Best mates Johnno and Spanner share a deep bond. Now on the cusp of adulthood, life is destined to take them in different directions — Johnno’s family are moving him to a new town and a better life, leaving Spanner behind to face a precarious future. In pursuit of adventure and escape the boys head out on one last night together to an illegal rave before parting ways indefinitely.
The Zoom G3X is a multi-effects pedal and USB audio interface that combines all the major features of the various multi-effects processors on the market into one compact, but not restrictively small unit – all at a very affordable price.
The G3X holds an assignable expression pedal, three(!) LCDs, a chromatic tuner, a 40-second looper, a drum machine, tap tempo, and even includes free recording software (Steinberg Sequel LE) as well as a tone editor. The unit can be plugged into an amp or a pair of headphones, has a jack for an external footswitch or expression pedal, an XLR connector, and allows you to switch between passive and active input.
The unit can be powered by a regular 9V adapter (included) or 4 AA batteries (also included), as well as via USB. The processor comes packed with 94 stomp box models and 22 amp and cabinet models, plus 100 factory presets that can be edited and overwritten with your own creations, and can run up to 6 effects simultaneously.
Ease of use and UI:
Based on the sheer number of user reviews praising its usability, the Zoom G3X is probably the easiest multi-fx unit to handle for both beginners and advanced soundscapers. This is largely due to a wealth of buttons and controllers for both global and patch settings, as well as the three LCDs and intuitive user interface.
The three displays offer instant control over three of the six total effects in a patch. To turn them on or off, you simply press one of the three respective footswitches below the screens. Instant enabling/disabling of effects is a feature most cheaper multi-effects units lack and an especially welcome addition when performing live.
At the same time, some users have found control over only three effects at a time insufficient for their needs, considering the sweet spot to be four or five. Thus, if the music you’re playing requires extensive tone switching within a song, you might want to look at larger models (see this article for possible alternatives).
However, it is possible to switch between the set of three effects active for editing fairly easily on the G3X. To do this, you simply press footswitches 1 and 2 together to move left in the effects chain, or 2 and 3 to move right. As you can also arrange the effects in any order, the lack of extra footswitches/screens for the other three is really more of a minor inconvenience than a design flaw and shouldn’t be an issue in most cases.
What can be limiting in live situations, however, is switching patches. While instant and sonically seamless, there is no way to jump between distant presets. In order to move from one to the other, you’ll need to scroll through each patch in between, which all become active as you do so, though this can simply be solved with careful ordering and planning of patches. If this is a problem for you, though, you might be interested in the Pod HD500X, which solves this with a few extra footswitches and an elegant silent scrolling system.
The factory presets of the G3X, as in most multi-effects units, are not the greatest. Many of them are reportedly too high in gain and can subsequently produce unwanted noise, especially those intended for heavier sounds. But factory presets are hardly the point of any multi-effects pedal anyway.
To get the most out of your multi-effects unit, you’ll want to create your own tones – which, as said, is very simple on the G3X. However, to do so, you will have to replace the factory sounds as they occupy all 100 memory slots, so be sure to back up the ones you like.
The amp models are decent, though nothing amazing, which is to be expected at this price. The effects, however, are the high point of this pedal. The distortions and overdrives are not perfect, but still better than on many other multi-effects units, while the modulations, delays and reverbs are practically flawless. The fact that you get ten to twenty of each just seals the incredible value of the G3X.
Even with its poorer-quality effect models, with proper tweaking, you can get a great sound for virtually any genre and style. And since Zoom pedals also have an active community of tone-crafters, with currently over 700 user-made patches available for download online (see here), they probably already have most of your tone needs covered.
As pointed out above, the Zoom G3X can run up to 6 effects simultaneously, which is fairly average – higher-end units offer more, while most similarly and lower priced pedals fall below that or lack effect stacking entirely. If you think 6 might not be enough for you, be aware that the G3X also has a “combo” category of effects, which is essentially several effects packed together (e.g. chorus + delay or compressor + overdrive), taking up just one of the six effects slots.
As the G3X came out in 2011 and is therefore a relatively old pedal (on the scale of modern technology development), it is, however, possible to run into trouble with the DSP (digital signal processing) limit. This means that the unit can’t always handle running multiple processor-heavy effects at the same time and will simply bypass some if it does happen. While this generally only applies to a few specific delays and amp models on the G3X, it is usually not an issue with newer tech.
