The Line 6 HX Effects is a multi-effects unit that’s like having a smaller version of the company’s Helix processor, but without the amp-and-cabinet modeling features. For those who’ve admired Helix but found its price too high, HX Effects offers much of the same power at a much lower price. And although designed primarily with guitarists and bassists in mind, it can also be used by keyboard players who want an external effects unit.
In fact, the solidly built HX Effects is small enough to fit on a medium-to-large-sized pedal-board and still leave room for other pedals. It’s got everything you’d want connection-wise, including 1/4” jacks that allow for mono, stereo, or mono-in/stereo-out operation. The I/O handles instrument-level signals by default, but it can be switched to line level. You also get two 1/4” Send and Return jacks, which can be used either as independent mono effects loops or a stereo one (see Fig. 1).
You can connect HX Effects into the effects loop of an amp or patch your other pedals into HX Effects through its Send and Return jacks. Naturally, you also have the option to connect HX Effects serially with your other pedals.
The unit has two expression pedal inputs—one for volume and one for wah. The USB port can be connected to your computer to use the free HX Edit application. (At the time of writing, HX Edit was only a librarian for HX Effects and didn’t offer editing functionality. A firmware and software update addressing these and other issues was made available as we went to press;) But unlike the Helix, HX Effects doesn’t function as a USB audio interface.
HX Effects includes MIDI I/O, and you can send a variety of MIDI messages from the unit including Control Change, Program Change and Note On/Off, among others. You can use the MIDI section to control other devices, receive commands from external controllers, setup amp switching and more. If you want to get into the MIDI weeds, HX Effects will let you go quite deep.
FEET AND FINGERS
The unit has six footswitches for turning on and off effects, and six corresponding effects slots. You can actually have up to nine effects active in a Preset because more than one effect can be assigned to a footswitch, and you can also assign effects (volume or wah) to the expression pedals. The Signal Flow window gives you a great deal of control and even lets you split the effects into parallel paths.
Each footswitch has a colored ring underneath it that glows brightly when the effect is on, and more dimly when it’s off. In addition to adding color to the unit, it’s a smart design that lets you quickly see the status of the effects at a glance.
Two additional footswitches, Mode and Tap, let you switch between several operating modes (Stomp mode, Preset mode, Snapshot mode and Bank mode), each of which organizes and presents the effects differently.
The one you’ll probably choose most often is Stomp Mode, which lets you operate HX Effects similarly to an actual pedalboard. You turn the effects on and off with your feet and reach down and tweak knobs to change parameters.
Each switch has an LCD display above it that Line 6 refers to as a Scribble Strip, which shows not only the name of the selected effect, but also three parameters that you can edit with corresponding physical knobs (labeled 1, 2, and 3) at the top of the unit. Most effects have additional parameters besides the initially visible three, which are accessed by pushing physical arrow buttons that switch to a second group of parameters.
Changing effects assignments is easy in Stomp mode. Press one of the footswitches to make an effect active, and then press and turn a larger control called the Big Knob to switch between effects within a category. A combination of the arrow keys and the Big Knob let you access any effect in any category, including stereo and mono versions.
Another option for editing parameters requires that you lightly touch the footswitch corresponding to the effect you want to edit. That makes the display show you all the parameters for that effect, spread out over two or three Scribble Strips. You can cycle between them by lightly touching the switch under the parameters you want to edit. Although you’re using the footswitches for this type of control, it’s meant to be done with your hands, something that took me several minutes of fruitless attempts with my feet to discover.
There is a way to edit using foot control called Pedal Edit Mode. You activate it by holding down the Mode button for two seconds, after which you see each effect in the selected preset listed in a different Scribble Strip. You step on the switch for the one you want to edit, and it presents you with editable parameters in each of the top three Scribble Strips, with others available using the arrow keys. Two of the switches become Value+ and Value- buttons that change the selected parameter either with single pushes that trigger individual increments or decrements or by holding down the switch which causes the value to change continuously.
