Advanced Multi-Effects Processor
The Zoom 9001 borrows the unusual looks of the guitar-orientated 9000 and crams in a selection of general-purpose studio effects which manage to retain the distinctive Zoom character. At £250, the 9001 might make you wish you hadn't already sent your Christmas list to Santa — Derek Johnson does...
Whoever said that small is beautiful must have had some idea of what was coming in consumer electronics. But while smaller is inevitable, is it always beautiful? Products from companies like Zoom would suggest that 'yes' is the right answer to that question. Sure, guitar pedals have always been small, but you need about five or six of them to make a decent noise; a micro-circuit miracle like Zoom's belt-mounting 9002 changed all that and was a perfect example of electronics getting smaller and smaller while becoming seemingly more powerful.
Not only are effects now smaller, but they are cheaper; what you can get for under £500 these days simply wasn't available at any price 10 or 15 years ago. Even devices pitched at the relatively humble price point of £250 can offer impressive sounding effects. This is especially true of Zoom products, even the cheapest of which have a polished, 'produced' sound character — which brings us neatly to the 9001, Zoom's cheapest general purpose multi-effects unit yet, which combines the guitar-orientated 9000's level of power and affordability and distinctive, sexy shape with a collection of characterful general effects for the studio user and keyboard player.
The shape and layout of the 9001 is nearly identical to that of the 9000 — rather like a hi-tech door stop — and is just the right size to take up the few free centimetres that might be available on your workstation synth; in fact it's small enough (palm-sized, actually) to be fit just about anywhere. The immediately obvious physical differences are that the new machine is black (the 9001 was grey) and it has a redesigned front panel. Internally, the 9000 was optimised for guitar effects; the 9001 is more of a general-purpose unit, suitable for a wide range of recording and live applications. The effects inside the 9001 are arranged as algorithms rather than as the chain of effects groups found on the 9000. A stereo input is also provided, rather than the mono guitar input of the 9000. Missing are the guitar tuner and distortion effects; added are a simple test tone oscillator and 20 more memory locations, all of which are user-definable.
Power comes from six AA batteries or an optional 7.5V power supply, priced at around £19. It's worth buying the real thing — I've recently had problems involving my old SH101 and non-standard power supplies, and I can tell you it's worth sticking to the manufacturer's recommended power supply. Batteries have a life of up to six hours continuous with alkalines, and allow the 9001 to offer a little more in the way of portability and a little less in the way of trailing power leads in a live situation.
Underneath the 9001 is what looks like the connection for a phone extension, but in fact it is here that the optional FC01 remote foot controller is attached. This allows you to easily select patches while playing, and is a great addition for live use. I should mention here that the 9001 is a complete MIDI innocent, so no nifty juggling with multiple program changes from within your sequencer is possible.
The new front panel graphics include a series of icons, corresponding to the eight main effects groups, across the top of the main display. A pointer — shaped like a hand with an accusative finger — in the display indicates which effects group is currently being used. These eight Categories (as Zoom call them) are labelled Studio, Drums, Keyboard, Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Vocal, and Sound; the total number of effects, split between these categories, is 20. Each effect is optimised for the use suggested by its category, although the user shouldn't feel obliged to stick to these suggestions. Effects processing is, after all, a creative process, and eventually you will find that nearly all the effects are in some way multi-purpose.
The effects within each of the eight generic groups contain up to five effects parameters, plus an overall level setting. For example, the first effect that comes up, 'Reverb' in the Studio group, offers the following parameters: Reverb Time, Predelay, Tone, Early Reflections, Direct on/off and Level. The signal that appears at the outputs is a mix of untreated signal and effect; the Direct On/Off parameter removes the input signal from the mix, for use in an effects send/return loop on a mixer or cassette multitracker.
