Review: Zoom G5n

Guitar-effects processor with a comprehensive feature set
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Fig. 1. The rear panel shows the G5n’s I/O, which gives you what you need to use the unit, but no effects loop or MIDI ports.The G5n is Zoom’s new flagship multi-effects processor for guitar, and it includes a host of modern conveniences such as a USB interface, a looper, and the ability to trigger onboard drum loops (68 are provided). The I/O is relatively straightforward—a mono 1/4" input, stereo 1/4" outputs, a 1/4" control input, and mini jacks for headphones and the Aux input (see Figure 1). However, there is no effects loop or MIDI ports (for using MIDI control pedals) on the unit.

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The top panel has four modules, each with an on/off footswitch and indicator, LCD, and four parameter knobs. There is also a master LCD (the Overview Display) with navigation controls for adjusting global settings, a Master Level knob, and the Output Boost and Tone knobs. At the bottom are five footswitches that control basic functions such as the excellent and stable Tuner, Bank, and Preset scrolling; Tap Tempo; and switching between Memory mode and Stomp mode.

The built-in expression pedal can function in a variety of ways, including wah, volume, or controlling selected parameters: It is much simpler than the Z-Pedal from the unit’s predecessor, the G5, which could control several parameters at once. But unlike the G5, the G5n has no built-in 12AX7 tube. Rather, it has an Output Booster that is designed to add tube-like qualities. (More on that in a moment.)

The G5n does not come with a case, nor could I find one for sale on the Zoom website. Gigging guitarists will have to search for a third-party solution.

THE LINEUP

The G5n combines a broad range of effects with intuitive operation. The G5n offers 78 effects, including 68 DSP effects, five amp models, and five cabinet models. The DSP effects cover all the major categories, and some emulate renowned stompboxes—Seq-FLTR is based on the Z-Vex Seek Wah, TS Drive on the TS808, and MetalWRLD on the Boss Metal Zone.

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The amp models include emulations of a Fender Twin Reverb, Marshall JCM800, Vox AC-30, Mesa/Boogie Mark III, and the Bogner Ecstasy Blue channel. Matching cabinets are provided and count as separate effects. The upshot is that you can mix and match them; the downside is that you have to use two effects slots—one for the amp and another for the cabinet.

Also included in the effects lineup are stereo and mono loopers, which provide up to 80 seconds in mono, 40 seconds for stereo. One useful feature is the ability to create set-length loops (1 bar, 2 bars, etc.), which makes it easy to record perfectly in time. Of course, you need a tempo reference, which is where the unit’s built-in drum loops come in handy. The drums sound decent, and they give you a count-in when you press record for the first pass of a loop.

The USB port can be connected to a Mac or PC to allow the G5n to function as an audio interface for recording in mono or stereo. You can adjust the balance between the direct sound from the pedal and the sound returning from your DAW, as you would with the mix feature on many budget interfaces. However, when it is connected to a computer, the G5n automatically goes into PC Mode, which hides all the details in the displays on the unit and essentially freezes it at its current setup. To change settings, you must remove the cable, adjust the unit, and then connect it again. The unit offers 16-bit audio and a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz.

Fig. 2. The Guitar Lab software offers librarian functionality and it’s the place to find newly released effects and amp models from Zoom. Once connected to a computer, you can access the free Zoom Guitar Lab librarian software, which lets you rearrange your presets and load new effects that Zoom posts to its online collection, free (see Figure. 2). When I first opened the software, I found six new effects available, including an amp model based on a ’59 Fender Bassman, as well as NYC Muff, modeled after the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. I don’t know how often new items are posted, but later in the same week I found that another batch of effects had been added, including an amp model based on a Hiwatt.

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The software librarian also lets you rearrange your patches and perform backups. Inexplicably, it doesn’t offer editing capabilities (the G5’s software did). That’s too bad, because it is useful to be able to program patches onscreen.

EASY NOW

Overall, however, the G5n has an intuitive architecture. In Memory Mode you see four presets, one in each of the modules. Pressing the left or right arrow will take you to adjacent presets, so you can scroll through the collection relatively quickly.

Press the Memory/Stomp pedal to enter Stomp mode, where each of the four modules shows an effect from the preset. The effects that are visible can be edited using the parameter knobs. The scroll pedals let you change which effects are visible for editing. Since you can have up to nine simultaneous effects in a preset, that is an essential feature.

Not only does each module display the name of one of the effects in the chain (if it is empty, you get a blank line), but you also see the entire effects chain in the global Overview display. You can use the associated controls to change the order of the effects, as well as access preferences and settings.

When in Stomp mode, the up and down buttons at the top of each module let you replace effects currently in the chain, or add effects to modules that are empty. Although, technically, you can have up to nine effects, you are also limited by the available processing power. If you try to load an effect that pushes you over the limit, you get an error message. The unit comes with 200 rewritable preset slots, 100 of which contain factory presets, with the other 100 blank.

For live playing, I programmed several basic presets, each offering effects for different types of songs, and then saved them adjacent to each other. I was then able to switch between them easily. And once inside a preset in Stomp mode, I could reach down to adjust individual effects. Although adjusting the G5n may not be as easy as tweaking individual stompboxes in a pedalboard, it brings you closer to that experience than many menu-heavy multi-effects units do.

ZOOMING IN ON THE SOUND

Overall, I was impressed with the sound quality of the G5n. Many of the effects sound as good as what you’d get from a stompbox, and you have a lot of choices. I particularly liked the modulation effects. The reverbs and delays are quite nice, too. The pitch effects are useful, especially the Octave effect, which sounds fantastic. The weakest, for me, are the distortion and overdrive effects, which are a mixed bag.

The amp models allow you to really change up your tone (including adding gain), even when playing through an real amp. Though most aren’t dead-on emulations, they imbue your sound with the vibe of the amps they’re emulating, to a greater or lesser degree. The Tube Booster circuit definitely helps fatten up the sound and gives it a little extra gain. I ended up leaving it turned up most of the time.

ZOOMING OUT

Although some of my favorite features from the G5 have gone missing, the G5n is a powerful unit that includes virtually any type of effect you’d ever want. It’s easy to navigate on a gig and allows you to customize your sounds to match your repertoire in a way that would be very difficult with stompboxes alone.

The USB interface is limited, and I doubt most people would want it as their only one; but having the USB connectivity is very useful for downloading new effects, and reorganizing and backing up patches. An editor section in Zoom Guitar Lab would be a helpful addition. Nonetheless, priced just below $300, the G5n is a great value and a powerful tool.

STRENGTHS

Huge range of effects, many with excellent sound. Easy to navigate. Stable tuner. USB interface. Librarian software. Onboard parameter controls. 200 rewritable preset slots.

LIMITATIONS

No effects loop. No MIDI. Interface limited to 44.1 kHz. Unable to change effects or adjust parameters when connected to a computer. No case.

$299
zoom-na.com

Mike Levine is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and mixer from the New York area. Visit his website at michaelwilliamlevine.com.