Let's settle the Fractal vs Helix debate once and for all!

Discussion in 'Beginners/FAQ' started by Guitarjon, Jan 17, 2018.

  1. Guitarjon

    Guitarjon SS.org Regular

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    So this is a topic that has come up many times.
    I thought it would be good to talk about this once more to end this whole debate!

    It all started when I was recording a progressive metal song with my Axe FX.
    It sounded great but since I'm also a huge Helix fan I decided to make another version but with all guitars through Helix Native.
    Note that I've done this before, just not in this context.
    The goal here wasn't to try to match the two 1:1 but rather to see how good I could make them both without trying to be restricted by amp modeler or drive pedal choice etc.
    Just to see how the end result would be for both...
    I know there are guys here who think that ONLY blind tests work, but that's simply not how I choose to do this.
    I just want to see, can I work with the units and are the end results pleasing or in this case, as pleasing!

    Just to give an insight into my workflow for these particular tones:

    For the Fractal video I used the USA IIC++ amp which is great for tight metal tones and an OH IR.
    I had to use some eq before and after the amp to make the guitar have a good eq balance.
    This last thing is especially important with 8-string guitars.
    If you don't get the balance right the guitar won't sound tight enough etc.
    Note, the bass control was set to zero in the amp, also helping the tightness.

    For the Helix video I chose the Badonk amp, which has already proven to be great for low tunings.
    I did add a tubescreamer in the front with tone at max, level at max and gain to zero.
    This does the same sort of thing as the pre eq as it shapes the sound of the guitar before hitting the amp.
    Not the exact same IR was used as I wanted a lower number (05 instead of 06 iirc).
    Just to make the overall tonallity right.
    Also note that the presence control had to be raised considerably and the depth control lowered.

    In the mix I used a little eq for both.
    Not to drastically change the character of the sounds but rather to make them work in the mix.
    A little low cut and maybe some mid scoops here and there, nothing major.
    This is how mixing works since all the instruments are dependant on one another.

    Also note that I used some different IR's and amp settings for the lead parts etc.

    So what do I think of the results?

    Just as with the last time I did this test I am very pleased with both results.
    I would definitely use either in a professional mix.
    Of course they do sound different because I used different amp models etc but they both sound very nice imho.
    Each unit has it's own advantages and disadvantages, they have different features and UI's.
    But in this case that's not the point for me.
    Since I mostly work in the studio I look at it more from a perspective as: is it easy to get good sounds and do they work in the mix?

    Now, I've talked to a couple of professional guys about this too and many of them still seem surprised that the Helix can sound just as good as a Fractal.
    A lot of guys seem to really dig the frequency response of the helix and how it sits in the mix.
    Other guys just prefer the Axe FX for it's distortion character.
    In the end almost everybody would use both in a professional mix.

    There can be much more to this debate, but this is just how I like to look at this.
    Feel free to jump in and let me know what you think!

    Here are the 2 videos (yes, it's progressive metal but there are some clean bits near the end;) ):

    Helix (Native):



    Axe FX:



    *Disclaimer: If you're tired of this discussion or these comparisons, feel free to ignore this thread. Just having some fun here :)
     
  2. marcwormjim

    marcwormjim SS.org Regular

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    The superior product is obviously whichever I invested in most recently and whichever I can’t afford but that someone I daydream of emulating uses (I use my recreational time for that, rather than anything that could be described as self improvement).

    But really, I’m glad this has been settled.
     
  3. iron blast

    iron blast Northern Winds

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    Not fond of the work flow of fractal its too time consuming. When it comes to sound the kemper fractal and helix all knock it out of the park but helix is the easiest to use and most affordable so its my pickwhen it comes to these 3 everytime.
     
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  4. Dineley

    Dineley SS.org Regular

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    damn cant wait till my break so I can listen to these, your videos are always top notch!

    Go Helix!!
     
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  5. lewis

    lewis SS.org Regular

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    the axe sounds fucking amazing compared imo. Cleaner, pops more, super hi fi sounding.

    based on this, im glad me and my guitarist has a kemper/axe fx II for our band.

    Axe wins here by a landslide imo (expected considering price difference)
     
  6. Lemonbaby

    Lemonbaby SS.org Regular

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    Two different guitar sounds, matter of preference. Both mixes sound really good... :mf666:
     
  7. TheRileyOBrien

    TheRileyOBrien SS.org Regular

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    I completely disagree. This is just another example why tone is subjective and pointless to argue over. You can't please everybody.

    As far as axe fx goes, it always has a weird high mid(I think) thing that sounds kind of nasally. It seems to be something global because every single model has it to some degree. I can pretty much always pick out an axe fx in a lineup based on this. I could never dial it out and I have never heard a recording without it. It is not "bad" necessarily but it is something that I can't unhear and it bothers me a bit. This might be where the "hi fi" observations come from.

    I got rid of a kemper and two axe fx's a few weeks after trying the helix rack. It is not a brand loyalty(not a line6 fan at all really) or cost thing for me. I just like how helix does what I need it to. It just does everything faster and easier and I can get tons of great tones out of it. It also works seamlessly with my real amps and setting it up with the floor control and midi is so much easier than anything else I have ever used. If a new kemper or axe fx comes out I will surely try it but right now I am super happy with the helix rack.

