Modelling solutions in Europe: Helix vs. Fractal AFX III/FM3

Discussion in 'Gear & Equipment' started by EchelonXIII, Jun 11, 2019.

  1. EchelonXIII

    EchelonXIII SS.org Regular

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    Hey everyone,

    I have made this topic because the situation on our side of the pond is a bit different due to the massive upcharges related to imports and VAT gets thrown our way with Fractal products, where Line 6 somewhat holds the line with a more universal pricing pattern (the Helix is as expensive over here as it is in the states)

    I'm moving soon and the new place won't let me use my tube head to it's full extent (an Engl Invader II with matching cab). Now I have been looking at a modelling solution which might allow me to get that 'cranked amp' feel at a more human level (I;E not having burning wallpaper or giving my cats PTSD).

    I have played Kempers in the past which really didn't phase me that much, as they felt kind of rigid in the FX's department and super dependent on the profile used, which in the end isn't something for me, as I would like to tweak certain aspects of a tone without having to fundamentally change the way this is built up.

    This obviously leads me to either Fractal (Either the III or the FM3) or the Helix, and I wonder if anyone here has played both. I know it might be a biased playing field due to the nature of the group. I'm mainly looking at the quality of the amp tones (how 'pure' is the modelled sound) and the quality of the FX's (can I get that sparkling shimmer that Fractal is known for on the Helix as well).

    I'm familliar with the need of high-end third party IR's, so I would like to keep the argument simply on the potential of both units whithout getting to deep into things such as 'ease of use' since both units have a learning curve, and one has to put time in it to gain mastery over it.

    I'm not a HUGE tweaker and would essentially make four tones. 1: a crushing rythm 2: a nice lead tone 3: A pristine clean tone 4: a space-ey Reverb tone. So with regards to the insane tweakability that is possible on the Fractal's, I don't care for it much (neat to have though)

    And the last factor that is important, is the price. Since the Helix Rack (the unit I would be interested at) is priced at around €1139,- and an Axe FX IIII would be a whopping €2799,- , I am wondering if it is worth the upcharge, OR if the new FM3 unit would be able to provide the same usability without running into CPU related issues.)

    Now ideally, I would like to hear input from those who have had experience with all three and can chime in on the (high) gain tones, and if it really is worth shelling out nearly 2.5 times more for a III (or possibly an FM3)
     
  2. MaxOfMetal

    MaxOfMetal Likes trem wankery. Super Moderator

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    Buy once, cry once. Get the Axe3 if you can reasonably afford it. Though, have you considered a used AX8/Axe2?

    Not that the Helix is a slouch. Perhaps grab a Helix stomp to mess around with, or a used Helix LT. If you don't find yourself wanting after using them, go Helix. If they underwhelm you, go Fractal.
     
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  3. Andromalia

    Andromalia Pardon my french

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    I'm a fractal user since the Standard, can't comment on the Helix. (I suspect people owning both aren't that common)
    The learning curve has, mostly, disappeared. Gone are the days when you had to modify super deep parameters, using the axe III is as simple as bass, middle, treble. You'll likely have to spend some time sampling the army of cabs available but unlike when I had the II, I didn't feel the need to purchase 3rd party impulses. Mostly because you can now have 4 impulses per cab block and mix them however you like.

    Purely sonically speaking, the III is an upgrade to the II but the main appeal is the multiple routing an I/O options that make it an excellent studio outboard gear. It's not just a "guitar preamp with effects and a sound card". If that is what you want, you could consider buying a II instead, which sounds good enough.
     
  4. ChugThisBoy

    ChugThisBoy SS.org Regular

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    Helix LT can do all you need. I have one and I'm blown away by the possibilities. I'd love to have Axe III or II but I can't afford them.
    Soundwise I think Fractal stuff is better because of more 'natural' sounds and response you're getting from their units. But if you know how to tweak your tones, Helix can be all you need. And if you're a patient guy just wait for FM3 and maybe try it out by yourself.
     
