Helix vs AXE FX 3/FM 3. Is Fractal really better?

tmingle

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I've been using a Line 6 Helix rack for about 2 1/2 years with decent results, but cant seem to get to the next level tone wise. It just seems to have a couple frequencies that can't be tamed. I also use 4CM with my amps & find most of the effects(reverb mostly) & have found exactly 1 that I like. I have been messing with compressors & feel that, IMHO, they all suck and are filled with digital artifacts.

Please keep in mind that I do not use any of the cabinet modeling, as I prefer to run the unit into the FX return of my amp. If I use digital modeling in any of my recordings, I use Amplitube5 or Scuffem. I have others, but use these 98% of the time.

Has anyone here used both units & would be willing to give an honest opinion about the effects in both units. This forum seems to be the best resource I have found regarding guitar amps. Most reviews & comparison videos seem to favor 1 unit or the other & are probably compensated somehow. You can make anything sound bad if you wish, but you can only

Programming is not an issue here. I will use whatever PC editor. If I go for a Jam, I will take my very easy to replace 40C, Joyo vintage drive, TC reverb & MXR 10 band.
 

Matthews Guitars

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I have no personal experience with the Helix units but the effects found in Fractals are absolutely first rate.

Fractals are positioned as a premium offering and if you can afford them, I say that they're the best answer. No slam against the Helix, but for one, the Helix has always been positioned closer to the entry level of the modeller market.


There's no better way to answer your question than to try out the model you're interested in. SOMEBODY in your area must have one that you can try out. Or I'd think so.
 

tmingle

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Do you currently own & use a Fractal modeler?

I certainly learned a lesson when I got into recording again 25 years or so back. I had a Turtle Beach Pinnacle ISA board. It sounded great When I wasn't able to find a PC with an ISA slot, I bought an M-Audio Delta 1010 PCI card that worked great until Win 7 came around & I could never get it working properly. Along came the Focusrite Scarlett that seemed to be alright, but was buggy. When I 1st bought the Helix, I disconnected the Scarlett & used the Helix as my main interface. The sound quality from the Helix for playback was light years better than the Scarlett.
Using the Helix as my main interface was pretty limiting though, so the search began. I wound up with a RME UCX & have never been happier. There is plenty of expensive junk out there but, with proper research & good gear you GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.

No one that I know in my local area has anything like this. I'm thinking the FM3 has probably got more processing power than I will ever need. I just need to verify 2 things.
1. Can the direct guitar signal be routed to one of the extra outputs to allow capturing the dry guitar for re-amping.
2. Can the FM3 be programmed to change channels of my 40CR via MIDI?
I would be surprised if these can't be done, but you never know.

I have the foot controller & expression pedal for the Helix mounted to a pedal board. I would think I could sell that & fund the FM3. I have a lot of research to do & IIRC, Fractal had a sale on the FX3 for $1999 a couple years back.

One thing that is certain to happen is the moment I purchase, Fractal will release the AXE FX 4(LOL).
 

tallcoolone

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I've spent a lot of time with both and I'd say yeah the Fractal is prob "better" in the measurables and it does sound and feel fantastic. I also enjoyed the Helix and I switched right over to that from the AXE because of form factor and didn't have any regrets. Of course that was years ago and the AXE II. Both have incredible tones in them and they both feel realistic, esp after adjusting to your monitoring situation. I never saw it as a "replacement" for amps even though they absolutely could be--different tools/toys. More is better
 

Derek S

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I have zero "hands on" experience with the Helix so I'm no help, I can only share my Fractal experience and so far, that's all positive.

A couple years ago I had my now 79 yr old retired father move in with me so I could start taking care of him and although I have a sound treated recording space and a few 100w heads and cabs, I NEEDED something quiet obviously to continue making music whenever the moment called while considering his privacy. So I did a ton of comparing, reading, etc, and settled on the Axe III and 2 yrs later I've hardly touched my real amps and ironically, it has nothing to do with volume lol! The more I dig into this thing the more I love it for studio tracking. I'm sure the Helix is great too and for live applications into pwr amps/cabs, house PA's, etc, I bet they're both great, probably cant go wrong with either. For my personal tastes, I just found the Fractal had a tiny edge in the high gain models and that's mostly I what I'm into. The effects are crazy sweet too. It's a pricey mofo but man does it deliver the goods....last night at 11pm I was watching Green Bay lay an egg while recording heavy tone rhythm guitar tracks that sound every bit as good as anything I've ever tracked with my tube amps/mics while Pops was snoozing 20' away.
 

