BLIND COMPARO IS THE BESTO!!!!!!!!! EVEN WHEN THEY MAKE NO SENSE!! Helix vs Synergy

Boudoir Guitar

Shredder
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Clickbate audio file is at bottom, but this post will be mostly about how I'm integrating these two things.

The Helix Rack/Control is the hub of my audio workstation/guitar rig at the moment. I have added a Synergy Syn1 loaded with the Synergy BMAN module, and its really fantastic in so many ways: (1) build quality; (2) well thought out design, implementation, input/output, etc.; (3) Sound. I've really been blown away by it more than I imagined. I have also been REALLY pleased with how easily and unobtrusively it integrates into the Helix setup.

My personal goals are for a somewhat limited integration of the two, not a complete "I could just sub in the Synergy module as an amp block anywhere I want". In particular, my goal is for, when I'm using the Synergy module, to have everything leading from guitar up to the input of the Synergy to be a pedal that is either analog or has analog dry-thru. End goal will be pure analog, but will take a little bit of time to get there. I want the output of the Synergy to then enter into Helix land, where I can add post effects, possibly speaker cab simulation, and then route the signal either to my monitors or out to an appropriate power amp/guitar cab. Also part of the integration goal is to have my guitar rig...whether I'm using synergy, or just Helix alone, to always start with me grabbing a cable, plugging it into my guitar, and flipping the master Guitar Rig Power Switch...i.e., no re-patching anything. Guitar always plugs into the same thing, everything always powers on together, etc. I'm almost there.

I set up my master Helix template for use with the Synergy to include, in order, a Helix amp block, a Return 1 block, any post effects I want after those blocks, finally a split with one side of the split going to Helix Out 2 and the other side including a speaker cab block and going to main Helix output.

-- regardless of whether I'm using Helix amp or Synergy, I choose which side of the split to send the signal down depending on whether I want to be going out to power amps, or out to my main monitors/DAW, etc.

-- If I want to use the Helix amp block, I put the Synergy module in bypass mode, engage the amp block, and bypass the "return 1" block.

-- If I want to use the Synergy module, I bypass the Helix amp block, engage the Return 1 block, and take the Synergy out of bypass mode. Worst case scenario in switching all of these is I'm either passing signal straight through Helix with no amp block, or everything goes silent - no worries about two amps in series creating a howling feedback mess.

-- I CAN put pre effects in front of the Helix amp block, and those will be accessible when using the Helix amp block; they will not be accessible when using the Synergy module.

-- I DO run pedals in front of the Synergy module. These are available for use regardless of whether I'm using the Synergy amp module or using the Helix amp block. If using the Helix amp block, the pedals will come in front of anything in the Helix signal path.

To accomplish this, I implement a modified version of the Synergy 4CM that is designed to allow the Synergy module to be used as an additional channel of a tube amp having an effects loop -- it becomes a 3CM in this scenario. Signal path is as follows:

Guitar -> pedals -> Synergy Input jack (first of the three cables); The "TO AMP IN" jack on the back of the Synergy is then patched directly to the Helix Guitar in (the second of the three cables) -- when the Synergy is in bypass mode, this acts as a tube buffered bypass, sending whatever signal hits the Synergy input and passing it through at unity gain, but buffered by one of the two gain stages in the 12ax7 tube that is fixed in the Syn1 dock. This jack only passes signal when the Synergy is in bypass mode; Then the "TO AMP FX RETURN" jack on the back of the synergy goes to "Return 1" on the Helix (third cable). This only passes signal when the Synergy is out of bypass state.

I haven't quite done the work to figure out how to use the Helix CV jack to control the Synergy (bypass state and channel select of the active module are accessible by foot switch jack and so should be controllable by the Helix). Once I get that setup, I can have one foot switch on the Helix control that toggles the bypass state of the Helix amp block, the bypass state of the Helix Return 1 block, and the bypass mode of the Synergy unit (and then a second foot switch that can select channel on the Synergy unit).

