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Zoom Rhythmtrak 123

Drum Machine By Nicholas Rowland
Published June 1999

Zoom Rhythmtrak 123

Zoom's new beatbox offers a wide range of percussion sounds and patterns at an extremely affordable price.

Having made an impressive drum machine debut with the Rhythmtrak 234 (see SOS May 1998), Zoom are hoping to warm the cockles of fiscally challenged hearts still further with the Rhythmtrak 123, which not only offers plenty of bang, crash and wallop for the buck, but also takes Zoom's penchant for slick design to new levels of cuteness. A cut‑down version — literally — of the 234, the RT123 is hardly bigger than the accompanying manual and not that much heavier than its wall‑wart power supply. But its size belies a comprehensive specification that includes 105 onboard drum and bass samples, 297 preset patterns covering a huge range of styles, plus room for up to 99 user patterns and 99 songs (subject to a maximum total limit of 10,000 notes). The RT123 also offers the 234's 'grooveplay' feature, allowing you to trigger and loop combinations of patterns from the pads 'DJ‑style'. Add to this luxuries such as velocity‑sensitive pads, tap tempo and timing offset functions, comprehensive foot‑pedal control and MIDI facilities, and you've got the makings of another Zoom winner.

The area in which the RT123 is less sophisticated than its older brother is mainly that of sonic tweaking. On the RT234, you can modify the timbre, volume and pitch of individual sounds via a 'Sound Jammer' slider. There's no such luxury here, though the sounds on the 123 will respond to pitch‑bend over MIDI — useful for creating those essential lo‑fi, trip‑hop grooves. Bass sounds, but not drums, also respond to MIDI pan.

Another point of difference is that you can only use two kits plus a bass patch within each pattern, whereas the 234 gave you three kits plus bass. While this reduces the maximum possible number of drum sounds per pattern from 39 to 26, most users will still see this as generous. Finally, the RT123's menu of drum sounds stops short of the more esoteric percussion and weird effects sported by the older version. Sadly (for me) that means you miss out on possibly the most inspirational tabla sound yet found on any drum machine, but I suppose if you've never heard it, you won't miss it.

What you do get is a healthy spread of conventional drum and cymbal sounds in rock, power, jazz and analogue variants, plus a sprinkling of handheld and latin percussion. The 25 bass sounds also cover the waterfront in terms of styles: electric, acoustic, slap, analogue, harmonics and a rather juicy sub‑bass.


Around half the RT123's preset patterns tread a well‑worn path through the usual rock, pop, funk, jazz and latin rhythms, accompanied by classic (read clichèd) bass lines. However, if you're a guitarist or keyboardist looking for a dependable rhythm section, you'll find these patterns will do very nicely (there's even a line in so you can play along to the 123 without using an additional mixer). For me, things get more interesting when you stray into dance, hip‑hop and techno territory, and very interesting indeed when you hit the handful of 'Afro', 'Middle East' 'Polyrhythm' and 'Celtic' styles. When it comes to DIY programming, even the most fogeyish of technofogeys will find the RT123 easy to use. And the fact that most of the buttons light up when active is a godsend when you're trying to work out which sound is assigned to which pad as a pattern plays.

The RT123 offers all the usual pattern creation functions, with real‑ and step‑time data entry, pattern copy and delete. When playing bass lines, the 13 pads act like a miniature keyboard, and you can not only can you transpose the entire range of pitches at once, but also create custom scales by assigning pitch values to pads individually. These settings are saved individually for each pattern.

Equipped with a MIDI In (but no Out) the RT123 makes a highly serviceable percussion module for a MIDI sequencer setup. The two drum tracks and the bass track are all accessible via separate (programmable) MIDI channels, and different patches can be called up using program change numbers. Interestingly, I discovered that when the RT123 is playing an internal pattern using one set of sounds, you can call up another set of sounds via MIDI and play them over the top.

Finally, I should mention the optional footswitch which puts extra functionality at your, er, feet. You can switch between two sounds on one pad (eg. between open and closed hi‑hat), tap out the tempo, start or pause patterns, mute or solo drum tracks and trigger a sound continuously. All very useful for the hi‑tech one‑man band.

The Rhythmtrak 123 should be another winner for Zoom. It's neat, well‑specified... and it lights up in a most impressive manner! And at this price, the higher‑tech user might even be prepared to overlook the lack of MIDI Out. In short, well worth beating a path towards.

Rhythmtrak 123 Vital Statistics

  • Drum kits: 80.
  • Bass programs: 25.
  • Rhythm patterns: 297 preset, 99 user.
  • Songs: 99.
  • Maximum notes: 10,000.
  • Maximum polyphony: 30 voices.
  • Resolution: 96 PPQN.
  • Tempo range: 40‑250bpm.
  • Quantise values: quarter, eighth, eighth triplet, sixteenth, sixteenth triplet, thirty‑second, thirty‑second triplet notes, and off.
  • Outputs: quarter‑inch jack (L/Mono, R); headphones.
  • Inputs: MIDI In; quarter‑inch mono line in; footswitch.
  • Power: 9V AC.


  • Lovely to look at, easy to use... even in the dark!
  • Lots of usable preset rhythms.
  • Bass sounds. It's got them.


  • Selection of drum sounds perhaps a little too 'safe'.
  • Lack of MIDI Out ultimately limits usefulness in a studio.


Cheaper than paying a real drummer in washers, Zoom strike another blow for the impecunious. However, if you can stretch to the 234 then do so.