The Inspiring Interface of ZOIA June 05 2023

The Inspiring Interface of ZOIA

5th June, 2023 - Dave Miner

My favourite thing about Japan is all the things that are beautiful that don’t have to be.

I worked for a Japanese company for over a decade and have visited the country somewhere north of a dozen times. So many things, from architecture to signage to safety barriers, are designed to have personality as well as functionality, which makes exploring inviting and delightful.

I was reminded of this, unexpectedly, when I made my first ZOIA patch.

I remember the first time I saw the pedal. Most of my stompboxes have interfaces that can be mastered in the time it takes to plug in the cables, so I couldn’t even speculate what ZOIA’s 44 buttons did. I had a sense of its sonic potential, but understood why Rhett Shull called it “The Most Intimidating Pedal I’ve Played”.

When I bought mine, I went immediately to Youtube for some ZOIA 101. There are some fantastic resources from passionate members of the ZOIA community who are using the pedal to its full creative potential. ZOIA gurus are serious business, and their content is substantial, thorough, and detailed. However, like the pedal itself, these deep dives can seem intimidating.


I needed to start much smaller. You can pretty much make anything in ZOIA, so I made a cable.

I started by adding an audio input. Two squares for stereo, one for mono. Easy. I added an audio output. Press and hold to connect. Easy. I learned how to break a connection with the Delete key so I could add more modules to the signal path. I added a Tone Control module and rolled off some high end with a turn of the knob to simulate a long cable. Easy.

Then things got weird.

To add some motion to the sound, I boosted the midrange on Tone Control and connected an LFO to constantly change the frequency. The result sounded pleasingly like a phaser, but not quite like any phaser I’d ever heard. I learned how to edit a module so that I could add a gain control to the audio output, which I modulated with a second LFO. I could have added a phaser and tremolo from the Effect Modules list, but this was more fun. Push, turn, connect, tweak.

With my core sound established, I added a compressor, overdrive, and hall reverb. The tone was chewy, lush, and expressive, transforming my tone at the touch of a button in the same familiar way as the more traditional multi-fx units I’ve owned - but none of those could do this neat LFO thing or let me customize my effects quite like this.

Here is where my ZOIA explorations brought me, symbolically, to Japan.

I didn’t have a direction in mind when I started adding features. Once I completed my virtual cable by passing audio through and rolling off highs, I was more improv partner than sound designer, “Yes, and…”-ing ZOIA as I considered what to add next. As a result, the grid was a haphazard mess in stark contrast to the more inspired layouts of the factory presets.

Modules spilled across rows and pages, so I learned how to move elements to clean up the layout. I filled empty spaces with Pixel modules and noticed their Control parameter could be set to Audio. Curious, I connected the Audio Input to each Pixel, and was delighted as the grid lit up in response to my playing. These aesthetic choices don’t change the sound or the functionality of the patch. It’s the same satisfying tone whether the grid is static and utilitarian or dances along to the music. I did it because it was fun. Despite my initial trepidation, it was also pretty easy.

If you’re curious, you can download the preset at While you’re there, be sure to spend some time exploring the over 1200 presets uploaded by the ZOIA community. If you’ve created a patch you love, I hope you’ll share it there as well.

ZOIA holds a unique place in my collection because of its singular creative potential, but I love these little touches that let me elevate my humble patch into something I find uniquely appealing both sonically and visually. The interface is fast and tactile, but it’s also a virtual zen garden of light and colour. Every unused square or untouched parameter tempts you with possibility. What else could this patch do?

Yes, and… right back at you.

I’m no longer intimidated by ZOIA. It’s deep, but only as deep as you want it to be, and surprisingly simple to use. I went from the rudiments of “what does this button do” to “I love this sound” to “I wonder if I can make it light up when I play” in well under an hour. It will take some time to get familiar with all 80+ modules, but I very quickly grew comfortable with an interface that invites and rewards exploration like a side street in Akihabara.

It’s beautiful, even though it doesn’t have to be, and I always find that inspiring.


Dave Miner is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at Empress Effects