It’s not enough to have a pressure cooker, you need an Instant Pot that’s also a slow cooker, and a rice cooker, and a yogurt maker. Your video game console is also now a media center and live streaming platform. And if your printer doesn’t also make copies and send faxes, then what are you even doing with your life? This obsession with do-it-all gadgets has even hit the world of music gear. While there were certainly earlier examples, it really started to take off in the ‘90s with the emergence of the groovebox. Two decades into the 21st century, it’s not enough to have a few synth sounds and a drum sequencer in a single box. We want the freedom to build the instruments and effects of our dreams, virtually. We have the ZOIA, the Organelle, MOD Duo and now, the $449 Poly Effects Beebo.
The Beebo is a rather ambitious project built largely by one person based out of Melbourne, Australia. It was already pretty powerful when it was released earlier this year. But just a few weeks back Poly Effects merged the Beebo firmware with its other modular pedal, the Digit, creating one super pedal.
- Endless opportunity for experimentation
- Puts Mutable Instruments modules in a guitar pedal
- Frequent updates
- Intuitive UI
- Can be a bit buggy
- No looper module
Beebo is essentially a virtual modular synthesizer in a guitar pedal format. That makes comparisons to the $499 Empress ZOIA unavoidable. The most obvious difference between the two, though, is the interface. Whereas ZOIA has a grid of 40 RGB pads that represent the various modules and patch points, Beebo has a five-inch touchscreen. While it’s definitely on the small side and you’ll have to do a lot of delicate pecking, it’s pretty easy to navigate.
Pressing the plus button at the bottom adds a module, the disk icon saves and loads presets and the various in and out ports are aligned along the edges of the screen and clearly labeled. Pressing a module and then tapping another one connects them. While long pressing them, you’ll see icons pop up at the bottom to copy modules, break connections and delete them. Quickly tapping a module opens up the expanded view where you can change its various parameters.
That’s it. That’s the interface in a nutshell. If you can use a smartphone, you can probably handle the Poly Effects Beebo.
The general look of the interface is nice, too. That said, it can be a little inconsistent when you hop into individual modules. The colors are bright, with small attractive icons and rounded edges. Some of the modules also have rather elaborate graphics, but most are just simple sliders. (There are some modules where you can enter parameters manually with a number pad, and I really wish that would be expanded to all variables.) It’s not an experience-breaking detail, but it is a reminder that Beebo is still a work in progress. And I don’t mean that as a knock against it. Poly Effects is constantly updating the Beebo, squashing bugs while adding modules and new features. The company says it issued about 50 firmware updates in 2020. In the time that I’ve been reviewing it there have been two.
While it’s great that Beebo is constantly updated (and I wish more companies would be as proactive about improving their products), it’s a bummer when bug fixes feel necessary. There are still a few modules that don’t always behave as expected. For example, I’ve had LFOs simply stop modulating, only to start up again on their own. And sometimes modules I’ve added simply won’t appear at which point I have to re-add them. The bugs aren’t frequent or severe enough to be dealbreakers, but they’re there.
Before we start really digging in on the software, though, let’s pause to talk about the hardware. I still have my concerns about how a touchscreen would stand up to rigorous use on a pedalboard, but the three footswitches and two endless encoders mean you’ll have to go out of your way to stomp on it.
Around back you’ll find a USB port for loading firmware updates, as well as impulse responses (IRs) for the convolution reverb and cab simulator. Unfortunately it can’t act as a USB host for MIDI controllers. Instead, there’s mini-jack MIDI in and out ports, and Poly Effects was kind enough to toss a couple adapters in the box. The most unique thing, though, is the four TRS stereo jacks: two in, two out. That means that the Beebo has a total of four audio out channels and four in channels. Just remember, most instruments, mixers and audio interfaces use separate left and right audio ports, rather than combining them in a single stereo one. That means to use Beebo in stereo you’ll either need an adapter, or use channels one and three in mono mode.
Those additional audio channels mean you can use Beebo in all sorts of interesting ways. You can create external effects loops, or run an instrument through two parallel effects chains, or use the internal modules to create a drum track and then route your guitar through a separate channel. I’m sure there’s plenty of uses I couldn’t even fathom. One of my favorite tricks has been to run my clean guitar signal out one channel, and use the pitch detection module to trigger a heavily affected synth pad on another.
The three footswitches are assignable, though footswitch C toward the far right defaults to bypass. Physically, my one complaint is the endless encoders at the top. They control whatever parameter you touched last: the one on the left for fine adjustment and the right for coarse. But, they have almost no resistance and the knobs themselves feel sort of cheap. Again, is this a dealbreaker? Absolutely not. But it’s a shame when the rest of the package feels so well put together.