Michael Roe

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No one that I know in my local area has anything like this. I'm thinking the FM3 has probably got more processing power than I will ever need. I just need to verify 2 things.
1. Can the direct guitar signal be routed to one of the extra outputs to allow capturing the dry guitar for re-amping.
2. Can the FM3 be programmed to change channels of my 40CR via MIDI?
Answer;
#1 Yes
#2 Yes
For how exactly to do both of those things, I would suggest going to the Fractal Forum and asking there. Just say what you are saying here and ask. There are many guys on that forum that will give you an exact answer. Or, just DL the manual and read it!

I have used/own Amplitube, S gear and currently own an Axe Fx III. I did try out the Helix native plugin a few years ago prior to owning the Fractal. So, I compared it to just the Amplitube and S-gear. I was not impressed enough to buy it. I thought what I already owned sounded better.
The interesting thing about Fractal gear is that it is not sold in stores. Which is actually, IMHO quite cool. You don't get loads of hyped-up reviews so they can sell it.

I am a member here on this forum well, because I really like that Marshall sound!
To me, the best modeling software or hardware is one that can do that Marshall amp thing :)
The Fractal does it waaaaay better than anything else I have owned or tried.
I owned a Kemper as well before the Fractal. I sold it the next day after getting the Axe FX III. The Kemper was cool because it could basically record your real amp and get fairly close, maybe about 85-90% there. I would rather have one model from the Fractal which allows me to tweak it in ways that the competition does not allow than 10,000 profiles from the best studios.

Like most Fractal guys will say, if you can pull it off, go for the flagship model Axe Fx III. There are just more things you can do with it over the FM3 and FM9.
If not, buy a used FM3 and try it out for a while. If you don't like it, then you will probably be able to sell it for what you paid. If you like it.......
Oh, and don't worry about an Axe FX IV. I am a few months shy of owning the III for 2 years. I thought the same thing. Yes, they will probably come out with a newer version in the future but in the meantime, you are missing out.

To sum up: if the Axe Fx only had the amp and cab block and nothing else........I would think it is worth every penny spent.
 

tmingle

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#1 Yes
#2 Yes
For how exactly to do both of those things, I would suggest going to the Fractal Forum and asking there. Just say what you are saying here and ask. There are many guys on that forum that will give you an exact answer. Or, just DL the manual and read it!

I have used/own Amplitube, S gear and currently own an Axe Fx III. I did try out the Helix native plugin a few years ago prior to owning the Fractal. So, I compared it to just the Amplitube and S-gear. I was not impressed enough to buy it. I thought what I already owned sounded better.
The interesting thing about Fractal gear is that it is not sold in stores. Which is actually, IMHO quite cool. You don't get loads of hyped-up reviews so they can sell it.

I am a member here on this forum well, because I really like that Marshall sound!
To me, the best modeling software or hardware is one that can do that Marshall amp thing :)
The Fractal does it waaaaay better than anything else I have owned or tried.
I owned a Kemper as well before the Fractal. I sold it the next day after getting the Axe FX III. The Kemper was cool because it could basically record your real amp and get fairly close, maybe about 85-90% there. I would rather have one model from the Fractal which allows me to tweak it in ways that the competition does not allow than 10,000 profiles from the best studios.

Like most Fractal guys will say, if you can pull it off, go for the flagship model Axe Fx III. There are just more things you can do with it over the FM3 and FM9.
If not, buy a used FM3 and try it out for a while. If you don't like it, then you will probably be able to sell it for what you paid. If you like it.......
Oh, and don't worry about an Axe FX IV. I am a few months shy of owning the III for 2 years. I thought the same thing. Yes, they will probably come out with a newer version in the future but in the meantime, you are missing out.

To sum up: if the Axe Fx only had the amp and cab block and nothing else........I would think it is worth every penny spent.
You are correct about Amplitube & S-gear being superior. The RED PIG in A5 is killer! I picked up Helix Native fro $49 & so far I am not impressed.
The Helix can be made to sound good, but like my rant about the Focusrite vs RME interfaces, I am working towards GREAT.
Starting a new preset or even a factory preset chooses the default input to Multi??? Almost every amp has the Master set way too high, The gain set 2X what it should be & the bias needs increased to clear the sound a little. The new cabinet section in 3.5 is an improvement. I have tried recording the units' digital output of the unit. I capture the dry track from the input thru jack(which seems to make the guitars signal too hot & not very consistent). I also split the signal to the FX return of my 40CR & mic with an SM57 & E906 in different positions. I rarely use both mics in the mix. In most cases, the miked sound is the best with A5 2nd. Helix Native is way down the list(plus I cant make it work in Reaper. It works in S1). I have been researching what the resale potential for the Helix Rack will be. I will probably get FX3
 

Matthews Guitars

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Yes, I have a Fractal Axe-FX II. It's not the current III model but it's still an insanely good sounding and versatile unit.
 

saxon68

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I’ve got axe FX3 and Helix Floor. I could gig and be happy with either. I wouldn’t say one blows away the other.

