Updated: Feb 2, 2019
We now have the highly anticipated HX Stomp by Line 6 in our hands, and are really excited to be finally doing this review. For the record, this review is not sponsored and contains our unbiased opinions of the HX Stomp, which we pre-ordered and paid for in full.
This is an in depth review of the HX Stomp's build quality, features, user friendliness and its sounds. By the end of this review, you should be able to decide if the HX Stomp is a worthy investment for your needs. We hope you enjoy it.
UNBOXING AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The first thing that struck us was how small the HX Stomp really is. It is about the size of one of Strymon’s 3-switch pedals. We really like its footprint, which allows it to be a super compact all-in-one setup, or easily fit on your pedalboard to be part of a bigger rig. We also had the M9 before, but that was still heavy and bulky compared to the HX Stomp. The HX Stomp’s sparkly black glitter-painted enclosure is an interesting touch, but may not appeal to everybody. However, it is definitely subtle enough to visually appease most users.
The HX Stomp is small enough to easily join other pedals on a pedalboard
As with the rest of the Helix line, build quality is very good. Although not quite as good the original Helix, it is a step up from the LT and HX Effects. The full metal enclosure feels very solid and will surely stand up to the beatings of gigging life. The colored LCD screen has deep blacks and good contrast, giving the user a pleasant viewing experience. Its touch-sensitive capacitive foot switches also feel sturdy with no wobble and seem like they will last for a good number of years to come.
The HX Stomp has L/R Inputs, L/R Outputs (balanced or unbalanced), L/R Return/Aux In, ¼" Stereo Send, Headphones Out and USB Type B (the HX Stomp is also a multichannel high quality 24-bit/96kHz audio interface, we’ll touch more on this later). There is a ¼” Expression Pedal Input (with a split Y cable you can connect up to 2 expression pedals) that also allows you to plug in aux switches for additional footswitches.
Importantly, 5-pin MIDI IN and OUT are also present on the unit, giving you the ability to recall presets and control effects blocks with an external midi controller. Being so compact, the HX Stomp is inevitably limited in terms of controls. But this can be easily overcome with the multitude of connectivity options available.
We want to talk a little bit more about the L/R Send and Return inputs here. These act as an FX Loop and allow you to insert external pedals between specific blocks in your HX Stomp signal chain. This is powerful as you are not limited to chaining your other pedals with the HX Stomp as a whole, but you can decide where in the HX signal chain you would like to insert your external effects.
The HX Stomp accommodates up to 6 blocks. Blocks are objects that represent various elements in your signal chain. Think of them as individual effects pedals or amp heads/cabs. You can chain up to 6 of them together and save them as a preset. These blocks can be chained in series or parallel routing options. This is a huge advantage and is great for cleaner and more defined reverb/delay tones (you may google to learn the science behind this). You can also blend your guitar’s dry/clean signal with the effected signal when running in parallel.
Now we come to the most vital part of the review. If a product doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t matter how powerful, flexible or user friendly it is, we still would not use it. We ran the HX Stomp through 3 different setups (Studio Monitors, Tube Amp, Digital Amp) to see how it performs in each scenario. Guitar wise, we used a K-Line Truxton telecaster-style guitar (for single coils) and a Deviser Rosetta Vessel (for humbuckers). The HX Stomp handled both single coils and humbuckers well.
The HX Stomp through Adam A7x monitors in our studio
Setup 1: Studio Monitors
Signal Chain: K Line Truxton / Deviser Rosetta Vessel > Line 6 HX Stomp > Mackie Mixer (Flat EQ) > Adam A7x
First, to experience the true and accurate tones of the HX Stomp’s amp and cab simulators and not color them with an external amp circuit, we ran it through a pair of Adam A7x studio monitors. Initially we did not set the HX Stomp’s outputs to line level and it sounded terrible through the mixer and monitors. So this is something to take note of if you plan to play or record your HX Stomp direct into a mixer or PA, make sure you set the outputs to line level. Once we set the outputs to line level in the Global Settings menu, it sounded infinitely better.
Setup 2: Tube Amp
Signal Chain: K Line Truxton / Deviser Rosetta Vessel > Line 6 HX Stomp > Laney Cub 12
Next, switching the HX Stomps outputs to instrument level, we ran the HX Stomp through one of our favourite sub $400 bedroom tube amplifiers, the Laney Cub 12. It performed well, and did not take away from the nuances and sensitivity you get from a real tube amp. Delays and reverbs sounded warm, while boosts and compressors were able to push the tubes to that sweet point of just breaking up.
Setup 3: Digital Amp
Signal Chain: K Line Truxton / Deviser Rosetta Vessel > Line 6 HX Stomp > Yamaha THR10C
Finally, we tested the HX Stomp through the popular and well-regarded Yamaha THR10C to see how it would fare through an external digital amp modeller. We are happy to report that it sounded great too and did not alter the sound of the THR10C’s amp models. We also used the Yamaha’s built-in reverb to free up one block on the HX Stomp, and it sounded amazing. Now moving on to the HX Stomp’s blocks.