Other operation modes include Preset mode and Bank mode which let you switch between Presets, rather than individual effects, and jump between groups of Presets or Banks. Getting from Preset or Bank mode into Stomp mode is simply a matter of pressing the Mode button.
Another option, Snapshot mode, is quite compelling. It allows you to save a single preset in four different states, and switch between them by stepping on a corresponding footswitch.
The effects in HX Effects include all of those from Helix plus selected ones from various Line 6 stompboxes and processors including the DL4, DM4, MM4, FM4, M13, M9 and M5. The selection is huge—reverb, compression, distortion, delay, modulation, filter, wah, EQ; you name it. Virtually any guitar effect you could think of is included.
As you would expect of a Line 6 device, the effects are of very high quality. I was particularly impressed with the reverbs, delays, modulation and pitch effects. I also found the tube distortion effects to be quite authentic, considering they’re digital. HX Effects even offers true bypass circuitry.
A reasonably well-featured Looper is also onboard, offering up to 60 seconds in mono or 30 seconds in stereo of total looping time. Options include half-speed and reverse playback, undo, loop-volume settings, and filtering.
TAP AND TUNE
Holding down the Tap/Tuner switch for two seconds brings up the built-in chromatic Tuner, which goes across three Scribble Strips and seems quite stable. As you’d expect, turning on the Tuner mutes the output.
The Tap Tempo feature isn’t quite as straightforward. You have to go into the parameters of the time-based effect you’re looking to control with Tap Tempo and change the time setting from milliseconds to note values. Otherwise, the Tap Tempo footswitch is inactive for that effect. It seems to me that time-based effects should default with the Tap Tempo active, rather than making you dig into menus to turn it on.
Because HX Effects doesn’t offer amp and cabinet models like the Helix units do, it’s less suitable as a DI recording processor or for amp-less live performance. However, it does let you load Impulse Response (IR) files and place them in the signal path if you want cabinet emulations. For amp tone, you can get by with one of the distortion effects.
You load IRs through the HX Edit software. As soon as you drag IR files into it, they load in the unit’s memory in real time. HX Effects doesn’t come with any IRs, but you can find plenty online, including many free ones.
You can also use HX Edit for importing and exporting Presets from the hardware unit to your computer for backup. When you’re connected through USB and have HX Edit open, the Preset list you see on screen represents what’s in your device. Any changes to order or name that you make in the software are immediately reflected in the device.
Because HX Effects’ architecture is somewhat different from Helix (particularly in the number of simultaneous effects), you can’t interchange HX Effects patches with those of Helix devices or the Helix Native plug-in.
HX Effects is an amazingly flexible and deep unit that you can incorporate easily into your existing rig or use as the centerpiece of a new configuration. Even alone, it would make for a potent pedalboard. And thanks to its stereo I/O, you could also use it as a multi-effects processor in your DAW through a hardware insert.
Although not as fully featured as Helix, its price is considerably lower. If you can get by without the amp modeling, HX Effects is a compelling alternative.
HX Effects Firmware Update
As this review was going to press, Line 6 released two important updates for HX Effects and its editing software (though I was unable to test either of them at the time). The HX Effects 2.6 firmware update adds a 1 Switch Looper mode that lets you loop without leaving Stomp mode. Additionally, the firmware update, in conjunction with the version 2.6 update of the HX Edit software, promises to provide full editing capabilities over HX Effects presets. If you plan to purchase an HX Effects unit, or if you already have one, check to see if you have the current firmware installed: If not, head over the Line6.com and bring the device up to date to get the most from this powerful effects processor.
Contains all the Helix effects except amp/cabinet models. Supports IRs. Comprehensive I/O. Looper. MIDI. Fits on medium to large pedalboards. Free librarian software.
Lack of amp/cabinet models limits use for DI recording. Tap tempo not active in default effects settings.
Mike Levine is a composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist from the New York area, and is the Technical Editor—Studio for Mix. Check out his website at michaelwilliamlevine.com.