Review: Line 6 Firehawk FX and FX Remote

Now that smartphones and handheld devices are commonplace for generating amp and effects sounds, recording, and livesound mixing, it’s logical that a forward-thinking company like Line 6 would come up with Firehawk FX, a rugged, all-metal floor processor that is controllable with phones and iPads, and can double as a stage rig and a recording interface for Mac, PC, and iPad.
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Now that smartphones and handheld devices are commonplace for generating amp and effects sounds, recording, and livesound mixing, it’s logical that a forward-thinking company like Line 6 would come up with Firehawk FX, a rugged, all-metal floor processor that is controllable with phones and iPads, and can double as a stage rig and a recording interface for Mac, PC, and iPad. Firehawk FX comes loaded with over 100 amp models in categories that include American, British, boutique, vintage, and “original,” and in gain ranges that cover clean to über distortion. You also get 24 speaker cabinets and 120 effects—a list that includes many boutique and classic/vintage models, which are presented in a dizzying assortment of distortion, delay, filter, modulation, pitch-shift, reverb, and synth flavors. Many of the models are HD too.

Firehawk FX interfaces with mobile devices (iOS and Android) using the free Firehawk Remote app, and the benefits are multifold: Wireless control and editing of every aspect of Firehawk FX. The ability to create, download, and share tones with the Line 6 online community. Access to a massive library of tones via the Cloud. You can also jam to songs in your mobile device’s music library using wireless playback though Firehawk FX. On that subject, it’s worth noting that you can assign the Firehawk’s XLR outs to carry the stereo playback, while your guitar tone is sent independently through the 1/4" outs to an amplifier.

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Like a pedalboard, all the sounds—including 128 preset factory presets—are accessible via footswitches. On the top row are the FX switches (labeled FS1-FS5), which, among other things, can be used to turn on/off the five FX blocks (Stomp, Modulation, Synth, Delay, Reverb, and FX Loop). When you press any of these buttons, the assigned block description and on/off state are visible momentarily in the LCD display. Additionally, the Firehawk Remote app allows you to create and edit all of the FS1-FS5 footswitch assignments.

A second row of four preset footswitches works in tandem with a pair of Bank Up/Down buttons to access the factory presets. Press any Preset button and you’ll find 32 selections to choose from, all of which can be adjusted on the fly with a set of knobs that include Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Reverb, Master Volume, and an FX knob that tweaks an assigned effects parameter within each preset. A Tap switch is always available for adjusting delay times and modulation rates, and it also activates the onboard tuner when you press and hold it for a few seconds. Other features include a USB output for direct recording, and an I/O complement that includes standard and Variax guitar inputs; 1/4" and XLR balanced outputs, and an effects loop. (Note that outboard effects patched into the loop can also be incorporated into your custom presets.

The built-in rocker defaults as a volume pedal, but, courtesy of Firehawk Remote, you can assign it to be a wah, or a “tweak” pedal for making on-the-fly parameter adjustments, such as increasing the level of a certain effect or the gain of an amp. Wah and “tweak” functions can also be assigned to an optional external pedal if you so desire. If you’re a Variax guitar user you can save your settings along with the Firehawk presets—including instrument models, tone knob settings, pickup settings and even alternate tunings—and edit them using the app. Firehawk FX also powers Variax but note that while the unit works with all Variax instruments, it only supports alternate tunings and pickup settings on the Standard and James Tyler models—a limitation of older Variax guitars, not Firehawk FX.

