let’s take these one at a time:
This really depends on your audio interface. For playing guitar amp sims live, the problem is bigger than for your average MIDI keyboardist, because you essentially have double the latency (from your guitar into the box, then back to the analog world after processing) - what we call “round-trip-latency”. This is why for amp sims “in the box”, only the fastest interfaces are really satisfactory. So we’re talking RME Babyface, Zoom UAC 2 or maybe the new Focusrite Clarett series. I can vouch for the Babyface and the Zoom, since I own both - with both of them, you can get to decent latencies for live use.
I own the X3 Live myself, and I’d not recommend to use it as an interface to play amp simulations live - it’s just not built for this; the round-trip-latency is just too long (as you’ve discovered yourself). The intended purpose of the X3 audio interface is just to record either the clean guitar (for re-amping) or the processed signal in your DAW, while listening directly to the signal from the X3. In this scenario, latency is not an issue, so the X3 isn’t optimized for best round-trip-latency.
Yes, there is a certain amount of complexity involved, but if I compare my current setup (laptop + audio interface + just two pedals to step through song states) to a “classic” guitar setup (tube amp + pedalboard), the complexity is not so much worse; and no tubes to blow up! Plus, it’s relatively easy to carry a spare for your laptop (no need for a super-high-end machine just for amp sims), compared to carrying a second tube amp (or even a second Helix).
But I’ll admit: if you’re “just” a guitar player with no fancy keyboard setups - and you’re happy with the Helix sounds - it’s probably the simplest setup: just drop a hardware Helix, connect two cables plus power, and rock on…
You can eliminate quite a bit of the complexity by packing most of what you need (audio interface, barebone computer, all the funny power adapters and everything) into a rack, and just connect a small screen - but you’ll still need some kind of a pedalboard to control the whole shebang, so you’ll admittedly never get to the simplicity of just one Helix on the ground before you.
If the worship guy was talking about Mainstage and you’re wondering what the Windows equivalent is: THAT IS CANTABILE (and it’s more than Mainstage could even dream of being )
Cantabile will allow you to build configurations for every song in your repertoire that combine your Helix plug-in with any number of other plugins you’d want to put before or after your Helix, so you can have a super-complex processing chain beyond everything that Helix can do (although Helix is already pretty complex).
Next, Cantabile will allow you to create individual states (“snapshots”) within your song, so you can have different sounds for intro, verse, chorus, solo etc. Each of these can be a completely different preset of your Helix, plus different settings for all the other effects in your setup. Now, when you play a song, you simply load the song file into Cantabile and use just one foot pedal to step from verse to chorus, to solo, to next verse, etc.
Taking this further, Cantabile allows you to set up setlists of your songs for a show in advance - now you can not only step through a single song, but a whole show with one pedal (well, maybe you’ll want three: two to navigate your set list - you may want to change the sequence now and then - and one to step through a song; but that’s still a pretty lean and mean setup).
So, Cantabile is the ideal tool if you want to have the right preset at the right time in your show. In fact, you might even get some value out of using Cantabile just to remote-control the presets of a hardware Helix and manage your songs and setlists in Cantabile (although Cantabile might get bored with that simple task… )
So, in a nutshell:
- if you want to use Helix Native and Cantabile in a live (or rehearsal) situation, you’ll want to invest in a decent audio interface with a short round-trip-latency.
- the complexity can be reduced somewhat, but the simplest setup is still just dropping a pedalboard unit like the POD x3 or the hardware Helix on your stage and get rocking. So if you like the sound of the Helix, and you don’t need to add any additional processing, it might be better from a complexity standpoint to just shell out the money for the hardware Helix
- Regarding you “presets” scenario, Cantabile can do all that and more.