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Zoom B3 As Preamp

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by CharlieC, Nov 28, 2012.

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  1. CharlieC

    CharlieC Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2010
    New York, NY
    I recently discovered the Zoom B3 multi-effects unit and have found it to be an amazing piece of equipment on many levels. In particular, I believe the B3 excels in amplifier/cabinet emulation more than any other similar device I have come across to date.

    I never anticipated that an impulse purchase of a B3 would result in me actually using it for gigging. To be honest, I was just looking forward to playing with a new toy and I never expected to find such amazing amp tones packed inside of a red metal stomp box.

    My goal in creating this thread is to pass along the knowledge I gained in using this device purely as a bass preamp and tone machine. My focus will be on amplifier/cabinet emulation, how to properly configure the device for specific tasks (Live/FOH/Recording), and how to connect it all up with maximum results. IMHO, none of these topics are adequately covered in the B3's user manual, in other threads, or online for that matter. If possible, please help me keep this focus by not introducing questions about the built-in drum machine, effect box sims, use of the looper, editing software, etc. as I think other threads can already be of help to you there.

    If this sounds interesting to you, I invite you to subscribe to this thread now as I have lots of information to share with you in future posts and I hope you will share back in return.


    ajw244, goneflyin, m2466d and 3 others like this.
  2. OmeDunk


    Jan 14, 2008
    The Netherlands
  3. CharlieC

    CharlieC Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2010
    New York, NY
    Setting The Stage

    For Live use I personally run the B3 into a Crown XLS 1000 power amp that in-turn drives varying Ampeg cabinets (gig dependent.)

    My original fear upon connecting the B3 to the power amp was that, as a stomp box, it might not have an output level capable of pushing the Crown XLS's notoriously-high 1.4 Vrms sensitivity level needed to achieve full-rated power. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the B3's output was capable of sufficient voltage for this rig and my needs, and with this good news the B3 was eligible for preamp use in this case.

    The Crown XLS is then set to run in bridged-mono mode to make the most of its rated power and happily provides me control of the either 8 or 4-ohm speaker loads via a single knob, the amp's Channel-1 attenuator (more on this below.) A specially-wired Speakon cable is required by the Crown XLS and other amplifiers when run in bridged-mono mode.

    Connection from B3 to the amp is via a single 1/4" cable between the B3's L/Mono unbalanced out to the Crown's 1/4" Channel-1 input.

    Since there is no physical master volume knob on the B3, I use the Channel-1 attenuator for that instead, with the knob rarely past 75% on even the loudest gigs.

    Connection to Front-Of-House (FOH) is made via the B3's XLR out and since I control my on-stage volume via the power amp's attenuator, the XLR output could be considered a consistent level, although not truly "fixed".
  4. Crystalman85


    Nov 30, 2008
    Chicago, Il.
    You can use the preamp models on the zoom b3 through your rig or directly on to a mixing board when it comes to recording music. I have started a thread on patch ideas for the zoom b3. you should come check it out. there's lots of nifty patch ideas to use. here's the link.

    ajw244 and Abe-of-Bass like this.
  5. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    Very cool. I'm using a B2 into a Kustom Groove 1200 bass head right now, but I'm wanting to get a lightweight power amp and that Zoom B3 looks killer! The B2 won't drive a power amp so this is VERY good to hear about the B3!

    Just curious...anyone know how the circuitry lays out inside the B3? Because I don't want it as a pedal and prefer rackmount. I don't expect anyone to open their pedal, but if someone has, or knows how it's laid out that would be very helpful.

    I rackmounted my Zoom B2 because everything was laid out on separate circuit boards connected via ribbon cables. Easy to lay out in a 2U rack unit...

  6. Bradass


    Oct 17, 2011
    Tallahassee, FL
    There are pictures here of a G3's guts, I imagine the layout is largely the same for the B3. Scroll down for the pics.

  7. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    Thanks! It's laid out similar to the B2 as well, as far as separate boards. That might be the ticket.

    I like how it shows some pretty decent mods to an existing pedal (G3). Makes me want to re-think how to best make it possibly even a 1U rackmount!!!

    Now I need to scrounge up some cash for the B3 and a power amp. I already use my Zoom B2 as a preamp of sorts as it runs directly into my amp's input and not the FX loop. With the B3 capable of driving the input of a power amp, I'll be following this thread!
  8. CharlieC

    CharlieC Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2010
    New York, NY
    The Moment Of Truth

    The first time I fired-up the B3 through my Crown/Ampeg rig (see my previous post) I was greeted with sound, not the best sounds nor the worst sounds, but somewhere in between.

    That pivotal moment is the very reason for this thread! :)

    There I was, skipping through presets and attempting to tweak them into my own, but even when I did there were things still amiss. What was wrong?

    In a nutshell the issue is: The manufacturer has loaded the unit with preset patches and other default settings that will suffice and appease the average user, but in no way will these be the best for your currently connected equipment and usage intent.

    The likely result of this is that a good number of users will concede in faulted experience, folklore will commence, and said device will be dismissed as a toy that does not do justice to the gear it purports to emulate.