On to the tones -- the clip below has the Tweed Blues Nrm Helix amp, and I'm using the blue (cleaner) channel of the BMAN module in the Synergy. The cab sim is a cab block in the Helix (I think I did a dual cab with one being the 4x10 bassman with a condenser of some sort and the other being the Matchless G25 2x12 with a ribbon of some sort? And there is a Helix room reverb, too. Knobs on each are not set 1:1 exact, but they aren't too far off. I only adjusted tone stack/drive knobs on the Helix amp block, keeping master at 10 since its a NMV amp. The bright switch on the BMAN is at its neutral position, and the "T" (bass) switch is in the up position, which I found to be much closer to the Helix amp. They aren't exact, but given that one is a digital model of a tweed bassman that Line 6 owns and the Synergy is a tube preamp only voiced to try to sound like...a...bassman? I was really surprised how close they actually are. Which could point to "wtf are you running the Synergy for, then?!? Why not just save cash and keep things simpler." But...knobs are good. The Helix is a great interface, a wonderful signal router, and a fantastic controller for everything. Also pretty great for post effects that don't get tweaked much. But having drive/fuzz pedals, delays and reverbs that are going in front of an amp, and the amp itself, all have knobs available is a much better experience.

Big thx to @Elric for being a sounding board as I was working through getting this system up and running.

 
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Two Future updates to the rig:

The very next step I plan to take is to route the "TO AMP IN" jack and route it to the back panel input on the Helix. The one downside of going through the Synergy first is that it is a buffered bypass device - tube buffered, but buffered none the less. That means that variable input impedance is not available on the Helix when routed the way I have it above.

However, the front panel input on the Helix over-rides the back panel input, so I can more cleaning connect the Synergy to the Helix using the back panel input AND then still have the front panel guitar in that I can plug a guitar straight into (without disconnecting anything else) and be back to having variable input impedance in the Helix available.

The next will be to add a second Samson Servo 120a power amp to give me four power amp channels available to drive four cabs (so each channel of each amp will be connected to its own cab). I have a Mackie Big Knob passive monitor controller sitting around unused. I will take output 2 from Helix and route it as a stereo input into the Big Knob. Stereo Output 1 of the Big Knob will feed one of the stereo power amps, and Stereo Output 2 of the Big Knob will feed the other. By routing the Helix path in the stereo field properly, and selecting the right output from the Big Knob, I can then have access to any 1 or 2 of 4 different cabs without having to rematch any cables.
 
I set up my master Helix template for use with the Synergy to include, in order, a Helix amp block, a Return 1 block, any post effects I want after those blocks, finally a split with one side of the split going to Helix Out 2 and the other side including a speaker cab block and going to main Helix output.
Does having the amp block in the preset in deactivated mode have any influence on the signal compared to a preset without an amp block?
 
Does having the amp block in the preset in deactivated mode have any influence on the signal compared to a preset without an amp block?
I can’t imagine it would? I didn’t do critical comparison, but off hand didn’t notice any difference when I was setting up test patches.
 
Does having the amp block in the preset in deactivated mode have any influence on the signal compared to a preset without an amp block?
I would be more concerned about the fact that this setup still feeds any noise present at guitar input into the signal. Maybe instead of bypassing the amp block I should slam the channel volume to 0?
 
I think your second post touches on/possibly answers my question. I read it afterwards. If I understand correctly(which is just a maybe currently)the Synergy will be coming into the back of the Helix Rack(instead of the front)at the in and not as a loop insert, and is after the amp block in the Helix which is either active or not depending on whether the synergy is doing its preamp thing or not.
 
I think your second post touches on/possibly answers my question. I read it afterwards. If I understand correctly(which is just a maybe currently)the Synergy will be coming into the back of the Helix Rack(instead of the front)at the in and not as a loop insert, and is after the amp block in the Helix which is either active or not depending on whether the synergy is doing its preamp thing or not.
Yes, the Synergy comes in at Return 1. The cleanest option would be changing the Input block source to Return 1, if that is doable via command center, or to turn its gate on or whatever. But honestly, I'm really not concerned about what little noise might be coming in from Helix input...its going to be less than 1 percent of the noise coming from the input of the Synergy.
 
I think your second post touches on/possibly answers my question. I read it afterwards. If I understand correctly(which is just a maybe currently)the Synergy will be coming into the back of the Helix Rack(instead of the front)at the in and not as a loop insert, and is after the amp block in the Helix which is either active or not depending on whether the synergy is doing its preamp thing or not.
I can solve this by simply setting mix to 100% in the return 1 block, which sets it to 100% of signal from jack and 0% of dry signal feeding into the block from the Helix signal path.
 
