Sensationalist headlines aside, I’m pretty familiar with audio units and recording in a very digital way. Up until last year I’d never had a way to record my actual tube amps, so I’d always be working on some type of digital representation of them when not playing out. This was generally done with Guitar Rig or Amplitube, before that I owned a Pod XT Live and actually recorded and released a number of albums using it – I’m not an analog purist by any means, I love technology, I work with technology and it’s a huge part of my life, but I’ve always felt that when it came to replicating things that come naturally with analog gear, it’s just always fallen a little bit short. I for the most part still believe that, but as far as sound quality is concerned the latest offerings from Line 6 really make it hard to argue against these more modern approaches

Tonight I decided to install the Helix Native plugin and play around with it in Garageband. This isn’t exactly the most sophisticated workflow or setup but I figure that the goal of these types of software is to provide easy to use,  accessible, and high quality tones to people who probably aren’t going to have ready access to the pile of gear that I happen to have access to. That being said, as soon as I installed this the first thing that I attempted to do was make a complete copy of the tones that I get out of my traditional rig. I ran both sources into garageband and went back and forth A/Bing until the Helix sound was pretty close to what I was getting from my amp. This isn’t scientific at all and I know that Helix nerds are going to rage at me for not using the IR stuff, but we’ll get to that later. Once that was setup I took the last tone that I was using on my normal rig – reverse delay + some reverb – and attempted to recreate that. From there I hit record – the following is a take on the Helix and a take on my normal rig. The Helix vs. Analog are panned left / right on the main chordal part. The melody is a mix of both helix effects and the actual rig.

Not my best playing or the most creative piece of music in the world but I did this to help prove a point. The price variance on the two of these sounds is about 10x. Think about that – ten times more money to do this the old fashioned way, and to what gain? Definitely doesn’t sound 10x better.  With this type of cost of entry difference I’d really hope that these couldn’t possibly sit in the same mix together, but they can, quite easily.

Somehow less than an hour with a piece of software is able to output something that is comparable to the rig that took me a decade to build.

That’s really saying it all. Are there drawbacks to having a software only rig? Yes – the largest one for me is that I’m just never going to walk into a room and see a Laptop and think that I just MUST  go create something with it – but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a really great tool that should probably not be so widely discredited by a majority of snobby internet musicians. (Myself included).

Line 6 have done a pretty spectacular thing here at a really amazing price point. I can already tell that this is going to drastically change the way I look at my recording workflow. I may not buy a Helix and give up the vintage style tube amp game, but I’ll definitely consider leaving that effect pedal turned off and tweaking it in the DAW rather than relying on attempting to get the perfect mix going into the interface.

This type of software opens up a lot of options for creativity and as much as I love vintage effects and gear (I made a website about it!) it really is just another tool within the shed when it comes to creating things in a quick and easy and fun way.

Gear Used:

– Chase Bliss Audio Brothers
– Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl MkI
– Empress Reverb
– Strymon Timeline
– Ceriatone Joyful Music 50
– Line 6 Helix Native (Garageband)
– Universal Audio OX

About the Author

Chris plays guitar sometimes and writes and takes photographs other times. He enjoys the technical side of music and the technical side of music gear. MIDI presets and complicated switching systems abound. He runs @filthandechoes on social media and built this website.

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