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This article was originally published in issue #21
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Over the months we've learned how to keep Dan Veall out of trouble. Lock him in the Bassment with an effects pedal to play with. This time we gave him a pair from Japan's Zoom, so we lost him for a whole week of perfect bliss.
Never one to shy away from a big task, I have the job of fitting not just one digital effect unit in to a single review but two! This wouldn't be a problem normally but on this occasion both have come from the superb Zoom. I've owned a good few Zoom units myself over the years including the 2020, 4040 floor units and 9050S half-rack multi-effects processor, so, lets take a look at Zoom's more recent offering for us bass players .
Zoom B3 (see above image)
The unit itself centres around three 'virtual pedals' each with its own set of controls. Indeed each of the sections of the pedal look like an analogue effect pedal, so things are pretty familiar looking off the bat. Each section can be treated as a separate effect or as part of a chain of a maximum of three effects at once in any order. On each of the virtual effect blocks there are a pair of up and down key selectors that allow you to rotate around a carousel of 99 effect types with 12 amplifier simulations on board; one at a time. (The sims include cabinet emulation too). The carousel includes a range of different modulations, distortions, dynamic effects, reverbs and delays to crazy synth sounds. Everything you could want all in 24-bit processed audio for a rich sound!
Once you have selected your effect from the carousel the individual parameters for that effect are controlled by the three knobs related to that virtual pedal. When you turn the controls the screen window changes to show you what parameter you are adjusting. Interestingly, in the case of an effect that has more than one parameter, such as a reverb that may have several (time, level, mix, pre-delay, type etc) it's possible to move to a new page window at a push of a button to fast access the additional controls. Very, very good Zoom! I've had too many effects units where you have to delve in to many sub-menus to adjust settings. This is brilliant, dead easy to use!
Once you are happy with your sound for that pedal you can engage and disengage it in the usual way using the sturdy metal foot switches. The same goes for the other two virtual pedals in front of you and there you have it, a little pedal board for your performances. You now essentially have a patch, or scene, or stage or pedal board - whatever you prefer to call it. But here's the cool thing: you can save the three pedals settings with a patch name to its own memory slot. You can then start over and have another three effect choices and do the same with that new patch too. So in essence you are making many small pedal boards that you can use either for different sets or songs. It's possible by holding down buttons to switch between patches in a performance as well.
On board the B3, as if all this wasn't enough already, is a very clear to read tuner and a drum machine with a whole host of beats to jam with. There's a 40 second looper that you can operate around changing effects settings - brilliant if you want a synthy bass line, distorted guitar-like part and atmospheric clean solo all jammed over an in-built drum track! The B3 will let you do that.
While you are busy creating your masterpiece, the B3 can be plugged in via USB to a computer where it also doubles as a recording interface for your DAW. I've tried this and I didn't have any latency problems. Pristine audio, sounding great!
The B3 can either be run from batteries, or by included external power adaptor if you are not powering it via the USB port.
Finally, the B3 features a range of connections on the back including a configurable DI output and the ability to plug in an expression pedal to adjust parameters in realtime, such as a Wah effect.
MS60 Bass FX
Don't be fooled by the diminutive size of the MS-60B, compared with the B3. Yes, it is smaller and only has 58 effects (six of which are amp sims) but, it can still use any of these in any order and they are powered by the same state of the art processor. The MS-60B has an ace up its sleeve, too. It can run up to four effects at once from its single 'virtual pedal' design. It achieves this by not only having an effect carousel to choose your individual pedals from like the B3, but there is a left to right shift that allows you to start with one pedal then add more either to the left or right of it, depending on the position in the chain that you want the new effect placed. Once again, clever menu design by Zoom makes this a breeze!
The MS-60B doesn't include the looper and drum machine of the B3 but it does include a tuner that can be accessed by holding down the on/off button. You can also configure access to the 'tap tempo' function for timed delays this way too. The MS-60B does have a USB connector but it is used for bus powering and firmware updates only, it has no USB audio interface on board.
Where the MS-60B may not have the wider feature set of the B3, it does make up for it with a rather cool feature of being able to rotate round several patches in a loop just using the single footswitch. It's easier to watch the video as I explain it there, but I liken it to being able to channel change on a guitar amp. This is a huge win for me and it works a treat. Finishing up, the MS-60B can be powered by standard Boss style adaptor or AA batteries.
Both these Zoom pedals feature pristine audio processing and an ultra simple menu system that I was able to navigate without taking the manual out of the box! I love that the pedals are made with metal casings that should resist kicks and bashes on the road and also keep the rotary knobs clear of boot soles. I appreciate that Zoom have managed to shoe-horn a massive amount of effects and options on board for us, however there are still two things I would like for a future model. My basses have a really high output and I found that on some patches I was able to distort the input of both pedals. There isn't a global input gain control on either pedal which would have been useful. I would prefer a faster access to bank and patch changes too, having used MIDI controllers for some years, but to be honest it's just a case of getting used to the method Zoom employs, I suppose. Again, they stopped short of adding the kitchen sink to the pedal, so really, I have no complaints. Maybe the future holds a rack mount version of these pedals eh, Zoom?
I have to say, I really like both of these pedals. I can see a use for them both in any setting; but what still amazes me is that you'd be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a processor far in excess of the price of these two put together. Both of them get top marks.