Controlling Synergy from Helix is bone simple. TRS cable from Ext Amp Jack on back of helix to footswitch Jack on back of synergy. Tip handles bypass (that’s what she said) and ring handles channel select.
 
Listening to your clip, the two source tones are amazingly close. I feel that I prefer the second of each example phrase, though. Mind you, nobody would detect any difference in a mix with other instruments.
Same for me. The second sample in each has a bit more high-frequency sparkle and clarity. But these differences are down to things that could probably be dialed in or out on either platform, and both sound good IMO.
 
Same for me. The second sample in each has a bit more high-frequency sparkle and clarity. But these differences are down to things that could probably be dialed in or out on either platform, and both sound good IMO.
Eh, I don’t think the differences can be dialed in/out. Tweaks one way or another make up for one thing but highlight other deficiencies/differences.

While it’s not too hard for me to tell which is which I’m this kind of clinical A/B setting, in real world playing, if I set the rig up and play for long enough to forget which amp device I’m using, I don’t have much better than a 50/50 ability to pick which I’m playing through.
 
Clickbate audio file is at bottom, but this post will be mostly about how I'm integrating these two things.

The Helix Rack/Control is the hub of my audio workstation/guitar rig at the moment. I have added a Synergy Syn1 loaded with the Synergy BMAN module, and its really fantastic in so many ways: (1) build quality; (2) well thought out design, implementation, input/output, etc.; (3) Sound. I've really been blown away by it more than I imagined. I have also been REALLY pleased with how easily and unobtrusively it integrates into the Helix setup.

My personal goals are for a somewhat limited integration of the two, not a complete "I could just sub in the Synergy module as an amp block anywhere I want". In particular, my goal is for, when I'm using the Synergy module, to have everything leading from guitar up to the input of the Synergy to be a pedal that is either analog or has analog dry-thru. End goal will be pure analog, but will take a little bit of time to get there. I want the output of the Synergy to then enter into Helix land, where I can add post effects, possibly speaker cab simulation, and then route the signal either to my monitors or out to an appropriate power amp/guitar cab. Also part of the integration goal is to have my guitar rig...whether I'm using synergy, or just Helix alone, to always start with me grabbing a cable, plugging it into my guitar, and flipping the master Guitar Rig Power Switch...i.e., no re-patching anything. Guitar always plugs into the same thing, everything always powers on together, etc. I'm almost there.

I set up my master Helix template for use with the Synergy to include, in order, a Helix amp block, a Return 1 block, any post effects I want after those blocks, finally a split with one side of the split going to Helix Out 2 and the other side including a speaker cab block and going to main Helix output.

-- regardless of whether I'm using Helix amp or Synergy, I choose which side of the split to send the signal down depending on whether I want to be going out to power amps, or out to my main monitors/DAW, etc.

-- If I want to use the Helix amp block, I put the Synergy module in bypass mode, engage the amp block, and bypass the "return 1" block.

-- If I want to use the Synergy module, I bypass the Helix amp block, engage the Return 1 block, and take the Synergy out of bypass mode. Worst case scenario in switching all of these is I'm either passing signal straight through Helix with no amp block, or everything goes silent - no worries about two amps in series creating a howling feedback mess.

-- I CAN put pre effects in front of the Helix amp block, and those will be accessible when using the Helix amp block; they will not be accessible when using the Synergy module.

-- I DO run pedals in front of the Synergy module. These are available for use regardless of whether I'm using the Synergy amp module or using the Helix amp block. If using the Helix amp block, the pedals will come in front of anything in the Helix signal path.

To accomplish this, I implement a modified version of the Synergy 4CM that is designed to allow the Synergy module to be used as an additional channel of a tube amp having an effects loop -- it becomes a 3CM in this scenario. Signal path is as follows:

Guitar -> pedals -> Synergy Input jack (first of the three cables); The "TO AMP IN" jack on the back of the Synergy is then patched directly to the Helix Guitar in (the second of the three cables) -- when the Synergy is in bypass mode, this acts as a tube buffered bypass, sending whatever signal hits the Synergy input and passing it through at unity gain, but buffered by one of the two gain stages in the 12ax7 tube that is fixed in the Syn1 dock. This jack only passes signal when the Synergy is in bypass mode; Then the "TO AMP FX RETURN" jack on the back of the synergy goes to "Return 1" on the Helix (third cable). This only passes signal when the Synergy is out of bypass state.