    In the posts ahead, I promise to reveal the settings needed to yield the best results from your B3 for your currently connected equipment and usage intent, and even better I believe you will like what you hear.

  9. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    +1. The very same thing could be said for the B2. I've owned the B2 for quite a long time now and only recently after really working through the myriad of combinations all this time have I found some truly delicious amp modeling and effects that really sound very much like high end equipment!!! I have a fabulously authentic sounding tube emulation using the Zoom's own Tube Pre and some compression (on my B2 anyway). With that and the overdriven tube sound preset I made, they actually "breathe" with how hard or light I play on the strings.

    The stock settings on any multi-effect are horrible and are there simply as bait by the marketing department, for the "oh look at all the things it can do!" crowd.

    I agree, when figured out and set properly the Zoom is an incredible tone monster! Can't wait to get my hands on a B3!
  10. .
    I don't use any of the factory presets.
    I played with them when I first bought my B3, but I create my own now.

    LedHed74 likes this.
  11. CharlieC

    CharlieC Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2010
    New York, NY
    The Secret Of Mix And Match

    The Zoom B3 features very impressive simulations of 12 popular bass amplifiers. Each of the simulations has a default associated speaker cabinet, but one can freely choose to pair it from a total of 12 popular speaker cabinets. IMHO both the amplifier and speaker cabinet sims are the best I have ever encountered, but I needed to find them as they did not find me at first!

    Many of us consider a device's preset patches to be dismissible, even those pre-programmed by the product's celebrity endorsers, and the Zoom B3 is no exception here. But even rolling your own custom patches from scratch comes with little-known, hidden surprises.

    You see, when one selects an amplifier simulation, the B3 initially defaults all parameter settings for the selected sim. The problem with this is that the default value of the most powerful parameter is set ineffectively, across the board, for all of the 12 amplifier sims. Unless you know what to change and why, you may still end-up being short-changed.

    To be specific, there exists a "Mix" parameter for each B3 amplifier sim that should be set based on your connected equipment, usage intent, and ultimately, the tone that is desired. The "Mix" in this case is the level of the preamp simulation vs. the cabinet-effected simulation. The lukewarm default for all amp sims on the B3 is always an ineffective 50%. Yes, you will hear something using that value, but it most likely is not exactly what you want to hear.

    To keep things simple for now, I will only focus on this "Mix" parameter for the amp sims and not any other patch-level (i.e. TOTAL menu) or device-level (i.e. GLOBAL menu) parameters.

    For my "power amp and real bass cabinets" situation (see my previous posts) I have found the best results are achieved using 100% of the preamp sim and 0% of the cabinet sim. This equates to a "Mix" parameter value of 0 and NOT the default value of 50. IMHO this difference has a very measurable impact on the resulting tone and is worthy of your attention and experimentation.

    In situations where you are feeding a mixer, recorder or projecting through a full-range monitor speaker (QSC K, Mackie SRM, etc.) I have found the best results are achieved using 0% of the preamp sim and 100% of the cabinet sim. This equates to a "Mix" parameter value of 100 and NOT the default value of 50. Try it for yourself and it is likely the B3 will then become your new best friend.

    Certainly mine are not set rules and perhaps some other subtle "Mix" values may better work for your scenarios, but at least the secret of the powerful "Mix" parameter is now exposed!

  12. CharlieC

    CharlieC Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2010
    New York, NY
    Nice work on that mod, it looks great!

    That may be a bit more difficult to pull-off on a B3 with its 3 tall LCD displays, but I hope one day Zoom beats you to that and makes a rack-mounted B3 for the rest of us. :)
  13. CharlieC

    CharlieC Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2010
    New York, NY
    Setting Levels

    One of the first challenges I had in connecting the B3 directly to a power amp was that I needed to get the output level of the B3 hot enough to work well for this. As mentioned in an early post, I make the connection using a single 1/4" cable and govern master volume using the power amp's attenuator.

    Despite the fact that the B3 does not have a physical master volume knob on it, 3 specific level parameters exist within that require attention in order to get the job done best. These are as follows:

    1. The specific amp sim's level (under sim's Page #2)
    2. The specific patch's level (under TOTAL menu)
    3. The master volume of the B3 on top of all patches (under GLOBAL menu)
    Although I have no technical data to support this on the B3, in concept I believe it best to share healthy levels across all 3 of these for the cleanest, most-dynamic signal and I believe I have succeeded judging by the results I achieve with my equipment.

    The level settings I use are:

    Master Level = 60 (out of 120 max)
    Patch Level = 100 (out of 120 max)
    Amp Sim Level = Set as necessary to keep each competitive, but usually 100 (out of 150 max)
    While under the TOTAL menu you may also notice a Balance parameter which is the balance of your raw bass signal vs. the patch's signal. For this I use a value of 100 which represents 0% of raw bass DI and 100% of the patch. Although it is great that the B3 allows one to also blend-in some raw bass DI, old-school style, I do not particularly care for it on my live rig.
    Fat Liner likes this.
  14. CharlieC

    CharlieC Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2010
    New York, NY
    Choosing Your Outs

    The B3 offers both dual 1/4" unbalanced outs and a single balanced XLR out and I was surprised to learn a bit more about them when using the B3 as a preamp.

