Test Drive: Zoom 9030 Advanced Instrument Effects Processor

by Jerry Vigil

What's new in the musician's toy chest? The Zoom 9030 Advanced Instrument Effects Processor! The Zoom Corporation itself is fairly new, and if the 9030 is any indication of things to come, they should do very well for themselves, not only with musicians, but in the broadcast and post-production domain as well.

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The 9030 touts forty-seven effects, up to seven at once, analog effects as well as digital effects, and ninety-nine user-definable patches, all packed neatly into a tiny, half-rack box. You get all the basics -- pitch shifting, delays, reverbs, flanging - and several effects that are no so basic.

More on the effects in a moment. Let's talk about the user interface of the 9030. Like most effects boxes, getting the 9030 up and running is pretty simple. However, getting into the programs and editing them is where the 9030 has an edge over many effects boxes.

Check out the photo (next page). Under the "9030" on the front panel you'll notice nine rectangles with "COMP," "EXT," "DIST," etc. written on them. On the photo, they might look like buttons, but they're LEDs. These nine LEDs represent the effects modules of the 9030. The LEDs light up in red when the module is on. They are green when the module is off, and the indicators for the modules that are "on" turn amber when the 9030 is put in the bypass mode. These nine LEDs also represent a block diagram of the effects chain of the unit if read from left to right and top to bottom. These LEDs help make the user interface of the 9030 unique and very user friendly. At any time, no matter what program or patch is selected, a glance at the unit will show what modules are in use. In the editing process, the LED flashes to let you know what module is currently selected for editing. Moving from module to module is simple with the left/right EDIT buttons. To make editing easier, the four knobs to the right of the display are used for just about every editing task. Their functions change depending upon what parameter page is on the large, blue, 2-line/20-character display window. The easy editing of the 9030 not only makes it fun to program new patches from scratch, but it can be done quickly, too.

Many DSPs clutter their effects algorithms with dozens of adjustable parameters, many of which a radio producer might never use. Not so with the 9030. Most of the effects algorithms only have one page of adjustable parameters (four to a page). A few others have two. You get the basic, necessary parameters and nothing more. (Each effect also has an additional page for setting external control parameters. You'll never use this page if you plan to do all real-time adjustments from the front panel.)

Now, let's take a closer look at these nine effects modules. The first one, labeled COMP, is the compressor group which provides a compressor and a limiter. In the compressor algorithm, the adjustable parameters are DPT (depth), ATK (attack), BSW (bright switch), and LVL (output level). This is a good example of how the 9030 keeps things simple. The depth parameter adjusts the degree of compression. The attack parameter has two settings, "slow" or "fast." The output level parameter controls the output of the module. The BSW parameter is a built-in high frequency emphasis circuit which can be set to either on or off. Simple, straight forward, easy to use. Likewise, the limiter algorithm provides a depth parameter and output level parameter plus a REL (release) parameter which is also set to either "slow" or "fast." This COMP module is not intended to replace your primary dynamics processing unit. Instead, it is just enough dynamics processing for special tasks. For the most part, unless your input is a musical instrument, you may never need the COMP module for anything other than a special effect.

The second module, EXT, is for an external effect. An insert point on the back panel allows for additional, external effects to be added to the 9030. The EFX module then controls the return level of the external effect with the LVL parameter, the only parameter in this module (with the exception of the external control parameters mentioned earlier).