Zoom’s new multi‑effects pedal is both a problem‑solver and a source of inspiration.
Over the years of playing bass gigs I’ve had an on/off relationship with effects pedals. For some periods of my bass playing career I subscribed to the idea that all you need is a bass, a cable and an amp. However, a few years ago I found myself playing in a band that demanded both electric and upright basses in the same set, and along with a pedal to swap between them, each instrument also required different EQs. The electric — a fretless — required a bit of chorus and reverb in the more atmospheric songs.
So I found myself with a nest of boxes and patch cables at my feet. There were multiple connections to get wrong, cable reliability to worry about, batteries to check, and more than once I left a pedal at a venue and had to go back the next day to rescue it (on one occasion I didn’t get my Boss graphic EQ pedal back). In the end, I came to appreciate the creative possibilities of the sounds, but I got tired with the palaver and stress of separate effects and invested in a Zoom B3 multi‑effects box. And although the B3 is a brilliant and rugged little box that makes gigging life much less complicated, I’ve never been entirely convinced by the sound quality of many of its effects, and consequently I’m relatively conservative in terms of which ones I use. So, the launch of the new Zoom B6, the review subject here, had me intrigued.
The B6 is very much larger and very much more capable than the B3 and its successor, the B3n. For a start, where the B3n offers a total of 67 individual ‘stompbox’‑style effects or amp models (each one of course separately configurable), the B6 offers around 115. And whereas the B3n enabled each patch to be built from a chain of up to three effects, the B6 accommodates six. But that’s just the beginning of the B6 story; there’s much more to it than just effects count and patch chain length. Probably the easiest way to begin to explain all there is to play with (and there is a lot) is to describe its physical format, so that’s what I’ll do.
At 42 x 23cm, the B6 consumes significantly more floor space than the B3, and that’s potentially an issue on bijou stages. However, it’s still pretty small compared to many a bandmate’s pedalboard that I’ve had to gingerly step over on the way to the back of the stage. Structurally, the B6, with its carbon‑fibre‑look plastic top panel and metal chassis, feels sturdy and suitably roadworthy, if perhaps not quite as bomb‑proof as the all‑metal B3.
On the upper surface are located nine footswitches, four rotary parameter encoders and a 100 x 75mm colour LCD touchscreen. The touchscreen displays everything you need to know about the current state of the B6, enables effect and patch configuration and selection, and also incorporates swipe‑down setup screens that provide access to all the necessary configuration and housekeeping menus. The idea of a touchscreen on a device that by its very nature sits on the floor for foot operation might seem a little incongruous (especially if, like me, you own a pair of ageing knees), but the B6 is so generously equipped with both effect and configuration options that I think it’s actually a perfectly reasonable proposition. Furthermore, with the optional Bluetooth wireless adaptor fitted, or the B6 connected to a computer by USB, all configuration can be done from an iOS device or a Mac OS/Windows computer — no knee‑strain required.
To begin with the footswitches, the function of the four Effect switches located along the front edge of the B6 is conditional on the setting of the far‑left Play Mode switch, but before I lift the lid on that, I’ll quickly cover the function of the remaining four switches.
At the top right is an input selection switch. The B6 can accommodate two instruments (hurrah!) and this switch simply selects between them. Directly below the input switch is a DI selection switch that cycles through two valve types and two transistor types of modelled DI box. If you’d rather not have a DI box model at the end of your signal chain, there’s also a defeat option. Finally, at the bottom right‑hand side is a bypass switch. It cycles through options of bypass off, bypass effects (leaving any selected DI option in place) and bypass all.
The last of the four ‘hard’ switches, the one to the right of the touchscreen, actually has two functions. Firstly, if a looper or rhythm generator (more of both later) tempo is required, repeatedly tapping the switch defines said temo. Secondly, if you press and hold the switch, a big, bold and wonderfully clear tuner display appears on the B6 screen. Engaging the tuner also usefully mutes the B6 output. I found the tuner easy to use and reassuringly stable. It tunes chromatically to 440Hz by default, but other options can be configured if required.
Moving on to the ‘soft’ Effect footswitches along the front edge of the B6, their function is modified by the setting of the Play Mode switch located to the left of the touchscreen. The Play Mode switch sequentially selects through four modes: Looper, Memory, Bank/Patch and Effect Board. Looper mode is a bit of an outlier in terms of the core functionality of the B6 and I’ve covered that in the ‘Rhythms & Loops’ box. The other three modes I’ll describe in the next few paragraphs, but before I do that it’s probably useful to know a little about how the B6 stores and organises effects patches. Each patch can include a chain of up to six effects (including an external effect connected using the rear‑panel send and return jacks) and patches are stored in banks of up to four. The B6 by default ships with 100 preconfigured patches stored in Banks A to Y, with space for 240 user patches stored in a further 60 banks (Z, AA, AB, AC, and so on).
