The Line 6 Helix hardware floor processors have garnered high praise here.
And, while the idea of an all-in-one pedalboard with effects and amp/speaker simulation might not be everyone’s cup of tea, their versatility and easy portability has seen them taken up as the practical tool of choice for many gigging guitarists.
They are no slouches in the studio either, utilising their ability to dial-up sounds emulating the mic’d-up speakers of a wide range of iconic amps - all plugged cleanly and conveniently into your recording medium of choice with not a physical microphone in sight and no worries about the acoustics of your recording space.
If you’ve fancied a piece of Helix action but have been put off by the prices or have not actually required all their physical facilities, you may be pleased to know that you can now access the sounds with Line 6’s Helix Native Software.
Helix Native comes as a 64-bit plug-in for both Mac and Windows and can be used in AAX, AU or VST3 formats - there’s no standalone version as yet. As such, it is compatible with most popular DAWs including Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cubase, Ableton, Reaper and GarageBand.
It is also totally integrated and compatible with the Helix hardware - basically it’s the same software but using your computer’s DSP rather than the hardware’s processors - which means hardware Helix users can have exactly the same presets, setlists and bundles on both their stage units and computer.
While Helix owners could use their hardware for recording or re-amping, having a plug-in as well makes practical sense as you can record with it but also quickly apply it to any DAW tracks without having to patch in the hardware and record its outputs.
Of course, Helix Native doesn’t have to be used just for guitars - the effects lend themselves to a variety of sounds and instruments. You get more than 60 amps, over 30 cabinets and more than 100 effects, plus the ability of loading third-party impulse responses, expanding the options for creating a realistic mic’d-up sound.
The Helix Native GUI, very similar to the editor for the Helix hardware, is easy to navigate, with preset list and IR manager to the left and a flow diagram showing the signal path with all the components of your tone chosen from menus directly below.
There’s no direct dragging-and-dropping of items onto the signal path, but a click to insert a block and clicks to choose the type of block and the model in that block, gets you where you need to be pretty quickly with adjustable parameters for the model appearing instantly. Parameters and/or block bypass states can be automated by assigning them to automation channels in your DAW.
Interacting with software by plugging into an audio interface is not as simple as plugging into the Helix hardware’s guitar input, and care has to be taken setting the gain structure. Helix Native, however, has clear metering allowing you to set a crucial optimum input level for nuanced response from the amp models.
An excellent set of models, familiar to anyone who’s aware of the Helix, offers both the classic and the more obscure to be combined in a range of signal path configurations to create classy fully produced sounds for guitar recording and effects for other tracks.
If you are dipping into amp sims plug-ins for the first time, at $399 (roughly £300) you’ll be paying more for Helix Native than other amp and effect software but you are buying into that Line 6 Helix family with its high-quality sound and a pretty comprehensive range of modelled gear - a definite asset for anyone with a DAW who records guitar. For previous Line 6 users, hardware Helix owners get the best bargain at $99 for the software.
As for the pricing for other Line 6 users - if you have a Helix LT you can get it for $299, but anyone that’s previously invested in Line 6 packages is likely to be a bit disgruntled at their discounted prices ($349 for Pod Farm users, $299 for Pod Farm Platinum).
Whether you feel that the pricing hits the spot or not, Line 6, to be fair, are offering a free 15-day trial of the full software so you’ll know exactly what you are getting for your money.