The Studio group is completed by 'Echo' (single delay, ping pong or multi-feedback delay) and 'Chorus'. Drums offerings includes 'Gate' (gated reverb) and 'Ambience', which simulates a room's reflections picked up by remote mics. Keyboard category treatments are named 'Strings', 'Organ' and 'Solo' and, as their names suggest, provide rich chorusing for string ensemble type sounds, rotary speaker simulation for organs, and flanging, delay and reverb for synth solos — the latter is also suitable for guitar. Two piano settings provide an 'enhanced' reverb for acoustic piano and chorused treatment for electric piano. Steel-strung guitars will benefit from the bright (and again enhanced) treatment 'Steel', while 'Gut' is much more mellow, perfect for nylon strung guitars (does anyone use gut strings any more?). Both these effects feature a pitch shifter, although that which forms part of the 'Steel' effect offers only a selection of preset shifts (slight detuning up or down, +/-1 octave, +/-5 semitones and +7 semitones).
A combination of limiter, chorus and reverb gets the title of 'Bass', and is ideal for adding richness without fussiness to real or synthesized basses. The more up-front slap and pop style (or resonant synth bass) will be well-treated by 'Slap Bass' — which features the limiter again, with enhancer, EQ and reverb.
Although there are only four effects in the Vocal category, a wide range of vocal settings are available; 'Vocal1' features a chain of enhancer, chorus and reverb which is equally suitable for purposes other than vocals; 'Vocal2' substitutes a delay for the chorus. The 'Harmony' effect is OK, although not as sophisticated as that which can be found on more expensive units. 3-part harmony can be created with the addition of two harmony parts, 12 semitones above or below the input signal; small shifts in pitch produce a pleasant thickening of textures, and the big shifts provide useful effects as long as you're not expecting audio perfection. A mono or stereo chorus helps to cover up some of the undesirable side effects of extreme shifts.
Of slightly less immediate usefulness is an effect called 'Robot' that has also been included within the Vocal category. The effect should be familiar to previous users of Zoom products, creating a kind of sample and hold pitch modulation effect on the input signal with adjustable speed and depth. It's a lot of fun, but of limited use, especially on vocals.
The last category of effects is Sound, and consists of two offerings. 'Wave' is a slowly swept white noise patch reminiscent of crashing surf — there are three settings, with progressively more low-frequency energy (or Sand Beach, Rock Beach and Storm, as Zoom put it in the manual). Very pleasant and relaxing — sort of the aural equivalent of an ioniser — but I don't know what it's doing on a multieffects unit. The other Sound is much more useful: it's an oscillator and is useful for tuning purposes and setting up audio equipment. The frequencies are 250Hz, 438-442Hz, 500Hz, 1kHz, 2kHz, and 5kHz.
It's fair to say that a number of compromises are inevitable given the space limitations of the 9001, both physically and within the software. For example, wherever reverb forms part of an overall effect, whether as the Studio group's dedicated Reverb or as part of the Drum group's Gate algorithm, it has a maximum decay of 4 seconds and that decay is only adjustable in 10 steps, between 0.4 seconds and 4 seconds. In practice this is just about satisfactory. Similarly, some Choruses are adjustable only in intensity, and delay times are often measured in 10ms units (up to 1280ms).
If you've never used multi-effects before, then the 9001 is the unit for you. It is basically very easy to use — Zoom's eight effects categories see to that, pointing the newcomer in the right direction. But while they do contain effects that are typical — or that Zoom feel are typical — for the relevant applications, there's no need to feel obliged to observe Zoom's categories slavishly; it certainly doesn't follow that you have to use the vocal effects just on vocals or bass effects just on bass, for example.
I can attest to the relative ease of use of the 9001: I didn't have a manual for the review period and encountered no problems at all. I only missed it when a few arcane parameter abbreviations were indecipherable (for example, the pitch shift parameter in the 'Steel' effect is actually called PMode, with a value of 1-7). Selecting patches is simply a matter of pressing Bank up or down, followed by a program number, and editing is simply a matter of pressing edit and scrolling through the available parameters — there are only ever five, plus a level control, so it's hard to get lost. The only place where a newcomer may get confused is in the selection of different effects; the Utility button — which is also labelled Type — does double duty as an effect type selector. Once you've edited an effect to your satisfaction, press Store, select a memory position and press Store again. The factory settings can be recalled at any time, and if 40 memories aren't enough, keep track of your patches with pen and paper (an economical memory storage device if ever I saw one) since the memory cannot be saved externally.
