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EarthQuaker Devices Zoar Dynamic Audio Grinder Review

Zoar pedal

A medium-high-gain overdrive that gives you room to move between fat boost tones and fuzzier fare.

A powerfully heavy but also surprisingly subtle and versatile distortion pedal. Great dynamics and articulation.

Some noise at higher gain settings.


EarthQuaker Devices Zoar


What’s in a name? In dubbing their latest “Zoar,” maybe the pedal pushers from Akron, Ohio, are referencing the falcon from Masters of the Universe. More likely, they are referring to the communal village in Ohio named for the Biblical hamlet spared during the Old Testament razing of Sodom and Gomorrah. Maybe it’s just EarthQuaker Devices’ idea of the kind of ominous name a chunky medium-high-gain distortion should have. The latter scenario isn’t out of the question. It becomes clear pretty quickly that the name totally suits this teal, hammer-finished machine. Yet the Zoar is more than a tool for aggression. It’s a dynamic device that straddles both sides of the distortion/fuzz fence and achieves great touch sensitivity via a discrete transistor-based circuit.

Heavy Hitter

The Zoar is housed in EQD’s standard enclosure and built around a 6-control layout, which has become a familiar sight on the company’s pedals. Here, they control gain, weight, level, bass, middle, and treble. Input and output jacks flank the center-negative 9V input on the crown of the pedal, and there’s a red LED indicator alongside the silent-action footswitch. Most of the controls are self-explanatory, save, perhaps, for weight, which governs the low-end content in the distortion signal. How you set it up plays a big part in shaping the pedal’s overall voice. So, too, does the traditional-looking 3-band EQ which EarthQuaker configured to feel and respond more like a traditional low-pass filter.

The Zoar can be powered by anything from 9V up to 18V DC, and higher voltages enhance the pedal’s dynamics, articulation, and frequency range. The non-latching, relay-based, true-bypass footswitch—called a “flexi-switch” by EQD—enables either standard on/off operation with a single tap or momentary operation when you press and hold.

Rhymes with Roar

Unlike some distortion pedals—and fuzzes in particular—that are nearly all-or-nothing, the Zoar’s gain knob has a gradual curve that yields many subtler drive colors. From around 3 o’clock to maximum, it’s pretty thick and heavy, and very fuzz-like at the highest settings. This is where the “Audio Grinder” part of the pedal’s name makes the most sense, and where the meanest, dirtiest sounds live. It’s great for sludgy chord work or foundation-rumbling riffing. It’s a heavy tone for sure, but one I can imagine using across indie styles, too.

There is an impressive plurality among the pedal’s tones, thanks to the wide-ranging EQ and the girth delivered by the weight knob. From razory and tight to flabby and bovine, there’s an entire world of high-gain, fuzzy distortion available. The Zoar’s noise levels aren’t bad overall, but noise becomes significant in silent passages if you have the gain maxed.

Reduce the gain, tweak the other controls, and the Zoar becomes appealingly nuanced. Where so many distortion and fuzz pedals are virtually unusable with their gain controls at the minimum, the Zoar behaves a lot like a good low-gain overdrive or a fat, semi-clean boost. Set this way, it lends lots of texture and liveliness to the tone as well as just a little hair that stops short of outright distortion as most of us imagine it. At 11 o’clock, you’ll hear a bit more clipping that’s more within the realm of overdrive than distortion, but you can construct many variations on that, thanks to the bass, middle, treble, and weight controls. More variation still is available via use of the 18V power option. It increases clarity and crispness as well as more detail and greater range in the already respectable touch sensitivity, which might make this mode many players’ favorite powering option.

The Verdict

sparkle as it does to generate all-out distortion and fuzzy textures. There’s a little noise with the gain knob at full tilt, but few medium-high-gain drives escape that fate, and the tones are sweet enough that you probably won’t notice anyway.

Bohlinger Tries the EarthQuaker Devices Zoar | First Look

EarthQuaker Devices Zoar Dynamic Audio Grinder Distortion Pedal

Zoar Dynamic Audio Grinder
EarthQuaker Devices