Monday, 26 September 2016

Zoom G5N Review - plus Zoom G3X comparison too

Edit, June 2018 - The 3.0 Firmware for the Zoom G5N has improved the unit especially in terms of range of sounds. There are extra compressors, drives, modulated effects and some interesting reverbs which include a kind of spacey reverb, an almost shimmering / octo style reverb, a reverb with an EHX freeze type of 'hold' (for holding a note, creating a drone) and a particle verb (Line 6 style) effect. Interesting and may have a place in some music. I haven't noticed that the update has made the unit more memory efficient in terms of the ability to have more effects connected. There are new effects / emulations and patches and I'm sure there are other improvements I haven't noticed. Very worthwhile upgrade and makes the Zoom G5N one of the best (for the money and simplicity) multi-effects units around. Still no replacement for tube amps and analogue pedals, but to be honest, most people who aren't musical won't notice!

Zoom G5N Review

Having posted about the Zoom G5N and its flaws, I had a mood shift. Instead of carting around a huge pedalboard with loads of great pedals on for your average worship service, I decided to try the Zoom G5N and its simplicity - and light weight!

The Line6 HD500X (and its equivalent) is a great pedal but it is ridiculously complex. Yes you can get good stock sounds but the Zoom G5N scores highly in that you don't need to spend ages flicking through menus to get good sounds (or get a degree in programming while using a microscope to access the HD500X's small screen)...

The Zoom G5N is pretty simple to use. There is a menu screen at the top; four individual screens across the main body of the unit. Each of these has a click on-click off pedal. Underneath these is a tuner button, a scroll left button, a scroll right button and a tap tempo. An assignable pedal on the right can act as things like a volume pedal / way pedal etc. There is also a 'master level' knob on the top right with a booster and tone knob underneath.

The unit has around 99 stock sound patch setups - these can include up to 9 simultaneous effects. Zoom have put together these stock sounds so you can have an easy setup to get different types of sounds - whether it's a 'rock' sound, a metal sound or some weird psychedelic type setup. Fortunately there are very few of the nonsensical sounds you can get in the average multi-effects unit!

You are able to save you own patches and to edit and save the existing effects within the patches. To change these you click on the Memory / Stomp pedal at the bottom of the board. On the top screen you will then see the list of effects that make up the 'patch'. This is the equivalent of your traditional analogue pedalboard with pedals daisy chained together. The individual effects can then be changed by scrolling through the 'type' buttons above each of the four screens. You can edit the parameters for each effect by twisting any one of the four knobs under each of the screens. You can then scroll through the individual effects you have by using the 'scroll' pedals at the bottom of the unit.

In the image above, I set up my own mini pedalboard for a worship service. At the top of the board you can see the individual effects I've used (and the order). On the four LCD screens below are the current four effects selected. You can see which ones are selected on the top screen (highlighted). On this board I have a tubescreamer emulation (TS Drive), a 'Sweet Drive' which I think emulates the Fulltone OCD. I've then got the rocker pedal setup as a volume switch. There's a delay, reverb and tremolo after the pedal. On each delay/reverb etc effect you can turn on 'tails' so the effects carry on with the volume pedal down (where available). I keep tails on for swells.

On a later setup, I added a compressor ahead of the TS drive (to act as a boost etc). I also added in another delay.

I have mainly used my amp so didn't set up any Amp or Cab emulations, but these can be done if you don't have an amp with you - see here - (note the amp list has been updated, unlike this download).

I did use an amp for a recent gig as wasn't allowed amps on stage. Due to the often-found processor overload, I found I was only able to try two amp modellers - the FD-B-M and the FD-DLXR. The FD-B-M was incredibly noisy without any ability to lower the gain. The FD-DLXR was also pretty noisy (the PA guys put a noise reduction on it, which didn't help with swells!) but was needed. The sound wasn't bad to be honest but it had way more noise than my Fender Blues Jr amp.

The Sound Quality

Like the excellent G3X, the reverbs are pretty good and the delays are too. I used the Mod Delay and it really gives a good modulated (almost slightly detuned) decay. The analogue delay was also pretty good.