    Having said that I have not been able to get native to sound quite as good as my helix rack. So I would never judge all of helix based native alone. I do think this example sounds great though. Both sound good to be honest.
     
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  8. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    I think the second one sounds a bit better, but I think you could probably close any gaps between the two with eq. Realistically, there's something about amp sims like this that makes them all sound really same-y to my ears. I dunno if there's just a signature gain character to the way amp sims work, but they all basically sound the same to me with a bit of a different balance/eq/curve to them. Where you could switch from a 5150 to a Marshall to a Recto and be able to hear and feel a difference in the character of that sound, switching between amp sims, to my ears, just sounds like you've added or removed a filter somewhere on the same source sound. Every time I see one of these "comparison" videos, I'm more convinced that amp models are as far from the real deal as they've ever been.
     
  9. lewis

    lewis SS.org Regular

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    Completely agree. My previous post was specifically only thinking about myself in mind. Im all about that clanky high mid/treble snarl.

    I would never tell people what tone to have because its completely subjective.
    So yeah, to me, I love the Axe FX II because its like super hi-fi/snarly versions of real amps which suits my playing.

    But I own too many Line 6 products to count so Im not a brand basher either.
     
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  10. Curt

    Curt Where we're going we don't need neck pickups.

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    When you start that lead around 40 seconds in, I immediately notice that the notes have this nicer bloom on the Axe FX than the Helix, and I'm not sure what that comes down to, better wah, better timing of the rocking motion, or the wah's interaction with the different amp tones. But on that one small segment is where I heard the most definite difference between the two. That and on the arpeggiated chords early on I felt like the highs were a little "cleaner" sounding on the fractal, if only by a small margin. Which to that end could be because the Badonk is basically L6's spin on a rectifier, which does tend to normally be somewhat fizzy on its own. how, may I ask are you taming the fizz in the Helix? Because that's been my problem setting up a patch so far, but I do most of mine through these SuperLux headphones that while they are mostly flat, they have a noticeable sizzle of their own around the 8khz region, so I try not to be too harsh on my tones until I've heard them through different speakers and such. I've tried a few EQ options, and while the low and high pass filters are good to reign in the overall tone for the most part, I still hear some sizzle when playing complex chords the most.
     
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  11. Curt

    Curt Where we're going we don't need neck pickups.

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    Oh, and that said, I have been watching your videos on YouTube for a few days now and have been blown away by your helix tones, and was wondering if you have any of your patches up anywhere for download, because your mark IV test between Helix, Fractal, and some other sims was one of the instances where I felt I preferred the Helix over the Axe FX.
     
  12. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    I prefer the Fractal by a half a beardsecond.

    Are the bass tones exactly the same?
     
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  13. Curt

    Curt Where we're going we don't need neck pickups.

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    I think there's not much truth to the last bit of your statement, but I think the one thing you'll see the most in these, is that for most people, the thing they're doing is going for a sound they like, and there is typically SO much more you can do more easily to tweak your sound exactly as you see fit with modeling., that it's easier to take any decent high gain amp sim and run it through the wringer until it sounds more or less like the next you've dialed in in the same manner. If you try to set the patches up to do sounds that said amp will normally do, they sound pretty damn close to the real deal. Take, for example, Ola Englund's comparison between the Kemper, Bias Head, Axe FX, and Helix, and a Real Mark IIC+. He gets them all well within that realm of Mesa Mark sound. So I think it's more accurate to say that amp sims have more ability to sound like whatever you want them to sound like than ever.

    I could be looking at that all wrong, though. But I do think you're spot on in that with amp sims, all the high gain ones tend to handle the gain structures in a pretty identical way. But usually it's still within like 4 or 5 amp models that are initially based on iterations of each other, even in reality. Like all the 5150/6505 iterations, the majority of high gain tones you're going to hear are based around those amps, and if they're not using those, you're probably hearing a rectifier patch, both of which had their real life counterparts preamps loosely based on a Soldano type thing. Soldano SLO being the other common sim you'll hear. So it's not really far fetched to say that they all tend to sound same-y, just not always because of anything inherent with modeling. The mark patches I hear are usually the most different sounding from the rest of the standard fare, and for good reason.
     
  14. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they sound bad. But if the goal is "sound like the thing they're modelling", I don't think we got closer to that. Closer to sounding better? Yes. Closer to accuracy compared to the thing being modeled? Not to my ears.

    :lol:
    Most of Ola's sounds are just as same-y to my ears. Something about his process, I'm sure.
     
  15. bostjan

    bostjan MicroMetal Contributor

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    Whew boy!

