Korg’s prices are impressively low, but those of the new Zoom pedals are unreal. The company’s popular 505 Guitar pedal offered impressive multi-effector power for a mere $150, but the four new Zoom boxes–the 507 Reverb, the 508 Delay, the 509 Dual Power Modulator, and the 510 Dual Power Driver–list for an astonishing $120. Each lets users store 24 programs and includes a reliable chromatic tuner. Wow.
All the Zoom pedals have a pair of foot switches for shuttling up and down between programs; stepping on both calls up a by-pass/tuner mode. These large switches are easy to operate, but the all-plastic housings feel cheap. Most edits are made via comfy, thumb-sized switches on the sides of the units. (The Zoom boxes are most easily programmed while cradled in your hand like video-game controls.) All models have a large, two-character LED that displays the program number or the value of the parameter selected in edit mode. They’re easy to read, but some of the two-letter abbreviations are confusing. Edits are stored in six banks of four programs each, and you can specify whether the foot pedals advance you through all 24 programs or simply cycle around a chosen bank of four. Either way, the thumb-sized increment/ decrement switches escort you directly from bank to bank.
All Zoom pedals have stereo outputs (via a 1/4″ TRS jack) and a single controller-in jack for connecting an optional expression pedal or footswitch. The typical sample rate of the Zoom effects is 31.25kHz, which offers more than enough resolution for electric guitar. A single,
9-volt alkaline battery runs each pedal for about four hours. Many of these features would be remarkable in any stompbox, let alone ones this inexpensive. But be forewarned that certain aspects of the operating system are less lovable. For example, the edit buttons have secondary functions when you hold them down for more than a second–such as a store key that toggles between two effect-loading modes if you tarry too long on the button–and most of these are not notated on the devices. Another irksome trait is the lack of a standardized numerical scale for the effects parameters.
On the Dual Power Driver, for instance, the maximum settings for pre-gain, gain, tone, and noise reduction are 16, 30, 15, and 9, respectively. You often don’t know where you stand unless you scroll up to the maximum setting. Zoom’s manuals are decent, despite some amusingly strained translations from the original Japanese.
Given its rock-bottom price, the 507 reverb guitar pedal is surprisingly rich and musical. Its 16 hall, room, and plate simulations are nicely voiced for guitar and betray relatively little of the gunkiness typical of digital micro-reverbs. Four additional programs combine the reverbs with up to one second of digital delay. You can specify the delay time in 10ms increments, the amount of regeneration, and the reverb/delay balance.
The delays sound nice, but you can’t adjust their color–the 507’s single tone control only works when you use reverb without delay. You can add a not-too-bad chorusing sound to any patch, choosing between nine preset settings of varying depth. Several have a flange-type resonance, although you can’t adjust the depth or feedback amounts. Chorusing can occur before or after the reverb, and each of the three effects can be switched off in edit mode. You can also toggle the chorus on and off via an external footswitch, or use an expression pedal to regulate the overall wet/dry mix. There is no tap-tempo function. Players who like digital reverb may be pleasantly surprised by the 507’s guitar-friendly color. Even players who avoid reverb effects may be swayed, as the 507’s heavier settings have a pleasantly tanky quality; the reverb doesn’t sound like a tube or spring device, but it captures a bit of that brash plash. By any reckoning, the 507 Reverb is more than just a bargain box.
The 508 Delay is another big price/performance winner. It offers eight flavors of echo (including straightforward monaural and stereo delays, plus 2-, 4-, and 6-stage multi-taps) and a whopping four seconds of delay time. The delay tones are more than acceptable, and you can set their times to the millisecond–an unprecedented feature in this price range.
The sole tone control is a high-cut circuit, but it succeeds at evoking treble-shy analog flavors. You can also give the delays a slight treble boost, a useful option for hard-edged doubling effects. Another hip extra is an optional “seamless mode” that lets your delays decay naturally even after you’ve switched programs. Connecting an expression pedal lets you regulate the wet/dry mix in real time. Sweet.
An external footswitch lets you set delay times via foot-tap. You can also enter tap-tempo settings from within edit mode without an external switch. This may not help much onstage, but it will certainly come in handy in the studio. In sample-and-hold mode, you can start and end recording via a footswitch–a nice extra, but don’t expect the surgical precision of higher-priced sampler/loopers.
The 508 isn’t the fattest-sounding delay pedal on the market, but its tone is quite pleasant. And if programmability is a priority, this might be the best guitar delay pedal and near impossible to beat.
The 509 Dual Power Modulator contains two separate multi-effectors that can be connected in series or parallel. Each offers chorusing, flanging, phasing, rotary-speaker simulation, remolo/pan, doubling, EQ, step modulation (a signature Zoom effect that uses an abruptly shifting waveform to generate uniquely burbling effects), plus semi-intelligent dual-voice pitch shifting (another first in this price range). Adding an expression pedal lets you control overall volume, regulate the wet/dry mix, and even attain Whammy Pedal-style pitch shifts. Sound incredible for a box that might go out the door for less than $100? Yes–until you plug it in.
Zoom has crammed an unbelievable number of features into an inexpensive box, but few of the sounds are truly suitable for professional applications. The best of the lot are the phasing and flanging tones, which boast a touch of tactile, tape-like warmth. Despite some clever features, such as a “detector in” jack that lets you get reasonably reliable pitch tracking–even if you connect the 509 after a distortion pedal (provided you use a splitter box to siphon off a clean signal from a pre-distortion stage)—this box is tough to recommend except as a budget, entry-level device.
The 510 Dual Power Driver is another two-stage processor. Its “pre-drive” section offers a choice between four flavors of preamp-style distortion, compression (with adjustable sensitivity), octave bass, auto wah, and pedal wah (expression pedal required). The main drive section features eight additional distortion modes that run the usual overdrive-to-fuzzball gamut. The two distortion stages can be arrayed in series or parallel, and you can use an external footswitch to toggle stage 1 on and off to get two tones from a single program.
Zoom distortion is a world unto itself. Players seeking naturalistic amp overdrive tend to shun it, while those in search of extravagant, overstated effects often swear by it. The 510 tones are a bit more dynamic than those on some other Zoom devices, but they still will not appease players who rely on the guitar volume pot to regulate overdrive. To my ear, the torqued-out fuzz, grunge, and metal tones are more satisfying than the subtler overdrive colors.
Zoom adds an interesting new wrinkle with an “auto parallel” circuit, which lets your playing dynamics determine the relative strength of the two distortion stages. It’s definitely a dynamic effect, but its feel bears little resemblance to that of amp distortion. Some players could probably attain expressive results in auto-parallel mode, but I confess I’m not one of them. Connecting an expression pedal yields an acceptable wah tone. Using the pedal to regulate drive amount or the balance of the two drive modules is more impressive, and the octave bass effect is terrific.
There are high and low EQ controls, but no adjustable midrange–a curious omission, since that’s where so much of a distortions character resides. The adjustable noise reduction works fine, but the merely serviceable amp simulator is strictly on/off. The 510 is a delight for those who gravitate towards lurid, processed-sounding distortion tones.