Pedal To The Metal
Zoom Driver 5000 Distortion Pedal
It may look like a hi-tech fuzz box but it's actually a sophisticated guitar preamp with speaker simulator.
The first in a new line of Zoom footpedals turns out to be a highly sophisticated, digitally-controlled guitar preamplifier with integral speaker simulator. Derek Johnson finds there's more to this stomp box than meets the eye.
Zoom have turned their attention further towards the guitar market with the introduction of a new and distinctive range of effects pedals, the first of which, the Driver 5000, offers a combination of overdrive, amplifier voicing and speaker simulation (soon to follow are chorus, flange and 'Voice' pedals). Constructionally, the Driver seems both bomb-proof and practical, while operation could hardly be simpler: apart from a great big friendly place to stomp your foot, there are six knobs — five on top, and a tiny one hidden at the back, which controls the Zoom Noise Reduction (ZNR) system that keeps pickup noise at bay. Connections are made via jack sockets, and in addition to input and output sockets, there is a footswitch socket. Power can be supplied by external 9V adaptor or half a dozen AA batteries.
Producing a sound is straightforward: select one of the six basic amp characteristics with the big orange knob (named Colour), and adjust the four little knobs, labelled Input Gain, High and Low EQ and Output Level. The 'colours' selected by the orange knob are named, although in practice, these names are just shorthand, since a combination of gain and high and low EQ can be used to conjure up a wide range of powerful and effective sounds. Unlike most pedals, this one contains speaker simulator circuitry so it sounds just as good DI'd into a mixing console as it does through an amp.
The 'colours' are: Stack 1, described as the aggressive sound of real valves driving a pair of 4X12 speaker cabs; Stack 2, more of the same, with more control over the drive; Combo 112, something like the average, mid-sized combo; R&B, capable of a "hard blues" sound; Metal, a bright, upfront distortion; and Zoom Box, which emulates the distortion from Zoom's guitar strap-mounting 9002. This last effect sounds just as good as it did on the 9002, but has an artificial feel next to the other, rather more realistic, treatments.
In general, the 5000 provides a very produced, full and finished sound with plenty of power, bite and sustain — I certainly didn't get the urge to add any other effects, with the possible exception of reverb, while testing it. The sound is sophisticated but has enough aggression for serious rock.
Most footpedals have two states: on or bypass. Zoom, however, have made the 5000 a little different; it has one memory, so you can switch between bypass, a setting stored in memory and the manual setting. One obvious live use of this facility would be to change between a setting suitable for backing chords and a louder, lead treatment. An (optional) external foot-switch may be used to switch between manual and memory settings without going into bypass.
And what about price? This is hard to assess; I'm already a big fan of the 5000, but to be honest, £180 for a footpedal may seem a bit steep for many guitarists who've spent less than that on their guitar! Recordists, however, should feel differently; the price is small compared to other studio processors and a product like this is incredibly useful in geting a classy guitar sound onto tape with absolutely no fuss. The only negative points I can think of are that the adjustment knobs are a little slippy — ribbing might have helped — and that although the ZNR works really well, there can be a noticeably slow attack when using large amounts of distortion and drive. Also note that although the Zoom Driver switches on as soon as you plug in a guitar lead, it actually switches on with the effect engaged. Just be careful volume-wise when turning on your amp.
These points aside, I have nothing but praise for the 5000. It sounds immediately impressive, yet is capable of subtlety — I can't wait to get my hands on the other footpedals that are due in this range. The Zoom Driver 5000 is definitely my kind of noise.
Zoom Driver 5000 £179.95 including VAT.
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Review by Derek Johnson
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