  5. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    Keep your ENGL, use your ENGL, and get helix native for the hours when you shouldn't have a real amp on?

    While modeling is a good option, what's the cost of a torpedo two notes etc. versus a modeler?
     
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  6. mnemonic

    mnemonic Custom User Title

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    If I were you, I think I would go for the FM3 when it gets released.

    I don’t have a helix so I can’t comment there. I did try the helix native plugin demo back when it was released and I thought it was pretty cool. Way less tweakable than an axe FX though (that may be a good thing). I still want to get a hx stomp, if only for the Badonk model.

    I’ve had an axe FX ii for many years and for the last year or two I have split my time about 50/50 between tube amps and the axe FX. Prior to the last (and final) axe FX ii firmware update I had no axe FX iii GAS, and I was planning to go back to tube amps full time, and just use the axe FX ii for effects as the reverbs and delays are great, and it makes a pretty nifty eq also.

    However with the last update (some axe FX iii amp modelling improvements ported to the ii), I’ve been very happy with the sound and response, to the point where I think the axe FX ii and my tube amps are about on par. Usually I’m happy for a week or less, start tweaking, changing things here and there since something doesn’t feel like I want. But i made my heavy Recto patch the day the update came out, and I haven’t changed it since, it’s just right now.

    So now I think I’ll probably eventually convince myself I need a III, but maybe if I’m lucky I’ll convince myself all I need is the FM3. The axe ii did get some of the iii’s modelling improvements, though I’m sure more updates will be made as time goes on that will further widen the gap. Also the ii didn’t get the updated drive models the iii got. I’ve never been super impressed with the axe ii’s drive pedal models, they’re workable but not as instant-gratification as the amps are or as a real tubescreamer is. So I still have my pedalboard full of various drive pedals that I run in front of the axe ii.

    It doesn’t sound like you need crazy complicated patches, so the FM3 is probably powerful enough. One of the engineers on the fractal forum posted a picture of an FM3 patch with as much stuff as he could fit to get to 100% dsp usage and it was pretty big.


    Edit- Budda raises a good point, a reactive load box and impulse loader (or small solidstate power amp so you can reamp into your cab) would be the cheapest option and you could still use your amp.
     
  7. trem licking

    trem licking SS.org Regular

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    For home playing/recording, get overloud TH-U and an interface if you don't already have one. Sounds amazing and their respire feature makes the modeling sound more "in the room", if you want that feature. Also has tons of awesome effects. OR get a volume pedal and use it in the loop of your amp. Or if money isn't a concern at all, get the axe III. No choice is better or worse, just depends on how you're going to use it and the best use case for you
     
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  8. EchelonXIII

    EchelonXIII SS.org Regular

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    Good point, but it would require me to get two monitors regardless. Plus a Torpedo is quite the investment (800 euro's on itself), and it would still put me without a set of effects. (intended to buy a pedalboard, but never really wanted anything other than a drive and a bit of reverb and delay). But having to form a board like that would be quite the investment as well, whereas a Helix or Fractal would offer me said units in combination with a ton of additional amp modelling in a single, manageable unit.
     
  9. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    Does the torpedo not feed the cab you already have? Also, why buy new if budget is of concern? Used torpedo is going to be less than a used AX8.
     
  10. Deadpool_25

    Deadpool_25 SS.org Regular

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    I would call myself a little biased towards Fractal, however it’s because I find it sounds so good. I’ve had a lot more Line6 stuff than Fractal. AXSys 212, Pod, Pocket Pod, M5/9/13, HD500, DT25, HXFX...probably forgetting a few. I’ve only used a friend’s Helix and HX Stomp. They sound good but I already had an Axe FX II XL and thought it sounded better.

    With that in mind between Axe III/FM3 and Helix/HX Stomp, I’d go Fractal without question. The amps sound better to me and the effects are arguably a bit better (Helix has some excellent effects though).
     
