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Zoom Studio 1204

Effects Unit By Derek Johnson
Published October 1996

The budget effects market's looking increasingly crowded, with £199 as the new entry‑level price norm. Does Zoom's 1204, which features unusual effects not normally found at this cost, stand out from the crowd? Derek Johnson finds out.

The world seems awash with multi‑effects at the moment, and it's gratifying to note that the more affordable end of the market is actually the most congested. One of the results of the lowering of the effects‑processing price floor has been the stripped‑down processor — such as Alesis' venerable Microverb series, Yamaha's REV100, and Digitech's Studio Twin — offering preset studio treatments in affordable packages with limited (or sometimes no) control over the effects. Zoom followed this trend with their 1202 (reviewed back in February 1995), which was as simple as they come: 512 varied and useful effects, with control over two parameters plus EQ per effect, no MIDI, and a low price.

Now it's late 1996, and Zoom have released the true stereo Studio 1204. At first glance, the new processor's spec bares an uncanny similarity to the 1202, with the same number of presets and the same abbreviated editing system. It even retails for the same price as the 1202 originally did (although the 1202 now costs £50 less — see the news pages in this issue).

But there are a few significant enhancements. First of all, the 1204 adds 100 user memories, a 2‑digit LED display, effect category indicator LEDs, a simple but useful MIDI spec (program changes and access to a handful of parameters via MIDI controllers), and a modified selection of treatments. Alongside the expected reverb, delay and modulation effects is a welcome vocoder — which is unheard of at this price — a rotary speaker simulator, and the novel 'vocal distortion' effect.

Panel Beating

The 1204's stylish, gold‑finished front panel is refreshingly straightforward: basically, what you see is what you get. At the left, you'll find the power switch, and a mic input which is mixed with the main rear input, except when you use the vocoder. The input/output level controls (with peak LED) are followed by the effect selection and editing controls, with buttons for storing and managing user settings to the far right. The operating system, such as it is, is nicely user‑friendly, and similar in some ways to that of the DOD unit reviewed elsewhere in this issue. Let's take the tour:

  • Effect: use this knob to select your main effect type. There are 16 reverb, delay/echo, gated reverb, and reverse reverb options in Bank A, and 16 modulation, serial, parallel, and 'special' effects (vocoder, rotary simulator, vocal distortion and noise reduction) in Bank B. Check out the 'Effect Types' box for details. The 1204 allows a maximum of two effects at once, and obviously the combinations are preset for you.
  • Bank: this button switches between the A and B Bank of effects.
  • Pattern: the function of this knob varies from effect to effect, but essentially selects variations of the main effect. For example, when you're fine‑tuning a reverb, this knob alters the reverb time, in 16 steps; with delay/echo effects, it selects feedback values, and so on.
  • Edit 1/Edit 2: as you'd expect, these knobs allow you to edit two parameters per effect, with the parameters varying according to the current effect. Some reverbs use the knobs to alter diffusion and attack, some to alter pre‑delay and high‑frequency cut, while with chorus effects, they alter modulation delay and modulation frequency.
  • Low/High EQ: up to 12dB of cut or boost can be applied to the two bands of EQ. Centre frequencies vary according to the effect selected, although the majority are centred on 80Hz and 2kHz.
  • Mix: simply, a wet/dry effect mix control. At 12 o'clock, the untreated and treated signal have equal levels.
  • Manual/Memory: this button toggles between preset and user memory modes.
  • Effect: Toggles between effect and bypass.
  • Store: used to store edits in one of the 100 user memories: press once, choose a memory location with the memory up/down buttons next to the display, and press again.
  • Cancel: cancels a 'Store' operation.
  • MIDI: selects MIDI reception channel for program changes and MIDI controller messages.


Using the 1204 couldn't be simpler: choose an effect category, select the 'pattern' you want, within the category, and tweak the two parameters and EQ till you're happy. This is a surprisingly flexible system considering that there's only two parameters per effect available — in most cases, the parameters chosen are the ones you'd most want access to anyway. Although the display does its best by showing you the number of the current effect, and the Pattern and Edit 1 and 2 values when you tweak them, it's still a good idea to have the manual around, since it's tricky to keep track of exactly what these knobs are controlling, at least in your early days with the 1204.

One slightly odd thing is that once you've saved an edited effect, in preset mode, you need to hit the mode button and go into 'Memory' mode to access your edits.

Listen & Learn

And how does it sound? Rather good, actually. Reverbs are generally perfectly usable for synths and instrumental material, though less ideal for percussion and vocals. Even treatments specifically designed for drums and percussion suffer from a little graininess, and the overall effect can be artificial. However, you can always indulge in some heavy tweaking of the EQ and selected parameters.

Other effects — delays, flanging, and chorusing, for example — are good on all kinds of material. Zoom's Vocal Distortion (which is provided in combination with a small selection of delays and choruses) is wicked: use liberally for instant Trent Reznor, or put a drum machine through it for an easy street‑level jungle effect. As for the vocoder, while I really felt the need for a few extra controls (the ability to vary frequency bands, for example), this is good in its own way, and I'm more than happy to see it implemented on a sub‑£200 processor. Also welcome is the rotary speaker simulator, which features separate horn and rotor speed controls.

