AX8 VS. Helix

Are you trying to decide between buying a Fractal Audio AX8 and a Line 6 Helix?  We sat down with both units, tested them thoroughly, then took them home and played with each one for about a month to figure out which one is the better buy.

The Helix currently retails for about $100 more than the AX8 (in the US), making both units natural competitors for your hard earned money.

For our in person comparison, we used a pair of Mackie monitors, as well as a Mesa Boogie 50/50 power amp, and a Mesa Boogie 4×12 cabinet loaded with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers.

Rigs at home varied from Matrix poweramps coupled with VHT cabinets, to using Marshall heads with Marshall cabinets, to a variety of powered monitors made by brands like Yamaha, KRK, Mackie, and more.

Guitars used were a Paul Reed Smith Custom 24 and 513, Mayones Duvell Elite, Schecter KM7 MKII, and a vintage Ibanez Jem 777SK.  At home, the guitars used varied a lot, from Suhr strats, Novo Sectis guitars, to all out metal machines like the Ibanez RG752 AHM.

Our editors play a variety of genres and one of them plays in an active cover band.  Meaning we have a good grasp of how these units work across different genres.  Both units were tested in live settings extensively.

Which Modeller Gets You Better Tone?

The modeling on the AX8 is the exact same as on the Axe FX II.  If you’ve ever played an Axe FX II, or heard one, then you can expect the exact same tones from the AX8 (more or less).  There are loads of demos on YouTube showcasing what Fractal’s technology is capable of, so there isn’t much of a point to talking about it here.

The Helix is a huge step up from the Pod HD series released a few years ago.  The models found on the Helix are all pretty good.  Line 6 seems to have put considerably more effort into their amp sims than they ever have before, and it shows in the final product.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the cab sims that come with the Helix.  While they aren’t bad per se, they aren’t comparable to those that come with the AX8.

This has always been a weak point for Line 6.  The HD series had great modelling, especially for the money, but the cab sims were not very good.  The inability of these earlier units to use third party impulse responses also meant that you were stuck using them.

The Helix however, is a different story…

You can finally use third party cabs with a Line 6 product!

This means that the weaker stock cabs are not a huge deal provided you’re OK with forking over some cash to RedWirez or OwnHammer.  There are plenty of free options available out there too of course.

After comparing a few of the amps using the same OwnHammer cab sims, we all felt that the AX8 was superior.  The Helix isn’t bad by any means, but it isn’t quite as nice as the Fractal unit is.

The main thing we noticed is that the models on the Line 6 didn’t behave as accurately as they do with the AX8.  This was most noticeable when running the units into a pair of Mackie monitors.  Using a Mesa 50/50 power amp and Mesa 412 loaded with V30s, the differences were less noticeable.  This leads us to believe that the power amp modelling found on the AX8 is what is responsible for the amp models behaving more accurately.

When comparing the quality of the effects found in each unit, we felt that the Fractal AX8 was the clear winner.  The Helix effects are good, but not exceptional.  There is a good reason that a lot of well known guitarists use Fractal units for effects only even when they are using a normal amp set up.

One last point to take into consideration is that the Helix can run more amps and effects at once than the Fractal unit.  If you’re someone that likes to use a ton of effects (and I mean a ton!), multi-amp setups, etc… then the AX8 may not be for you.

Is The Helix or AX8 Easier to Use?

Both units sport a simple, easy to use interface.  You don’t really need to bother reading the manual to figure out how to use each unit, although you probably should.

The winner here by a longshot is the Helix.  The screen large, which is a welcome change to the tiny screens we have become accustomed to finding on older modelling units.

Creating new signal chains and editing them is more straightforward on the Helix than the Fractal AX8 too, but the difference isn’t huge.

One of the cooler features on the Helix are the “scribble strips”, which are little customizable LCD screens above each button.


The victory in this battle goes to the Helix.  It has more options than the AX8.  The AX8 isn’t barebones by any means, but if you’re looking for something with more options, then you’re going to want to investigate the Helix.

Which Modeller is Built Better?

Both units are fairly rugged.  It would be hard to imagine smashing either one to pieces, and they don’t feel flimsy.  The AX8 does seem to be a bit sturdier, but it’s hard to really declare one unit the winner in this category.

Worth noting is that the Fractal units are made in the U.S.

AX8 or Helix?  Which One Should I Buy?

If you’re purely after the best tone and effects, then the AX8 is the modeller/FX unit for you.

If you want something with more I/Os that can be used across a wider variety of applications, then grab the Helix.

One other thing to take into consideration prior to making a purchase is that Fractal is always updating their products for free.  They add & improve their products on a regular basis, whereas Line 6 doesn’t really do that.  They have issued updates for the HD units in the past, but these weren’t that substantial.  There’s a very good chance that in 1 to 2 years, the Fractal AX8 could completely outpace the Helix if Line 6 doesn’t decide to go the Fractal route of constantly giving their customers free upgrades.

While Line 6 has been issuing updates for the Helix, it remains to be seen if these updates will be a constant thing over the product’s lifecycle or if they will only happen for the first little while like with the Pod HD series.

For now, only one of the two companies has a history of giving away important updates, and that’s Fractal.  Maybe the Helix unit will change that?

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