  11. MSS

    MSS SS.org Regular

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    My vote is for the Axe III. I’ve been a long time fan and have sold all my amps except two Baron Customs which rarely get played.
     
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  12. Elric

    Elric SS.org Regular

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    I have the Axe III, II, the Atomic Amplifire, and HX Stomp and Helix Native. I know some people swear by the Helix and it is certainly serviceable, it doesn’t ‘suck’ or anything... But for amp tones personal preference is:

    Axe 3 > Axe 2 > Amplifire > Helix

    So, Helix lags all the top modelers... With the III being substantially better, easily. For FX swap positions for the Helix and Amplifire. Helix is better than the Amplifire for FX but not amp feel.
     
  13. c7spheres

    c7spheres GuitArtist

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    Damn, That's a lot of VAT. I was thinking of a way around it cause I used to be in intl shipping, and with this there's no way to reduce it unless you lie, which isn't cool. Even then You'd only save about 10%. Not worth it.
    - I'd get a reactive load personally, I have a Sequis Motherload Pro (they're in the UK, btw) and love it. They sell the Elemental now, which is actually all you need, I thinks it's 300-GBP. It's got all the controls I use on the Pro, the others I don't even use. Seriously, check out my post in the Pics of your rig thread and I have pics of them there. You can see my settings and all I use are the bass and treble. It's inexpensive for a reactive load, the inside toroid for the reactive part is huge and it also uses the exact same resistors and toroid the Pro version does, and it feels and sounds great. You probably don't even need Ir's. I don't use them and I'm perfectly happy without them. I tried a bunch of Ir's recently and liked it better without them, granted they weren't top shelf Ir's. even then you could always try out Ir's if wanted. I also tried the ReAxis demo and it was nice but still didn't sound or feel reel. It sounds good in a mix though. It was very uninspiring not like a real TriAxis. I'd rather have the reactive load and your ENGL by a long shot, no question. I think it sounds better and certainly feels better. It's also an attenuator too. If you just want your current rig at a volume you like and some routing options, this is the way to go. Just keep amp settings the same and adjust the Motherload to taste.
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2019
  14. Sogradde

    Sogradde SS.org Regular

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    I think he's talking about this fella. Basically you'd hook up your amp to the captor, the Captor to your interface, add an IR in your DAW and monitor it videa headphones (preferably wirelsess so you can rock out through your flat).
    That's indeed pretty cheap if you only have to buy the Captor but will be considerably less cheap if you have to buy all the other stuff as well.
    Let's make a small list:
    Torpedo Captor - 230€
    Beginner interface - ~150€
    Reaper (DAW) - free 60€
    A good pair of headphones - ~150€
    Misc (cables, IRs, etc.) - ~50€

    So if you start from zero with only your guitar, an amp and a PC, you'll end up at roughly 600-700€ for a pretty decent setup. This is the bare minimum I'd invest into, it will however give you the opportunity to build up on and create a home studio.
    On the other hand, you could invest that amount of money into a standalone solution i.e. a modeller of your choice. This will give you all the guitar sounds in the world. Most of the modellers double as an interface, they come at a higher price though. Personally, I'm using both: a home studio setup for.. well, home and the Helix for rehearsals/live shows. I'm very happy with what I have, it is somewhat costly though.

    Pick your poison, in the end it's up to you which solution suits your needs (and you will keep buying gear anyway).
     
  15. laxu

    laxu SS.org Regular

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    I've owned the Axe-Fx 2 and currently own a Helix Floor. Soundwise I'd say the Axe is a bit better but I was able to get Helix Native with the same IRs very close in sound.

    Helix is so, so far ahead of the Fractal stuff in usability that it makes all the difference to me. With my Axe-Fx 2 I never wanted to use the front panel because it's pretty horrible to operate due to poor button placement and tiny screen. Axe-Fx 3 is better in this regard but still has a ton of menus. By comparison I never hook up my Helix to a computer for anything but software updates because the user interface is so effortless.

