Innovative guitar multieffects pedal combines cool sounds with the ability to add new effects via iOS devices over Bluetooth
$249.99 MSRP, $149.99 street
by Craig Anderton
I'll admit it: Zoom Effects more or less flew under my radar for quite a while. I hadn't been that impressed with some of their earlier offerings, so I filed under "not that interested." Sure, I covered them in trade show reports, and noticed that they had a lot of traction at the Frankfurt Musikmesse, but there are only so many hours in a day―and I wasn't sure they needed to be spent checking out Zoom's effects.
The turning point for me was the Zoom R8. It's a great little recorder, but what impressed me was how Zoom went the extra mile. The two mic inputs didn't just have phantom power, they had two phantom power options: 48V, but also 24V (which works with most condenser mics) if you wanted to save battery life. The user interface was actually quite easy to use, and the internal mics actually sounded pretty good. The more I got into it, the more I started to think that maybe I needed to pay a little more attention to what the company was doing.
Then I got a call from a Zoom representative who said they had a new pedal that he really thought I'd like to check out. I figured I'd give it a shot, but was still thinking in terms of what Zoom had been doing a few years ago in terms of effects, so I thought perhaps the rep's enthusiasm might not translate to me.
Bottom line: Zoom is now officially on my radar (and that position was solidified further when Zoom introduced the A3 processor for acoustic guitars, which will get its own review at some point). The MS-100BT is clever, useful, loaded with cool effects, priced right, rugged, and includes a few features that definitely caught my attention.
WHAT YOU SEE IS NOT WHAT YOU GET
That's because what you see is the way the MS-100BT ships, but it's not stuck forever in that zone because you can expand it simply and easily. You can load new effects and amps from an iOS app called StompShare (Fig. 1), with prices ranging from $0.99 for effects to $1.99 for amps—very reasonable for this kind of a la carte approach. The app is compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch with iOS 4.3 or later.
Fig. 1: The StompShare app, for iOS devices, lets you add new effects and amps. You can also try them out first, and even play with the controls.
At this point you're probably wondering "but do I connect to the MS-100BT via USB with a Lightning or 30-pin connector?" The answer is neither. Zoom circumvents the 30-pin/Lightning issue by nuking the cable entirely, and using Bluetooth (Fig. 2) to transfer patches from your iOS device to the MultiStomp (it’s fast, too).
Fig. 2: I'm not used to seeing effects with Bluetooth; but this could be the start of a trend, not just a blip.
One of StompShare’s best features is that in addition to audio demos, you can load an effect into the MS-100BT and play through it for 15 minutes (and you’re not limited to one trial period). What’s more, all parameters are editable via the MS-100BT’s hardware controls, so you can really explore what an effect can do. You can also insert the effect into a patch with other effects to check it out in context..
Also, the MS-100BT is a true multieffects. Even if you don't expand it at all, you're still getting 100 processors (92 effects and 8 amps)—buying an amp or effect simply adds it to this roster, which you can store as effects chains in 50 presets.
THE ONBOARD EFFECTS
There’s quite a selection, including “out there” effects like a bit crusher, ring modulator, and several synthesizer-type options. Although I often find these kind of sounds clever but not useful, some of them are definite keepers. There’s also the expected collection of dynamics, EQ, time-based, and modulation effects. You can load up to six effects, within limits of the available DSP; I found it very difficult to run out of DSP power.
The amps are good, but others who are as picky as me will appreciate the multiple pages of tweakable parameters—you can even mix and match amps and cabinets. Even better, there are multiple output modes that are suitable as a "front end" for combo amps or stacks, a preamp that drives power amp inputs, ora line out for feeding recording-oriented audio interfaces.
One cool studio trick is to turn off the cab, and use an amp sim’s cab to give a variety of flavors. However, my favorite amps were the optional-at-extra-cost ones; I particularly liked the Tone City, Match 30, and MS Crunch amps, with the Centagold overdrive providing a great complement to any of them. Basically, for $6.96 I got the amp sounds I wanted and more . . . that’s a great deal.
There are also some unexpected extras. You can use the effect as mono in/out, stereo in/out, mono in/stereo out, or stereo in/mono out (Fig. 3); this means the MS-100BT is a good choice not just for guitar, but can add some instant mojo to electronic drums, keyboards, and other instruments.
Fig. 3: The inputs and outputs let the MS-100BT accommodate pretty much any combination of mono or stereo inputs or outputs; this image shows the outputs.
Also, there's tap tempo, the ability to optimize power consumption for alkaline of Ni-MH batteries (or better yet, use the included AC adapter), tuner (which can mute when enabled, or not), and rugged construction—this can indeed survive sitting on the floor.
THE USER INTERFACE
This is usually the section of a review where I caution that all this coolness comes with a price―you have to deal with the user interface. But not this time. For tabletop programming, the combination of three push-pots and multiple pages make it virtually painless to navigate around, despite the flexibility. However, there is a catch: for live use there’s no random access, or MIDI footswitch compatibility. You have to program a “playlist” of effects, and step through them to get from preset to preset. For a half-dozen presets, this is doable but with too many more, you’ll be tap dancing. (Hey Zoom—how about an iPad app for preset random access?)
SO . . . IS IT COOL?
Even without Bluetooth and the StompShare app, the MS-100BT is packed with useful effects, yet its size would let it slide right into pedalboard. It’s mercifully easy to tweak, as well as adapt presets for either feeding an amp or direct into a mixer. We’ll see what optional effects appear in the future, but the 22 existing effects are off to a fine start—and the overall sound quality is a definite, and major, step up from previous Zoom products. This level of functionality at this price, with these kinds of sounds, is very hard to beat—and good for a more than just guitar, too. Good job.
Craig Anderton is Executive Editor of Electronic Musician magazine. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.