When it comes to Line 6 Helix recording techniques, you have a few different options. This is because the Helix was purposefully designed to be an “all in one solution”. Let’s take a look at how to get started recording with the Helix!
Line 6 Helix Recording Techniques: The Options Are VAST
It has officially been 4 years since the Line 6 Helix hit the market, and with several updates, it has remained one of the best options for being your all in one tone library. While the Helix definitely has some steep competition out from much more affordable brands, it still remains the best example of what amp modeling and effects can be.
While the amp models, cabinet IRs, and effects are all top notch, there is more appeal to the Helix than just it’s basic features. The biggest draw for Line 6 is having a floorboard taking the place of a full live amp rig, and it does that really well. But it also was meant to be a solution for guitarists in a studio situation!
One of the biggest attractions of the Line 6 helix comes in the form of massive in/out options on the rear of the unit. There are several different ways to record with the Helix, and today we are going to take a look at a few of them. Some of the Line 6 Helix recording techniques are way beyond intermediate level, and we will try to take a look at those as well, in the simplest way possible. Others are beyond my pay grade and knowledge.
The Line 6 Helix has lots of options…more than you can imagine.
Most guitarists will probably pick just one of these methods and run with it. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if it works for you, it works! But I tried them all out, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. One thing is for sure: You have options.
Line 6 Helix Recording Techniques Part 1: Audio Interface
We are starting with the easiest route, the path of least resistance, you could say. Because for most people, this will be the best of the Line 6 helix recording techniques. It will also be the most familiar for anyone that has been recording for a while.
If you have a home studio, you probably have an interface that you use to record instruments. I personally use the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, and I have used this interface for the last decade, almost. It has two inputs, and personally…that’s all I need.
But there are dozens of studio interfaces just like the Focusrite, and they all basically do the same thing: Act as a gateway to recording into your DAW. There are two Line 6 Helix recording techniques you can use with an interface:
- XLR Stereo Out: Two Cables
- 1/4″ Cable Mono Out: Single Cable
So which one is better? That depends on the effects you are using in your custom Helix patches.
If you are using any stereo effects, like delay or chorus, I recommend using the two XLR outputs. This will create dual tracks in your DAW that you can then pan left/right to make a stereo effect. However, you can still get great quality sound with a single 1/4″ cable going directly into the interface.
Some of the cheaper audio interfaces have only one input. If this is your case, then just use the 1/4″ mono out. The sound quality will still be almost the same. It will still have all the awesome processing sounds from your Helix patches.
NOTE: There has been some debate online about using this method over the USB method (that we will talk about later). I want to state right now, that I cannot tell a difference in the sound quality whatsoever. I have been recording for 20 years, and producing on my own for a decade. I can definitely say that there is hardly any difference in the sound quality. The USB connection offers different options, but I can’t tell the difference in any actual audio quality.
That being said, your interface may have a built in preamp. My Scarlett has one, and it does change the tone of the Helix ever so slightly. Of course, this is what a preamp is meant to do. It is meant to color your sound subtly. So that’s something you may want to check out.
If your interface has a preamp, I would always plug the Helix up to the interface when editing patches. That way, there are no surprises when you go to record.
So the biggest advantage to the interface method, is simplicity. All you have to do is boot up you DAW, plug your Helix into the interface, and start recording. It really is that simple. This is how I usually approach recording these days, when I am doing a demo. It’s just easier, and I have some great patches ready to go whenever inspiration strikes.
But there are some disadvantages…
The first is going to be latency. I do not have any latency issues with the Scarlett, but that took a little tweaking before it became a reality. I would highly suggest downloading the ASIO4ALL or Line 6 ASIO drivers for your interface. This will usually fix any latency issues you have.
The second issue, is the track that you record is just…there. It has all of the effects/amp sims running directly from your Helix. This means that you cannot re-amp a track using a dry signal. You CAN do this with the USB input method. So it is something to consider, if you often take a raw track and re-amp it with another plug-in.
If you are just starting out, this is my recommended method out of all of the Line 6 Helix recording techniques. But if you want to do a deep dive, there are other ways to record with your Helix.
The best collection of amps, effects, and speaker IRs in the business! The Helix is the most versatile all in one processor on the market.
Line 6 Helix Recording Techniques Part 2: Helix As The Interface
The Line 6 Helix has tons of amp sims, cabinets, effects, and different ways of programming. But this is not it’s only appeal. When Line 6 designed the Helix, it was made to be more than just a floor processor that can do a little bit of everything.
The Line 6 Helix is an audio interface, itself.
Using the USB connection to your computer, you can use the Helix as a standalone audio interface. It has everything built-in and ready to go. In fact, it is not even limited to guitar! You have several inputs on the Helix, so you can record:
- Variax AUX
The Helix USB 1/2 output works as a stereo output just like any regular audio interface. But the difference is what’s under the hood of the Helix. With this method, you get real-time, zero-latency recording. But this is done with the Helix itself, not any downloaded drivers into an interface.
Since the Helix as an interface is all built in, you can send a signal to your DAW with the usual Helix patch sounds you have created, OR you can send a dry, unprocessed sound to re-amp later. You can do both, actually. The possibilities are literally limitless when it comes to tailoring your tone in your DAW with the Helix.
Depending on your computer, the built in software for the Helix may not be enough. If this is the case, then you WILL have to download some drivers for the Helix to be an interface. But this can be remedied easily, even if you are not super tech-savvy. These are my recommended solutions:
On Mac/OS: If you are having issues, I recommend downloading the Line 6 Core Audio driver. In this driver, you will have the option of different sample rates. You can choose among 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, and 96kHz sample rates. But when using Mac’s native drivers, you can ONLY use 48kHz. Once this is all set up, any issues you were having, should be scratched pretty easily.
