Line 6 has really been on their game these last couple years. After releasing the Helix rackmount and floorboard processors in 2015, they have been smartly building on its success by releasing useful variations of it such as the Helix Native plugin, the less expensive Helix LT, and now the HX Effects multi-effects pedal, which I’ll be reviewing today.
As someone who’s been using the Helix for about a year now in different capacities, I’ve grown very accustomed to everything about it. The look of it, the front panel interface for editing patches, the I/O, the HX Edit software. So when I picked up the HX Effects, it was sort of like seeing a bonsai tree version of a familiar neighborhood oak – a little strange, but uncannily familiar, and comfortable. It has the same look to it, many of the same effects, and the colored button lights really bring it home.
The early digital multi-effects processors of the late 80’s and 90’s have created in the guitar community a poisonous association with bad sounds, but serious convenience and less hassle. The HX Effects puts that to rest with a ton of killer sounds AND extreme convenience, while being powerful enough to handle even some very complex dual-amp and/or stereo rigs. Its 2 easily switchable modes will make both stompbox-style users and preset junkies happy, and maybe even convert one to the other! I found preset mode to be very slightly limited in that the layout becomes 4 buttons of presets in a square, with the two leftmost buttons becoming page up/down buttons. I’d personally rather have more patches available on the bottom row with some other way of changing the page. The stompbox mode has the limitation of only having 6 effects available, but if you’re using many more than that, you’re probably a pedal junkie and the HX Effects isn’t your jam anyway.
The unit does not come with a built-in expression pedal, but there are 2 jacks for whatever your preferred pedal is, and although I like the pedal on the Helix board, opening up the possibility of using a real nice one from Mission Engineering or something compact like the Dunlop Volume X Mini might be better (or why not both?). The ability to switch your amp’s channel via either MIDI or relay click per patch or as an individual stompbox switch makes integration with your amp extremely easy. You can see in the video that I got it set up with my Revv Generator 120, a very MIDI-friendly amp, so that each patch was using a different channel on the amp, because hell if I’m gonna step on more than one button for a sound!
My main criticism of this otherwise amazing little unit is the learning curve. In comparison to other multi-effects units, it’s still pretty easy, but compared to the Helix line on which it is based, it’s much harder to get around. The HX Edit software that allows you to do everything on the Helix will only allow patch naming and management for the HX Effects. This was a curveball I wasn’t expecting. Editing on the front panel, especially with the capacitive touch of the footswitches, is very doable, but without the big LCD screen like on the Helix, it’s much less intuitive. All that means is that you won’t be able to instantly understand how everything works with no manual, which is how it is with the Helix. A little bit of time spent with it and the helpful short videos on the Line 6 website and you could be flying around on it.
If you can’t find all the sounds you need in the HX Effects, then you are too needy. With 2 external loops for any pedals they don’t have, you have pretty much no excuses. If you use a physical amplifier in your rig, you can now be lazy like me and ditch the pedalboard for the HX Effects if you want. If nothing else, I think you’ll find it mighty tempting, and for $599, it’s at least a roadworthy replacement if you don’t want to bring your prone-to-failure wires-and-prayers pedalboard out to the show.