I was interested to see how I could use Firehawk FX in place of my modestly populated Trailer Trash pedalboard, so after downloading the Firehawk Remote app on my iPhone and establishing a Bluetooth connection between it and Firehawk FX, I started auditioning the onboard effects, adjusting the sounds, and assigning them to the footswitches—which illuminate in a variety of colors for easy identification. Even with the small display on my phone, the interface was easy to navigate. Just touch the icon for the amp or effect category you want and then scroll through the choices. Starting with the “Stomp” section, I could pick from Drives & Dynamics, Mods, Delays, and another called “Filters, Synth, and Pitch.” Touching any of these “buttons” displays all the effects. For instance, for a distortion pedals I could pick from Jumbo Fuzz, Color Drive, Facial Fuzz, Fuzz Pi, Screamer HD, Tube Drive—and that’s just a few of the 29 available. Similarly, Mod holds another 23 selections, many of which are models of classic chorus, phase, flange, rotary, and tremolo pedals. The Delay section presents another 15 models of analog, tape, digital, reverse, and stereo effects. Reverb follows suit with 26 selections in spring, plate, room, hall, and various other reflection types. It takes time to explore such a trove of effects, but it’s fun to set them up, move ’em around to see what order sounds best, and create multi-pedal chains that can be activated with the press of a switch. Adjusting tones, mix levels, delay times, mod rates, etc., is also bone simple thanks to the app’s slider-style controls.

After configuring Firehawk FX with Tube Drive, Facial Fuzz, tremolo, U-Vibe, Jet Flanger, Tube Echo, and 63 Spring models, I set about playing it though guitar amps that included a Kendrick 4210, Fender Deluxe Reverb, and a Marshall Silver Jubilee reissue; the latter two available in modeled form as “Blackface ’Lux“ (normal and vibrato versions, both in HD) and “1987 Brit Silver J.” Most of the amps come equipped with Drive, Bass, Mid, Treble, Presence, Volume, Master controls, along with Sag, Hum, Bias, and Bias Excursion sliders. The latter give you a lot of control over the dynamic feel, and, yes, you can even adjust hum level for more tube-amp realism.

The models sound very good overall, and even through headphones it’s easy to lose track of time just messing around with all the amplifier and speaker combinations. Ditto when you get into the effects, and the ones I chose were pretty satisfying. The distortion and fuzz models delivered kudos-worthy tone and feel, the delay and reverb admirably replicated the depth, dimension, and warmth that are hallmarks of tape echo and spring ’verb, and the modulation effects added lots of texture and vibe. In the quest to obtain the best possible sounds from the models, Line 6 has optimized Firehawk FX to drive Full Range, Flat Response (FRFR) systems—like its own Stage-Source series speakers—and this would probably be the way to go if you favor a big stereo presentation onstage. The XLR outs also facilitate driving straight into a mixing console as well, greatly expanding the options for amplifying this rig.

For players who like the straightforward operation and inherent flexibility that a board stocked with pedals provides, Firehawk FX gives you that while also providing a mind-blowing array of options when used with the Remote app. As with every modeling device from Line 6, this thing is deep, but its technophobe-friendly interface makes it a lot easier to use than most multi-effect floor boards, and that’s reason enough to give it an Editors’ Pick Award.

MODEL

FIREHAWK FX

Contact line6.com
Price $449 street; Firehawk Remote app is free

SPECIFICATIONS

FACTORY PRESETS 128
SOUNDS 29 HD amp models, 25 HD effects models, 78 POD Farm Amp models, 95 POD Farm Effects models, and 24 POD Farm guitar cabinet models.
I/O 1/4" input, VDI (Variax) and expression pedal inputs, stereo balanced XLR main outs, stereo 1/4" amp/line outs, 1/4" TRS headphone out. USB for recording to Mac/PC/iPad (via camera connection kit)
STOMP BUTTONS Five effects on/off switches, channel and bank footswitches—all with color-coded LED rings. Tap tempo button.
EXTRAS Stereo FX Loop with stomp/line level switch. Detailed editing via Bluetooth Remote app for Android and iOS. Live Edit mode for onboard tone editing without the app. Single-switch looper. Built-in volume/wah pedal. Assignable FX Knob. Expression Pedal Input. Bluetooth Audio Streaming.
POWER 9-volt power supply (included)
KUDOS Extensive list of amps and effects. Knob-based interface. Stout construction. Easy to select models, adjust parameters, and assign to footswitches via the Remote app. Live Edit mode lets you tweak sounds extensively even without the app.
CONCERNS More of an annoyance really, but re-booting of my iOS device was occasionally necessary to establish Bluetooth connection.

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