Purchased from: Guitar Center
Ease of Use — 10
I prefer the computer editing software. It's really intuitive and easy to use. Adjusting on the unit itself isn't bad either since the footswitches can be made to adjust by putting your bare feet on the assigned switch and controlling it hands free. It makes on the fly adjustments really easy for quick edits, but if you're going in depth the computer editor is the way to go. For on board editing it's much easier than the Axe FX is. Line 6 did good with this one, I'd say to try all three and see what works/sounds best for you but for me it was the Helix and I have no regrets in buying it.
Sound — 9
Alright folks, the honeymoon period is over so it's time for my review. I'm not a newcomer to modelers by any means, I've owned quite a few searching for the right one. I've had:
Digitech - RP1000, GNX3, GNX4 and RP300
Boss - ME70
Zoom - G7.1ut, G1J
Line 6 - XT Live, X3 Live, HD300 and HD500X
Vox - Tonelab SE
I finally decided to step it up in price point since the more budget friendly modelers weren't quite getting me where I wanted to be. As the title says, the Helix is in a completely different league. Before I get into the sounds I'll note I'm mainly a metal rhythm guitarist so I have pretty straight forward needs. This isn't really going to be a 100% in depth review because of that, I'm just going to be talking about the things it has that I use. I might not cover what you're after, so take from this what you will.
My go-to high gain amp is the Archetype Lead (PRS Archon). This one came free with a firmware update. On it's own it sounds really good, but I found my particular sound by mixing in just a little bit of the Cali Rectifier (Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier). This is a tone I've chased after ever since I started to play and I felt a massive sense of vindication finally nailing it. No OD boost required, it's all the sounds of the amps. There is a bit of a catch to this though, see below where I talk about the cabinet modeling...
For my medium gain sounds I like the Cali IV Lead (Mesa Mark IV), this also came free with a firmware update. You get all the additional EQ options the real amp has so there are a lot of tone options available. I push it with an OD when I dabble in leads on my free time and it sounds really good there as well.
I use the Jazz Rivet (Roland JC-120) for cleans, I really like the real life amp it's based on and their model doesn't disappoint. You can adjust the brightness of the amp to further fine tune your tone.
None of the other amp sims sound bad by any means, these are just the ones I felt best suited the sounds I'm after. With my passive pickup guitars the volume knob rolls off to clean up pretty nicely. There is also a noticeable difference in playing dynamics that other modelers don't quite seem to capture.
The effects I typically use are the Minotaur (Klon Centaur), 70's Chorus (Boss CE-1), Pitch Whammy (Digitech Whammy), Throaty Wah (RMC Real McCoy 1), Simple Delay (L6 original), Room Reverb (L6 original) and the Noise Gate (L6 original). As a rhythm player my effects needs are pretty basic, however I do jam along to some lead stuff on my own time. I'll use the 808 Screamer in place of the Minotaur if I need a different voicing. Some of the other delays and mods are pretty cool sounding too, I'm sure I'll find a use for them down the road somewhere.
What I Didn't Like
The only thing I really don't like is the stock cabinet models, they're terrible. This is an area I've always felt Line 6 came up short on. But the Helix can load IR's so my complaint on this gets voided out in a sense. I recommend either Celestion or Ownhammer for IR's. For my 4x12's I prefer the Celestion V30 pack, without this I wouldn't have been able to nail my Archon/Mesa tone I mentioned above. On cleans I like the 2x12's from the Ownhammer Cali Duo pack. Some people seem to like the stock cabs just fine though. I recommend playing with them a bit first and then decide if you need to upgrade.
A Bit of Advice
I know there are a lot more options in the Helix than what I'm using. Some advice on modeling I can share is that I approach it like every amp/effect I use is something I went into a store to buy. I play with them all and settle on what I think is best and "buy" it. This keeps you from going down a never ending rabbit hole of options since there are so many in these types of units. If you're going for a sound and just can't get it with your first choice after tweaking it no end, then go "back to the store". Stick with your first instinct and only when you've proven it can't do it, then look to the other models.
I'm really happy with the sounds I've gotten with the Helix. Even with the stock cabinets it's better than the other modelers I've owned. With the added benefit of 3rd party IR's it becomes an entirely different animal.
Reliability & Durability — 10
It seems like it would withstand live playing pretty well. The frame is solid metal. The footswitches are the same ones that were in the 500X and I can say from experience those can take a beating. Other than the push buttons clearly being plastic, I'm pretty sure all the knobs are metal as well. Like most electronics I don't think it would fair too well getting spilled on. For live use a backup would definitely be a good idea, or even just some sort of surround to keep close proximity crowd folks from getting too close. It is a pretty pricey board so a full backup is out of the question for some of us. Just try to keep it safe and I'm sure it will be fine.
Overall Impression — 10
Like I said I'm a metal rhythm guitarist, mostly '80s/'90s stuff but I dabble around. I have a friend who owns an Axe FX and I've tried a Kemper that a GC employee was kind enough to bring in that he owned. Hats off to that guy for being cool because unless your GC stocks them they won't being them in just to try, you have to actually buy it first. With the Kemper I definitely liked the sounds it put out, but seemed like a bit of a step back in routing options and types of effects available compared to the 500X. The Axe FX sounds amazing and has lots of routing options, but for me it had too many parameters you could adjust and I didn't want another tweak heavy unit. The Helix is a nice middle ground for those two. Lots of options available for effects and routing capabilities without being overwhelmed. Line 6 stepped up to their competition with this one and I've very happy with my purchase!