9001: A Space Odyssey
Zoom 9001 Multi-Effects Processor
Big effects, small package — Mike Simmons thinks it must be a Zoom.
Behind its miniaturised, stylised exterior, the Zoom 9001 is a surprisingly versatile and exceedingly friendly effects processor that's as at home in the studio as it is at gigs. Mike Simmons gets lost in space...
Over the last couple of years, Zoom have managed to win themselves an enviable reputation for producing some of the slickest effects units on the market. The device under review, the 9001, maintains Zoom's tradition of offering highly useable effects at an affordable price and, as can be seen from the accompanying photograph, it also demonstrates the company's reluctance to package anything in a matt black rackmounting unit if it can possibly avoid doing so.
Looking like nothing so much as a cross between a scarab beetle and a soap dish, the 9001 weighs in at just over half a pound and measures little more than six inches by four. The back panel has just enough room for four jack sockets which are configured as stereo pairs (two out and two in) and an on/off switch. The device runs on six AA batteries, but can run from an external power supply, which is available as an optional extra. It runs happily enough on rechargeable NICAD batteries.
The top face of the 9001 features a large LCD surrounded by 12 buttons. The underside conceals a socket for Zoom's dedicated foot controller, the FC01, and there is also a mini jack socket on one side of the machine to take a pair of headphones. Apart from a signal level LED, that's about it in the control department. There are no trim pots for input and output levels, nor is there a wet/dry control. All these operations, and a great many more, are performed over software by the buttons surrounding the LCD.
I do have some slight reservations about the practicality of the 9001 's design, though at the same time, I must confess to finding it very pleasing aesthetically. The rack-mounting metal box may be a pretty boring artifact, but it's still a highly effective way of protecting delicate electronic circuitry. On the other hand, there are obviously clear advantages in having an effects unit that's so small that it can be placed on top of a keyboard, and though I might worry about it being dragged onto the floor by the sheer weight of its cables, this is hardly an insurmountable problem. Zoom could have helped things along a little by providing the device with rubber feet — its underside is simply smooth plastic — but the application of a set of velcro sticky fixers would allay all such fears.
The machine boasts 20 of what Zoom call 'effects'. For the most part these are, in fact, combinations of single effects chained together, and 40 variations of these chains are stored in ten banks of programs, four to a bank. Other manufacturers would probably call these 'effects' algorithms. Each of the programs may be edited, but not particularly comprehensively, since control is only offered over a maximum of five parameters in any one program. The result of this editing may be stored in place of one of the other programs, or in place of the program on which the editing was based. None of the programs are protected, though the factory settings may be restored at any time via a utility page.
Zoom have chosen to divide the programs into eight different categories — Studio, Drums, Keyboard, Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Vocal and Sound. Fairly reasonably, they suggest that the programs in each category are particularly suited to the instrument that category is named after. The first-time user should not be fooled into imagining that is anything but a rough guide, however. The use of a particular effect is always in the ear of the beholder and anyone wishing to use, for example, an effect from the Keyboard category on a guitar is entirely free to do so. Zoom must be commended for making the 9001 as straightforward and easy to understand as they have, considering the complexity of some of the units out there.
Though the 9001 utilises all the effects that we have come to expect in such a machine, the way in which these are combined is entirely predetermined by Zoom's algorithms. Particular groups of effects may have been chained together, and various parameters within these groups are certainly available for editing, but the choice and ordering of the effects within an algorithm are immutable. In some cases it's possible to cut a particular effect from a program but not to add anything.
At first sight, this might seem to be something of a limitation, and it's probably true to say that any musician heavily into editing, or wishing to create their own chains of effects, would do well to look elsewhere. Similarly, the musician who wishes to keep his or her effects under MIDI control is likely to be disappointed since the 9001 offers nothing in the way of MIDI. What it does offer, however, is some pretty stunning effects.
Stepping through the banks I was struck by the sheer useability of so many of the programs. There's something very crisp and open about all the effects, a lot of space within them that makes them very easy to work with. Amongst my favourites were two programs using the 'Solo' multi-effect — a combination of Flanger, Delay, Chorus and Reverb that even made a Harmonica synth patch sound interesting! Given its title, I expected it to sound good on something like an electric guitar, and I wasn't disappointed, but the effect it had on something that my synth claimed to be a Contrabass resulted in me wasting something like three quarters of an hour playing with it. I'd already booted up the sequencer and started laying down tracks before I remembered that the Zoom was here for review and not mine to keep.
An impressive pair of programs are 'Fast Organ' and 'Slow Organ'. These simulate a Leslie-type rotary speaker and, as you might expect, the speed of simulated rotation is a good deal faster in the former than in the latter. Switching from one of these programs to the other doesn't result in a sudden change of speed, however, but rather in a gradual change from one rate to the other — just like the real thing.
The three effects dedicated specifically to studio work are Reverb, Echo and Chorus. These are all well up to standard and the parameters most likely to need editing are available in each case. The one rather disappointing feature about the reverb — and one that only really becomes apparent in the edit mode — is the shortness of the maximum reverb time (four seconds) [Anything less than a weekend is rather too short for Mike so take no notice — Ed!] and the fact that the time is displayed on the screen as a nominal value from one to ten, rather than in seconds or milliseconds. Whether or not either of these shortcomings matters very much depends on the individual's needs and style of working — probably for most people it's not going to matter at all.
