In the search for great guitar tone, amp modelers have had a huge wave of innovation and interest over the past decade. What used to be easily bucketed into “great sounding but expensive” or “cheap and fake” has quickly turned into dozens of options with a handful of heavy hitters in the amp modeling world holding the gold standard for guitar tone. Two of those companies are Line 6 & Kemper.
Unless you’ve been intentionally avoiding learning more about this hardware, you’ve probably heard about all of their recent advancements. What used to require computer processing with software like Line 6’s POD Farm can now do everything the software is capable of and more. With pedalboard-style modelers becoming more affordable and feature-packed, many guitarists are left wondering which option is best and why.
Let me dispel a few myths about each of them and tell you what you really need to understand about the Kemper vs Helix debate.
The Case for Kemper
Kemper has been one of the primary players in the modeling space for several years now and they’ve carved out their own audience through profiling – something unique to Kemper’s approach. If you’re not familiar with the profiling process, it’s a lot similar to creating your own impulse responses. You dial in a real amp, feed it into the Kemper, and a “profile” of that amp is instantly captured for recall.
This is useful for several reasons in the studio, not the least of which is being able to track guitars with consistency from session to session. Beyond that, profiles are widely available and there are communities of guitarists, producers & engineers all swapping their profiles online – making it easy to get the sound of thousands of dollars worth of amps without actually having to buy them.
There are also options available from professional profilers – individuals who actively seek out great tones and unique amps so they can profile them and sell those captures to you. It’s a great way to expand your tonal options without breaking the bank or having to seek out rare, hard-to-find equipment.
The Case for Helix
I’m going to start by saying this: Line 6 has been around for a long, long time and there have always been professionals divided on the usefulness of their products. The early days on POD hardware were a bit rough – it didn’t have the processing power that studio computers offered. With the Helix, this is no longer a concern.
Helix users can be found in every genre these days, using the latest Line 6 hardware that’s all but eliminated the POD Farm of the past. They’ve found the ease-of-use and flexibility of the Helix to support both complex routing/signal chains and sonically comparable to very well-known amps from manufacturers like Vox, Marshall, and Fender. Because these amps are modeled, Line 6 has a full research and development team constantly tweaking and improving the software behind the Helix – introducing new models and effects and updating existing ones.
If you’re still craving in-the-box control in the studio, the Helix excels here as well. Users have an excellent tone editing interface where they can come up with new signal chains in a drag-and-drop manner. They’ve also got the ability to easily access all of the menus and parameters in the Helix – something that’s not always convenient when working on a multi-effects unit.
If you’re someone who’s all about the boutique amps and hard to find tones, the Kemper is going to be your best bet. While the price tag is a bit high on both units compared to other pedalboard setups, you need to understand how much more you’re getting out of the unit that just some effects. Both are expandable, adding new tonal options all the time. With the Kemper, you get a bit more of a say in what those tones are going to be and where they’re coming from.
If, on the other hand, you’re someone who appreciates a selection of industry-standard amps that have been meticulously modeled, the Line 6 Helix is a very attractive option. It supports a huge bank of presets so you can dial in your favorite signal chains and store them. Need to make a slight tweak to an amp on the fly? The Helix will let you do it with ease, no matter if you’re in the studio or on the road.
Expanding Your Tonal Options
One of the benefits of either unit is their support of third party impulse responses. Using your favorite IR Pack like the Conquer All options we offer on the JST site, you can expand your tones and supplement your modeled or profiled amps with mix-ready IRs of great sounding cabinets recorded in a pro studio with industry-leading mics and preamps.
New to impulse responses? Check out our Quick Start Guide to Impulse Responses then join us in the JST VIP section of the site to get your Beastmode Bundle – two eBooks and a collection of our favorite IRs to use on your next production.