Zoom ARQ Aero Rhyth­mTrak AR-96

Zoom’s ARQ of­fers a light show to il­lu­mi­nate any per­for­mance. Jono Buchanan dis­cov­ers if it has mu­si­cal fea­tures to match

Future Music - - CONTENTS -

Zoom’s name isn’t nec­es­sar­ily one you’d im­me­di­ately as­so­ciate with pro­duc­tion tools aimed equally at the stage and the stu­dio but, in the un­usual and brightly-coloured ARQ, the tar­get mar­ket is an even split be­tween mu­si­cians work­ing in both are­nas. The ARQ Aero Rhyth­mTrak AR-96 is a com­bi­na­tion of a step se­quencer, sam­ple-laden drum pro­gram­mer, sam­pler, looper, song se­quencer and per­for­mance in­stru­ment. How­ever, its stand­out fea­ture and USP is its de­sign. ARQ comes in two parts, with a base unit pro­vid­ing ac­cess to modes and key pa­ram­e­ters, while a de­tach­able, mul­ti­coloured white ring sits on top, ready to be un­cou­pled from the base unit (or cra­dled on top of it), pro­vid­ing the in­ter­face by which notes can be trig­gered and pro­grammed, or real-time ef­fects ma­nip­u­lated. It’s bold, it’s bright… but is it beau­ti­ful?

Firstly, let’s find out what’s on­board the ARQ. There are 468 drum and in­stru­ment sam­ples stored in mem­ory, as well as 70 synth sam­ples, which you can add to, ei­ther cap­tur­ing au­dio di­rectly via the stereo in­put on the side of the base unit, or by plug­ging in an SD card, from which sam­ples can be read and im­ported. You can save and ex­port se­quences and loops via this card port too. Out­put is pro­vided via a pair of 1/4-inch jack sock­ets, while there’s also a head­phone out­put on the other side of the base unit. Con­nec­tiv­ity ex­tends to a mini-USB socket, which pro­vides both buss power and MIDI in­ter­fac­ing, while the power port does ex­actly what you’d ex­pect. The de­tach­able ring com­mu­ni­cates with the base sta­tion over Blue­tooth (hence Zoom re­fer­ring to it as their “wire­less Blue­tooth Ring Con­troller”) and while it can be laid on top of the base unit at any an­gle, there is a mag­netic pin con­nec­tor at the top (where the Zoom logo is) to pro­vide a firmer con­nec­tion when you want to dock it.

And so to the Wire­less Ring Con­troller it­self. As you’ll see from the pho­tos, the de­sign of this di­vides the white sec­tions up into a grid of 96 pads, each of which rep­re­sents an in­di­vid­ual, ve­loc­ity and pres­sure-sen­si­tive in­ter­face of its own. The Ring Con­troller can be used to pro­gram and trig­ger sam­ples, pat­terns and more on the fly, with a cor­re­spond­ingly-coloured light il­lu­mi­nat­ing to re­flect the ac­tion you’re tak­ing. When you’re play­ing back or record­ing a se­quence a sep­a­rate light runs round the ring to show you the cur­rent po­si­tion of the pat­tern. If you’re work­ing with a pitched in­stru­ment, the Ring Con­troller ef­fec­tively be­comes a tun­able, chro­matic key­board with pitches trig­gered se­quen­tially as you move around, while drums can be mapped in whole kits, or on a per-sam­ple ba­sis. Neatly, the bat­tery in the Ring Con­troller charges when­ever it’s placed on the Base unit.

To work with ARQ, first you need to se­lect a Mode. Four are avail­able: Step, In­stru­ment, Song and Looper. In Step Mode, the best place to start is to load one of the pre­set pat­terns, which you can au­di­tion in real time as a se­quence plays back. You then swap out in­di­vid­ual kit pieces, re­plac­ing any sound you don’t like for an­other, though this isn’t quite as in­tu­itive as it might be. Zoom have done a good job of pro­vid­ing mul­ti­ple

tu­to­ri­als on their web­site to show this in ac­tion but as you’ll see from watch­ing the ‘Kits and Edit­ing Sounds’ video, get­ting at and swap­ping kit pieces re­quires a pretty com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of func­tions, dial-tweaks and but­ton presses, which is more con­fus­ing than it might be. In prac­tice, it takes a while be­fore this process is sec­ond na­ture. In fair­ness, though, that’s be­cause there are so many op­tions and func­tions on­board that a de­gree of menu surf­ing was al­ways likely to be nec­es­sary on a com­pact in­stru­ment like ARQ. And there’s no doubt that build­ing pat­terns is fun once you add in­di­vid­ual hits via the Ring Con­troller, while the Cap­ture mode is great, pro­vid­ing one-but­ton ac­cess to sam­pling. The Looper is pow­er­ful too, cap­tur­ing your se­quence ‘as one’ be­fore you can ma­nip­u­late its pitch (among other pa­ram­e­ters) on the fly.

An­other word of cau­tion: Zoom have built a ‘grip de­tec­tion’ mode, so that if you pick the ring up to build pat­terns away from the base unit, you shouldn’t in­ad­ver­tently trig­ger sounds by hold­ing the Ring in your hand. This wasn’t al­ways suc­cess­ful – I found that a note clus­ter was pro­duced un­til I learned how hard, and where ex­actly, to hold the Ring.

If you’re in­ter­ested in pat­tern se­quenc­ing and want a hard­ware con­troller for this, rather than work­sta­tion soft­ware, there’s no doubt that ARQ is a ca­pa­ble con­cept and any com­pany which looks to de­velop and de­sign some­thing this unique should be re­spected. That said, you’ll have to think very care­fully about whether this is how you want to spend £500 for the ca­pa­bil­ity of­fered. Fun­da­men­tally, ARQ of­fers two bars of pat­tern se­quenc­ing be­fore pat­terns can be loaded into songs and, while there are dig­i­tal ef­fects and real-time ma­nip­u­la­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties aplenty on­board, for the same money you can more-or-less buy Able­ton Live (or its Push con­troller) or any one of the other lead­ing DAW soft­ware pack­ages, many of which are now more ‘live-ori­ented’ than their orig­i­nal se­quenc­ing roots. Of course, this com­par­i­son is un­fair, as ARQ’s re­mit is dif­fer­ent, but if you ‘only’ have £500 to spend, think very care­fully.


WHO: Zoom TEL: 08432 080999 WEB: www.zoom-uk.com 96 ve­loc­ity and pres­sure-sen­si­tive pads, 160 mul­ti­coloured LEDs, Ac­celerom­e­ter, Base Sta­tion/Ring con­troller, MIDI over USB, 16-note poly­phonic, 33 in­stru­ments, Up to 5 parts in a loop, Fil­ter, De­lay, Re­verb and Mas­ter Ef­fects suites, Step, In­stru­ment, Song and Looper Modes, 468 sam­pled wave­forms, 384 pat­terns, 32-step Se­quencer, 256 Mo­tion Se­quences

MAK­ING SAM­PLES A stereo au­dio in­put lets you cap­ture sam­ples from any source.

MODES Pro­gram or edit Step Se­quences, In­stru­ment sounds, Song ar­range­ments and Looper fea­tures in the sep­a­rate Modes.

TRIG­GERS The Ef­fects trig­gers on the Ring Con­troller com­bine with its Ac­celerom­e­ter to let you ma­nip­u­late ef­fects on the fly.

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