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HeadRush MX5 review

Headrush jumps headlong into the fray with a compact floor unit it promises is the most powerful and easy-to-use of its kind. Will it stomp the HX Stomp? Let’s find out.

  • £399
  • €462
  • $399
HeadRush MX5
(Image: © Future / Phil Barker)

MusicRadar Verdict

A compact form factor, intuitive design and top-tier amp emulations make the MX5 a worth new addition to the HeadRush lineup, and a neat way to augment your pedalboard with serious modelling power.

Pros

  • +

    Compact but powerful unit with serious DSP muscle.

  • +

    Integrated expression pedal.

  • +

    Superb amp tones.

  • +

    Affordable.

Cons

  • -

    Some rivals have better effects but then they don't have expression pedals.

  • -

    Losing footswitches can make switching on-the-fly difficult for complex chains.

HeadRush MX5: What is it?

HeadRush could have thought of a more exciting name for their flagship amp modeller and multi-effects unit. Pedalboard? But it’s hard to see how the brand – which alongside the likes of Akai and  M-Audio is part of the inMusic group – could have fit more features in it. 

And besides, Pedalboard neatly explained the role it could perform in the 21st-century guitar player’s life – everything under one roof, a rig on the floor, powered by state-of-the-art quad-core digital signal processing.

A couple of years layer, Headrush rolled out the more compact Gigboard, offering the same sounds from a more compact form and a touchscreen to give it a user experience that will be familiar to any player who has used a smartphone or tablet. 

The latest from Headrush hopes to do all of this from a unit that’s powerful enough to replace the pedals on your pedalboard yet is small enough to leave plenty of space for your favourites. Furthermore, the MX5 retails for under half the price of its larger sibling.

HeadRush MX5

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

Size matters, and as with similarly compact rivals such as the Line 6 HX Stomp, the complement of LED illuminated footswitches has been reduced to three, one of which dedicated to the looper, though there is an expression pedal integrated on the unit’s right-hand side.

The MX5’s enclosure is dominated by that 4” touchscreen, and it really is bright and clear. As a window into the soul of the machine, it leaves little to the imagination. The only other manual controls include output volume and a rotary encoder dial. This might just be an amp modeller we don’t need the manual for, which is always a good sign. 

Headrush MX5

(Image credit: Headrush)

Around the rear of the MX5 there are MIDI connections, USB for preset editing, guitar recording and reamping at studio-quality (up to 24-bit 96kHz), an effects loop, aux in, headphones out, an expression pedal input, and your 1/4” jack ready to receive your electric guitar’s signal.

All in there are some 50 guitar and bass amps, 15 speaker cabinet models, 10 mic emulations, 300 impulse responses, 66 effects models, and the sense that this is going to work gangbusters for the musician looking for something that does all this that can be carted around in a backpack.

HeadRush MX5

(Image credit: Future / Phil Barker)

HeadRush MX5: Performance and verdict

The MX5 has a touchscreen has been downsized from seven inches to four but viewed in proportion it still commands our attention, and it is super satisfying using drag-and-drop icons to put together a signal chain. Sure, assembling or rearranging your pedalboard is a fun way to while away a Sunday morning, but the ease of use and the efficiency of units like the MX5 is a godsend when someone adds a new tune to a setlist and you have minutes not hours.

As is often the case with digital modelling, the sky is the limit when it comes to sounds, but it’s how the MX5 arranges its sounds that makes it particularly effective. The technological disruption in guitar gear does not just see analogue hardware units replaced by digital emulations, it also yields regular updates to firmware and functionality in the digital realm. 

The MX5 is a product of this evolution, and its user interface is as friendly as it comes, making light work of putting together complex signal chains and stereo setups that really get the best out of some of the modulation and delay sounds on offer.

Those sounds are meticulous. The guitar amps and cab sims offer a hyper-realistic tone and feel. Allied to the mic models, the MX5 allows you to dial in a superb, realistic and three-dimensional sound that sounds great whether it is being sent through a speaker or direct. 

Also consider...

Best multi-effects pedals: Line 6 HX Stomp

(Image credit: Future)

Line 6 HX Stomp
It's not as flexible on-the-fly as its larger forebears, but the HX Stomp offers a staggering number of tones from a pedalboard-friendly package.

Boss GT-1000 Core
All the tone-shaping magic of the GT-1000 but smaller and for two-thirds of the price, this super-flexible amp modelling unit is a very convincing option for an all-in-one digital rig, or for dramatically expanding your existing setup.

Effects are excellent, but if pushed we would argue units such as the Boss GT-1000 Core and Line 6’s HX Stomp have the edge on that score. Still, we would wager that with the size of this unit, many players would choose to keep their favourite stompboxes in circulation and integrate them to the signal path via the effects loop. And remember, the MX5 has an expression pedal, which could give it the edge.

Ease of use cannot be undersold either. The way HeadRush handles presets is very impressive. The switching is gapless. Its presets do not just present snapshots of what the unit can do with many effects together, it offers presets for the effects themselves, enabling further experimentation of each effect model itself.

The lack of footswitches might catch out players who rely on a lot of in-patch switching – y’know the seven-minute prog crowd, with the seven-minute bridge with three types of delay – but that is where size matters. There have to be some concessions to space.  

Headrush MX5

(Image credit: Headrush)

Elsewhere, the MX5 is not constrained by its proportions at all, and it is an exceptionally inspiring and practical device that can be used as a conventional multi-effects unit, using its complement of overdrives and boosts to drive the front-end of your amp.

If said amp has an effects loop, you can hook up the MX5 using the four-cable method. Alternatively, send it direct knowing your tone will sound the bee’s knees through the PA speakers. And it fits in a backpack. And it retails for 400 bucks. And, well, you can’t argue with that.

MusicRadar verdict: A compact form factor, intuitive design and top-tier amp emulations make the MX5 a worth new addition to the HeadRush lineup, and a neat way to augment your pedalboard with serious modelling power.

HeadRush MX5: The web says

“The MX5 feels like a more powerful beast than the full-fat floorboard did on its original release. It’s priced competitively, and can replace several pedals on a compact ’board. For players assembling complex but static chains it might even replace a whole pedalboard.”
Total Guitar (opens in new tab)

“At just a hair under $400, the MX5 sits comfortably on the affordable side of the contemporary all-in-one floor processor price spectrum. It's an even better value when you consider the built-in expression pedal. The unit is powerful and stable, and I never had to worry about DSP power when using processing-intensive effects.”
Premier Guitar (opens in new tab)

HeadRush MX5: Hands-on demos

HeadRush

Pete Thorn

PMTVUK

Andertons

HeadRush MX5: Specifications

  • TYPE: Amp modeller and multi-effects unit
  • SCREEN: 4” touch screen
  • FOOTSWITCHES: 3
  • FEATURES: Expression pedal, looper, 50 amp models, 15 cab models, 10 virtual mics, 300 IRs, 65 effects
  • CONTACTHeadRush FX (opens in new tab)

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