Over the last few years, digital modelling amps have become incredibly advanced. They can now match the sound of real tube amps, effects and cabinets with amazing conviction. Offering immense versatility, not to mention better reliability, there are many reasons why guitarists are choosing to abandon their more traditional setups for these all-encompassing digital beasts.
With processing and technology rapidly improving year-after-year, now is a great time to look at the many different systems being offered on the market. The purpose of this article is to help you discover which one will suit your needs the most!
There are many options available today, with many companies jumping on the bandwagon and creating their own amp and effects modellers. But in this article, we will look at four of the main systems available today, detailing the pros and cons of each and comparing them against each other.
What will I learn in this article?
- The main features of the Fractal Audio Axe FX, Line 6 Helix, Kemper Profiler and Atomic AmpliFIRE
- The advantages of each of these units; identifying their pros and cons
- The alternative units available within Fractal, Line 6, Kemper and Atomic’s ranges
- Players that use these modelling amps and why
What is the Fractal Audio Axe FX?
When you think of high-end digital modelling amps, the Fractal Axe FX may be the first name that comes to mind. Whilst Line 6 have been making high-quality digital amp processors since the late 90s and early 00s, it was Fractal that made what can be considered as the first ‘pro-grade’ modeller.
Designed for touring musicians looking for optimal tonal consistency every night, studio geeks have also adored this feature-packed unit for its excellent, recording-ready tones. Emulating some of the most famous amplifiers around, the Axe FX is most synonymous with metal players, hugely popular for offering soaring high-gain tones with its 5150 and Mesa Boogie models – to name just a few!
Who uses the Fractal Audio Axe FX?
It was therefore no surprise that a raft of high-profile names flocked to Fractal a few years ago, taking advantage of the Axe FX’s renowned ease-of-use and high-fidelity sound quality. With massive names such as Devin Townsend and Misha Mansoor on Fractal’s roster, these pioneering players have used the Axe FX to break new ground in the guitar world.
But not all artists have deserted their tube amps and replaced them solely with this powerful and intuitive unit. That’s because the Axe FX is almost as famous for its amazing arsenal of effects as its amp models, with many players enjoying its gorgeous delay, reverb and modulation palettes. That’s why a handful of players prefer to use the Axe FX in conjunction with their classic tube amps, using it just for its premium-sounding effects. Steve Vai and John Petrucci are a couple of established names that use the Axe FX in this configuration.
What Axe FX modelling amps are out there?
Fractal have released several versions of their flagship Axe FX processor, and below we are going to look at their most recent offerings in great detail:
Axe FX II
The Axe FX II is powered by a pair of Analog Devices TigerSHARC DSPs (some of the most powerful in the world), and this high-spec has allowed Fractal to go overboard with other features. Capable of offering emulated dual-amp setups, you can achieve super-rich and unique tones by playing around with different amp sim combinations. Alongside its huge array of genuine-sounding effects, you can create huge, experimental sounds with next-to-zero audible latency.
Axe FX III
Now in its third generation, Fractal have taken this concept a step further with the new for 2018 Axe FX III. Boasting two Texas Instruments “Keystone” DSPs, these run at an eye-watering 1 GHz, coupled to 512 MB of high-speed RAM. The Axe FX III also has enough memory to store over 4000 cabinet impulse responses and 500 presets, giving you an insane amount of flexibility.
With an improved interface for more user-friendly operation, letting players craft their sounds with even more detail and refinement, the updated amp models offer even closer emulations of their real-life counterparts. With thousands of UltraRes™ speaker cab simulations, the amount of options is nearly endless.
Fractal Audio Axe FX – Pros & Cons
Unfortunately, the immense power and quality of the Axe FX comes at a cost. You can easily spend upwards of £2000 on the latest version of the Axe FX (the III), and even older versions are commonly sold on the used market for over £1000. Bear in mind that the Axe FX is by far the most expensive unit featured in this article, so don’t feel put off by the cost. Having said that, its price is indicative of just how unbelievably diverse and impressive it is.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that there are some things that it does not handle as well as other units. Although its ‘amp-matching’ feature is incredible, intelligently analysing a recorded guitar track and creating a patch based on its tonal qualities almost like-for like, it can’t however capture the sounds of your real amp collection via a conventional mic’ing process. So, if you want properly matched tones based on your own amplifiers, the Kemper Profiler is capable of doing that.
Another downside is that Fractal only sell their units direct, and not via retailers (unless you find a second-hand example). This means that you can’t try one of their units in person before purchasing, unless you know someone that owns one. This also means that if something goes wrong, there are very few service centres that can resolve any issues.