But it's in the overdrives that the sound quality either shines or lacks. So what about the G5N? Well, the G3X overdrives are honestly pretty awful. I've seen some people say they managed to get good sounds from the G3X but I have no idea how! The Zoom G5N was quite a pleasant surprise. The TS Drive does sound quite accurate with that slightly midrange bump and the Sweet Drive does sound sweet, giving a fairly transparent overdrive sound. I put my separate EHX Glove pedal in front of it and the Glove + Sweet Drive stack really well. The Sweet Drive was my go-to sound at church (putting the overdrive setting up very high).  I also played with the Gold Drive and was pretty impressed with that too.

Obviously as ever with these units, in order to match the bypassed volume of your guitar to the amp, you have to turn the overdrive effect volumes down from about 65 to about 20!

Now don't get me wrong. These don't sound as good as the original pedals. There is also a definite (albeit slight) tone suck. If I run my EHX Glove into the G5N (with no G5N effects on) and to my amp - and then compare to the EHX Glove pedal direct to the amp, there is definitely more life, more body and more colour without the G5N. However, the difference is slight and there's no way that 95% of people in your average church (or crowd) will notice any difference compared to an analogue boutique pedalboard!

Usefulness of the Zoom G5N

Having had huge doubts about the G5N (due to Zoom weirdly removing the XLR output), I'm pretty impressed with the G5N. It's about 1/4 the size of my pedalboard and about 1/5 of the weight! It's easy to scroll through the pedals, the tuner is great and the proper tap tempo is a brilliant addition. I still do have one or two problems with the volume rocker (as on the G3X) where often you have to turn it to 'off' then to 'on' and back to 'off' in order to mute the pedal. But I've learned to live with that. I've even started using the G5N without the EHX Glove ahead of it.

I like the simplicity of the pedal and the ease of use of the menus. The sound quality is pretty good and for the £220 I paid for the G5N, I'd highly recommend it. I'm also happy that unlike the G3X, the G5N is packed with useful effects and not the silly useless effects that no-one ever uses! I still wouldn't use things like the Octave pedal which doesn't track even one string let alone six (get a POG for that). But chorus, tremolo, reverbs, delays etc are great. And the overdrives work well too. I haven't used the distortions or fuzz so can't comment on them too much.

What could be improved? Well, things like the particle verb, the shimmer etc that are offered by Line6 (or even other Zoom pedals) would be a nice addition to the G5N but I'm guessing that Zoom want to keep their snappily titled 'MS70CDR' pedal sales up - this being the only Zoom pedal that does shimmer type effects. That would be a great pity though. I'd rather use my Boss RV6 for shimmer as it's better than Zoom. I would however use the Zoom shimmer if it was on-board the G5N.

The other thing that could be improved is simply the lack of on-board memory / processing power. This becomes an issue very quickly - meaning that you potentially won't be able to have all the effects you want - and I'm sure you won't get nine effects on a regular basis. If you get this problem (and you will), you'll get a message pop up saying 'Process Overflow. Change Effect.' (See below).

For example my board was set up like this:

Compressor > TS Drive > Gold Drive > Volume pedal > Analogue delay > Church reverb. The next effect was a Mod Delay which was fine. However, if I replace that Mod Delay with (for example) any of the amp models or other delays / some of the modulation effects / some of the compressors / any of the other overdrives, the 'Process Overflow' problems reared its head - meaning that the G5N has run out of processing power. I was surprised quite how easily this happens and this is quite an issue in my view.

The flip side is that Zoom promised to bring out new sounds every month and they have been faithful to that. More than that, they've made more of their own patches (think of patches as a series of effects) and asked various guitarists to do the same.

I have also used my EHX Glove overdrive at the front of this to give a better overdrive sound but have found in practice it doesn't sound as good as when used with a pedalboard. The G5N is fantastic but when used with 'analogue' pedals I have found it does cut their tone through its digital processing. It may work better with other overdrives that I haven't tested.

In terms of cases, I bought a Gator GK-2110 case which fits the G5N quite well (with a bit of extra padding as you can see in the pic below!)

