Both of these pedalboards are designed to make life easier for guitarists. These rigs can model the sounds of different effects pedals, amps, cabs, and even microphones.
But which one’s better? And are they up to the task for musicians who don’t want to compromise on sound?
Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.
Let’s jump right in…
Let’s start with the most important question:
How many models of amps, pedals, mics, and cabs are included in each pedal?
This is also the biggest difference between the two pedals. Here’s a quick rundown.
The Line 6 Helix has inbuilt:
- 62 amps,
- 37 cabs,
- 16 microphones and
- 104 different types of effects.
You can also use Helix as a recording interface and it comes with an expression pedal for nuanced and… well, expressive use of the effects.
The Headrush offers:
- 33 amps,
- 15 cabs,
- 10 mics
- and 42 effects.
That’s quite a bit less than the Helix, but these are still plenty to work with. The good thing is that you can also use the Headrush pedalboard as a recording interface. Headrush also comes with an expression pedal included.
Both units have loopers included, too. The looper is fun to play around with and opens up a lot of sonic possibilities for your live performances. You can do a whole lot of crazy cool stuff with it. Not having to buy a separate loop pedal is definitely a plus.
To summarize, you get more options and possibilities with the Helix for modeling your sound.
But the truth is that even Headrush has a fair amount of quality sounds you can work with. Imagine taking 42 effects pedals on stage with you!
The Sound: Headrush vs Helix
As you would expect from the huge number of models, the sounds that can be created by using the Headrush and the Helix are incredibly varied and diverse.
So what about the sound quality?
The Helix, made by Line 6, features effects and amp models used in many products throughout their range.
The Helix makes use of IR technology or “impulse responses”. It models sounds by “imprinting” the characteristics of a particular acoustic sound -- such as a reverb chamber or microphone position -- and digitally replicating it.
That said, at high gain settings, the sound can be a bit too “digital” with Helix. There’s a very distinct digital fuzz sound that isn’t as pleasing as analog. This only occurs when you crank the gain.
As for the positives, we particularly liked the chorus, multiple delays, and clean amp settings within the Helix.
Headrush has similar issues with a fizzing sound when turned up to high gain. No matter what manufacturers try, this seems to be a commonality in all modeling gear. The digital distortion just lacks some of that bite and warmth of analog sound.
Talking about tones, Headrush really shines when it comes to amp modeling, though. We liked the tones on classic Fender and Marshall amps, and also the ease of switching between them.
For some examples of the sounds these two can throw out, check out the video comparison below:
Ease of Use: Headrush vs Helix
Let’s face it, one of the main reasons to buy a unit like this is for an easier life. Multi-effects are all about convenience. So, how easy are these to use? Can you set up and recall patches for gigging?
The Headrush has a 7” touchscreen that lets you alter patches, create your own and assign parameters to footswitches for live playing. If you can use a smartphone, you’ll find the Headrush equally simple to navigate through.
It’s easy to get a hang of creating patches after doing it a couple of times. The touchscreen interface isn’t always the smoothest, but this isn’t a major issue.
Helix has a simpler control panel, without a touchscreen. You can navigate through your patches and alter them easily. There is a clever color-coding system that helps you to map what is on screen to the footswitches. There’s a small learning curve here, but nothing that you can’t overcome quickly.
Helix also has an option to record via USB. This is a nice bonus because the USB connectivity works for effect inputs as well. So you can load custom IR files to add to your library of sounds. Not bad, eh?
Compatibility, Inputs, and Outputs: Headrush vs Helix
Your pedal should be able to “communicate” with your other equipment -- and even your computer.
Line 6 Helix inputs / outputs include:
- 2 ¼ inputs
- 2 ¼ inch outputs
- 2 XLR outputs
- 2 send/return options
- Headphone and digital outputs
- MIDI input and outputs
USB connectivity allows you to record straight into a laptop or a computer, and there is the specific Variax connection is for those pairing this with a Line 6 Variax guitar. Variax is Line 6’s special modeling guitar line.
Headrush’s inputs/outputs are very similar:
- A ¼ inch jack input
- Stereo aux input
- 2 outputs
- 2 XLR outputs
- a headphone output
- one send/return
- MIDI in and MIDI out/thru combined with the USB out for a good level of compatibility
Both of these pedals can be used as audio interfaces. They connect to a DAW via USB. A 24-bit/96KHz recording is possible, and the Helix even comes with a version of ProTools to get you started with recording.
Conclusion & Takeaway
To us, Line 6 Helix is the clear winner in this comparison. It has a huge number of effects and provides better value for money than Headrush. It’s easy to use, and the touchscreen function is a modern and effective way to control your sound.
But Headrush is fantastic at amp modeling. And while it does pack fewer features than Helix, it has a slightly better sound clarity on the effects that it offers.
Overall, both the Headrush and Helix effects units show how far modeling has come.
Both can create custom sounds (patches) that you can recall quickly and easily. Plus, the huge amount of effects and virtually limitless sound modeling options do provide excellent value.
We all know how expensive music gear can get, and having all these effects in one place can save you a ton of money.