Zoom has quite a reputation for producing guitar effects units, and is no slouch when it comes to multitrack HD recorders, with its MRS range representing good value for money.
The new HD16CD multitracker is in the same mould, but adds rather more to the mix. Not only is it a 16-track hard disk recorder with an 80GB internal drive, but it also functions as a rhythm-part generator, in similar fashion to the Zoom MRS1608. And it operates as a control surface, offering hardware control of transport, levels, EQ and so on.
The HD16CD is a heavily built device (unlike so many plastic-clad HD recorders) - a solid metal case hosting eight balanced XLR inputs with phantom power, the first two of which are Hi-Z for instruments. As is common to many units of this type, the channel strips are minimalist in that the 3-band EQ, aux sends and pan controls are accessed via sub-menus in the LCD screen on the right, which isn't the easiest way to work.
Up to eight tracks can be recorded at once, which should accommodate a typical band set-up. Project studio types will likely appreciate the facility to record up to ten virtual takes per track, and there's the means to bounce to a mastering track to free up resources. The eight mono and four stereo channels have a relatively short-throw fader each, plus LED level meters, and there's a dedicated stereo fader for the rhythm section. The loaded percussion sounds range from traditional acoustic, through electronic to special effects and sound pretty tasty. But if the supplied sounds are not enough, the HD16CD has a 66-second sampling capacity so you can incorporate your own WAVs/AIFFs and assign them to the nine velocity-sensitive pads. It's also possible to supplement the 475 preset rhythm patterns with your own SMF creations.
Zoom's affinity with guitarists is obvious when exploring the input options. There are 18 guitar amp and six bass amp simulations, plus cab emulation and a tuner. The tone caters well for both clean and dirty guitar takes.
You can assign effects as inserts or sends and there's a lot on offer, including chorus, flanger, various wah types and an exciter. You can also apply compression/EQ to eight tracks simultaneously and you've an ever useful multiband compressor along with a normaliser for mastering. Pitch correction is on hand for buffing up vocals, and setting up to record is no sweat, once you're accustomed to the menu. The HD16CD sounds as clean as you'd expect from a digital desk and the EQs are flexible enough (although you can't sweep them).
As the track builds, though, it becomes a faff to tweak individual tracks – you have to step through hi, mid, lo EQ, effects sends and pan one at a time via the Select button. But when you get the hang of it, this device (with its rhythm section and USB connectivity) does open up possibilities. You can drag and drop audio from the HD16CD to the computer (and vice versa) as well as run it in sync with your OS X or XP/Vista-based DAW, controlling the mix from the hardware as you go.
This is ideal for those seeking additional multitrack capability from a dedicated recording device. There are a few puzzling aspects, such as the use of unbalanced RCA outs where you'd expect to find XLR/TRS sockets, and the presence of an optical out, but no optical in. Nevertheless, with so many tracks, such a capacious hard drive, versatile mastering options and its dedicated rhythm-part generator, the HD16CD is a robust, good-value multitracker that performs well both stand-alone and in the project studio.