As with the 9000 and the half-rack 9030, the overall sound of the 9001 has an American quality, in spite of Zoom's Japanese origins. By this, I mean that an up-front, polished and produced quality is present in the majority of the effects. Reverbs produce a mixed response, sounding both fairly natural and having an enhancing effect on the input signal; I would have liked a little more control over decay times, though. Delays are clean, choruses are very lush and the enhancer that appears in some effects chains is very useful, in spite of appearing as a single parameter, adding real bite and brightness where required.
The overall feeling I get from the 9001 is that it may be a bit gimmicky — though I don't mean this in a negative way. It has an in-your-face quality and an ease of use that makes it a perfect processor for someone who's just started multitrack recording — the effects sound so finished that a newcomer would be very encouraged by the results gained from using this little unit. But as much as I like the 9001, I don't think I would recommend it as a sole processor for more serious studio use — you may disagree — but rather as a whacky, loud addition to a more traditional effects device; it would be perfect regarded as your little 'box of tricks'. If all you can afford to spend on effects is the £250 being asked for the 9001, then don't fret — though the 9001's forte is off-the-wall sounds, more conventional, safe treatments can be coaxed from the unit, though you won't have the preciseness of programmability you get on more expensive processors. The up-side of this is that with a maximum of five parameters per effect, you'd have to be trying hard to get lost or confused.
The 9001 could also be the perfect tool for less than perfect vocalists, or those wanting a punchy sound; chorus mode 1 in 'Vocal1' is perfect for budding Kylies or Jasons, adding instant body and ADT and hiding slight out of tune-ness. A strong voice, one which often needs just a little reverb or compression to place it in a track, is rather over-provided for on the 9001.
Amongst my favourite effects are 'Vocal1', which has an enhancer/chorus/reverb combination that's knockout on a complete mix, giving a well-rounded, radio feel. Tweaking the chorus setting in this chain so that it's a bit over-the-top adds a slightly psychedelic feel. 'Organ' (the one with rotary speaker effect) was quite excellent, with a gutsy approximation of the real thing; it's a shame there's no way to externally change the rotation speeds while playing, however. The 'Solo' keyboard effect is also especially versatile, its mix of flange, delay and reverb suiting pad chords as much as lead-lines. In fact, I found something positive about all the effects, with each having something to offer — apart from the aforementioned 'Wave'. Even the 'Robot' effect, applied to held synth or sampled sounds, can be used to add interesting sample & hold-type effects.
Zoom's 9001 provides a cheap and instant source of sounds with power, punch and presence — and it looks great. I always liked the design of the 9000, and the 9001 is just as perfectly shaped to sit on any flat surface; most guitar amps could handle the 9000, and most synth front panels can accommodate the 9001 just as easily. Those with really compact recording setups or rigid space restraints should look no further. If your synth lacks effects, or is equipped with effects which don't really excite you, then look upon the 9001 as a cheap upgrade, either in line through the stereo inputs or via the effects loop of a small mixer.
While it may not be the ultimate in studio processing, the 9001 is a great keyboard player's tool and has enough character to find many applications in the studio. A lack of MIDI — even just simple program change recognition — may perhaps be slightly limiting, but the cost, quality and outrageous effects do somewhat shift the balance in the 9001's favour. As an added bonus, you can always turn on 'Wave' after a stressed-out session...
Zoom 9001 £249.95; power supply £18.95; FC01 foot controller £59.95. Prices include VAT.
MCMXCIX, (Contact Details).
Review by Derek Johnson
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