    IMO all the top modelers are in the same ballpark and you can get great results with any of them. I'd say your top options are Kemper, FM3 or Helix Floor. With the FM3 you may have to wait quite a bit before it becomes available and you will still want at least a MIDI controller for more switching capability. Helix Floor is all you need in one package but it is a pretty big unit.

    I got tired of the "everything but the kitchen sink" design of them so I'm back to a 2 channel Bogner tube amp and just bought myself a sweet 4x10 cab. I like that sound better than I like playing through studio monitors or FRFR. I use the Helix for effects and late night playing or direct recording. I use this setup at home as well because the amp has a great master volume but of course it won't sound fantastic at super low volume, nothing does. At loud TV volumes no problem.
     
  16. Mr_Marty

    Mr_Marty SS.org Regular

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    I have a Helix and an Axe-Fx III (as well as a Kemper and Atomic). The Helix is only marginally easier to use. The joystick is a pita. It has fewer menus because it is much more limited. Soundwise the Axe-Fx kills it. In terms of sound I'd rate the Helix as last. Axe-Fx, Kemper, Atomic and then Helix. It's a fine unit but suffers from the usual sterile, digital Line 6 sound.
     
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  17. laxu

    laxu SS.org Regular

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    I haven't played the Axe-Fx 3 side by side with the Helix but I did try the following when I still had my Axe-Fx 2 running ARES firmware:

    I set up Axe-Fx 2 as audio interface and used Helix Native on my computer. This so that the I/O hardware does not make a difference. I used the same IRs and tried to replicate my favorite Axe-Fx 2 Marshall Superlead patch on the Helix. I had a MIDI floorboard to switch between the two sounds. I had to use very different settings on the Helix to get it to sound the same but I got it to 99% the same, so close that I had difficulty figuring out which was which when pressing the footswitch and not looking at what was running. I'd still give the Axe-Fx 2 a small edge but the better UI of the Helix more than makes up for it. I don't feel there is anything sterile or digital about the Helix sound. Its stock cab sims require more work than IRs to get sounding right.

    While Axe-Fx 3 UI is much better than 2, I really hate the navigation section that is straight from Axe-Fx 2. While the Helix joystick sometimes manages to get bumped by accident, I still prefer it. Not fond of the huge IR lists either, I liked the more curated list of the older units better. I don't feel all the advanced settings add much to the unit either, I never felt the need to mess with most of them.
     
  18. coffeeflush

    coffeeflush SS.org Regular

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    This would be cheaper than both and sounds good. Not quiet Axe Fx though
     
  19. mikah912

    mikah912 SS.org Regular

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    Have had AX8, Amplifire, Helix and Kemper.

    The first thing you gotta realize is that none of these are monolithic platforms where all of the amp modeling is of absolute static equal quality. That's complete nonsense. Amplifire has a couple of standout models (e.g. Cornford) that rate with any of the others. Helix has lots more (e.g. Cartographer, Badonk, Archon, Friedman). AX8 had even more.

    But that's just math. I used roughly the same tiny percentage of amps (a small handful of them) regularly. Amplifire only had 14 or so to choose from, so only a couple worked for me. Helix has 60-some odd, so more worked for me. Fractal has 250+, so even more than that worked for me. For what you want:

    1: a crushing rythm 2: a nice lead tone 3: A pristine clean tone 4: a space-ey Reverb tone.

    ...Helix is absolutely great for a fraction of the price of an Axe-FX III. A FM3 would also be great, but it's A) unreleased and B) has a hella long waiting list so if you didn't jump on day one, forget about buying one in 2019.

    Go Helix, OP.
     
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  20. laxu

    laxu SS.org Regular

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    I went from Axe-Fx 2 -> Yamaha THR100HD (5 amp models, 2 channels plus blending them together) -> Helix and I would not consider the number of amp models a factor in any of these units. Like you said, most people are looking for those four tones. I can get them from my Bogner with 2 channels and a boost. To me at least it's pretty irrelevant what amps are modeled as long as I can get the tones I need.
     
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