Yes, the HX is effects only. None of the amp/cab modeling from the Helix and other Line 6 series is included in the HX with the intention being that it is an all-in-one effects package for guitarists that still love running a real amp. This, I would think, is a big portion of the guitar playing population, and a nice change to the multitude of outright modeling/direct options currently available. Furthermore, its size and routing options make it a great tool to integrate into your existing pedalboard. Specs-wise you’re getting over 100 effects, including both new and legacy sounds from the hugely popular four button series (DL4, MM4, etc.) available in a range of mono and stereo settings. From there these can be tweaked, combined, reordered, and accessed in a variety of modes along with expression pedals and even integrated with other stompboxes to really allow creative tone shaping.
I love the aesthetics of the HX: rugged and understated in a tough black steel casing. A combination of buttons and dials at the top of the unit handle your editing and tweaking, and are slightly recessed away meaning a stray foot shouldn’t alter any settings during use. Two rows of four footswitches then take up the majority of the unit with scribble strips accompanying six of them for presets and settings. These all light up in a range of bright colours as indicators during use and allow for extra info and descriptions. I also think the size of the HX is perfect. It’s not much bigger than the M9 and four button stomps so doesn’t have to dominate all of your pedalboard real estate, but it also has enough room to avoid feeling cramped and/or fumbling into unwanted preset changes.
Mono or stereo input lets you connect guitar, bass, or keyboard with mono and stereo outs being able to feed other pedals, an amp or multiple amps. MIDI capabilities are handled via the MIDI in and out/through, and there’s also a USB port for updating firmware, using software, and added connectivity. Two pedal/ext amp jacks work with expression pedals, and can be assigned to a huge range of controls including Wah/Whammy/Pitch Shift/Delay Time and the like. In ext amp mode, they can be used to change channels or switch reverb on and off depending on your amp. With integration, modular systems, and the sheer range of pedals and effects on the market, I’m sure many players hoped for send/return loops and Line 6 have delivered. Two loops allow you to either run the HX in a four cable method or as inserts for additional pedals/effects. This can be great for adding your favourite, go-to dirt box into the mix or auditioning the latest greatest insert-pedal-name with your rig.
I’ve been a big fan of the Line 6 M9 for years, so I was keen to see how the HX stacked up. Straight into a clean US voiced amp, I loved the delays and reverbs. Subtle and vibey with minimalist settings, and of course plenty of big atmospheric tones. For modulation sounds you’re spoilt for chorus and trem with some interesting new vibe and flanger models, too. Dirt and overdrive are most people’s typical slight on modeled/digital tones, but I feel that the HX really does a fine job. Minotaur and Teemah! (guess what they’re modeled on?) are very usable, and there’s a host of fuzzes and heavier drives if you need more saturation. Additionally, it’s great to see all the legacy effects from the previous stomps included for those wanting to keep their older Line 6 tones alive. All in all, there’s a host of great sounding effects that have way too many possibilities to cover in this short review.
As mentioned previously, the ability to integrate the HX with your existing setup is a real strength. You can still keep a couple of your favourite pedals and run them in the loops, switch MIDI devices or amp channels, and run into your amp with a number of different methods. The scribble strips look great, and the ability to assign/edit/move footswitches and functions really lets you get deep into your setup. I love being able to jump from bypassed clean to heavy gain with delay and EQ to funky filters and mod effects and keep it all in relatively small footprint. MIDI switching and send/return loops open up so many possibilities for guitarists, bass players, and keyboardists; it really is a killer unit. Of course many users will make the HX their sole effects unit, and why wouldn’t you? So many great effects on hand with deep editing possibilities and high quality tones. A serious multi-effects unit that sounds damn good.