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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
While I should have been sleeping instead of staying up until 2am every night tinkering with fun gear, I couldn't resist putting these two through their paces this week. 2am is a damn late night for me. I'm normally up at 6am every morning. This was a week of many coffees!

*Disclaimer*
I do not have a dog in this fight. Sure, I own/run Next Gen Guitars, but we sell nothing related to Line 6 or Fractal and have no plans to get into that market. This post is entirely regarding my personal use and preferences. I'm also not a fanboy or hater of any particular brand. My only interest is in finding a piece of gear that works well for me. That means it has features I want, tones that I like, and is easy to use.

Here's my quick review of the positives and negatives in comparison with one another.

1. Cost & Availability = Helix
Helix - Helix is better distributed and much more widely available thanks to Line 6's use of a traditional distribution network (via Yorkville in Canada). That also means you might get lucky with coupon codes and promotions to get it at a discounted price. It also means you're more likely to find a good deal on the used market.

AX8 - It isn't likely to get any cheaper for any reason. It is also tough to get in Canada due to Fractal's direct-to-consumer model and the constant wait lists on their products. No deals to be found new or on the used market considering Fractal's stuff often resells for what it costs to buy new thanks to the perception of "you're paying to beat the wait list". Some people even list it for more than what it sells for new.

2. On-board UI = Helix
Helix - I've used dozens of modelers in the past decade and Helix has by far the most aesthetically pleasing and intuitive interface I've ever encountered on any gear. There is absolutely no comparison here.

AX8 - I think it is as good as it could be without jacking up the price a fair bit to include something better, but I'm not a fan. Making my first preset from scratch took a lot of consulting with the manual. Editing a preset to set up scenes, controllers, etc took a ton of reading to figure out. If you're not familiar with Fractal products, it is a steep learning curve. Use the computer editor whenever possible.

3. Computer Editor & Computer Usability = AX8
While Helix wins big with the on-board UI, IMO AX8 comes out on top with regards to computer usability. Both editors are great and easy to use. Helix editor uses sliders for everything, where as, AX8's uses "knobs". It's a preference thing for sure and I never thought it would matter to me. Apparently I was wrong, I definitely prefer the look and feel of Axe-edit.

I also don't like feeling "afraid" to update the firmware due to an overly convoluted update process that could "brick" my unit if I don't do it perfectly. Helix is a pain in the ass to update, where as, updating AX8 is dead simple. No comparison.

4. Updates = AX8
Helix - So far Line 6 has been great for adding new features, new models, and the updates have been coming. Every indication is that they want to keep it that way, but obviously can't make promises. So far, it's the best supported device by Line 6. The biggest downside was mentioned above. Updating it is an annoying process.

AX8 - Fractal is pretty well known for their constant free updates with new models, features, and bug fixes. They have continued that tradition with AX8. Free and frequent (more frequent than Line 6). It is also easy to do.

5. Community Support = Helix
Like the UI, there is no contest here. It isn't really a fair contest considering Helix is so much more widely available and there are so many more Line 6 users out there. Case in point, Line 6 Customtone has over 800 user presets being shared vs barely more than 30 on Axe-change (Fractal's preset sharing service).

6. Connectability = Helix
Helix - 4 fx-loops, aux-in, 4 expression pedal jacks (plus an on-board expression pedal), XLR & 1/4" outs, headphone jack, Variax input, midi, XLR input (with phantom power), and it can act as an 8-in/8-out USB interface. Digital stuff like S/PDIF, AES/EBU, and L6 Link. Ridiculous amount of stuff crammed into one board.

AX8 - Pretty much just what you'd expect on a board like this. XLR & 1/4" outs, 1 fx-loop (stereo return), S/PDIF, midi, and 4 expression pedal jacks (no on-board expression pedal). No built-in interface, and no USB audio. USB is for connecting to the PC to send and receive data (for the editor, firmware updater, etc.)

