Paul White tries out Zoom's new super‑budget, 'no frills' 1202 effects processor and finds it to be far more versatile than its appearance suggests...
In the early days of digital reverbs, when the units on offer had only a few presets, the average musician wanted more flexibility, programmability and MIDI control — in short, more variables to twiddle. Now that we inhabit the parameter‑tweakers' equivalent of Nirvana, there seems to be a shift the other way, with more people demanding simplicity of operation. After all, it isn't so bad when you have a single piece of gear with a manual as thick as Yellow Pages, but when your studio is full of complicated boxes, life is just too short to learn them all thoroughly. What we really want is instant gratification!
Zoom have implemented their own version of 'back to basics' in the form of the 1202 Studio Effects processor, which is based on presets, and has no MIDI or user memories. Sound familiar? So far, what I've described is very much along the lines of the established Alesis Microverb range, but the 1202 differs from the majority of preset units, in that a pair of front panel knobs provide instant access to two key parameters (which vary depending on the selected preset). And when you consider that there are 512 effects presets to start with, and that the RRP of the 1202 is only a couple of hundred pounds, it becomes apparent that the 1202 offers a lot of flexibility for the money.
Physically, the unit is largely conventional, from its 1U rack format to its unbalanced jack in and out connectors, but the oval front panel decal lends the 1202 a distinctive appearance, and given its low cost, the technical spec might also raise a few eyebrows. Unlike most budget effects boxes, this one uses the same 44.1kHz sampling, 64 times oversampling, 16‑bit linear conversion system as many professional audio processors. It's equally surprising that a significant number of the presets offer true stereo operation, in so far as different effects are applied to the left and right input signal.
The usual Input, Output and Mix controls are supplemented by Low and High EQ controls, which allow the effects signal to be further modified. The input level is monitored by a simple bi‑colour LED, which flashes green when the signal level is safe, and red when clipping isn't far off. As with the Alesis Microverb III, the effects are arranged into 16 types, selectable via a rotary switch, with 16 further variations on each type. A quick counting of fingers reveals that this only provides 256 effects and not the 512 mentioned, but this is where the A/B Bank button comes in, providing access to 16 further effects types. Finally, there are the Edit 1 and Edit 2 knobs, the functions of which vary (as mentioned above) depending on the effect type selected. There is no front panel bypass switch, but the rear panel does provide a bypass footswitch socket, as well as jacks for the two inputs and the stereo outputs. Power comes from a stand‑alone wall‑wart PSU.
Bank A is mainly filled with reverb effects, which go beyond the usual room, hall and plate settings to encompass specific vocal, orchestral and ambience settings, as well as several percussion treatments. Additionally, there's the obligatory Gate and Reverse settings. The two Edit knobs control different functions depending on which reverb type is selected; the reverb time is selected using the Pattern knob, while the Edit controls provide access to parameters like diffusion, attack, filtering, pre‑delay and so on.
Reverb accounts for 14 for of the available 16 effects types in Bank A; the remaining two are given over to Delay and Echo. Delay can be set independently for the left and right channels using the two Edit knobs, and the range of delay time runs from 0.4 to 370mS, depending on which basic effects are chosen. The effects Pattern selector controls the degree of feedback and cross‑feedback between channels. In Echo mode, the arrangement is similar, except that the two channels function as discrete processors, rather than as one stereo processor.
Bank B includes a wider range of effect types, and several programmes in which two effects are combined in series or parallel. Modulation effects include a 6‑voice chorus, flanger, tremolo and pitch‑shifter, the latter covering a range of plus or minus one octave, not in semitone steps, but in major scale increments. The two Edit controls, in this instance, function as coarse and fine tuning controls. An unexpected inclusion is the Zoom ZNR noise reduction system, which can be useful in cleaning up guitars and so forth, but unfortunately, this is only available on its own, and not in combination with any other effects.
The series effects comprise chorus + reverb, flange + reverb, and pitch + reverb, while the last eight effects types are parallel combinations, with one effect in the left channel and one in the right. These effects enjoy a high degree of independence, because Edit knob 2 always functions as a Mix level control for the second effect in the pair. The available combinations are: Chorus/Reverb; Flange/Reverb; Pitch/Reverb; Tremolo/Reverb; Chorus/Echo; Flange/Echo; Pitch/Echo and Tremolo/Echo.
The Zoom 1202 is, I feel, the first of many products that will offer modifiable presets rather than full programmability (Yamaha have the REV100 coming out any day now, which is, as far as I can tell, very much along the lines of the 1202) and as far as I'm concerned, the sooner this idea is applied to synth modules, the better.
The designers have obviously put a lot of thought into making the Zoom 1202 as flexible as possible while retaining ease of operation, but because there is no display of any kind, there's no practical way of telling the user what the two Edit knobs are assigned to. This means that until you get familiar with the unit, you need to keep the manual (actually just two folded sheets of paper) close by.
Tonally, there's not a lot to criticise given the very modest cost of the device, and the technical spec of the digital part of the system wouldn't disgrace a fully professional unit. Of course, reverb is subjective, but I've always rather liked Zoom's reverb algorithms, and when you consider that there are 14 basic reverb types to choose from, (each with 16 variations, EQ and the two Edit parameters) there's as much variety available as most people ever need, even without full parameter access. If you want an effects unit with a good selection of reverbs, with a few alternative effects served on the side, but you don't want to make a career out of learning how to use the thing, check one of these out — I think you'll like it.
On the whole, the effects are delivered to a high standard, though I wasn't convinced by some of the reverbs after high‑frequency damping had been applied, as they tended to sound a touch 'zonky' [for those of you as yet unfamilar with this time‑honoured piece of recording jargon, it can be translated into standard English as 'metallic and boomy' — Helpful Editorial Assistant] — but leave them nice and bright and they sound fine. The chorus, flange and delay effects deliver pretty much what you'd expect, though the respectable technical spec means that they are quieter and brighter than you would anticipate from what is unarguably a budget unit. Of course, the pitch‑shifter suffers from the usual budget problems of sounding out of tune or warbly when used for anything other than mild detuning effects, but it's still usable if mixed well beneath the original signal.
If there is a problem, it is to do with operation and not with sound quality; unless you keep the manual close at hand, it's not always obvious which parameters are being changed by the two Edit knobs. When I first tried the unit, I thought that only one knob was having any effect on some reverb presets, but in practice, it's actually varying reverb diffusion, and unless you listen to something in isolation, you really can't tell what's changing.
- Useful range of studio effects, particularly reverbs.
- Easy to operate.
- Discrete stereo operation on several effects settings.
- Good value for money.
- Unrealistic‑sounding pitch‑shift if used with extreme settings.
- Separate power supply unit.
- The unit doesn't tell you what parameters the Edit controls are accessing (you have to look in the manual).
A great all‑rounder for those working on a tight budget, but also a viable second or third reverb for anyone with a serious home studio or MIDI setup.