    So both the Axe FX and the Helix are emulating the tones generated by other amplifiers, yeah, but, also, I mean, pick any amplifier, and it's trying to emulate something else, all going back to the very first tube amplifying circuits that were intended to replicate the sound of their input, only louder. :lol: But, more specifically, take the Mesa JP-2C. It's a clone of a Mesa Mark IIC+ with some extra features added like a cab-clone (which is an idea taken from other manufacturer's technologies) and more convenient channel switching. The Mark IIC+ itself was an improvement on the Mark II, which was a development off of the Mark I, which itself was a clone of a Fender Bassman Dual Rectifier with an extra gain stage (which had it's circuit configuration taken from the RCA spec sheet for the 12AX7 tube). The Bassman Dual Rectifier was a doubling up of the original Bassman circuit for twice the power. The original Bassman is probably the biggest quantum leap in this whole story, but ultimately, it's a circuit design of a car radio with different capacitor values intended to tweak the frequency response to better suit bass guitar (which it actually accidentally succeeded at making a great guitar amplifier instead). Those old car radios were made by trying to develop a compact version of old time radios, which themselves were designed directly off of the spec sheets for the amplifier tubes with features added by segmenting circuits from other spec sheets together to make tone controls and whatnot.

    So, IMO, we are still on the same sort of progression, but as time moves on, the steps we take in amplifier design get smaller and subtler, and we might be approaching the point where no one outside of the actual user even care at all anymore.
     
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  16. TheRileyOBrien

    TheRileyOBrien SS.org Regular

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    You say that, but I would bet if you were presented with good recordings of both you wouldn't be able to tell them apart in a blind test with 100% accuracy.

    Aside from that how much does it really matter? These units (Helix, Kemper, Axe FX)are all good enough to make for a great sounding live show and are present on many great sounding(and popular) records. We are all a bit snobby with gear or we wouldn't be on this site but suggesting the modeling technology of these things is not improving is quite a stretch.
     
  17. Curt

    Curt Where we're going we don't need neck pickups.

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    To that end, I'm already getting to the point where it's hard to care. You can go out there with $1000 right now, today and pick up a complete rig in a floorboard unit more or less right now. One that not only produces sounds that are not only usable in a professional studio environment, but dare I say great, and not even just "for the money" anymore. The days of having to amass a room full of things to assemble your rig, swapping out this pedal for that, or that amp for this, or this speaker for that, what have you, it's become so compact and easy to do now, especially at a level that the hobbyist or whatever even can pick up on it and get just about any sound that might be in their head in minutes to hours, depending on how complex a sound we're talking about. (And of course, I should note this isn't saying that TedEH is saying anything to the contrary, I'm just going off on a tangent) I mean, the earliest multi-effects stuff out there made it possible, but to even the weekend player in the bedroom, you were making a huge sacrifice of choosing a portable and affordable setup over a professional sounding and high quality one. There was a hard line at that point. The line is still there, but it's becoming blurrier these days. When bands I've listened to my whole life more or less are picking these things (mostly Axe FX) up an touring with it, condensing everything into a rack case more or less. People with elaborate pedalboards, and dozens of high end amps are switching to these digital options all because it simplifies things in a way that offers up so much more than you compromise for that option, and it's hard to look at the reality of that and nitpick over discrepancies of whether the edge of break up tones blossom into overdrive in exactly the right way when you hit the guitar just right, or maybe your tape echo doesn't trail off quite as silky smooth as that old maestro echoplex, but it comes close enough, that most players that aren't as far down the gearwhoring/tone chasing rabbit hole as some of us, aren't going to care so much, much less the people that simply listen to the music. It's a pretty remarkable thing, in my opinion. And the older I get, the more I get into that mind set of simplicity for simplicity's sake. But at the same time, more power to those that want to go the traditional route. I just know Helix so far has been an absolute blessing on my wallet, the free space in my house, and for the fun factor alone.
     
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  18. sezna

    sezna undermotivated

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    Man they both sound good and it would be so hard to tell the difference in a mix. I swear almost all psychological. Maybe different, but one being better?
     
  19. TedEH

    TedEH Cromulent

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    Again, I don't mean to say that any of these things sound bad, just that -to my ears- modellers have a particular sound to them that make them distinct from the sound of a physical amp. And that the majority of modellers have this particular quality that makes them sound very similar to eachother. Can I pick out the modeller in 100% of cases? No, of course not, but I can usually identify an AxeFX in a mix, especially a not-professional, or not-super-over-produced kind of mix. It's maybe closer to 80 or 90% of the time. Like there was a video a while ago put up of a playthrough sitting in front of some water in Germany I think. One of the first comments was "what are you playing through", and I knew it was an AxeFX (or similar modeller) before he responded. Or maybe I should say I strongly suspected.

    And yeh, I get the whole history-of-amps-make-them-all-a-little-samey thing. But in my entirely subjective opinion, modellers sound closer to other modellers than one amp might sound to another amp. Like saying a Marshall has "the marshall sound", and Rectos have "the Recto sound", and modellers have "the Modeller sound", even if all three of those things have a common base. A 5150 modeller sounds as different to a real 5150 than either of those 5150s would be different from a Mesa Mark.

    To my ears, anyway.

    My point was only that in terms of "lets settle the debate between modellers", they sound pretty close to the same to me.
     
  20. TheRileyOBrien

    TheRileyOBrien SS.org Regular

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    To be fair you have an 80-90% chance of it being axe fx on any prog/metal playthrough these days :D
     
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