    The 1/4" outs are unbalanced, high-impedance connections perfect for short cable runs and easy-interface to most equipment. They can be used as a stereo pair to preserve any imaging qualities imparted by any of the many built-in effects. When only the Left output is used, both Right and Left are summed to ensure a bit of integrity when using the one connection. The single "L/Mono" 1/4" out is my pick for integration with a power amp or a live rig scenario, as I do not run in stereo and my cable runs for that use are very short.

    From what I can determine, the B3's XLR out receives a copy of the summed Left/Right stereo signal from the 1/4" outs, but unlike the 1/4", the XLR is a balanced, low-impedance connection perfect for longer cable runs and interface to other pro-audio gear such as a mixer. With the push of a button, the B3's XLR out can instead output your raw bass DI, free of any processing. A handy ground lift switch is also available to help resolve any surprise ground loop issues that may arise through use of the XLR out.

    My main issue with the existence of both the 1/4" and the XLR outs on the B3 is that when using the unit as a preamp there is not enough flexibility for my taste with the processed signal as I would have hoped. Let me explain.

    When using the B3 as I do, I need the 1/4" outs to output a cabinet-free signal as I am using real bass cabs that impart their own coloring onto the source signal. When using the XLR to feed FOH at the gig, I would love to be able to employ the amazing cabinet simulations on only that out. The B3 offers no such flexibility at this time, so I must compromise for now. My wish to Zoom is that this is addressed in a future product release or by miracle via a firmware update.

    As a tease, I plan on divulging the clever compromise I currently use to get my way above in a future post. This solution was the only way I would ever consider using the B3 for my "Live" needs, so stay tuned! :)

    basshenning likes this.
  15. Thanks CharlieC. I had my cab go at a gig a few months back and used the B3 through the PA and monitors for my rig. I only had the unit a few days, so I quickley went through the amp models with all others effects off until I found 1 that i could live with through the night. I am pretty sure it was the Hartke. Thanks for sharing your findings.
  16. CharlieC

    CharlieC Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2010
    New York, NY
    You're welcome! ... and if you still have/use the B3 in your arsenal, stick around or check back later on this thread as I promise to have even better content later!

  17. steelbed45

    steelbed45 TRemington Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2011
    Nolanville, TX
    Thanks for that - I just bought this amp for the same setup this week, and found myself questioning the volume. I took a look under the Total menu, saw that my balance was at 50%, and put it to 100%. Problem solved. :)
  18. CharlieC

    CharlieC Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2010
    New York, NY
    Amps + Cabs

    The primary reason I was attracted to the B3 is the highly-authentic, believable and responsive collection of bass amplifier and cabinet simulations, IMHO. To date, I believe this unit is the best I have ever encountered in that respect.

    There is so much functionality available on the device, but in all honesty, I am after pure, classic bass tones and most likely I will never insert any of the dozens of other effects into my signal chain.

    The unfortunate part I believe is that one cannot simply make a few connections, power-up the unit and expect it to deliver the same experience I describe. I myself was not particularly impressed with my initial test-drive of the B3, but that quickly changed. The B3's amp and cab sims are pure magic when presented under the right conditions, they even "feel" right to the player, and this is exactly why I want to share and help others experience the same.

    As someone who likes classic bass and gear, I was most surprised to find that the B3 shines best in an area that appears to me to be the way the industry is headed. To avoid losing you now with my crazy-talk, I will simply say that the Zoom B3 has made a hard-core believer out of me based on my direct experience with it and those tones, those glorious tones! LOL!

    The thing I initially fault devices like the B3 with is the same thing that ultimately makes them so great: once you finally figure them out, expect some amazing results :)
  19. Sundogue


    Apr 26, 2001
    Wausau, WI
    I agree with you 100%. Whether it be the Zoom B2 (which I own) or the B3 (which is just the improved version), it is absolutely imperative that one really knows everything they can about it, inside and out. Really take the time to know it's capabilities AND how what it does fits into one's current setup with regards to the bass(es) used and the rest of the signal chain.

    Setting up one's own presets is more than picking out an amp emulation and calling it good. There is so much tweaking to be done and figuring out what settings work with other settings in combination to achieve desired results that one simply cannot treat these units as a plug and play device.

    I've been working with mine for almost four years now, and only recently found the right combinations to give me a very natural "Tube amp" tone that works with my current gear. I was always "close", but finally nailed it. And who knows? I might still find an even better setting yet. I think it not only is about the pedal itself but how you get it to play with the rest of your gear. It's going to sound a tad bit different through different cabs and different amps, as well as using different basses with it.

    I think I enjoy using it more since I switched to using a fEARful 15/6 because that cab has a less baked in voice, allowing me to not have to fight the inherent character of a cab. What goes in, comes out with clarity. Now my sound is pretty much the same through my cab as it is through headphones or a PA.
  20. caeman

    caeman The Root Master

    Sep 17, 2008
    Inquiring minds want to know...will this replace the Bass V-Amp Pro as your go-to preamp box?

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