The HX Stomp comes loaded with with effects and modelling algorithms (called blocks) from the Helix guitar processor and legacy effects from their classic products (eg. DL4 and DM4) and the M-series processors. Blocks are neatly categorised (Distortion, Modulation, Delay, Reverb, Amps, Cabs and so on) and we had no problems browsing and finding what we wanted. We will now review the sound quality of some blocks from each category, going down the line, starting with Distortion.
Creating our first HX Stomp preset
This category is in our opinion, the least convincing amongst the HX Stomp’s effects. The hairiness of the ODs and fuzzes sound rather tight, and are not able to breathe as organically as analog or even some other overdrive/distortion emulations do. They do not break up and decay as naturally and as pleasingly to our ears. While they are useable (most audiences will not be able to tell the difference) and clean up pretty well with the guitar’s volume knob, they still sound relatively sterile and do not offer the same dynamism and connection to the player as some of our favourite pedals do. So for us, we would definitely use the HX Stomp in conjunction with other overdrive and distortion pedals if constraints allow. We tried the HX Stomp together with a variety of drive pedals including the J. Rockett Archer, Walrus Audio Red and fuzz mode on the Dr. Scientist BitQuest. We are pleased to report that it takes external pedals very well. Adding an analog drive to the chain takes the HX Stomp to the next level.
Compressors and noise gates are what you will find most in this category. During our testing, the compressors were a pleasure to use. The Deluxe Comp was our favourite of the lot and gave our tone that sweet boost and extra presence. Settings can be adjusted to give your tone just a gentle squeeze or an outright squashed sound. The compressors also helped to even out volume across different frequencies and allowed more sensitive, dynamic playing.
This section exceeded our expectations. Aside from the usual low, mid and high EQ options, there is also a Parametric and a 10-Band EQ block, allowing you to fine tune and precisely shape your tone to taste. Very impressive and definitely a very useful tool to have.
This category consists of Tremolo, Chorus, Phaser, Flanger and Ring Mod blocks. A wide palette of Tremolo flavours are available including optical, harmonic and beat chop. Phaser and Flanger blocks also will not disappoint. They sound smooth and can be adjusted to be subtle or more in-your-face.
This category is perhaps the most used by many guitarists out there. And we are happy to say that the HX Stomp delivers in buckets. From analog to digital, or simple to complex delays, there are plenty of options available. And they are easy to use too. Each block you select will offer you the same basic adjustable parameters such as Time Division (1/(1 to 64); each with straight, dotted or triplet options). Feedback, Mix and other parameters are easily adjustable, with the knobs clearly showing each knob’s function above on the LCD screen as you page up/down.
Apart from the classic Analog (modulatable chorus), Bucket Brigade, Digital and Tape types, there are also Ducked, Reverse and Swell types available to lend a unique edge to your delay tones. They all sounded pleasing to our ears, and different enough to justify each block’s existence.
Now what would the Helix line be without luscious, lingering, ethereal reverb. In this aspect, the HX stomp is great. The usual Room, Hall, Spring, Plate and Particle Verb are all present. And on top of that we have even more unique reverbs. Our top 2 picks of the lot are the Ganymede and Double Tank algorithms. The first offers a nice supporting pad-like texture and the second gives a deeper and richer tank reverb (sounds like it was passed through 2 reverb tanks). Absolutely beautiful. We are big fans of the Strymon BigSky Cloud reverb that in our opinion still can’t be beat. However, we are confident that with some tweaking on the HX Stomp, you won’t be missing your BigSky too much.
Now this category is great for experimentalist musicians who love creating evolving textures of varying pitch. But we can also see how it can be used musically when applied in small doses to make your songs stand out more. In our testing, the pitch shifter and synth generators all tracked well with the guitar playing with no perceptible latency. Our tip for this category is that you should dive deeper into the Legacy section where you will find more usable effects such as Octaver and Growler.
We are combining these 2 categories together in our review as they are very similar. The main difference is that the Wah blocks are set up to be used with an expression pedal. The filters sound great, and we were pretty convinced by the Fassel emulation too. These effects made us want to open our mouths when playing, and that’s always a good indicator of how good a wah/filter effect is.
We now come to the HX Stomp’s star category. This category is what makes the HX Stomp so much more powerful and in our opinion a more worthy investment than the HX Effects. Having a full array of amp and cab modellers together with effects in one box makes this a complete solution that you can take and play at any venue in the world. If you don’t have access to good guitar amps at a venue, you can definitely go line-in to the PA and still be assured of high quality amp tones. Let’s dive in.