7. Features & Flexibility = Helix
Helix - Man, what doesn't this thing do? I won't bother listing every feature. Here's some highlights. The audio interface is a nice touch, unbelievable signal chain flexibility, and did I mention the awesome UI? The latest update added Snapshots (similar to Fractal's "scenes", only a little better IMO). Snapshots, plus the ability to load up to 4 amps/cabs and multiple effects means you can have multiple seamless tones with delay/reverb trails and no signal dropout, all within a single preset. Not much to say other than, it almost does everything I've ever wanted a unit to be able to do.

AX8 - Good in its own right, but pretty limited by comparison. The signal chain isn't nearly as flexible, you can only load 1 amp/cab and a limited number of effects, and I can hit the DSP limit pretty easily trying to make a versatile preset with multiple scenes. Scenes only saves ON/OFF and X/Y states of each block. It doesn't currently save individual dial settings (Helix's snapshots do to some extent). I only recently learned this, much to my disappointment. Maybe they will add that in a future update.

8. Amps/Effects Modeling = BOTH
Truth be told, both units sound great. They definitely sound different and need to be dialed in differently to get you "there", but they are both "there". AX8 has way more models and deeper editing features. But with Helix's greater signal chain flexibility, it is a toss up. Sound quality wise, they are both great!

To be honest, I mainly picked up the AX8 to test the hype around Fractal's modeling. It sounds good, sure, but isn't knocking me off my feet with amazement or anything. It's just "different". I wouldn't go as far as to say "better". At least not to my ears.

9. Cab Modeling = AX8
Helix - Can't say I'm a fan of the stock cab models. They can be tinkered with and combined for good results, but the selection is limited and it takes some work.

AX8 - The stock cab models are actually pretty good the way they are. The ability to combine them, add comb filtering, proximity effect, and some other stuff takes them far enough for me not to bother with user IRs. And in this case, it is easier/faster to get a good cab sound in AX8. That said, both can load user IRs which can make that point mute if you're into it.

10. Conclusion
Despite Helix coming out on top in most categories, I still haven't decided which I will keep. Many of the benefits I mention about Helix have to do with playing in a live setting. Though I enjoy it, I don't really play out much anymore since starting the business, among other major life changes. Just no time anymore. I'm enjoying both units for now.

Why no demos? Well, I didn't really plan on sharing this so I didn't budget any time to record anything. There's a ton of Helix demos online thanks to YouTube, forums (soundcloud), etc. If you've heard or played an Axe-fx, you know what AX8 sounds like. Same algorithms, just less bells and whistles...

I might not be as active in this thread as I have in past threads I've started. Busy playing guitar! HNG^%$ Anyone else who has one or the other or both that wants to chime in is welcome to.
 

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I pretty much agree 100%. The AX8 is good but there is no gap anymore. I just snagged another Kemper as I feel it wins in the amp tone category which is most important to me, but I also snagged another Helix to try the 2.01 update which sounds excellent. Sound wise it's a toss up between Fractal and L6, maybe the AX8 has better effects but then the Helix has USB, built in expression pedal, etc. It's a toss up for sure.
 

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really appreciate the review of the two pieces of gear! great job. Could you please elaborate a little on why you think the helix is better for live? Also, have you decided on which to keep? I had my eye on the AX8 after watching several comparison videos on amp/cab sounds, but you've got me at least considering the Helix...much better price range. I've been using Guitar Rig 6 and really wanted a change...hate tying up my Mac to play. thanks again
 

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JB Custom
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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
really appreciate the review of the two pieces of gear! great job. Could you please elaborate a little on why you think the helix is better for live?
Thanks!

Remember, I no longer play live so take this with a grain of salt. When I was playing live, I valued being able to change tones when needed. There are times when a boost in one room is reasonable, but too much or too little for another room. On an analog pedalboard, you just bend over and turn down the knob you want to change. Digital gear is generally much more complicated.

Helix's onboard UI is unbelievably intuitive, simple, and has a very short learning curve. If you can use a tablet, you can figure out Helix pretty quick. AX8 is the opposite of that. They do have quick access to the main amp controls, which is nice. But if you want to change any other settings, expect to spend a long time mastering the menu system.