Back to the pros of this unit though, if you are constantly touring and moving from session to session, the unbridled versatility of the Axe FX makes it a great investment. The sound quality is unparalleled, and the control that you have over your patches with its deep editing and MIDI functionality makes it easy to alter and change your sounds on-the-fly.
What is the Line 6 Helix?
- Line 6 Helix Floor Amp & FX Modelling Unit
- Line 6
- Line 6
- With 45 amps, 30 cabs, 16 mics and 70 different effects built in!
- The Line 6 Helix has taken the digital amplification world by storm. Line 6 are widely credited as pioneers of amp modelling and digital effects, leading the charge with classic products like the Pod - with the Helix, they have truly raised the bar, offering jaw-dropping tonal authenticity, unprecedented tweakability and a wealth of stunning effects. It truly has to be played to be believed! Using Line 6's dual DSP HX modelling engine, you really can attain that sound that's been floating around in your head. Got a function set that goes from '50s rock and roll to '90s Brit Pop? Or have you always fancied a Mesa Triple Rec for blistering crunch and a Fender Deluxe for your cleans, but had nightmares about the cost and practicality? With 45 amps, 30 cabs, 16 mics and 70 different effects built into the Helix, you truly have every imaginable studio-quality sound at your disposal. It doesn't get much better than this! [video_3]Every Nuance CapturedRumour has it that the clever folks at Line 6 literally dismantled their selection of amplifiers and effects, capturing every microscopic detail of their tonal variables several times over. Because of this, it took up to a month for them to complete each amp and effect model - it's this level of commitment that ensures that the Helix profiles are accurate beyond belief. The age-old argument about valve amps & analogue effects vs. amp modelling has long divided guitarists and producers alike. The Helix somehow manages to tread the fine line between digital tweakability and analog warmth, combining the best of both worlds for the ultimate amplification experience. More Options Than You Could Imagine! The Helix allows you to run up to four amplifiers simultaneously with up to 32 effects all running on four discrete stereo signal paths for ultimate clarity. This means you can take full advantage of the enormous number of options at your disposal to craft your perfect tone! This includes adjusting mic types and positioning, total control over signal chain, panning, studio-quality compression, multi-band EQ tweaking and much, much more. Ultimate ConnectivityThere's a chance you already own a rig that you've poured your heart and soul into. Line 6 have taken this on board, so they know that you aren't just going to ditch your boutique effects and amplifiers. They've kindly included extra connectivity options so you can use incorporate your own gear whilst making the most of the Helix's massive potential.You'll have the ability run four loops of your own external effects pedals, as well as change channels on your amplifier either via MIDI or 1/4" jack - it won't be long before the Helix becomes the true centrepoint of your entire rig! Reinvented InterfaceWe've all struggled with fiddly interfaces and overwhelming lists of menus, switches and parameters - this can make it difficult to change settings in real-time and adapt to your musical surroundings. Line 6 went above and beyond to make sure that wasn't the case with the Helix.The massive 6.2" LCD display shows your guitars signal path, and can be easily navigated using the 6 smart edit knobs and master control knob - you'll be setup and editing within 5 minutes of opening up the box!But that isn't easy to control while you are on stage. That is why Line 6 fitted a set of 12 touch-sensitive footswitches that let you adjust pretty much any parameter on the fly. Got too much reverb? Want to remove or bypass an effect? No problem - just touch or tap away! It really is that responsive!Follow The Light!We've all tried sticking electrical or masking tape onto our pedalboards so that we can dance our way around on a dark stage! Luckily, the Helix's footswitches are backlit and colour co-ordinated, so you'll have no problem differentiating your different presets. The colours and arrangement are also fully adjustable, so you can tweak and stomp in vivid fashion with easeRugged & Tour-ReadyThe Helix is built with the busy, touring musician in mind. Its solid aluminium construction and rugged switches can withstand even the bigge
- Best Seller
- 10% off Atomic CLR FRFR cab with modelling amps (June 2018)
- Line 6 Helix LT Floor Amp & FX Modelling Unit
- Line 6
- Line 6
- Over 200 amp, cab, mic, and effects models
- The Line 6 Helix LT is a lighter, more streamlined version of the highly-popular Helix standard. Boasting all of the same amp and effect modelling technology of its bigger brother, but with less footswitches, a simplified interface and not as many inputs and outputs, the Helix LT is still a valid choice for the serious musician.With over 200 amp, effect, cabinet and microphone models available, the Helix LT is the epitome of a versatile, all-encompassing floorboard solution. It's fair to say that Line 6 has come a long way since its first digital amp modellers from 20 years ago. Now offering incredibly convincing reproductions of desirable, renowned amps and effects with its award-winning HX modelling engine and dual-DSP, there's a reason why many modern players are turning to products like the Helix LT. [video_8]Ergonomic, User-Friendly UnitThe Line 6 Helix LT is still very easy