Amp blocks are cleverly named, alluding to the originals that they emulate. Deluxe, Tweed, Matchstick, A30, Zed… you get the idea. In out testing, we are pleased to say that the amps were all very dynamic, responding to our variations in touch like a real tube amp would. While they may not replicate the same exact warmth of a real tube amp, they do very accurately recreate the characteristics of each amp they represent. We are confident that anyone would be hard pressed to tell the difference in a blind test with the tube amp mic-ed up and effects applied (let alone a non-musician audience). All we have to say for this section is, play around and have fun. You won’t be disappointed.
This is a simple one-switch looper that allows you to record, overdub, undo and stop. It is not the most intuitive and we initially had a hard time figuring out how to use it. We recommend that you refer to the user manual for this. It is not a fancy or powerful looper by any means, but it does fine for laying down ideas or for single track looping performances.
BUILT-IN AUDIO INTERFACE
The HX Stomp also has a built-in 24-bit/96Hz, low-latency audio interface for Mac, iOS and Windows. This allows you to record the HX Stomp’s audio via USB straight into your preferred digital audio workstation. Very convenient indeed. Other than for recording purposes, we expect this feature to be used widely by live players with Ableton Live and Mainstage rigs that are gradually gaining popularity.
The HX Stomp as a USB audio interface direct into Ableton Live
The HX Stomp has outstanding MIDI capabilities, and can be controlled via MIDI over USB or its traditional 5-pin MIDI DIN connectors. Do note that if you want to control the HX Stomp via MIDI over USB, you will need a USB Host to do so.
MIDI enables you to perform 3 main functions: Preset & Snapshot Recall, Block Bypass and Parameter Control.
Preset and Snapshot Recall
Program Change (PC) messages can be used to recall presets and Snapshots on the HX Stomp. In the preset selection view, you can conveniently view which PC or Control Change (CC) message will recall that currently selected preset.
There is also a MIDI PC Tx feature on the HX Stomp that allows it to transmit a MIDI PC message which corresponds to the selected preset. The means that if a certain Preset is selected on the HX Stomp, the HX Stomp will send a PC message via it’s MIDI OUT connector. This is great for when you need to change presets on other MIDI devices together with engaging a preset on the HX Stomp. This feature can be easily disabled if not required.
Block Bypass allows you to turn on and off the different blocks on the HX Stomp. CC values 0-63 will turn the block off, while 64-127 will turn the block on. You can assign any CC message (except those that are reserved for global functions) to control individual blocks on the HX Stomp. The HX Stomp uses a MIDI Learn system, and incoming CC message will be assigned to your selected block when in Learn mode. It is also possible to manually assign CC messages to each block.
The HX Stomp’s Midi implementation also allows you to control parameters within each block. That means that you can use CC messages to adjust parameters for each block (like Gain, Delay Time, Mix etc). Again, this can be implemented via the Learn function, or done manually as well.
The MIDI implementation on the HX Stomp is well thought out and the 3 main MIDI functions give you total control of the HX Stomp via a midi controller. Practically, we foresee players using the Preset Recall and Block Bypass functions more often. They would most probably use their midi controllers to recall presets on the HX Stomp and then engage/disengage individual blocks within that preset. Players may also take advantage of Parameter Control if they would like to make minor adjustments to a particular block’s settings while staying on the same preset.
The HX Stomp and the Morningstar MC6 MkII Midi controller
PAIRING WITH THE MORNINGSTAR MC6
The Morningstar MC6 midi controller will greatly benefit all HX Stomp users, and we were especially excited to get our hands on the new Line 6 product the moment it arrived on our shores. We will go in depth about using the MC6 with the HX Stomp in our next blog post. Before that, find out more about the Morningstar MC6 MkII Midi Controller.
Every once in a while, a new piece of gear comes along and unquestionably changes the game. The HX Stomp is a fully featured Helix system in a tiny enclosure. It is a great all-in-one solution on its own, with stellar effects, realistic amp and cab models, all tied together in a user-friendly interface. It can also easily be used with other pedals as its small footprint will allow it to sit nicely on most pedalboards. Being able to use the HX Stomp as a USB Audio and MIDI interface is a huge bonus, and gives you the added flexibility and convenience both on stage and in the studio.
Its compact size is excellent, but also comes with tradeoffs. Having only 3 switches means that foot control is very limited (choose between scrolling through presets or engaging/bypassing 2 pre-assigned blocks). However, the MIDI implementation on the HX Stomp is incredible and very user friendly, allowing you to easily connect it with a midi controller to recall presets on the fly, engage/bypass individual effect blocks and control effect parameters.
+ Intuitive user interface
+ Realistic and responsive amp/cab models
+ Wide range of high quality and useful effects
+ Great MIDI implementation
+ Compact size
+ Sturdy build quality
+ Good value for money
- Limited foot control with only 3 footswitches
- Not the most convincing overdrive and distortion algorithms
- Touch-sensitive footswitches can get activated unintentionally when tweaking knobs
Recommended for: Musicians who want a high quality, compact, all-in-one amp simulator and effects rig, that can also be part of a bigger pedalboard when needed.