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Helix
Reviewed By MaliceX
November 4th, 2008

As a user that has used Helix since the early days, to its closed beta stage, I'll have to say up till its official release, this one-of-a-kind synth has most certainly grown to a mature state, and is most certainly worth using in any serious music production. The author, Jonas, really created a breakthrough in virtual synthesis. His commitment to completion and the amount of positive feedback during its beta days, it wouldn't have been possible without amount of user input during development.

Given the design of Helix, it used to have a pretty ugly GUI but thanks to the excellent hand of northernBeat, we've got a slick, easy to read interface that's well-thought out without confusing the synth enthusiast. As it is, Helix is a 4-OSC wavetable morphing/analog/string model/FM/PM synthesizer with an equally deep modulation architecture behind it. The most central feature would be its ability to create sounds with extreme modulation in a programmed sound, and not beat your processor in the groin in return. I've always been a fan of flexibility and using everything as much as possible, and I believe Helix has delivered that for me with its massive modulation matrix, 8 Envelope generaators, 3 polyphonic and 2 global LFO's, 2 sequencers, not to mention the large amount of different filter effects AND distortion types given, global FX, and the ability to route each OSC to a different stage in the signal flow. (Few hybrid synths I've seen so far have this ability.) The most spoken feature would be the waveshaping and its CPU-friendly unison feature. (4x16 voices of adjustable fatness.)

The sound quality on Helix is crispy clean. In fact, when I started making sounds with this thing, I thought "hey, why not try recreate some sounds?" Somehow, with a bit of work you could get Helix to replicate almost any existing synth sound you could hear, from the old Roland Juno, to even the Yamaha DX line of synth sounds. The added string model component is merely the tip of the icing, and even comes with its own filter variant. I haven't heard of a time where Helix just doesn't sound excellent, given Helix is put in the right hands of a good sound designer.

Stability so far has been excellent. It hasn't crashed on me, aside from beta testing the arpeggio script features. I'm a bit underwhelmed the arpeggio system is still limited to assembly-level programming, though I'm confident the author will address this in future versions. Having Helix run on my 6-year old desktop PC is such a joy, I could make any sound of any level of complexity and timbre, and not fear of my PC to hang from excessive processing overload. (ie: A lot of synths with comparably smaller feature-sets I have to be careful.) I could get a sufficient amount of voices out of Helix (theoretically 64 voices x 4 notes) on a 1.7GHz machine; that's 256 total voices on an old machine. :P
Polyphony is not a problem in this case as well, as Helix has a very intelligent method of killing old voices that aren't being used, without sounding like it's struggling with keeping notes.

As a co-writer of the manual, I hope it's good enough content-wise. To me, it should be enough for the user to identify the features and give a brief clue on how to use each feature in Helix. (Any improvements other than formatting, feedback this direction!)

The developer is a great guy to communicate with, whenever there's an issue with Helix, and will happily help out anyone in need of assistance. Top-notch customer service.

Finally, the supplied factory presets. Coming with roughly 1000+ presets (1,173 at this time of writing), you're given high quality professional sounds from BigTone Studio, Alonso Sound, as well as a number of user submissions from great sound designers from many talented users of Helix. Brilliant pads, screaming leads, tearing basses, outworldly (if not outright strange) effects, to more familiar sounds heard in 80's hits as well as a handful of one-note song sequences, it should be clear that there's so much ground to cover in the sonic palette of Helix. Best of all, none of these have aliasing on the high register! (Unless it's deliberate, of course.)

There's so many sounds you could make with Helix, it's easily one of the best of its kind out there in the market. It's a competitive market out there, but I believe Helix is capable to stand among the crowd of NI synths, or the legendary status of synths like z3ta+ or possibly any hardware synth in existence. It's excellent for all types of music incorporating synths, I can't really think of anything else that can deliver the well-thought out design of Helix, and perhaps yet we'll be hearing more of it very soon in big name studio setups.

I wish Jonas the best of luck with the marketing of Helix. It deserves the exposure given the amount of work put into it. US$149 is most certainly worth the money for a product of high-quality.
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