In Memory mode, the touchscreen displays the four patches in the selected bank along with arrow icons that scroll either way through the banks. The patches are also assigned to the four front footswitches. Pressing one, or touching one of the screen icons, will enable the patch. Memory mode, with its easy access to four patches, is really well suited to selecting alternate patches for different sections of a song. Patches can be easily renamed and could reflect song sections (intro, verse, chorus, break, for example).
In Bank/Patch mode, the function of the four front‑edge footswitches changes. The two on the left select, respectively, the next bank up and down, and the two on the right select the next patch up and down. Keep pressing either patch switch, however, and patch selection will continue into the next bank rather than scrolling around the patches within the bank.
Finally, in Effect Board mode, the B6 touchscreen displays the effects chain for the selected patch, with the front‑edge footswitches assigned to enable or bypass four of the maximum of six effects. Assigning an effect to a footswitch is as simple as ‘dragging’ on the touch screen from the effect icon to the appropriate footswitch icon.
Effects Board mode is also where you begin to configure and fine‑tune patches. This can be done by creating them from scratch or copying and modifying a preconfigured patch, but either way, it’s where all the fun starts. The B6 offers a total of 119 effects, each with an individual set of parameter controls, across 13 categories. The categories, followed by the number of effects in each are: Filter (13), Drive (13), Preamp (13), Bass Amp (11), Bass Cab (12), Modulation (17), SFX (7), Delay (7), Reverb (8), Pedal (6), Send/Return (3), and Impulse Response (1). Most of the categories are self‑explanatory, but those that perhaps aren’t work as follows...
The SFX category includes bass‑synth style effects and some more radical, one‑off sorts of sounds. One is named ‘Bomber’, which perhaps tells you all you need to know. The Pedal category includes effects such as bass wah and output volume control, which require the addition of an expression pedal to the B6. The Send/Return effects offer three different signal routing options for externally connected effects in terms of where in the B6 chain their signal originates and returns. Finally, in the less self‑explanatory categories, the Impulse Response (IR) effect enables impulse responses of bass amps and acoustic spaces to be incorporated in an effects chain. The B6 includes a library of 36 such impulse responses but also enables custom impulse responses to be recorded, uploaded via an SD card, and added to the library — 84 of them in fact.
Back in the world of B6 effects, my process for building an effects patch from scratch went something like this (I write “my process” because the configuration versatility of the B6 means that it’s not the only way):
- With the B6 in Bank/Patch mode, select an empty effects slot and then switch to Effects Board mode. The touchscreen will display six instances of the bypass ‘effect’.
- Now swipe down on the touchscreen to the settings menus and select Change Amp/Effect. This will return you to the previous Effects Board patch display but now with a ‘swap’ icon on each of the six effects slots.
- Now tap on one of the effects slots and the main effects menu will open. Tap on one of the effect categories, followed by the desired effect, and then tap OK. Returning to the Effects Board screen will display the chosen effect located in the appropriate position. If you want more than one effect (which you almost certainly will) in a patch, adding more is simply a case of repeating the Change/Amp Effect stage — but there is a catch, which I’ve discussed in the ‘Load Limits’ box.
- Once an effect is placed in a patch you can edit its parameters. To do this, simply tap on the effect in the Effects Board display and the effects parameter screen will open. Parameter values can be adjusted either by swiping the touchscreen in the vicinity of each virtual knob, or by turning the four rotary encoders located beneath the touchscreen. For effects that offer more than four parameters, a left swipe on the touchscreen will open a second parameter page.
- And finally, with a patch built you can swipe down to the settings menus to rename and save it (although the default behaviour of the B6 is actually to auto‑save patches). You can also assign four effects in a patch to a specific front‑edge footswitch, although if you find yourself in a situation where individual effects need bypassing or enabling during a performance, building a separate patch is probably more sensible.
I could write many, many more words about the B6’s functions and how its numerous menu options result in a variety of different ways to configure exactly what’s needed, but rather than that, I’ll move on to the effects themselves. I wrote back up at the top of the page how the B3 never entirely satisfied me in respect of its sounds — some worked but many left me somewhat underwhelmed. The B6 is a completely different kettle of cliché, because everything I tried sat somewhere between genuinely interesting and creatively inspiring. Almost without exception, there’s a warmth and depth to the sounds of the B6 effects that I never really heard from the B3. Some great examples of that lie among the B6’s distortion and envelope filter effects where there’s a richness and complexity that’s really seductive and engaging. On the B3 I tended to give those sorts of effects a miss. Investigating a few more of them when a B6 replaces my B3 (as it surely will) is going to be enormous fun and creatively satisfying.