It seemed pretty strange to find ZNR (Zoom Noise Reduction) as a separate 'effect' on what is, after all, a budget processor. Personally, I'd like to have seen a basic ZNR included as part of every effect. As it is, if you want noise reduction, you can't have any other effect. But it has to be said that ZNR clamps down on noise, at the start or end of a track, for example, in a forgiving and unobtrusive manner.

The serial and parallel effects are useful, but the chosen pair of parameters for these can often seem odd. I also found the tremolo effect sounded more like a panned delay, although it's still very useable nonetheless. Pitch‑shifting, as with most budget processors, is best left for special effects or small shifts.

Zoom deserve credit for providing an excellent feature set for less than £200, but there are one or two negative points worth noting. First of all, the sole MIDI socket means that the 1204 can't transmit MIDI data of any kind — see box 'The 1204 & MIDI' for further details. I also detected a little zipper noise when using the edit knobs or corresponding MIDI controllers. Lastly, the 1204 lacks a headphones socket and footpedal sockets (for selecting programs, for example).

Zooming Off

To sum up, Zoom have taken an easy‑to‑use processor containing a good collection of serviceable effects, and added a selection of the kind of off‑the‑wall treatments usually found on more up‑market products. This fact alone could help give the 1204 the edge in an increasingly crowded marketplace — £199 has suddenly become a rather popular price point for entry‑level processors! If you're after a unit exclusively to provide high‑quality reverb, for vocals or acoustic guitar, for example, you probably won't find the 1204 fits the bill. If you're looking for a good all‑rounder to have some fun with, however, Zoom on down to your local hi‑tech music emporium and check one of these out.

Effect Types

The 1204's effects are quite varied, and different effects within any given category have different characteristics. For example, amongst the reverbs, the Room reverb time varies from 0.5‑3.3 seconds, while the Solo reverb has a range of 2.3‑55 seconds (yes, 55! Though the decay by then becomes masked in hiss). Both the Delay and the Echo have a maximum delay time of 370ms, but the left and right delays are truly independent in the case of the Echo; it is also possible to get a delay time of up to 740ms out of the Delay. Reverse and gated reverbs have an upper limit of 1152ms, and pitch shifting is +/‑ one octave, with detuning.

  • REVERB: Hall, Room, Plate, Vocal, Ambience, Orchestral, Studio, Session, Percussion, Drums, Solo, Delay, Echo, Gate, Power, Reverse.
  • MODULATION: Chorus, Flanger, Pitch Shift, Tremolo.
  • SERIAL: Delay+Reverb, Chorus+Reverb, Flange+Reverb, Pitch Shift+Reverb.
  • PARALLEL: Chorus/Reverb, Flange/Reverb, Pitch Shift/Reverb, Tremolo/Reverb, Chorus/Echo, Flange/Echo, Pitch Shift/Echo.
  • SPECIAL EFFECTS: Vocoder, Rotary, Vocal Distortion, Zoom Noise Reduction.


  • 512 presets.
  • 100 user memories.
  • 18‑bit, 128X oversampling AD/DA converters.
  • 44.1kHz sampling frequency.
  • 10Hz‑20kHz frequency response.
  • Stereo jacks in, mono mic in, stereo jacks out.
  • MIDI In.
  • 9V DC adaptor.

The 1204 & MIDI

One drawback of the 1204 is its lonely MIDI In socket (no MIDI Out). But this need not be as restricting as it first appears. In addition to receiving program changes, the 1204 can use MIDI Control Change messages to switch Effect Pattern, turn the effect on or off, and change the Edit 1, Edit 2, EQ Low, EQ High, and Mix Level parameters — in other words, affect all controls save the Effects knob, Bank A/B button, and in/out level knob. Provided you can generate these controllers in some way — from a master keyboard, a sophisticated MIDI pedal‑equipped effects board, or from within a software sequencer's mixer map, for example — you'll essentially have real‑time parameter control, to a limited degree. However, you can't send any MIDI data from the 1204 to an external device, and obviously the 1204's knobs don't transmit any data (no MIDI Out, remember).

The 100 user memories are filled with factory settings that can be restored at any time; however, this will over‑write any user settings.

With no MIDI out, you can't dump user settings over MIDI, or back them up in any other way. If I owned a 1204, my first move would be to arrange the first or last 32 user memories as un‑tweaked versions of the main effects. Then, a base effect could be called up via a program change at the beginning of a song, and MIDI controllers used to select a variation and tweak its parameters during the song. The next time that song is loaded, the program change and controller messages would restore the effects exactly as you wanted them.

And now, those MIDI controller assignments in full:

  • 84 Effect Pattern
  • 85 Edit 1
  • 86 Edit 2
  • 87 EQ High
  • 88 EQ Low
  • 8 Mix Level
  • 80, 91 Effect On/Off
  • Program Change 0‑99


  • Good value.
  • Good selection of effects, including some unusual treatments.
  • Easy to use.
  • True stereo operation.
  • Some dual‑channel effects.


  • No MIDI Out.
  • Reverbs not that exciting.


The 1204 provides a varied selection of useful everyday effects — but you can also get weird if you want to, which is most unusual at this price, and a tribute to Zoom's design team.