It hit me suddenly and without warning. I looked down at the massive footprint of my pedalboard and felt silly. The behemoth didn’t fit on small stages without cheating me and my bandmates of personal space, and sound crews rolled their eyes whenever I dragged the thing into venues.
It turns out I didn’t need this mothership at all. All I required was a single utility player to cover multiple “glimmer” effects while I deployed my favorite analog pedals for the noisy stuff. Line 6’s HX Effects does the utility gig beautifully — albeit with a caveat or two — and it’s a brilliant first-responder for backline gigs and studio sessions.
PORTABLE POWER RANGER
Remember that caveat or two? While HX Effects is definitely a portable and powerful effects workstation, it still rocks a 10.5” x 7.5” footprint, and that’s a significant amount of space on the average pedalboard. It’s also a $599 investment, which can be tough for guitarists on a limited budget.
Caveats now behind us, HX Effects, when used as a standalone device, brings a ton of tonal armament to performances with minimal hassle. It can fit into the front pocket of guitar gig bags with ease. What’s more, I’ve stuffed it into briefcases, small backpacks and even computer bags, with enough room left over for instrument and power cables, other accessories and even a book for on-the-road reading.
Unlike the more full-featured Line 6 Helix ($1,499 street), HX Effects does not include onboard amp models, so it’s not a complete fly rig with all the trimmings. But if you’re provided a backline at your shows, you can pretty much sling a guitar case over your shoulder and walk onto an airplane or jump into a taxi with no concerns — except avoiding bad road food and nailing your performance. Travel-wise, I found the box road-tough enough to see action on American Ninja Warrior. It survived a couple of roadie tragedies — two hardshell guitar cases were dropped on its front panel, and it fell from the cargo area of my Mazda CX5 straight onto the street — with no busted knobs or other ill effects at all.
WHAT IT CAN DO
HX offers six effect footswitches surrounded by an illuminated base. Each ring is color coded to a specific effects type — a brilliant touch, by the way — and a scribble strip above each of the switches identifies the effect selected. HX Effects allows up to nine active effects in a single preset. There are two additional footswitches for mode selection (Stomp, Preset, Snapshot, Bank) and tap tempo/tuner.
The mode feature is an ingenious way to tailor HX Effects for different types of gigs. For maximum flexibility, Line 6 defines a preset as a preset, whether you’re in Stomp or Preset mode, but how the presets are displayed on the switches changes, and there are some procedural variations, as well. There’s an excellent video at line6.com/hx-effects/videos that explains all of this, but, being someone who appreciates tactical clarity, I decided to split the modes into two extremely butt-simple operations.
For basic rock gigs, I organized the Stomp mode presets solely as I would on a conventional pedalboard, with six “stomp boxes” at the ready, one for each of the HX effects’ on/off switches. Things can get complex in Stomp mode, as you can dive into multiple parameters, transmit MIDI messages, switch between several effects and so on, but I didn’t do that. (Yep, I abide by the Keep It Simple Stupid approach.)
Why not bail on HX Effects entirely and just use my conventional pedalboard? Good question, and here’s where I loved the flexibility of this box:
There are some occasions where I need a fair amount of textural complexity, so I used Preset mode as a “multiple effects turned on/off with a single switch” mode. For example, I could access a mammoth chorus riff using Scream 808, Red Comp and 10 Band Graphic, and then click to another “pedalboard” for a creamy and soaring lead tone with Tube Comp compression, Jumbo Fuzz, Tape Echo, Hall reverb, U-Vibe, UK Wah 846 and Volume Pedal. Even hipper, I could assign presets to Banks, use each Bank for a different song in a live set, and tailor dedicated pedalboards for the intros, verses, choruses, bridges, solos and outros of each song arrangement. Wow!
Whichever operational method is for you, all parameter tweaks are straightforward, as the options are visible on the scribble strip and controlled by physical knobs on the front panel. You can also change parameters with the footswitches by selecting Pedal Edit mode. Programming nerds should check out Snapshot mode, because it allows multiple effects changes within a song, gapless tone switching, continuous decays when changing patches and other goodies for the mad-scientist type of brain.
The HX’s onboard effects are taken from the flagship Helix, as well as other popular Line 6 devices such as the DL4 Delay Modeler, MM4 Modulation Modeler and M13 Stompbox Modeler. Here are my subjective takes on what inspired me or left me cold.
Distortion Models: I missed some impact and cut-through-the-band-mix articulation when running the distortion models through Vox AC30s and AC15s. As a result, I opted for my analog fuzz, distortion and boost stomp boxes when onstage. Happily, if your amp has send/return jacks, you can run your noise boxes into the amp’s front end and route the HX’s sparkly bits through your effects send.
Dynamics and EQ Models: LA Studio Comp is a gas for vintage-style fatness, and Red Squeeze is great for a colored crush with that old-school snap and pop on pick attacks. All of the EQ selections are musical.
Modulation Models: Everything here is delicious. I heard no glitches, artifacts, fuzziness or overly shrill tones, and the sounds sit very nicely in a band mix. My favorites were Ubiquitous Vibe, Analog Chorus, Dimension, Script Mod Phase and Harmonic Flngr.
Delay Models: Every delay sounds clean and devoid of audio gremlins. The super-fab vintage models seduced me from the get-go, and I fell in love with the less-than-transparent choices, such as the Echo Platter, Tape Echo and Cosmos Echo. There’s also a functional and fun 30-second (stereo) or 60-second (mono) looper onboard.
Reverb Models: These are pristine and dimensional. I tended to go for either a very tight spring-reverb model — to create some subtle space around notes — or a sexy chamber or hall mixed so far under the dry signal that it’s almost subliminal.
Filter/Pitch/Synth/Wah Models: When it comes to the sweetening stages of a studio project, I’m all over this often whack stuff to find little bits of sensational that can add interest to tracks. I’d usually go right down the menu options until something inspired a cool counterpoint line, or a cheesy atmospheric lick that would be right at home on a ’70s Hammer horror soundtrack.
HX Effects isn’t exactly a budget option for signal-processing zealots, but it delivers high-quality sound and the ability to bend and shape tone to your will. It’s also very portable, and if you need a lot of different effects for a fly gig, the HX is definitely the way to go. It’s as if Ant Man and the Wasp shrunk the entire pedal inventory of a big music store and dropped it into a box that can fit into a laptop case!
PRICE $599 street
TOTAL EFFECTS 100+
EFFECT TYPES Distortion, dynamics, modulation, EQ, delay, reverb, filter, wah, volume/pan
SWITCHING True analog bypass/selectable DSP bypass
INPUTS ¼” left/mono, ¼” right, ¼” return x 2
OUTPUTS ¼” left/mono, ¼” right, ¼” send x 2
EXTRAS MIDI In, Out/Thru, USB Type B, onboard looper and tuner; analog I/Os default to instrument level but can switch to line level
COMPATIBILITY iOs, Windows
WEIGHT 4.9 lbs
KUDOS Exceptional sounds. Huge menu of effects. Fast and easy parameter tweaking. Simple to use. Road rugged.
CONCERNS Too big for small- and medium-sized pedalboards. Not for limited budgets. May trigger option anxiety.