The Zoom G3X is also a wonderful practice tool. The 40-second looper includes overdubbing capabilities and, unlike cheaper multi-effects units, also allows undoing a single layer of looped audio. Be aware, though, that with the “Undo” option active, looping time is unfortunately cut down to only 20 seconds.
The looper offers a choice between three nifty modes for stopping the loop: Stop (loop ends immediately when the footswitch is pressed), Finish (loop stops at the end of the loop), or Fade Out (loop slowly fades out). Additionally, the looper can be combined with the built-in drum machine, which contains a variety of built-in rhythm patterns and can be synchronized with the looper. You can adjust the tempo of the rhythm patterns within a range of 40-250 bpm, as well as their sound level.
The screens even show pre-count beats, when to begin recording your loop, as well as drum pattern progress. The only major downside of the looper and drum machine functions is that the tap tempo switch is a small finger-pressed button that can’t be operated with your foot.
The Zoom G3X may look a bit plasticky, but the casing is actually made of durable aluminum that is perfectly suitable even for playing live, and most users have had no problem with its build quality. Some have had issues with the displays and finger buttons breaking, though this is generally over several years of extensive use, which is impressive enough for an entry level unit with all the bells and whistles one could ask for.
For the price, the Zoom G3X is therefore an extremely capable unit and an excellent first choice for a multi-effects & audio interface combo. While some list it as best suited for bedroom practice and home studio use, which is indeed where it shines, there is no reason it couldn’t be used for gigging or band practice either.
Most of its shortcomings in live control options are due to its middle-sized build, which many users will appreciate, have not gone unnoticed by Zoom, and thus, while not perhaps the most convenient, do have workarounds.
As with most budget multi-effects processors, its weakest points are probably the amp and drive models. Even within these, however, there is something to be found for everyone, and in terms of effects and tones, the G3X covers all essential ground and more.
If you’re looking to upgrade from another budget multi-effects pedal, you will probably see more of a step up and be happier with a higher-end unit. However, if this is your first foray into amp/effect modeling, for the price, you really can’t go wrong with the Zoom G3X.
The NUX MG-100 is a budget guitar multi-effects processor released in 2011. It comes packed with a colorful LED display, an assignable expression pedal, a 40-second looper, a drum machine, tap tempo, and a chromatic tuner, and runs on 6 AA batteries (sold separately) for up to 8 hours, or a power adapter (included).
The MG-100 offers 36 factory presets and 36 slots for user-created ones, plus a total of 58 guitar effects, including 13 amp and 11 cabinet models, arranged into 8 modules, which can be used simultaneously. However, the modules themselves – and therefore similar effects – cannot be stacked.
It has jacks for 1/4″ input and output as well as an auxiliary port for headphones or a CD/MP3 player. The processor is contained in a solid steel housing with plastic knobs and other elements, which seem sturdy as well.
Although small, light, and modestly priced, this compact multi-effects pedal is surprisingly big on the inside, offering all the functionality other units in its price range do, plus a little extra. 40 seconds of overdubbable looping time is more than any of the MG-100’s competitors have to offer as of writing this article.
Combined with its tempo-adjustable drum machine with tap tempo integration and looper synchronizaton, the MG-100 makes for an excellent practice and jamming tool for any beginner guitarist.
Ease of use and UI:
The MG-100’s graphical display with its variety of contrasting colors and pixelly icons might look a bit goofy, resembling something out of an old SNES console game, but is actually one of the more readable interfaces out there, compared to other similar systems. Though editing on the unit itself is therefore simple, a computer connection and dedicated editing software, which it currently lacks, would still be a welcome addition.
As such, it obviously does not function as an audio interface either. If this is a requirement for you at a budget price, however, you might want to take a look at the Hotone Ravo MP10.
As the NUX MG-100 does not have an on/off switch and the function is instead assigned to the input jack, you’ll need to unplug your instrument every time you wish to turn the pedal on or off, which obviously isn’t the most comfortable solution. Also, there is no way to undo a single layer of looped audio on the looper, meaning if you mess up, you’ll have to start the recording over again.
And, as with most multi-effects processors at this price range, there is no quick way to enable/disable individual effects. Thus, if you want to use the MG-100 for live performances, you’ll need to plan and order your presets accordingly, but at least the preset switching itself is quick and seamless.
