Price paid: £ 70
Purchased from: eBay
Features: Zoom's RT-323 features 64 drum kits and around 400 different patterns covering just about every style you could possibly need, with the ability to programme your own patterns (and your own customised kits) if you need something different. It also includes a bass synthesizer so it is capable of creating your entire rhythm section. The LCD screen is small, but well designed and easy to use. I don't know how much internal memory it has, but it's obviously enough to allow you to create a defined amount of patterns and songs (100 of each) and if you do start running out of spaces it's possible to export your data using the SmartMedia slot (card not included).
Most of the pre-programmed rhythms are genuinely useable, incorporating a wide range of styles including Rock, Metal, Thrash, Punk, Reggae, Dance, Hip Hop, Jazz, Pop, Country and Blues - the main focus is definitely on the rockier side of things though, it's clear that Zoom had guitarists in mind when creating this.
As well as some simple to use control buttons, there are 13 touch sensitive pad buttons which are used when creating patterns and songs and are designed to resemble the notes on a piano keyboard for when you're programming a bassline. An interesting feature is the 'Sound Jammer', a slider control which allows you to control things like volume, pitch and other effects as you're playing.
It's hard to fault it for any of it's features other than the type of memory card it uses. If it used an SDHC card, it would score at least 9 out of 10. // 7
Sound: As the majority of the drum kits included in the RT-323 are sampled and not synthesized, the sound is very realistic - only a trained ear would ever know you'd used a drum machine to create the rhythm section of your song, and even then it would be because they'd recognised the timing was too perfect to have been played by a real drummer. The quality of drums I'm able to create since buying this kit has improved so much it's allowed me significantly more freedom in my songwriting and almost everyone who has heard my music has commented on how good the drums sound.
Although the drum sounds are excellent, the bass synthesizer isn't quite as good. It's OK, but the bass sounds are nowhere near as good as the drum sounds are. That's the only thing I can mark it down for though, as I don't use it for programming bass and with the variety of drum kits available I've always been able to find exactly the sound I was looking for with the RT-323. // 9
Ease of use: Zoom are known for their easy to understand user interfaces, and the RT-323 is no exception. Even a beginner with no experience will be able to start using it for a basic background rhythm almost immediately. Creating your own work takes a little more time, but the manual provides detailed step-by-step instructions which are easy to follow once you've found the right page - I felt that some subjects were out of place in the order the manual was written, but that could just be me. Once you've created one new song you realise how simple it is and the only reason I ever look at the manual now is to search through the list of pre-programmed patterns. There are two ways to create a song, either by step-programming (where you tell it to play pattern 1 for x bars, then pattern 2 for x bars etc) or by assigning all required patterns to the pads and recording while you play the song in real-time (my preferred method).
The only potential weakness in the usability of the RT-323 is the editing options. For this, you can only use the step-programming method, which can be a bit fiddly depending on the length & complexity of the song you are trying to edit. I rarely need this though - I usually find if I need to change something, it's because I've changed the whole structure of a song and as it's so easy to just re-record a song starting from scratch, that's what I do.
The only function I feel is missing is the ability to change the kit on a song after you've recorded it - to achieve this you'd have to change the kit on each pattern used throughout the song, then re-record it. A bit of an oversight by Zoom, but once you're aware of it you know to make sure you have the right kit selected before you hit record.
Build Quality / Reliability:
Although it's fairly lightweight and plastic, I believe the RT-323 will stand up to a reasonable amount of use, but probably not too much abuse. I've had it a while now and it's still working perfectly, but it's hard to tell how well the soft plastic buttons will be functioning in a few years time - especially if you were constantly hitting them hard due to their touch-sensitivity. Generally speaking though, so long as you take care of it I'd expect it to last for a long time. // 8
Impression: As a guitarist who just wants to be able to press play and start to practicing along with some drums, this does exactly what I need it to. As a song writer who wants to get the best possible results with as little effort as possible, this does exactly what I need it to. I can start out writing or practicing with one of the pre-programmed patterns, then as one of my compositions evolves I can either stick with that rhythm, or customise it however I want. The pre-programmed patterns include a comprehensive range of different choices for most guitar-based styles, including numerous fills, breaks and count-ins to match the style you're working with. All of these can be edited and stored as a user created track along with those you've created from scratch.
The only real weak point in it's design is the use of SmartMedia for backup & transfer of data. It probably seemed like a good idea when it was created, unfortunately that was a very short-lived format so the chances are you'd need to get an adapter to a more common format in order to use it. Aside from that though, with the RT-323 Zoom have created a well designed drum machine which can do whatever you want it to with minimal effort. // 8