Zoom B2.1u review

Zoom B2.1uLooking to simplify my bass guitar rig, I bought this Zoom B2.1u floor board as a try-out. I have never been a fan of Zoom products, but that opinion was based on the quality (both build and sound) of the Zoom 506 bass effect processor. The 506 was crap. Period. Even for the money.

While strolling the music center some time ago, not looking for any bass guitar related stuff, my eye was drawn towards a retro looking floor board resembling the Line6 POD series. I thought, hey cool, Line6 is expanding their model line-up once again, good for them! Upon closer inspection, and to my negative surprise, the brand turned out to be Zoom. I walked on, looking for the studio headphones we came for.

Some weeks later, I was shopping for a new digital preamp equipped with amp simulations, that wasn't going to break the bank. First, I considered rack mount processors, but soon decided it would be either to expensive or too inflexible. Maybe a floor board would be able to fulfill my needs, with the added benefit of an expression pedal. I looked at Line6, Boss, Yamaha, Korg, Digitech, and others. Most were way too complex, others simply didn't meet my minimum requirements.

Why more stuff? The gear I'm using right now is excellent in many ways, but has a few serious flaws. I own a Digitech Studio Quad. It's a great processor, very flexible, extremely editable, but it has no bass specific effects like overdrive, and it doesn't change patches fast enough. Then there's the Boss VF-1, which does a lot better at where the Digitech fails to deliver, but its user interface is very slow, the compressor is useless for live performances, and the bass guitar algorithms don't include pedal wahwah.

My minimum requirements are:

  • Fully made of metal
  • Expression pedal capable of controlling at least volume, wahwah and effect intensities
  • Rotary knob based user interface
  • At least 3 tube amp models
  • At least 5 EQ bands
  • Capable of chorus and delay simultaneously
  • Compressor, pedal wahwah, detuner and edgy distortion effects
  • Controllable distortion dry-wet mix
  • Instant patch changeovers
  • Optional battery operation

Of course I also came accross the new Zoom floor boards, but this time gave them a serious look. Judging from the specs, the Zoom B2.1u met my requirements, while also adding USB, a DI output and a mains adapter. The price was more than right, so I just got one. I recommend getting it at Musik Service in Germany. The Zoom B2.1u isn't exactly expensive to begin with, but Musik Service has to be one of the absolute cheapest shops in Europe. Delivery and client support are just as good as any other shop I've dealt with.

Back to the Zoom B2.1u. What I like:

  • The sturdy metal casing and its weight
  • The endless control knobs and the fact that there are 3 of 'em
  • The immediate access to the effect parameters
  • The accurate expression pedal and its toe switch
  • The flexibility of the equalizer
  • The deadly silence when it's supposed to be dead silent
  • The DI output

What I don't like:

  • The display is awkward, to say the least. They could've spent $5 extra for a backlit character LCD. The very least they could've done is to put 13 segment or matrix LED displays in it.
  • There are only 2 buttons for patch selection.
  • The input doesn't like very hot signals.
  • The pitch shifter has a considerable lag.

Specific items:

  • Control: cryptic writings. Those two words summarize how to edit patches on this unit. It's the only real gripe I have with the B2.1u. The list of don't-likes is topped by this issue. On the other hand, once you grasp what the Zoom is trying to tell you, it's a piece of cake, really. An underlying issue however, is the fact that you don't know (and probably won't be able to memorize) what exact parameters you're editing for the effect you've selected. The hints printed around the knobs only tell you part of the story. You end up just turning the knob to see what parameter you're actually changing. To me this is serious. A very basic $5 character LCD would have solved this.
  • Handling: excellent. All metal, doesn't slip, inspires confidence. Knobs feel solid, finger buttons are nicely recessed.
  • Sound quality: amazing. Nothing short of amazing. Pro level. Sounds easily as good as most, much more expensive stuff.
  • Effects: wide variety, everything you could possibly need for bass guitar. Amp models sound good, as far as I can tell. Tweakability is enough to allow building one's own sounds.
  • Factory patches: useless to me. Most of them have the cabinet simulator applied, and sound much too muffled.
  • Looks: good. Doesn't look like the toys Zoom used to make. My first impression was that of a Line6 product. That says a lot.
  • To help me remember which knobs control which parameter, I made a PDF cheat sheet. You're welcome to download it, but you can also view it right here.

    Module Type Description PAR 1 PAR 2 PAR 3
    COMP/LIMIT CP Compressor sense attack output level
    LM Limiter threshold ratio output level
    WAH/EFX AW Auto wah position/mix sense resonance
    Ar Auto resonance position/mix sense resonance
    oC Octaver octaver level direct level tone
    tr Tremolo depth rate waveform
    PH Phaser position rate color
    rG Ring modulator position frequency dry-wet mix
    dF Defret sense tone color
    PW Pedal wah position/mix frequency output level
    DRIVE/SYNTH AG Ampeg SVT cabinet tone gain
    Sb Marshall Superbass cabinet tone gain
    SW SWR SM-900 cabinet tone gain
    AC Acoustic 360 cabinet tone gain
    bM Fender Bassman 100 cabinet tone gain
    HA Hartke HA3500 cabinet tone gain
    tE Trace Elliott AH-500 cabinet tone gain
    tU Tube preamp cabinet tone gain
    SA SansAmp DI cabinet tone gain
    tS Ibanez Tube Screamer cabinet tone gain
    od Boss ODB-3 cabinet tone gain
    dS MXR Bass DI+ cabinet tone gain
    FF Fuzz Face cabinet tone gain
    SS Standard synth cabinet variation sense
    St Synth talk cabinet variation decay
    MS Mono synth cabinet variation decay
    ZNR/MIX nr noisegate and drive/synth mix gate dry-wet mix level
    LO EQ LE Low 3-band EQ 70 Hz 150 Hz 450 Hz
    LP Low parametric EQ type frequency gain
    HI EQ HE High 3-band EQ 1 kHz 3 kHz 6 kHz
    HP High parametric EQ type frequency gain
    MOD/SFX CH Chorus depth rate dry-wet mix
    SC Stereo chorus depth rate dry-wet mix
    FL Flanger depth rate resonance
    PP Pedal pitch shifter color mode tone
    vb Vibrato depth rate dry-wet mix
    St Step phaser depth rate resonance
    dL Delay delay time feedback effect level
    tE Tape echo delay time feedback effect level
    Pt Pitch shifter shift tone dry-wet mix
    HP Harmonized pitch shifter scale key effect level
    DELAY dL Simple delay delay time feedback effect level
    Pd Ping pong delay delay time feedback effect level
    EC Echo (warm delay) delay time feedback effect level
    REVERB HL Hall decay tone effect level
    rM Room decay tone effect level
    SP Spring decay tone effect level
    CONTROL Ct Control settings pedal footswitch master level


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