Also, have you decided on which to keep?
Honestly, the business and our newest family member has sort of taken over my life at this point, so both Helix and AX8 are mostly collecting dust. However, due to Helix's ease of use without a computer it has less dust on it because I usually break it out to play if I get the chance, rather than hooking up the AX8. Because of that, I'll probably end up keeping Helix.

I had my eye on the AX8 after watching several comparison videos on amp/cab sounds, but you've got me at least considering the Helix...much better price range. I've been using Guitar Rig 6 and really wanted a change...hate tying up my Mac to play. thanks again
AX8 sounds a lot better out of the box to my ears, mostly due to the cab blocks sounding so much better. If you use your own custom IRs, that difference is small enough that I'm happy with both.
 

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Thanks!

Remember, I no longer play live so take this with a grain of salt. When I was playing live, I valued being able to change tones when needed. There are times when a boost in one room is reasonable, but too much or too little for another room. On an analog pedalboard, you just bend over and turn down the knob you want to change. Digital gear is generally much more complicated.

Helix's onboard UI is unbelievably intuitive, simple, and has a very short learning curve. If you can use a tablet, you can figure out Helix pretty quick. AX8 is the opposite of that. They do have quick access to the main amp controls, which is nice. But if you want to change any other settings, expect to spend a long time mastering the menu system.

Honestly, the business and our newest family member has sort of taken over my life at this point, so both Helix and AX8 are mostly collecting dust. However, due to Helix's ease of use without a computer it has less dust on it because I usually break it out to play if I get the chance, rather than hooking up the AX8. Because of that, I'll probably end up keeping Helix.

AX8 sounds a lot better out of the box to my ears, mostly due to the cab blocks sounding so much better. If you use your own custom IRs, that difference is small enough that I'm happy with both.
Hey man....super cool of you to respond. Thanks for the thought you put into the response as well. Congrats! on the new addition to the fam! I totally understand. I have three additions myself :) Later bro
 

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Yeah @jbealsmusic , I may have done a thing....
ED6537E3-8839-48D8-9811-5746CCA6D5EF.jpeg


I was renting it, came up for the month to end, they offered me my rent towards the unit AND a discount.
Of cause I said yes....
 

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VERY nicely done, Jon. A productive use of your (otherwise) sleep time. Covers more bases than most magazine reviews do.

When I met Chris Kemper two summers back, one of the things I was impressed with, when discussing the Profiler with him, was that he knew he could add more features, but it would have made for a less user-friendly interface. He felt it important to strike a balance between feature-richness and usability. Of course, once you move into DSP territory, there is really no end to the features you can build in. Self-restraint becomes as important as imagination for designers.
 

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Not sure why I missed this a few months ago when it got bumped so I'm bumping it again.

The OP review pretty much confirms what I was seeing when I was deciding which one to invest in a few years ago when I got mine. I went with the Helix because my old geezer, analogue-centric brain had a hard enough time understanding the easier one, at least at first. I think I would have sold it soon after purchase if I had gone with the Fractal, just out of frustration. I'm more comfortable with it now and I'm still learning new things once in a while. The flexibility of the signal routing is what's got me hooked. It's hard for me to imagine a signal path option I might be interested in using that is unachievable. Pretty much the only limits I've ever run into are related to processing power and memory usage. If you try to load too many things onto a path you can get a DSP FULL error message but even then, if you know your way around the system you can usually figure out how to re-route things to make it work. This thing has revolutionized my setup and it would be hard to live without it now.

A few friends commented that I must be rich as Roosevelt to be able to afford such a machine but IMO it's cheaper in the long run than buying and selling dozens of pedals a year, especially when some of them are Eventide, Strymon or the like.
 

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I forgot to add, just in case anybody reading this might be contemplating a Helix, I fully agree that the updating process is a royal pain in the rear. Best advice for updating is to make sure you read everything before doing anything. Don't be tempted to gloss over it. You'll be sorry. I learned the hard way on my first time and it cost me hours of extra work.
 
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