The MG-100 sadly suffers from the digital tone curse prevalent among most older and/or budget multi-effects pedals. This is especially evident in its distorted/overdriven tones, which, to a more trained ear, have an unmistakable grainy or fizzy quality to them.
This can make getting smooth and compressed modern metal tones out of the pedal a bit of a challenge, but is alleviated slightly by the 6-band graphic EQ, which allows for more control over your sound. For tone nerds, therefore, don’t expect a miracle, though if you are looking for studio quality multi-effects you should be looking at higher price categories anyway.
All in all, then, the NUX MG-100 has most everything a beginner guitarist could need, and any lack of luxury/comfort features is more than made up for by an abundance of core ones. If you’re looking for a cheap and compact bedroom practice and jamming tool to inspire your guitar playing with a variety of staple guitar effects, look no further – the MG-100 has you covered.
If studio quality effect and amp modeling with deep editing parameters and recording capability, however, is what you’re after, you should be prepared to shell out more for higher end units, such as can be found here.
The Hotone (pronounced hot tone according to their website) Ravo MP10, released in late 2015, is a compact multi-effects pedal and USB audio interface. The unit contains 130 effects, including 10 guitar and 5 bass amplifier models, 100 factory presets, an assignable expression pedal, a chromatic tuner, a 30-second looper, and a tempo-adjustable drum machine with 100 rhythm patterns.
Despite this impressive range of options, the Ravo has a very competitive price. In fact, to our knowledge, this is the cheapest multi-effects / audio interface combo with an expression pedal on the market right now.
The Ravo MP10 also comes with free graphical editing software (RAVO Tonebank) and a power adapter, but is equally able to run on 4 AAA batteries or USB power via a standard USB printer cable (both sold separately). In addition to the aforementioned, the back panel has 1/4″ input and output, as well as a headphone jack and an AUX input.
All this combined with a solid construction might have you thinking that its low price point must mean they’re cutting corners somewhere. And while this pedal isn’t without its faults, for the most part, they are relatively minor.
For starters, the onboard display is fairly small, which means the various adjustable parameters are abbreviated on the screen. This might be a bit confusing for beginners, but generally, the meanings are still fairly obvious (e.g. vol = volume; thre = threshold, etc.), plus it’s all covered in the manual, which itself is very clear and concise. And while the display might be small, it’s still much more readable than the two-digit displays of some of the cheaper compact multi-effects pedals out there. And ultimately, this is just an inevitable trade-off for any compact effects processor.
Another issue is that there is no quick way to enable/disable individual effects within a patch. To do that, you would first need to turn the selector knob from Play Mode to the desired effect, then turn it on/off via the footswitch, and then switch back to Play Mode, which obviously isn’t feasible live, in the middle of a song. As with other similar pedals, however, you can get around this by simply switching to an altered patch. The transition between patches itself is perfectly smooth and instantaneous, and to make this easier, Hotone have even included a “Pre-Patch Select” function, which allows you to access distant patches quickly, without having to scroll through them.
At this price, a 30-second looper on a multi-effects processor is not too shabby, however, some users have been disappointed in the fact that you cannot change presets while in looper mode (though you can edit the selected preset). In addition, while the drum machine can be active at the same time as the looper, the two are not automatically synchronized, and while you can overdub your loops, there doesn’t seem to be a way to undo a single layer of looped audio either.
Finally, if you aim to use this pedal as an audio interface, also be aware, that it records at a bit depth of 16 (read more about it here), which might not offer the best signal to noise ratio. Still, this is far from a deal breaker, especially considering even bigger, slightly higher priced units, like the Zoom G3X, do not outperform the Ravo in this regard.
Now, that might have sounded like a lot of negatives, but the truth is it’s mostly just nitpicking and the Ravo MP10 is absolutely amazing for what it has to offer at such a low price, even competing with many other, higher priced units.
The sound is big and impressive and the 100 factory presets offer a wide range of tones and effects suitable for any genre, from vintage blues and jazz tones to modern rock and metal. Some of the presets might be a bit muddy / low on treble, but there are plenty of configuration options to fix that, plus 100 locations to store your own patches in.
The curse of digital sounding distortions/overdrives that plagues some of the older multi-effects processors doesn’t seem to be an issue here either. In fact, our favorite presets on the Ravo MP10 included several heavier tones perfect for sludge and stoner rock/metal. And if you’re a multi-instrumentalist, the 130 effects on offer even include 30 effects specifically designed for bass guitar.