As well enabling effects and patches to be configured anew, the B6 of course ships with 100 preconfigured patches. They run through a huge range of genres and styles and almost without exception seem to be very well judged and immediately usable. These preconfigured patches also work extremely well as launchpads for new patches. Copying and then editing a patch is straightforward, and doing so is not only a quick route to a new patch: I found it helped greatly in teaching me how the preconfigured patches and sounds are built, and how better to build some of my own.
The creative possibilities that the B6 enables and makes so intuitively accessible is really impressive.
This review period coincided with me rehearsing and playing a series of gigs as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival, so as well as it being used in the slightly sterile and low‑pressure environment of my home studio, it also got a proper cramped rehearsal studio and sweaty gig workout. It passed the test with aplomb and was the subject of admiring glances from both bandmates and sound techs. The only minor frustration for me was with the position of the input footswitch. Said switch is located at the top right and consequently requires rather more extreme one‑legged balancing to operate than it would if it were located front right where the much less used Bypass switch is located. The set list at the gigs had me swapping between electric and upright basses almost every other song, so I was doing quite a bit of one‑legged balancing — but perhaps swapping between instruments so often, rather than the footswitch position, was actually the problem that needed fixing...
As well as using the B6 in anger at three pretty intense gigs, for which it met my needs perfectly and performed impeccably, I’ve found investigating its capabilities during the review period genuinely inspiring. The creative possibilities that the B6 enables and makes so intuitively accessible are really impressive. You can’t really ask much more of a multi‑effects box.
Round the back of the B6 are a power supply socket and on/off switch, a USB micro‑B socket (which allows the B6 to operate as a 2‑in/2‑out audio interface, and also to be configured by the Mac OS/Windows Zoom Guitar Lab app), a Bluetooth wireless adaptor socket (which enables connection to the Zoom Handy Guitar Lab iOS configuration app) and an SD Card socket for loop storage, backup and firmware updates.
The two mono 6.5mm instrument jack inputs can each be switched between 1MΩ or 10MΩ input impedances, and these are joined by a 3.5mm aux jack input. Outputs comprise a balanced mono XLR line out (with ground lift switch and master volume control) and a stereo headphone jack output; the stereo headphone output can, of course, potentially also drive a stereo line input. There’s also send and return jacks for integrating external effects into the B6’s patches, and a control input jack for connecting to a Zoom FP02M or other suitable expression pedal.
Each effect places a load on the B6’s internal processing and if, when you try to insert an effect, doing so will result in the load exceeding 100%, the B6 won’t play ball. Now, the processor load for each effect is listed in the effects menu display, as is the total load of the patch as it is built, so it’s not difficult to keep track, but to begin with I was occasionally disappointed at how few effects I could add to a patch before its load exceeded 100%. However, once I became more familiar with the various effect options, and had a much clearer idea of the sound I was after, I became more canny in terms of selecting effects that would do specifically what I wanted, and no more, without breaking the bank, so to speak. I began to find the load limit actually encouraged me to be more thoughtful about building patches.
Rhythms & Loops
In addition to all the effect and patch features, the Zoom B6 incorporates a highly capable looper module and a library of 68 preconfigured rhythm patterns. In Looper mode the four front‑edge footswitches change to provide Record/Play, Stop, Undo/Redo and Clear functions. Loops can be either free‑running or fixed to a tempo and note value. In the latter case these settings define a total loop time.
And speaking of loop time, the B6 can accommodate up to 90 seconds in mono and 45 seconds in stereo (while instrument inputs to the B6 are of course mono, the aux input and some effects generate a stereo output). Loops can be positioned in the signal chain either before or after the B6 patch currently selected when Looper mode is engaged. New phrases can be overdubbed on existing loops, and effects patches can be changed while an existing loop is playing — both of which features potentially inspire quite mind‑boggling creative possibilities. And along with the combination of loops and effect patches, the B6 also enables its stored rhythm patterns to be played‑in.
In use, the B6 looper and its rhythm pattern library are intuitive and simple, even for a relative loop newbie. The rhythm library itself breaks no particular new ground in terms of its patterns or sound quality, but the sounds are eminently usable.
The bass multi‑effects category is relatively sparsely populated, though the Zoom B6 doesn’t quite have the space entirely to itself. Alternatives in roughly the same price ballpark include the TC Electronic Plethora X5, Boss GX‑100, Boss GT‑1B and Line 6 HX Stomp.
- Immensely versatile.
- Immensely configurable.
- Offers vast creative possibilities.
- Great effect sound quality.
- Well built and gig‑worthy.
The B6 is a huge advance on the previous Zoom bass multi‑effect products, offering great effect sound quality and massive versatility.
£478.80 including VAT.
Sound Service MSL Distribution +44 (0)207 118 0133.
Zoom North America +1 631 542 5270.