On Windows: Helix is made to work with the native Windows drivers without issue, but sometimes you can experience an error. Even if there are no problems, for better performance I suggest going to Line6.com and downloading the ASIO drivers (just like I mentioned for an audio interface).
On the Line 6 website, go to the Downloads page, and download “HX EDIT”. This will install all the available drivers for you automatically. You can then go into “Settings” on your Helix edit, and pick a buffer size. I like to go with the lowest possible rate that remains stable with your computer’s performance. If you are unsure, choose 128 and test out the latency.
Once you have your Helix connected, it acts just like a full-featured interface. You can play back tracks on your DAW through headphones, or monitors.
There are more ways than this to set up your Helix as an interface! But it is way beyond my knowledge, and way beyond the accessibility of this article. So next we will just look at the important Global settings, and HX settings.
HX Edit: Patching On The Fly And Routing
One of the coolest features of having your helix connected via USB, is having the option you use the HX Edit program in real time. Sure, you can tweak your settings on the actual Helix device, using the knobs. But since it is already hooked up to your computer, you might as well take advantage of the editor in real time.
Using HX Edit in one window, while having your DAW and recordings in another is really cool! You can change patches on the go, and choose the settings to re-amp a dry track. Everything you need is at your fingertips, so you never have to even touch the unit once you have it connected to your computer.
As mentioned earlier, you can also use the Helix as a “Line In” to record vocals or keyboards. You can use either the 1/4” input, the XLR, or the AUX input to achieve this. If you want to do this, it’s pretty easy to access. Just follow these steps in your DAW with HX Edit:
- Set Input Blocks to “Mic”
- Send the mic to USB 3/4
- Set your DAW track to record the USB send
- Enable the track’s Input monitor
- If you wish to bypass the Helix Effects, set the path input to “None”
This way, you can record vocals or other instruments with the Helix, but totally on your own terms. Maybe you want to use the Helix to add reverb or distortion to the “Line In” signal. You can do that!
But you can also bypass all of the Helix’s effects and block chains, and just record with a mic straight in. This allows you to have a dry signal that you can process with another program or plugin. The choice is yours, and this setting essentially turns the Helix into a simple audio interface. Once again, though…with no playback latency!
Out of all of the Line 6 helix recording techniques, USB is the most complicated. But it is also the most versatile, as anything is possible! I am sure the Helix is capable of more, but this is all I know so far! There are tons of deep-dive options that are way beyond my ability.
There is another way to record your Helix, and it is the most traditional of all the Line 6 Helix recording techniques…
Line 6 Helix recording Techniques Part 3: Mics and FRFR Cabs
The oldest way of recording electric guitar, is taking a microphone and setting it in front of a speaker. Most people that record with physical amps do this, and it gives a different dynamic to the sound of your guitar/rig. You get not just your guitar and amp sounds, but also ambient room sounds. There are tons of techniques when it comes to mic’ing up a speaker cabinet. It is almost an art in itself.
Out of all of the Line 6 Helix recording techniques, this one is the loudest! But it might also be the most fun!
But What Is An FRFR?
FRFR stands for “Full Range and Flat Response”. This means that the speaker can handle any type of frequency or tones fed into from an audio source. Think of it as a blank chalkboard, there’s nothing affecting the sound that goes into it. No preamp, and no special speaker response.
You could use an FRFR cab with an amplifier, but that is not really what it is meant for. A FRFR does not need any power from an amplifier, as it has built in power. So the power from an amp head might even turn into a disaster! So don’t ever try this. Buy a normal cab for your normal amp!
The Helix comes with tons of speaker sims built in to choose from, and that’s where the FRFR cab really shines. The Helix connects directly to the FRFR, and you don’t need any other source of power. These FRFR cabs can be 250 watts of power, which is more than you will ever need. This little cab can sound like a 1X12 or a full Marshall stack, depending on your Helix settings for whatever patch you are using.
This makes an FRFR essential for anyone that wants to use their Line 6 Helix in a live setting with a band. It works just like a guitar speaker cab, but instead of having an amplifier, you use the Helix for all of your sounds. You can also hook the Helix up directly to the mixing board at a venue. But some venues might not have that option. This is where an FRFR cab will come in handy.
Likewise, just as you would mic up a traditional head/cab combo in the studio and crank it up to record…you can do the same with an FRFR! You can also use one of the other methods of recording your Helix that we have already discussed, and then ADD another track of the live FRFR! This could sound huge, and give your recordings a totally different dynamic.
Line 6 Helix Recording Techniques: Options And More Options…
Line 6 really didn’t leave anything out when it designed the Helix. It can cover any genre of music, and take the place of your entire live rig. It can also be intergraded into your existing rig as an effects unit. This makes the Helix an amazing ally to anyone that plays live shows.
But I am still in awe of the details that were put into the unit when it comes to recording. There are so many options here. I mean, I only covered the basics, and it seems like I did a pretty deep-dive right? That’s because the idea was versatility, when the Line 6 Team began designing the Helix.
So no matter how you like to record, the Helix has you covered!
Do I need an audio interface to record with a Line 6 Helix?
No. The Helix itself can be used as a stand-alone recording interface. Everything you need is built in.
Does the Helix come with any recording programs?
No. But it can be used with just about every existing DAW program. There are tons of free ones, and cheap ones that you can use at home.
Can I use the Helix to record other instruments?
Yes. You can use the Helix to record anything that uses an XLR or 1/4” cable/jack. This means you can record keyboards, bass, and even vocals if you want.