Helix Native vs Helix Floor: Why You Actually Need Both

Should you buy Line 6’s Helix Native plugin or one of their hardware units, like the Helix Floor or HX Stomp? If you’re into home recording, I’ll tell you why you should consider buying both!

I often see guitarists asking on YouTube and elsewhere if they should buy Helix Native versus a physical Helix unit, like the Helix Floor or HX Stomp. If you plan on recording, buying both is an absolute must. In this post, I’ll explain why that is, and show you how to use Helix Native to get the most out of your hardware Helix product.

What is Helix Native?

Helix Native is a plugin version of Line 6’s flagship digital modeler, the Helix Floor. To use it in your digital audio workstation (DAW), you only need an audio interface and an optional MIDI foot controller. In addition to functioning almost exactly like its physical counterparts, Native can load .HLX presets created on Helix hardware without altering the signal path, snapshots, or overall tone. This means that any preset created with a Helix Floor (or other products, such as the HX Stomp) will sound identical when loaded into Helix Native on your DAW. If that’s not enticing enough, Line 6 also offers generous discounts on Native (75% off)1 to those with registered Helix hardware.

Why Bother Buying a Physical Helix Unit, Then?

Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

If patches created on a physical Helix unit sound the same in Native (and vice versa), why spend all that extra money on the hardware? Why not just buy the plugin and an interface? After all, Helix Native is only USD $399.99 when purchased as a standalone product, compared to USD $1,699.99 for the Helix Floor, or USD $699.99 for the HX Stomp.

Latency Can Be a Problem

To play or record guitar through Helix Native without experiencing latency issues, you need a powerful computer that can simultaneously handle the live monitoring and processing of data received from an audio interface set to a small buffer size. The more complex your project, the greater your risk of experiencing CPU overload errors that yield audible pops and glitches.

SEE ALSO: How I Record Electric Guitars Without an Amp

By comparison, when you monitor via a hardware Helix unit, the device itself handles all of the processing — not your computer. Monitoring latency is effectively zero when you play or record through a Helix Floor or HX Stomp. This means you can record on lower end computers without experiencing any significant hiccups.

There’s No Effects Loop Block

With a hardware Helix product, you can drop in additional hardware pedals anywhere in your signal chain via the effects loop block. Say, for instance, you don’t like any of the Helix reverbs and want to use your Strymon BigSky after your cab block. With something like the Helix Floor or HX Stomp, you simply add the effects loop block after the cab block, and plug your BigSky into the appropriate ins and outs.

This is impossible with Helix Native. If you want to use an external pedal with Helix Native, this is your only signal chain option:

Guitar → Pedal → Audio Interface → Helix Native

While that’s fine for compression pedals, distortions, and other mono effects that are typically placed early in your chain, it’s much less desirable for time-based effects and reverbs.

It’s Less Reliable for Live Use

If you perform music live, you probably don’t want to rely on a plugin. It can be done, of course, and is indeed done on the regular. But every point of failure you add to your live setup increases your risk of losing sound mid-show. Forget to turn off scheduled updates on your laptop before the gig, for instance? Better hope Windows doesn’t decide to push a crucial update halfway into your set! When it comes to live shows, a hardware unit like the Helix Floor will always be more portable, stable, and reliable.

Benefits of Using Helix Native with Helix Hardware

Helix Native’s interface is almost identical to that of Helix Edit — the software used to create patches on hardware Helix units.

So, if you end up spending the extra cash on a hardware unit like the Helix Floor, why would you even buy Helix Native? One thing Line 6 doesn’t emphasize (but probably should) is that Native is the perfect companion piece for anyone interested in recording with Helix hardware.

Seamlessly Correct Recording Mistakes

If you record your processed signal from a Helix Floor or HX Stomp, fixing small mistakes can be tricky. Say, for instance, you’re using an effects-heavy patch with intense shimmer reverb. If you try to fix a mistake using punch in points, your audio will sound a little glitchy, as the reverb tails will differ slightly between both takes. A savvy listener will know instantly that you fixed a flub, and it just won’t sound as good as a flawless single take.

Here’s where Native shines. Use your hardware Helix unit to monitor with zero latency, and record only your dry signal in your DAW — not your processed signal. Then, export your .HLX preset file to your computer and load it into a single instance of Native on your dry signal track. When you play back the dry track with Native active, it will sound identical to the patch in your hardware unit. Any fixes you need to drop in after the fact won’t have any audible glitches or artifacts, as Native processes all audio files on the track as a single performance — it doesn’t process them separately.

Tweak Patches Without Re-Recording Anything

Picture it: you spent hours dialing in a patch on your Helix Floor. After several dozen takes, you finally record a take you’re happy with. Then, after bringing other instruments and effects into the mix, you realize that your patch isn’t sounding all that great in context.

After trying to fix things in your DAW and getting nowhere, you decide your best option is to dial the gain back on your amp sim and use a different cab. To do that, you need to tweak your patch on your Helix Floor and re-record your entire performance from scratch. If you also recorded video along with the original performance, that has to be redone as well. Sounds irritating, right? That’s because it is. Been there, done that.

Now imagine that you’ve used your Helix Floor to record your dry signal only, rather than your processed signal. You load your Floor patch into Helix Native and decide, after listening to the recording in the context of a full mix, that you need to make some changes to your patch. No need to re-record any audio or video — simply tweak the patch in Native. Done. This is game-changing for your workflow. It’s a lot like reamping, just more efficient and user-friendly.

Circumvent Hardware Limitations

The various hardware iterations of Line 6’s Helix technology are powerful, but they’re not as powerful as your computer. Like most digital modelers, Helix hardware units use digital signal processors (DSP) to execute the instructions that translate your patches into audio. Cheaper versions of the hardware, like the HX Stomp, have less available DSP, which limits the number and type of effects you can add to your signal chain.

Since Helix Native uses your computer’s CPU to process your signal chain, DSP limits aren’t a concern. Simply turn off the hardware compatibility setting within Native, and add as many elements to a patch as needed. How might this benefit a hardware Helix user, you ask?

Say, for instance, you’re like me. You’re into home recording, but you couldn’t justify shelling out big bucks for a Helix Floor. You purchase the HX Stomp instead, but find yourself limited by the Stomp’s pathing options and the number of effects blocks you can use.

Easy way to resolve the HX Stomp’s limitations while recording? Make a “scratch patch” in your Stomp for tracking purposes that sounds close to your ideal patch for that song. Record your dry signal, add an instance of Native to your audio track, and import the scratch patch. Turn off the hardware compatibility setting in Native, and then tweak the patch further in Native to get the ideal tone you had in mind. It’s like having a Helix Floor for a fraction of the cost!

Conclusion

Helix Native is the perfect companion piece for anyone recording guitar and bass with the Helix Floor, or other hardware Helix units. It is so perfect, in fact, that it has completely dissuaded me from trying out products released by any of Line 6’s competitors. If you own a Helix product and record with it, seriously consider picking up Helix Native; trust me in that it will transform your workflow for the better and increase your enjoyment of Helix products in general.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Line 6 or Yamaha, and do not make any commissions if you purchase Helix Native or any other Helix product.


Endnotes

  1. In the past, Line 6 has also offered Helix Native (and Cubase Elements) for free with any hardware Helix purchase. While there’s no guarantee that this bundle will ever return, do keep an eye out for it, as it’s an incredible deal. ↩︎

Questions?

Do you have a question about the subject matter of this blog post that I didn’t answer above? Feel free to leave a public comment on my YouTube channel by clicking on the button below, and I’ll get back to you there as soon as I can.

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