What about comparing to the G3X?

Well the individual effect controls are the same. However, on the G3X you get more control over individual effects - often getting 2 'pages' of options rather than just the 4 options to control each effect on the G5N. The G3X also has some other controls if you care to look for them. In some respects the G3X is a bit more random in its layout (certainly 'behind the scenes'). However, the G3X gives you an XLR out, which the G5N doesn't.

As mentioned above, the overdrives are a definite improvement on the G5N (from the G3 / G3X). There are fewer effects on the G5N but that's because there's less 'fluff' - fewer pointless effects no-one really uses. The G3X is probably a bit more 'experimental' and the G5N knows a bit more what it is - really being aimed at dialling in effects easily and simply. Both pedals are actually pretty good. I will now use my G3X for acoustic and the G5N for simpler electric setups in worship. 

The G5N is an improvement with the easy tap tempo button and having the ability to easily scroll between effects and see which effect you're looking at more easily. The screens are bigger and easier to see in varied lighting. The G5N looks a bit more the part, whereas the G3X is smaller and looks slightly less professional (if that matters to you!) It has good big pedals and footswitches that look resilient enough (having said that my G3X has been used all over and survived nicely!) 

So there we are. I can't say that each effect on the G5N accurately reflects the original effect it was intended to reproduce but I'd recommend having a go and seeing if it works for you. Yes you will lose some tone but it's there to make life simple, easy and lightweight and it does that very well.


  1. Any reason you went with the g5n over the firehawk fx?

    1. Sorry, only just seen this. G5N over the Firehawk FX simply as it's much more accessible and doesn't need a separate app to control it / to use it. I bought it for simplicity really!

  2. Thanks for the review! I use a G3X at church and really like it, but I'm very interested in the G5n. I was also disappointed in the G3X overdrives, thinking I'd use a TScream into a Vox model. But then I came upon the Bluesbreaker model! Very much the Austin Stone Worship sound. I use a boost in front of that amp model and love it! I also have an outboard volume pedal and compressor, so that frees up another slot, and I use the expression pedal for my Delay Mix, so I can adjust the amount of delay to the room/song on the fly. Then I have a keyboard sustain pedal plugged in for my tap tempo. I'm thinking that later on, I might pick up a used G5n, and run an outboard compressor, volume, and noise gate. That would free up some processing power on the Zoom. But, I've found my G3X to be an amazing way to get into the tones I wanted for little $$$. (Bought used for $119!)

    I also used a Zoom GFX707 for about 12 years and it still works! It was just produced before amp modeling became available.

    1. Glad you've found the sound that works for you! Awesome.

      Completely agree about the G3X overdrives and distortions. They're actually pretty poor to be honest. The G3X does suck a bit of tone as well. The G5N overdrives are definitely better. Are they up there with my pedalboard running through a tube amp? No way! But will people notice? Unlikely. I actually rarely use the G5N. Only use it for a small event. My G3X is now mainly used with acoustic / even bass (just using compressor).

  3. Blessings from France buddy!
    I was looking a good advice about the G5n, and I couldn't be more happy to read your test!
    Question : can you change the position of the volume pedal on a patch? I' d like to create a special patch for violoning by placing the pedal volume between the overdrive unit and the delay.
    Thank you for all :)

  4. Yes you change the order of any pedal in the chain very easily, it's under menu/chain.

  5. I ' ve got a Line 6 POD X3 LIVE and a Boss GT-6. My plan is to sell both and get a used line 6 POD HD 500X . I understand that the 500X has more and better sounding effects than either of my two pedals.. I believe it would be quieter than th X3 LIVE. I would like to have good rock sounds, standard effects like phaser, flanger etc. beautiful chorus sounds (my favorite effect) and the to the ability to create ethereal or new sounds, Is the 500X a good choice or what you suggest as alternatives? By the way thanks for the G5n review its lack of processing strength-DSP limtations strongly impacts me negatively. Though theoretically the Zoom G5n has one or highest capacities in allowing up to 9 similtaneous effects.


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