The Zoom ZFX – Part 2 : The Software

zoom_interface3Continued from Part 1.

Previously we looked a the impressive Zoom ZFX hardware. But hardware was only half of this “total guitar package” … the better half!

The Sights

The software is graphically rich with colorful illustrations of stomp boxes, amps and such. The art style is about equal to most modern music interfaces, maybe a half-generation behind interface leaders like Apple and the latest Line 6.

The spiral notebook on the left contains an extensive library of amps, cabs, effects and tools. There is no shortage of mix-and-matchable gear simulations with all the usual sly names that reveal their original “inspirations” without inviting copyright infringement lawsuits.

Plop a piece of gear into place by dragging its image from the pages of a notebook to one of three windows on the right representing your rack, live room or stage floor. The descriptions of the gear on the notebook pages is a nice touch, as is the split signal routing that can be accomplished with items in the Tools area of your notebook.

The Sounds

The sounds are a mixed bag, but that is to be expected when so many factors intertwine such as lots of effects, near infinite connection options and personal taste. Most of the presets lean toward extreme effects and crunchy distortion, but there are many good clean sounds to choose from as well. Most of the sounds I played with did not have the richness and depth that I get from my PODxt, but I do get the feeling that if one lived with this software long enough, one could find good tone.

The Smells

zoom_86percentSo what’s not to like? In my opinion, enough. The interface is very twiddley. You are constantly scrolling around and selecting from large menus through tiny windows. It feels like looking at the interface through a hole. There will be lots of zooming in and out just to tweak a few virtual knobs on your peddles.

With just four or five effects it is annoying at best. As your setup grows in complexity, all the mousing quickly becomes overly cumbersome. If Zoom was trying to simulate the experience of repeatedly bending over to adjust a real pedal board, they nailed it. Using these unnecessarily restrained view of the gear feel like looking through a narrow slot, like a doorman of a 1920’s speakeasy sliding open a viewing slit to see who Bugsy sent.

The total package is very cool. The sounds are interesting but even if I could force myself to live with the interface, it is the performance where everything falls apart. This is what reveals the 1.0-ness of the software.

The crazy lag, the CPU hogging and the crackly sound left me cold. The handy CPU guide in the upper left corner of the interface hovered between 70% and 80% at startup. This is before sending any sound through it! My computer performance and screen refresh fell correspondingly. I am not quite sure what this 80% represents since my System Monitor reported Zoom taking up a 35% of system CPU. Either way, it was bogging down the system and produced unusable lag.

The Verdict

I like Zoom. I have always liked their higher end products and I really wanted to like the ZFX. Perhaps if I fiddled with it longer, I could coax more performance out of it. But life is too short to beta test commercial products. I look forward to checking back in a few months in hopes of an improved version 2. Until then, the search goes on for my office guitar system.

As president of Tracy Evans Productions, Inc. for over 18 years Tracy splits his time between being an animator, director, producer, stage magician, graphic designer, art director, programmer, editor, consultant, speaker and writer of third-person autobiographical blurbs.

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