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This article was originally published in issue #28
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The Zoom A3 is one of those products that, once you realise exactly how much it actually does, you start to wonder how on earth you’re going to fit it all in one review. In essence the A3 is a high quality acoustic guitar pre-amp but in typical Zoom fashion it's also adorned with a dizzying array of effects, guitar modelling features and utilities for crafting classic, and not so classic, acoustic tones.
The first thing you notice on removing the A3 from the box is just how well built it is. The whole chassis is made from solid metal and has a weighty feel that seems both expensive and classy. All of the dials and buttons feel impressively firm and responsive, though people with smaller hands may find the placement of some of the controls hard to access. The three footswitches are also high quality with a non-latching motion and smooth operation ensuring ease of use and maintaining the quality feel.
All of the inputs are located on the back side of the A3 and include an XLR in with phantom power, 9v DC in and a Balanced XLR out. There is also the obligatory Ground Lift switch and a power selector allowing the user to select an Eco mode to save battery power, or the USB powered mode if required. USB mode also allows the user to update to future firmware updates, although at the time of review Zoom hasn’t released any. On the right side you’ll find the ‘Pickup In’ jack socket and a ‘Pickup Select’ switch to move between a Flat, Magnetic and Piezo selection, matching your guitar. The left hand side features standard stereo ‘L/R’ and ‘Mono’ outputs, useful if you are utilising any of the stereo effects on board. The USB jack is also located on this side.
Although the A3 looks a little daunting at a first glance, Zoom has actually thought out the operation in as user-friendly a manner as possible. At the top you find a large dial to select between 16 different guitar types, including an Upright Bass and Resonator should you need it. Matching this dial to your guitar type you then move on to a very musical three band EQ to sculpt your basic sound. The Treble, Bass and Middle controls are pretty powerful and can really enhance a weak sounding pickup and worked with far more precision than the controls on the guitar used for the review.
Next we have Balance and Master controls for mixing between the dry and wet effected sound and increasing overall output volume. On the right we have Mic and Pickup level controls to adjust input gain for each input individually with a small clipping LED for each channel. In between these controls is an easy to read LCD screen showing all the parameters currently being edited or the guitar model used. Underneath here are the editing tools for a pre-set with ‘menu’ and ‘type’ buttons offering both push and rotary functions for altering parameters easily. Again, those with larger fingers will have a hard time with these three dials which should really have been spread further apart for easier access.
Finally we have the three footswitches accompanied by three LEDs that double as buttons, namely ‘Anti Feedback’ allowing you the A3 to examine your signal and select, then remove, up to three rogue frequencies that may be causing problems. Next is ‘Effect’ for selecting effect edit mode and bypassing individual effects in a pre-set, followed by ‘Boost’ allowing a user selected amount and frequency of boost, engaged by tapping the footswitch. The middle footswitch also doubles as a Tuner select and Tap Tempo button whilst in a delay effect.
Editing is surprisingly easy once you have learnt the multiple functions of the buttons. A read of the manual is thoroughly recommended though as it took this reviewer about an hour to discover that the LEDs above the footswitches were also depressible buttons too!
The A3 allows the user to select from 28 different acoustic guitar model types ranging from D-28s to 000-28s, Classic Jumbos and even Resonator and 12-string models. These function like advanced EQs and really add some depth and character to the sound that you miss once it’s switched off. The effect is fairly subtle, designed to be matched to the guitar you are using to add back in the tone that is lost when using pickups and is very much worthy of investigation, adding a certain something that just feels more comfortable and natural as you play.
Also available are 40 effect types, of which two can be added to any pre-set. These range from very high quality reverbs and delays to stereo choruses, compression effects and pitch shifters. The effects quality that Zoom have been delivering in their current line of processors is nothing short of miraculous given the price point and this is aided by full 32 bit signal processing and 24 bit, 128 times over-sampling A/D and D/A conversion. If you have no idea what that means you just need to understand that these numbers equal great signal integrity and superb sounding effects.
With this many effects and models on offer, the number of pre-sets that the user can create becomes limitless so you can really go to town with your creativity. For ease of use in live scenarios, pre-sets can be labelled as ‘A’ and ‘B’ with up to 20 programmable pre-sets up to the letter ’T’ and a quick press of the middle footswitch will switch between them. Selection of other pre-sets is a little more fiddly but considering the amount on offer at the price, it is a fault that can be forgiven!
The Zoom A3 represents amazing value for money. 40 effects, 28 guitar models, numerous ins and outs and a high quality audio signal path in a unit that looks like it was made to survive a nuclear blast. There’s nothing to not recommend with the A3 so I suggest, if you are an acoustic player in need of a great pre-amp, that you go and check it out right away!