Editing tones on the Ravo MP10 is simple, if a bit time-consuming, as you only have two selector knobs and two footswitches two play with. Still, it’s faster than figuring out all the intricacies of some of the higher tier multi-effects processors, though for maximum ease of use, you’ll want to connect to a computer. The RAVO Tonelab editing software is clear and logical, with a simple, sleek layout echoing the minimalistic and intuitive design of the pedal itself, and will be appreciated even by the technophobes / computer noobs among us.
All in all, we couldn’t recommend this pedal enough. Whether you’re on a budget, but still need an all-in-one multi-effects processor / audio interface, are looking for a compact but quality unit to enhance and inspire your guitar(/bass) playing, or simply want to get a taste for the capabilities of multi-effects processors before investing in fully fledged, professional grade gear, the Hotone Ravo MP10 does it all with room to spare. You will not find better value anywhere near its price.
Looking for a wireless system for your musical instrument, but don’t know how to separate the wheat from the chaff? Keep reading for an overview of the most important specs to pay attention to when choosing the best wireless audio solution for your needs.
Already know the basics and just want to see some recommendations? See our list of the best wireless guitar and bass systems.
What to look for in a wireless audio transmitter/receiver system
1. Analog or digital?
Wireless instrument systems come in two basic types: analog and digital. As in anything, analog is older technology and therefore more limited in some aspects, but also more battle-tested than digital. As a result, budget and mid-priced analog systems usually offer poorer quality than similarly priced digital systems, while in higher price brackets, the two can be more equally matched.
1.1 Companding and digital conversion
In order to transmit audio over a radio wave, analog wireless systems need to compress the input signal at the transmitter and then expand it again at the receiver (known as “companding”). In this process, some of the original audio signal is lost, resulting in the wireless system eating away at the natural tone of your instrument compared to wired setups and producing sound artifacts known as “breathing” or “pumping”.
Digital wireless systems do away with companding by converting the analog audio to digital data, which is then captured by the receiver and reconverted to an analog signal, thus avoiding radio-frequency interference and preserving the complete dynamic range of the original signal. Simply put, digital wireless systems generally offer better audio quality.
1.2 Frequency bands
Analog wireless systems operate in the VHF (Very High Frequency – 30 to 300 MHz) and UHF (Ultra-high frequency – 300 MHz to 3 GHz) frequency bands used by TV and radio channels. UHF, with its wider choice of frequencies and less TV and radio interference, is more common in professional quality analog wireless systems. Both bands, however, are becoming more and more congested every day as well as requiring a license to use in many countries.
Many producers of digital wireless systems are trying to get past these limitations by turning to the 900 MHz (not available outside the US and Canada) and especially 2.4 GHz ISM (industrial, scientific and medical) radio bands not available to analog systems. The 2.4 GHz band is most common as it is license-free worldwide and generally less prone to interference, although nearby Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals, which utilize the same frequencies, can sometimes cause problems – increasingly so with the advent of smartphones.
Meanwhile the 900 MHz band is free from the latter as well as most TV and radio signals, though also used by amateur radio, walkie-talkies, cordless phones, and other short-range consumer wireless devices, as well as being relatively narrow. Wireless systems operating in either of these bands also have a smaller choice of available channels compared to UHF systems – normally around 4 to 6 – so if you need to use a large number of them simultaneously (e.g. for a full setup in a larger band), you might need to turn to UHF-based devices.
At the same time, the future of UHF wireless microphones is currently deeply uncertain as the FCC is looking to auction off a good chunk of frequencies in the 600 MHz band. The extent and time of this is still unknown, though when it does happen, TV broadcasters and wireless microphone operators and manufacturers working in this spectrum will be given 39 months to free those frequencies. So not only will many UHF wireless systems be ousted from their homes, the rest of the spectrum is bound to get even more cramped from the switchover. This means that if you’re looking for the most future-proof solution, the 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz bands are still your best bet.
The downside of digital wireless systems is that the digital conversion process introduces latency, which is not there in analog systems. For live music performances, you might start noticing this at around 8–10 ms of latency. While lower is obviously better and you should keep an eye on latency specifications when choosing a digital wireless instrument system, however, most of today’s digital wireless systems have managed to bring latency down to entirely negligible levels, where, for most applications, it should never be an issue.
To top it all off, digital wireless systems can also use encrypted data transmission, protecting the audio signal from hijackers and eavesdroppers.
