September 1, 2003

Long a major player in the floor multi-effector world, Zoom has entered the combo arena with its ultra-affordable Fire-30 modeling amp ($279 street). Housed in a cleanly-constructed Tolex- covered enclosure, the Fire-30 sports a feature-heavy, yet logically laid-out front-panel where you’ll find 11 Amp/Drive models from which to select a basic tone. A Variation button allows you to toggle between Vintage or Standard modes for each model, which gives you a total of 22 different sounds.

Fire Truckin’
Once you choose a sound, you can tweeze the tones with the 3-band EQ and the gain and level controls (all with cool chicken-head knobs). Located under the tone knobs are four global tone-shaping functions: Sustain (compression), Bottom (low-end boost), Edge (adds top-end bite), and Boost (provides a slight volume bump). If you desire, all of these tone shapers can be applied simultaneously. The Fire-30 also offers an onboard auto-chromatic tuner, as well as a global noise- reduction circuit coined ZNR (Zoom Noise Reduction) that offers a programmable threshold and a bypass function.

Digital Firepower
All of the usual suspects are available in the Fire-30’s complement of digital delay/reverb and modulation effects (see sidebar, “Amp &Effects Models”), along with some notable twists such as Step (a sequencer-style wah inspired by the Z. Vex Seek Wah) and Slow-A (an automatic volume-swell effect).

Adding one of the modulation effects to your amp tone involves pressing the corresponding button on the front panel. By turning the Modulation control, you’re then able to step through nine variations for each effect. And though only one effect can be used at a time, the Modulation control does activate effect chains on some settings. For example, as you scroll through the nine tremolo variations, you’ll notice that three of them offer tremolo with chorus.

The same functionality applies to the Delay, Echo, Room, and Hall effects. Selections are made via the Delay/Reverb control, which also adjusts either delay time or reverb decay. A separate mix control is provided for the delays and reverbs.

All of the aforementioned functions are programmable (including individual level settings for each patch), and you can save your sound to one of ten user presets. Writing your own patch is absolutely dolt-proof—just press the Store button, and you’re done.

The unnamed 9 1/2" speaker made me initially skeptical as to the Fire-30’s ability to provide robust, full-bodied tones, but, lo and behold, I was proven wrong. Thanks to a superb EQ section and the conservatively-voiced-yet-effective Boost, Edge, Bottom, and Sustain functions, I was greeted with a handful of utterly happening amp sounds.

For example, the MS model effortlessly delivered the elusive chime/grind class A tone, and, depending on where my guitar’s volume knob was set, proved a cool setting for rhythm or lead. The Fuzz setting yielded a thick, gooey tone that was warm and pugnacious in a classic Big Muff sort of way. Hardcore scooped-mid tones are also achievable, and I was easily able to dial-in viciously aggressive sounds that remained coherent and musical in spite of their ferocity. In addition, all sounds are dynamically responsive.

The Achilles Heel of some modeling amps— regardless of price—is their inability to deliver believable and usable rear-pickup Strat and Tele clean tones due to high-end artifacts. The Fire-30 held its own in this regard, delivering tight and spanky Fender-like sounds. Any treble excesses were easily dialed-out with the EQ, and another big help was the Sustain function, which smoothed out spikey tones very effectively.

Zoom did a great job of voicing the effects presets, so there’s no need to bum-out over the lack of editing control. I actually found it refreshing to simply apply a single effect to my sound and go. The Fire-30’s chorus, phase, and flange effects offer everything from chewy, undulating textures to leg-wobbling, detuned zaniness. The Slow-A effect was killer for aping backwards effects and faux pedal-steel bends.

The lack of editing power only proved to be a drag on the nuttier effects, such as the ring modulator and pitch shifter, where it would have been nice to be able to adjust the wet/dry mix.

The Fire-30’s delays and reverbs add a cool touch to all of the amps sounds. Low settings of the Hall reverb gave the more vintage amp sounds an air of spacious authenticity, and the Echo settings did a great job of approximating those warm tape delays. Overall, the ambient effects added welcome polish to my tones— albeit most effectively when used sparingly.

Fire in the Hole
With its supreme affordability and broad range of musical amp tones and effects, The Zoom Fire-30 is a winner no matter how you slice it. Though producing a feature-laden amp at this price demands that corners be cut, kudos to Zoom for cutting all the right ones, and preserving the single most important feature of all—sound.



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