to navigate and set up patches with, thanks to its 6.2" LCD display. You can easily experiment with different amp and cabinet models via this simple interface, and even go into deeper editing modes. This includes applying effects to your base tones, and even re-ordering them via a simulated signal chain. Cabinet impulse responses enable further levels of flexibility, letting you match up emulated amps with different speaker sizes, types and combinations. And with multiple microphone models available too, you can essentially play the role of a recording engineer!Sporting 12 robust, road-worthy footswitches, the Helix LT lets you change up your sound on-the-fly. With the ability to switch between preset and stompbox modes, you can flick between your very own patches or treat the Helix LT like a traditional pedalboard, by engaging the digitally-recreated stompboxes. Bank switches mean that you're not just limited to 8 sounds at a time, and you can setup different preset or effects banks for particular songs in your setlist.Extra FeaturesWe've only scratched the surface of what the Helix LT can do, but there are some other noteworthy features. The Helix LT has an expression pedal built onto the top of the chassis, which allows you to control effect parameters. This works fantastically with its wah models for example, but you can also use it to affect the mix of a reverb or delay setting, letting you attain ethereal ambient drones.If one isn't enough, there's an input on the rear on the Helix LT for a second external expression pedal too. The unit also boasts two effects loops, meaning that if you want to use your favourite overdrive pedals or other units in conjunction with the Helix LT, it will seamlessly integrate them.MIDI-enabled, the Helix LT can act as a controller by communicating with other MIDI pedals, or receive commands from another MIDI device to change patches and effects within the LT itself. Stereo 1/4" and XLR outputs also let you record directly into an interface, or send a signal to a front-of-house PA system for a large, in-your-face live sound.Here’s what line 6 say about the Helix LT Floor Amp & FX Modelling Unit:The Helix LT guitar processor features the same advanced HX Modelling technology found in the Helix Floor and Helix Rack processors. With a streamlined I/O complement and hardware configuration, the Helix LT guitar processor delivers the highest levels of performance, flexibility and control in its class. The award-winning HX Modelling engine leverages powerful dual-DSP performance to capture and recreate amps, cabs, mics and effects with authenticity and responsiveness. A large LCD and touch-sensitive footswitches with colour LED rings enable easy usage and fast, smart control.The generous I/O complement, with extensive routing capabilities, makes it easy to integrate Helix LT into an existing rig and provides flexibility for a wide range of stage and studio applications. Helix LT has preset compatibility with existing Helix products and also offers Variax guitar control integration. With Helix LT, the world’s most powerful guitar processing platform is now more accessible than ever before.SpecificationsDual DSP-powered HX modelling enginePreset compatibility with existing Helix products
- Best Seller
- 10% off Atomic CLR FRFR cab with modelling amps (June 2018)
- Line 6 Helix HX Effects Multi FX Pedal
- Line 6
- Line 6
- Line 6 HX Effects brings the power of the Helix to your pedalboard with over 100+ Helix effects all put into one small package. [video_1]Helix is amazing and has found it's way into the rigs of guitarists all over the world. But if that was a bit too much or you only really wanted the effects side so you could use your own amp and other pedals this is the answer. Even without the amps you are still left with over 100+ HX effects and additional legacy effects from the M series of pedals along with the DL4, MM4, FM4 and DM4. Easy To UseLike all of the Helix units the HX Effects is incredibly easy to control and use. Things like the capacitive touch buttons and scribble strips make it so easy to see and feel what you are doing when changing effects and adjusting them on the go. No big LCD screen here, all the information you need is now displayed on the scribble strips so even if you have never used a multi effects unit before this is easy to get up and running with. The HubOne of the great things about the HX Effects is the connectivity, it becomes the hub of your rig without you even really needing to think about it. Stereo in and out, dual effects loops, two external control outs and MIDI operation means that if you have other amps and pedals, this is incredibly easy to get plugged in and working.
It’s fair to say that Line 6 are the founding fathers of digital modelling amps. Their cutting-edge POD was released all the way back in 1998, and two decades later their formula has only improved heavily. Now boasting two flagship processor units, with the high-end Helix and more modestly-priced POD HD500X, Line 6 have catered for players of all budgets.
With our focus turned to the Helix for this article, this immense piece of gear is another all-encompassing processor that was designed with user experience in mind. Available as a rack-mountable unit like the Axe FX, one advantage that Line 6 has over Fractal is its floor-based iteration of the Helix.
Packing as much of a punch as the rackmount version, this ergonomically-designed pedalboard is a dream for gigging musicians. If you want a large selection of amp models, cabinet IRs and high-quality effects all crammed into one portable enclosure, the Helix fits the bill like a dream.