"Whatever kind of sound you're looking for, the 9001 is likely to be able to help you out, whether it be with biting solos, warm basses or some particularly pleasing keyboard effects."
As already indicated, there are a number of effects dedicated to specific instruments, and for the most part they perform their function admirably. Whatever kind of sound you're looking for, the 9001 is likely to be able to help you out, whether it be with biting solos, warm basses or some particularly pleasing keyboard effects. The Gate effect is rather less satisfactory, having too much of a ring to it for my taste, but the Electric Piano program is a very useful combination of effects — and not just for the electric piano either. I found it very useful with an electric guitar and it could also work well with a variety of synth patches. This is, in fact, a combination of Reverb, Chorus, EQ and Autopan, and though it's one of the less obvious of the 9001's effects, I still found that it added life to every patch I threw at it.
If one word can be ascribed to the effects, it is 'warm'. This may simply be a matter of the machine's limited audio bandwidth, though what the actual effects bandwidth is, the manual doesn't say. Surprisingly for a unit of the price, the effects are very quiet, though over-use of the EQ section can bring up a touch of hiss.
Presumably the time will come when somebody produces a really convincing budget pitch shifter, but I have to report that, as far as this machine is concerned, that time has not yet come. It's certainly no worse than that on many other such machines — indeed, it's better than many — but I would be reluctant to indulge in any extreme shifting unless the shifted sound is mixed with a healthy layer of untreated sound to mask the side-effects. As with most low cost pitch shifters, the side-effects manifest themselves as a slight metallic, not-quite-in-tune sound.
So what about the unusable programs? I have a few doubts about the enigmatically named 'Wave', which is simply great washes of white noise swirling from speaker to speaker. Zoom display something of a sense of humour by allowing the user to edit between Sand Beach, Rock Beach and Storm, though they have neglected to provide the user with any means of choosing between an ingoing or outgoing tide. Since I recently found myself looking for a convincing sea sample I inevitably have to consider whether one of these offerings would have fitted the bill. I have to admit that if the 9001 had been available while I was recording, there would probably have been just a little of the Rock Beach somewhere way back in the mix. However, not a giant amongst effects patches!
Not so much unusable as less likely to be used are the 'Robot' programs which utilise a sample-and-hold-driven, random pitch shift effect in order to turn a perfectly reasonable human voice (mine, in this case) into something that sounds as if it's escaped from The Revenge of the Killer Cyborgs. Used just once at a gig this could be quite effective; used more than once it would be plain tedious. The program is not limited to processing voices, however, and I found that the way in which it responded to one or two textural samples was particularly interesting, though at times a little unpredictable.
The one program never likely to be used in a performance, but nevertheless eminently useable, is the self-explanatory test-tone oscillator. Any device which can help musicians stay in tune is worthy of a resounding welcome and the 9001 will step through a series of test tones ranging from 250Hz to 5kHz.
The range of tones also makes it useful for basic tape machine checks and signal tracing.
Editing the 9001 is a pretty straightforward business. The information on the LCD is sometimes a little sketchy, and the functions of some of the buttons change according to the mode that the machine is in, but in the context of such a straightforward device, this doesn't matter at all. The 9001 is not some labyrinthine monster, and it's just about impossible to get lost in the edit mode.
I suspect that many owners of highly sophisticated units never actually venture far into the edit mode of their machines simply because it can be so daunting and time consuming. Because the 9001 is so easy to work with, most owners are likely to learn how to exploit its potential to the full.
"Though the 9001 utilises all the effects that we have come to expect in such a machine, the way in which these are combined is entirely predetermined by Zoom's algorithms."
Once in the edit mode, the name of only one parameter is displayed on the screen at any one time. This is the parameter currently available for editing, and its value can be increased or decreased using a pair of value buttons. Five buttons call up each of the parameters and, while in the edit mode, the bypass button acts as a compare button, allowing the user to check the results of each modification against the original. At the bottom of the screen is a small graphical display of each of the parameters. These are simply numbered rather than named, which reduces their usefulness, but they do the job.
I'm beginning to believe that manufacturers are only able to produce two kinds of manual, the very good ones and the very bad. Happily, the manual for the 9001 is one of the former. The first few pages are dedicated to demonstrating the ways in which the machine can be used, and this is followed by a comprehensive section which clearly sets out just about everything anyone might need to know about each combination of effects: a schematic drawing, a list of the editable parameters, the range through which editing can take place, an indication of the mnemonics that appear on the LCD, and some fairly useful hints and tips. Working without the manual is pretty straightforward; working with it is an absolute breeze.
I like the 9001 a lot. I like the way it looks and, more importantly, I like the way it sounds. There are units that produce brighter effects, but somehow, the 9001 sounds warm and musically flattering. The limited editing facilities are unlikely to satisfy the more sophisticated user, though as a second processor or one that doubles as a gigging effects unit, it could fit the bill nicely. I didn't get the chance to check out the foot controller, but this might be worth looking into for live use.
The editing facilities may be frugal, but they cover the most important parameters, and they certainly allow the first-time user to get his or her feet wet without actually sinking. For both the gigging musician and the home studio owner who just wants something to switch on and use, the 9001 could well be the audio equivalent of 'Wash and Go'.
Zoom 9001 £249.95; power supply £18.95; FC01 foot controller £59.95.
MCMXCIX, (Contact Details).
Review by Mike Simmons
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