Just over a year ago I reviewed the Tiptop Audio Z‑DSP NS. It's a large, flagship, modular effects processor which uses removable cartridges to change the algorithms available within. I was very impressed with the quality of its effects.
The first incarnation of the Z‑DSP was released in 2009, along with the original Z5000, and Tiptop have been quietly amassing a large library of effects algorithms since then. It makes perfect sense, then, to release these effects in a smaller, more focused format. The Z‑DSP is a sizeable 28HP. The ZVERB, ECHOZ & Z5000, on the other hand, are just 8HP each. That means you could own them all and still use less space than the Z‑DSP.
The ZVERB focuses on reverbs, ECHOZ on delays and the Z5000 is an all-rounder with a bit of everything. These modules use the same processors and, largely, the same algorithms as the Z‑DSP, so you get all the quality, but in a more focused package. All three work in the same way. At the top are three buttons which are used to select one of the 24 onboard algorithms. A long press selects one of three preset banks, and then subsequent short presses rotate around the eight algorithms contained in that bank. There is no screen, so the only visual feedback to show which algorithm you have loaded is from the three buttons which light up in various combinations. The manual, of course, will enlighten you on exactly which algorithms are which.
Each module is mono in, stereo out. There are controls for Time, Feedback (or modulation, depending on the algorithm), Fidelity, Input gain and dry/wet Mix. Most of these will be self-explanatory, but the Fidelity control is worth a closer look.
Fidelity allows you to directly change the processing clock of the CPU. This slows down the algorithm processing in a very digital way, but has a rather delightful effect on the ensuing audio. Normally, you would keep the Fidelity control at full, but if you begin to reduce it you'll notice delays and reverbs getting darker and longer until they begin to exhibit digital artifacts and eventually turn into a lo-fi digital landscape. It's a feature passed down from the Z‑DSP and I'm very glad that Tiptop Audio decided to keep it in these smaller modules.
Whatever unit you choose, I promise you won't be disappointed with the sheer quality and breadth of effects on offer.
In addition to the input and output sockets, you get three CV inputs labelled Filter, Time/Fidelity and Mod (or Feedback). The middle socket has a small switch above it to switch the destination of the CV to either Time or Fidelity. These CV inputs give you direct CV control over the corresponding parameters in each algorithm.
Let's take a look at each module in turn. ZVERB is your choice for reverb. The 24 algorithms are split into three groups: '70s, '80s and '90s. I think this is a nice way of grouping reverbs, depending the vintage character you're looking for. The 1970s reverbs were the first generation of digital reverberation and many classic units are still revered. The '80s saw the first budget reverb units and the '90s saw further development and higher fidelity than ever before. Each group contains reverb types like Room, Hall, Plate and Ambience, but a few speciality algorithms are thrown in too. For example, the '70s bank contains 'Space Station', a recreation of the Ursa Major Space Station. It is actually a multi-tap delay, but capable of some lovely reverb–style effects, and 'Tape > Plate', which emulates a tape echo going into a Plate reverb. The '80s bank contains a couple of 'shimmer' algorithms, clearly influenced by Eventide–style pitch-shifting, and a 'Blooming' algorithm inspired by budget Alesis boxes like the Midiverb and Quadraverb. The '90s offers more advanced pitch-shifting reverbs and even a formant filter verb for vocal‑like effects.
ECHOZ groups its delay-based effects into Tape, Digital and Pitch banks. The Tape delays include mono and stereo variations, three-head, chorus and 'wobbly' effects to emulate dying tape motors. The Digital bank offers mono, ping-pong, BBD, filter, diffused and multi-tap delays, and the Pitch programs cover a variety of pitch–shifter configurations both in and out of the feedback loops, or with quantised chromatic intervals, micro pitch-shifting, shimmers or just gentle detunes.
The Z5000 is probably the module to go for if you can only afford one, or have limited space. The effects are split into Reverbs, Delays and Pitch/Modulation. Most of the reverb and delay algorithms are shared with the ZVERB and ECHOZ, but the Z5000 only has eight of each. The third bank, however, contains modulation algorithms not found on the other two modules: chorus, flanging, string ensemble and formant filters.
It must be said that the overall quality of the effects found in all three modules is extremely high. I really can't fault them at all. Occasionally I found myself wishing for more parameters on a certain algorithm, but that's the nature of multi-effects, and at this price and module size, I really cannot complain about the variety of effects on offer.
My only gripe is that, for anyone wanting to own more than one unit, the configuration of mono to stereo isn't ideal (note the original Z5000 and Z‑DSP from 2009 are stereo in/out). That means that, when cascading effects, you lose the stereo field of all but the last effect in the chain, which is a shame. Had the modules been stereo in and out, this wouldn't have been a problem.
The question comes down to which one(s) to buy (and whether you want black or white faceplates). Many of the algorithms in the Z5000 are also found in ZVERB and ECHOZ. As it stands, I would urge those that have big systems to check out ZVERB and ECHOZ, and perhaps add the Z5000 if it appeals. If you can only afford one, and have need for a variety of bread-and-butter effects, the Z5000 is the obvious choice. If true stereo effects are important to you, then you'll have to look to the Z‑DSP. Whatever unit you choose, I promise you won't be disappointed with the sheer quality and breadth of effects on offer.