helix LT’s I/O facility is robust to say the least. There are a variety of analog inputs and outputs, including XLR outputs so the unit can serve as a DI in the studio. Digital audio can be output via USB or AES/EBU, and there’s even MIDI I/O to remotely make parameter and patch changes or to use the Helix LT as a MIDI controller for external gear. There’s a pair of effect loops to integrate other stompboxes, and the external expression-pedal jack can double as a secondary amp output to make use of the Helix LT’s amp-switching feature.

EVOLUTION

For live or in-studio performance, the Helix LT has two basic modes: preset and stomp. In preset mode, the Helix LT allows a user to pre-program up to 1,024 preset scenes, each of which can contain a multitude of effects and/or amp models. Switching among presets is accomplished by scrolling through pages with the up/down footswitches, and then selecting a preset with one of the other eight toggles. stomp mode makes the Helix LT behave more like a conventional analog pedalboard. Once you’ve set up an array of up to eight effect slots (and there are deeper options that allow a player to stack effects and run parallel chains), each switch corresponds to a given effect. The display color-codes each effect by type and indicates when it’s engaged. Additionally, the built-in expression pedal can be assigned to any parameter you may desire (up to 64 at once), as well as more conventional volume and wah-wah effects. A dedicated tap switch allows you to sync time-based effects easily, and a quick and accurate tuner is also available via footswitch.

There is no way I could even begin to comprehensively list the array of effects and amp/cab models in the Helix LT, but you’d be hard pressed to find a style of effect that isn’t available. I recommend reading the Helix LT’s owner’s manual (available online) for the full list, especially because Line 6 clearly and explicitly states the original hardware each onboard effect is modeled after. Parameter-setting interactivity with the effects is also super-simple, thanks to the great display and multi-purpose control knobs. Each time an effect is selected via the joystick or stomp switches, its parameters are visible along the bottom of the display, with each position corresponding to a knob. The parameters are deep, too—much more flexibility is generally available than in an analog design.

The general quality of the Line 6’s effects is superb. I was especially beguiled by its tape delay, its righteous envelope-controlled filter, its diverse array of compressors, and a huge-sounding three-oscillator synth. The amp models are also useful, especially in a home-studio environment, although they’re not quite as funky and idiosyncratic as some of the originals (and some are a bit too polite). In practice, I tended to look at the Helix LT more as an effects platform and less as an amp modeler, but that could be because I have a good selection of nice amps on hand.

The Helix LT isn’t cheap, although it’s about 500 bucks cheaper than its slightly more feature-laden sibling, the Helix. This review only scratches its surface, too, so anyone in the market for a remarkably versatile multi-effect should at least give one a trial run to explore the features most useful to them. Regardless, I can attest to its excellent sound, seriously deep parameters, and clever and durable design. If you’re tired of schlepping around a temperamental pedalboard, or you want a quick-and-efficient solution for a home studio, the Helix LT might be just the ticket.

SPECIFICATIONS

LINE 6

Helix LT
Street
$1,000
Pros Extraordinarily deep array of effects and amp/cab models; excellent display; top-shelf sound
Cons Bass amp models come close, but aren’t quite the same as the real thing
Bottom Line The Line 6 Helix LT signals the arrival of a new level of quality and usability in floor-mounted multi-effect processors.

SPECS
Weight 12 lbs
Go to line6.com for a full list of specs and features. There are far too many to list here. You can also download the Helix Native plug-in for a 15-day free trial.

Made in China
Contact line6.com

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