I haven't quite done the work to figure out how to use the Helix CV jack to control the Synergy (bypass state and channel select of the active module are accessible by foot switch jack and so should be controllable by the Helix). Once I get that setup, I can have one foot switch on the Helix control that toggles the bypass state of the Helix amp block, the bypass state of the Helix Return 1 block, and the bypass mode of the Synergy unit (and then a second foot switch that can select channel on the Synergy unit).

On to the tones -- the clip below has the Tweed Blues Nrm Helix amp, and I'm using the blue (cleaner) channel of the BMAN module in the Synergy. The cab sim is a cab block in the Helix (I think I did a dual cab with one being the 4x10 bassman with a condenser of some sort and the other being the Matchless G25 2x12 with a ribbon of some sort? And there is a Helix room reverb, too. Knobs on each are not set 1:1 exact, but they aren't too far off. I only adjusted tone stack/drive knobs on the Helix amp block, keeping master at 10 since its a NMV amp. The bright switch on the BMAN is at its neutral position, and the "T" (bass) switch is in the up position, which I found to be much closer to the Helix amp. They aren't exact, but given that one is a digital model of a tweed bassman that Line 6 owns and the Synergy is a tube preamp only voiced to try to sound like...a...bassman? I was really surprised how close they actually are. Which could point to "wtf are you running the Synergy for, then?!? Why not just save cash and keep things simpler." But...knobs are good. The Helix is a great interface, a wonderful signal router, and a fantastic controller for everything. Also pretty great for post effects that don't get tweaked much. But having drive/fuzz pedals, delays and reverbs that are going in front of an amp, and the amp itself, all have knobs available is a much better experience.

Big thx to @Elric for being a sounding board as I was working through getting this system up and running.



No idea which is which ... went straight to the audio file without reading past your first line ... sorry ;) Only difference I can tell is that the 2nd version of each was slightly but audibly louder ... which gives it a false sense of "more better" .... other than that ... if they were identically volume matched ..... I don't think - no I'm sure - anyone with 10 guesses would do no better than 50/50 ..... the answer to your Audio File Title ... "Does Technology Matter?" ... if you have current high quality well made and well supported digital [or analog] amp gear ... the answer is a definite No.

Fantastic tones and great comparison b.t.w :)

Ben
 
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Eh, I don’t think the differences can be dialed in/out. Tweaks one way or another make up for one thing but highlight other deficiencies/differences.

While it’s not too hard for me to tell which is which I’m this kind of clinical A/B setting, in real world playing, if I set the rig up and play for long enough to forget which amp device I’m using, I don’t have much better than a 50/50 ability to pick which I’m playing through.
I know the purpose was to highlight how it doesn't really matter which is which, but I'm curious which one really is the Helix :) I suspect it's the first clip, because that lack of high-frequency sparkle and detail seems to be the one thing that I can still pick out in some modelers. Fractal has it pretty well nailed IMO; it used to be more obvious in Helix until they added the additional oversampling, now it's pretty darn close too.
 
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:chef
 
Helix is the second in each pair. I hear differences in the distortion character, especially in the midrange/low midrange. There are also some held notes where you can hear significantly more crossover distortion, but those are t really represented here.

If I pushed the treble knob further on the Synergy, the difference in character of the midrange became even more pronounced and while the two sounded more similar in the high end the Synergy
Midrange, in close side-by-side comparison, started to sound a little
Cold and smaller,
 
Helix is the second in each pair. I hear differences in the distortion character, especially in the midrange/low midrange. There are also some held notes where you can hear significantly more crossover distortion, but those are t really represented here.

If I pushed the treble knob further on the Synergy, the difference in character of the midrange became even more pronounced and while the two sounded more similar in the high end the Synergy
Midrange, in close side-by-side comparison, started to sound a little
Cold and smaller,
Wow, was not expecting that. I think they both sound great, but that difference in sparkle used to be my trick for picking out the Helix. So much for that.

All of the the options we have nowadays are so good. There's never been a better time to be a guitarist.
 
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