If you're a regular reader of our Pro Audio reviews you'll likely recognize Line 6—we've previously given outstanding reviews to both their Shuriken Guitar and Helix Native effects software—as a leading purveyor of software and hardware for guitar players and producers.
Our earlier review of Helix Native, Line 6's multi-effects plugin for Mac and PC, gives a good overview of the capabilities of the Helix processing platform and it's highly configurable and modular nature. While we're massive fans of Helix Native, there are many situations where a software pedal rack is less than ideal, whether you're playing live or simply want a more tactile experience in the studio.
In addition to native software, Line 6 also produces a number of hardware pedalboards with Helix technology built in, offering guitarists and producers the best of the analog and digital worlds in a unified package. In this review, we'll take a look at Line 6's superb HX Effects unit, the company's most moderately priced hybrid pedalboard.
Setup and First Impressions
As with all the Line 6 products we've tried to date, our first impression of the HX Effects build quality are very favorable. HX Effects feels extremely well built and sturdy for such a small unit, and gigging artists should feel confident that it's prepared to take a beating on the road and keep going just like a traditional hardware pedal.
The HX Effects front panel features six footswitches for effects, along with one for tap tempo and another for Mode Edit/Exit. The top of the front panel features several browsing-related buttons (more on these in a moment) along with four rotary knobs. Each footswitch features a large, clear LED display which indicates the loaded preset or effect unit, and each similarly has a bright and highly visible multicolored LED ring indicating it's off/on status.
It's worth noting that HX Effects features stereo inputs and outputs, along with dual stereo send and return channels, meaning it's an excellent tool for producers looking to process keyboards and analog synths in their studio or live show.
While HX Effects has much in common with the rest of the Helix family of processors, there is one crucial difference worth being aware of: HX Effects is not capable of amp or cab modeling (which Helix Native, Helix Floor, Helix Rack, and HX Stomp are). As such, HX Effects is best suited towards producers and engineers looking to replace a board full of hardware pedals, or to those after Modulation, Distortion, and Dynamics processing. If you're looking for some of Line 6's stellar Amp and Cab models, you'll need a different product from the Helix line.
We've covered Line 6's industry-leading Helix technology in other reviews before, so we'd recommend reading those if you're unfamiliar—but suffice it to say that Helix is a highly flexible modular system that spans both hardware and software. In practice, Helix allows a producer or guitarist to travel the world with nothing more than a laptop and have spot-on, custom recreations of the most legendary effects and stompboxes be a click away.
My use of HX Effects was entirely confined to our NYC studios, so I'll try and shed some light on how the unit performs in a production environment. I set up our HX Effects so that my DAW (Ableton Live 10) is able to send a stereo channel or mono signal to the unit through our Apogee Ensemble interface, with the processed signal returning to Ableton through a stereo input pair on the Ensemble.
While I'm not much of a guitar player, adding the HX Effects to my studio was genuinely one of the most fun and useful acquisitions I've ever made. I extolled the value of stompbox plugins (and hardware units) for Hip-Hop and Electronic producers in my Helix Native review, and the same holds true here—adding an HX Effects or pedalboard to your digital studio opens up an entirely new world of sound.
For starters, as we've mentioned before, Line 6's Helix tech sounds absolutely incredible, with all of the crunch, grit, and tone you'd want in emulations of classic gear. If you've previously only used distortion and pedal plugins that come with your DAW, this is simply in an entirely different league. Second, while I absolutely love Helix Native and have used it across every single track I've done since I got it, there is something about the tactile feel of hardware that software just can't match, particularly when it comes to pedal emulations. Being able to play a keyboard riff and interact with beautiful sounding delays, reverbs, pitch shifters, and distortion units in real time without needing a hand is a fundamentally different—and more inspiring—experience than trying to do so with DAW automation.
It's also worth noting that HX Effects offers a number of outright improvements over classic pedals, something we've come to expect from Line 6. Pedals are a lot of fun, and I'd highly recommend any producer who doesn't have one gets one—even if you're not an avid guitar player—but if they have one consistent drawback it's noise. HX Effects offers what Line 6 claims is an industry-leading 123dB of dynamic range, and in my testing, the unit is indeed the lowest-noise pedal I've ever encountered. Additionally, HX Effects offers true analog bypass when disengaged, meaning your input signal will pass through without any changes.
Conclusion / Recommended For
We'd highly recommend HX Effects to any guitarist or producer looking for a highly flexible and modular pedal-style effect—in many cases, HX Effects can likely replace or stand in for a full pedalboard, making it an affordable and highly portable offering. As with everything Line 6 touches, HX Effects sounds absolutely superb and is far beyond what most modeling systems are capable of. If you're looking for a world of new tones for your studio or live show, you can't go wrong here.
- Very portable, potentially replaces a pedalboard full of gear.
- Sounds incredible.
- Great build quality.
- Stereo inputs and outputs — highly useful for synths/keys in addition to guitars.
- None, although users after Line 6's revered Amp & Cab models will need to look elsewhere.