Analog or digital: Conclusion
Based on both user reports and the above, then, we must conclude that when it comes wireless instrument systems, there is no real reason to prefer analog to digital outside of the need for more available channels. Even then, there are digital UHF-based systems out there with the same capabilities as analog ones (or even better). For the most part, modern digital wireless systems have simply proven to be the more reliable and cost-effective option, which is why our list of the best wireless guitar/bass systems only features digital models. This is not to say that there aren’t good analog systems out there, but we’ll take any edge we can get.
2. Frequency agility and channel auto-select
A wireless system with frequency agility, as opposed to fixed frequency, can switch between multiple channels to avoid interference. It will cost you more, but unless you’re using a single wireless system in a fixed location – and, as conditions can change, sometimes even then –, frequency agility should be considered a must-have. Pricier models can also select the best suitable channel automatically and instantly switch between frequencies as necessary, freeing you from the hassle of manual tweaking and adjusting.
3. Diversity features
In signal transmission, diversity refers to the use of several different communication channels to protect the system from unwanted interference and/or signal dropouts and dead spots. This can be achieved by using multiple sending/receiving antennae (reception diversity), with the system monitoring signal strength at each one and picking the best signal; by transmitting the signal at different time intervals (time diversity); sending the same signal simultaneously over multiple frequencies/channels (frequency diversity), etc. While no method can completely remove the threat of wireless audio dropouts, they do reduce the likelihood of their occurrence by severalfold and are thus a staple in higher end systems.
4. Operating range
As the operating range of wireless instrument systems depends on a variety of factors, including objects/walls in the signal’s path, other signals in the vicinity, etc., most manufacturers only give a typical operating range for their products. This generally falls between 50 feet (15 meters) and 300 feet (90 meters), depending on the price range, but even so, in practice, your mileage may vary. Therefore, if you want to be sure you’ll be getting the range you need, choose a system with stated operating range to spare.
5. Frequency response and dynamic range
Frequency response and dynamic range are two basic measurements of sound quality. Frequency response refers to the range of frequencies a system can reproduce. As human hearing covers the range from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, a system that can reproduce those frequencies, should, in theory, sound “natural”, while more limited ranges would mean that some frequencies are getting cut. Wider frequency ranges, especially in the lower end, won’t hurt – in fact, sounds outside our hearing have been shown to affect sound perception –, but will cost more, while shorter ranges will be noticeable to an extent. This is especially important to keep in mind when choosing a wireless system for a bass guitar (or other lower range instrument), as a more limited lower end will manifest in a thinner tone.
To get the full picture, however, frequency response should be given with volume/amplitude variation at said frequency range – generally acceptable at +/- 3 dB. This means that within said frequency range, sound levels do not vary by more than 3 dB in either direction, providing a so-called “flat” frequency response, meaning the system does not color your tone.
Dynamic range, in turn, refers to the ratio between the noise floor and the loudest undistorted sound and is thus a measure of sound quality. The higher the dynamic range, the less noise there is in a system at higher volumes. Generally, 100 dB is considered the minimum for high-quality audio. When dynamic range is measured in relation to the human ear (which has an uneven response to different frequencies), it is marked as A-weighted – an indication of better accuracy.
6. Battery type and life
Most wireless transmitters work best with single-use alkaline or lithium batteries and many manufacturers advise against using rechargeable batteries with their products. Sadly, this is not a battery manufacturing conspiracy. Single-use batteries simply provide a more stable power output than, for example, nickel-cadmium rechargeables, which drain faster (in a mere 2–3 hours) and will not display their charge levels accurately, so you might not get much warning before your batteries give out on you. For higher end products, though, many manufacturers have begun to supply proprietary rechargeable batteries.
You will also want to pay attention to battery life, which can range anywhere between 2 or 3 hours to around 12, more typically 6 to 8. Though this should be enough for most applications, it is a good idea to get a backup set just in case.
7. Cable tone simulation
In wired instrument systems, one of the many factors that can affect sound is the type and length of cables. Longer cables mean higher capacitance, which leads to reduced higher frequencies and vice versa. Some musicians choose their cables specifically for the tone they impart on their sound. Recently, some wireless instrument system manufacturers, such as Line 6, have begun implementing cable tone simulation features in their wireless systems, allowing you to choose from a variety of cable tone settings. If cable tone is something you care about and don’t want to lose when transitioning to wireless, be sure to keep an eye out for these solutions.