I have had Kemper stage also, sounds awesome but I didn’t like the interface.
 

tmingle

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I would like to give my un-biased opinion of the FM3 vs Helix debate. Most video reviewers seem to be influenced by manufacturers & none of the guitar magazines ever seem to give an honest review of anything.

I have had the FM3 for a little less than a week & have a few observations.

1. The amp & cabinet deep edits are very powerful on the FM3. Especially powerful is the alignment for dual cabs. The Helix cabinets suck(3.5 was an improvement & why I waited so long).
2. Both the Helix & FM3 inputs clip with high output pickups & aggressive pick attack. The FM3 has LEDS that let you know when it clips.
3. The FM3 is a lot more responsive & "feels" better.
4. The FM3 is the 1st Modeler I have owned that I actually prefer playing thru my Studio Monitors rather than the FX return of an amp with the Cab section disabled.
5. The FM3 has an annoying beeping sound when the CPU maxes out!(Surely there is a way to silence this).
6. Some presets(factory & self made) on the FM3 can sound good or bad by changing guitars. The Helix sound does not change nearly as much from guitar to guitar.
7. Contrary to popular opinion, both units are equally simple to program from the panel. The Fractal just has a lot more. The graphics of the Fractal edit screens are superior to the Helix.
8. The PC editor for the FM3 is far superior to the Helix.
9. The tracks I have recorded with the FM3 require less EQ & processing, if any at all.
10. The Helix has a lot more I/O & external routing.
11. The Helix is probably the better choice for live performance as is. I don't play live & would probably use an amp & pedals for live anyway.
12. Based on the operator, both units can be made to sound excellent or not. The Helix takes a lot more tweaking & IMO, never seems to quite get there with the higher gain stuff.

If anyone is on the fence about entering the modeling world & wondering if the Fractal is worth the extra money, the answer is yes.
I will most likely sell the Helix to fund an AXE-FX 3.
 
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Michael Roe

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I would like to give my un-biased opinion of the FM3 vs Helix debate. Most video reviewers seem to be influenced by manufacturers & none of the guitar magazines ever seem to give an honest review of anything.

I have had the FM3 for a little less than a week & have a few observations.

1. The amp & cabinet deep edits are very powerful on the FM3. Especially powerful is the alignment for dual cabs. The Helix cabinets suck(3.5 was an improvement & why I waited so long).
2. Both the Helix & FM3 inputs clip with high output pickups & aggressive pick attack. The FM3 has LEDS that let you know when it clips.
3. The FM3 is a lot more responsive & "feels" better.
4. The FM3 is the 1st Modeler I have owned that I actually prefer playing thru my Studio Monitors rather than the FX return of an amp with the Cab section disabled.
5. The FM3 has an annoying beeping sound when the CPU maxes out!(Surely there is a way to silence this).
6. Some presets(factory & self made) on the FM3 can sound good or bad by changing guitars. The Helix sound does not change nearly as much from guitar to guitar.
7. Contrary to popular opinion, both units are equally simple to program from the panel. The Fractal just has a lot more. The graphics of the Fractal edit screens are superior to the Helix.
8. The PC editor for the FM3 is far superior to the Helix.
9. The tracks I have recorded with the FM3 require less EQ & processing, if any at all.
10. The Helix has a lot more I/O & external routing.
11. The Helix is probably the better choice for live performance as is. I don't play live & would probably use an amp & pedals for live anyway.
12. Based on the operator, both units can be made to sound excellent or not. The Helix takes a lot more tweaking & IMO, never seems to quite get there with the higher gain stuff.

If anyone is on the fence about entering the modeling world & wondering if the Fractal is worth the extra money, the answer is yes.
I will most likely sell the Helix to fund an AXE-FX 3.
Welcome aboard!
 

tmingle

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Well, life just got a whole lot simpler. I dismantled the Helix rig with the 4CM & all the cables that go with it. The rig is now FM3 into the FX return of the 40CR. I use the SPDIF out into my interface to record & play quietly.
helix.jpg
 

tallcoolone

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While I found some of your observations on the Helix a little questionable and prob ’honeymoon related’, def congrats on having a new rig you love! :yesway:
 

tmingle

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While I found some of your observations on the Helix a little questionable and prob ’honeymoon related’, def congrats on having a new rig you love! :yesway:
I thought it was, as you say "Honeymoon related" as well. After a week or so, I don't regret the change at all.
 

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