Okay, but the most important part is what’s inside: the software. Despite a few warts, it is largely a success. Yes, the user interface can be a bit slow to respond. And yes, harnessing the power of DSPs and maximizing CPU is much easier than you might think. But the modules are all very useful, easy to use and sound great. There are 97 of them, ranging from simple VCAs to amp emulators, to ports for Mutable Instruments modules like Braids and Clouds.
There’s obviously no way to cover them all, but let’s talk about a few highlights. The ports of the Mutable Instruments modules are all excellent, but I find Grids (called Drum Patterns) and Clouds (Granular) to be the most useful. Clouds is a granular “texture synthesizer”. In short, it cuts out the incoming audio in real time and spits it out like an almost unrecognizable mass. Until now, if you wanted to have clouds on your crankset, that would have meant sticking something extremely fragile like a Eurorack case or one Organelle Here. So this is a big problem for guitarists with a more ambient or experimental bent.
Grids is a kind of automatic drum sequencer, ideal for quickly assembling rhythms. But you can use its outputs to control anything that will accept a CV (control voltage) input (which is most modules). So you can create a rhythmic interaction between a delay and a bitcrusher where different parameters are boosted at different times.
Speaking of bitcrushing, the Bitmangle mod is mind blowing. It makes one of the best spraying and ugly noises I’ve heard. This is not a standard bitcrusher and instead combines cross modulation with the usual bit based degradation. Just one thing to know: it’s noisy. It is highly recommended to combine with a compressor, noise gate and VCA after the fact to keep your levels under control.
The best thing about these mods is that they all play well with the internal CV controls so that you add LFOs, or a 16-step sequencer, or the Chaos Controller to add movement to the parameters, so your effects don’t never remain static. And yes, you can even combine these modules with grids that constantly change parameter modulation patterns. (For example, an LFO can slowly change the drum pattern on the grids, which in turn rhythmically maximizes the time on a delay in a scalable way.)
In this basic example, the LFO is used to pan between two different effects – a pitch shifter and a chorus. The first half is a slow sine wave LFO, the second half of the demo is a 320 bpm square wave with a temperature ratio of 320x, creating an almost ring modulated effect.
My only gripe is that there is no visual feedback on what the modulation and sequencers are changing. If you connect an LFO to the delay time, you don’t see it change, the slider stays right where you left it. This means that you really need to locate the problematic areas with your ears.
Perhaps the things I used the most were the Amp Simulation, Cabin Simulation, and Convolution Reverb Mods. The two power amp sims are pretty decent. These aren’t the best amp simulators I’ve ever heard, but they’re not bad either. I would like to see Poly Effects expand and improve these offerings. Yet between these and the cabin sims, the Beebo makes a solid DI (direct input) box. I’m not sure if it could replace my amp completely, but it’s definitely better than the amp sims built into Ableton.
Cabin simulators are IR-based, and Beebo comes with a whole bunch of IRs to help you get started, including those recorded from classic amps like a Fender Bassman and Vox AC30. But you can also upload custom files that you uploaded or even saved yourself.
The same is true of convolution reverb unit. There’s a bunch of impulse responses already included, from vintage analog and digital reverbs to real spaces like the London Palladium and Black Star Pool in Winnipeg. You can also easily find free reverb IRs online to load yourself. Or, if you really want to have fun, you can load any 48kHz .wav file and use it as a reverb. Your results will vary depending on the sample you use, but I have had great success with a harvested bang rip Elektron free New Zealand sound pack and a recording of a strange rhythmic HAM radio show. You can use a drum break and get a patterned delay, or run the drums through the reverb with a melodic sample loaded like an IR and get chaotic cascades of whatever you use as an IR.
That’s the real strength and joy of using Beebo: the ability to experiment and do things that just aren’t possible (at least without thousands of dollars in equipment) in the real world.
The only glaring hole in the range of modules is the lack of a looper. There is a loop delay module, but it’s pretty straightforward. Poly Effects is working on a robust appearance multi-loop module, but there is no concrete timeline for when it should land.
Surprisingly, I found myself less drawn to the synth side of Beebo than I expected. It’s not because it’s bad; I just have more convenient ways to get more of the same sounds. My MicroFreak has some of the oscillators in Plaits (Macro Osc) and the Organelle has a port of Grids that I can load with my own drum samples. If you’re exclusively a guitarist, but wouldn’t mind having a way to immerse yourself in the world of modular synthesis without wasting a lot of money, this is a great way to do it. But I probably wouldn’t buy it just for the synth sounds.
While you can use the pitch tracking module or the built-in 16-step sequencer in combination with the quantizer to play the resonator or macro-oscillator, it really does require a MIDI controller to get the most out of it. It adds a whole other layer of complexity to the equation that you may or may not be ready to embrace.
This means either doing full MIDI integration for your card, or leaving the Beebo on your desktop. Neither is wrong, but it is something to be aware of. I recently took the plunge and cranked up my pedalboard to take advantage of MIDI, but the Beebo has always found a home on my desk more often than not. And that’s largely because I found myself using it quite differently than the ZOIA.
With Empress Effects’ modular pedal, I usually find myself loading it with new presets once every two months. And I design a new patch almost as often. But with the Beebo, I was much more likely to start from scratch every time. The interface is much more immediate, and it’s easier to navigate complex patches and make adjustments.
Which brings us to the big question that a lot of people are probably asking: if you buy the ZOIA or the Beebo. And the answer is… both? It might sound a bit confusing, but even though they are similar in concept, the execution and feature list are different enough that it doesn’t necessarily have to be either a storyline or either.
But if you have to make a choice (and I understand they aren’t cheap), here’s what I’m going to say:
If you want the world’s most powerful multi-effects pedal, with an incredibly active community sharing new presets every day, go for the ZOIA. There are people much more talented than me who create new and unique effects and share them patchstorage.com – nearly 800 to date. Its reverb algorithms are second to none, it excels as an experimental looper, and it easily serves as the MIDI master of an adventurous pedal board. ZOIA is a perfect do-it-all end-of-chain pedal and would definitely be on my desert island list.
But if you’re more into small-scale modular exploration and plan to constantly tweak and customize patches, go with Beebo. Its interface is much more conducive to virtual rewiring on the fly. It can replace your amp and the infrared reverb is a source of endless fun. Plus, the ports on Mutable Instruments Eurorack modules are some of the most unique things you can find in a guitar pedal.
Beebo is not perfect. It can be buggy. And while the interface is intuitive, it’s still a complex device. But it’s also a totally unique and incredibly powerful piece of musical equipment. For the relentless sonic experimenter, its appeal will be undeniable.