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Boss Micro BR BR-80 Multitrack Recorder

February 8, 2012
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Boss is very good at packing its products with features while keeping ease-of-use a top priority. The Micro BR BR-80 ($399 retail/$299 street) is a great example of this, offering the amenities found in larger, more expensive Roland/Boss products—COSM modeling, eBand functionality, and USB connectivity— but packed into a roadworthy device that’s smaller (and lighter) than a paperback book.

Weighing a mere 5 oz., the BR-80 is designed for musicians (guitarists and bassists, in particular) who want to capture ideas no matter where they are. The recorder has a pair of built-in condenser mics, a 1/4" guitar/mic input, 1/8" stereo line-level input, and an 1/8" stereo output. As its name suggests, the BR-80 gives you eight tracks of playback, though it only records two tracks at a time. However, each playback track has seven virtual tracks below it, giving you a total of 64 tracks to work with. The ability to copy, move, and exchange track data makes it fairly easy to build composites.

The eight top-level tracks, along with the built-in Rhythm Guide, can be bounced to a single virtual track or a pair for stereo mastering. When you’re done with your song, you can bounce the playback tracks and rhythm guide internally to a WAV file, while adding dynamics and EQ effects to the overall mix.

If you need detailed editing capabilities, it’s easy to move the audio files to your computer using the USB 2.0 port. The BR-80 also acts as an audio interface, allowing you to run your guitar through its effects processor and record the results into your favorite DAW, or jam along with your favorite audio app. In eBand mode, you can play or record yourself within the BR-80 along with the provided backing tracks, as well as change the speed and pitch of the songs when you’re woodshedding. You can also cancel out the center channel if you want to hear yourself over the original part.

It took five minutes from unpacking the recorder to jamming with my favorite songs in iTunes. I simply connected the USB cable between my computer and the BR-80, installed the audio driver, plugged my guitar into the recorder’s input, and connected the BR-80’s stereo output to my monitors. From there, I selected a patch that included editable COSM amp and effects models, called up a rhythm track, and got to work.

Considering the number of features available, there are remarkably few buttons on the BR-80, yet the interface doesn’t require you to dive deep into the menus when you’re cutting basics. Other than the transport controls, the front panel has dedicated buttons for selecting a rhythm track and the COSM editor. Press both simultaneously to use the tuner. In addition, the track buttons double as function buttons in eBand mode. The small display is easy to read, including the input level meters.

Menu surfing and editing is done using a combination scroll-wheel/cursor along with Exit and Enter buttons. Overall, the interface is remarkably intuitive, and I was surprised at how little of the manual I needed to read in order to use the BR-80.

As an audio interface, the BR-80 has 24-bit converters, and it can record WAV (16- bit, 44.1kHz) or MP3 (64 to 320kbps) files. The data is stored to SD and SDHC cards, and media up to 2GB and 32GB, respectively, are supported. (It ships with a 2GB SD card.) Obviously, the lower the fidelity you use, the more card space you’ll have to work with. When tracking on the go, you can run the BR-80 for about 6 hours from two AA batteries. In the studio, you can use USB bus power or the optional AC adapter.

Because it can record at CD resolution, you don’t have to worry that the sounds you capture will be merely demo quality. I was pleasantly surprised at how good my song sketches sounded, even when using the built-in mics. The BR-80’s onboard Rhythm Guide includes instrumental parts and PCMbased drum sounds, and it allows you to assemble convincing backing tracks as you develop your song structures. The unit can also import Standard MIDI Files for use with the Rhythm Guide. (Boss adds: “To be precise, the instrumental parts exist in eBand mode, although it is possible to import these into MTR to use as backing tracks to a multitrack recording; in MTR mode, the Rhythm Guide’s drum patterns utilize the sounds of nine different drum kits.”)

Despite its weight and diminutive size, the BR-80 feels robust enough to handle daily abuse in a backpack or guitar case. The buttons and jacks have a low profile, so there’s nothing to snap off or break. The tradeoff is a lack of controls that larger portable studios have, such as buttons, knobs, and a fader for each channel. However, there are virtual faders for each channel in this mixer control screen.

The BR-80 is designed for musicians who want an extremely portable multitracker for capturing ideas and fleshing out songs at CDaudio quality. Add to that USB connectivity, a phrase trainer, and the ability to work as an audio interface, and you get a wealth of creative tools for the musician on the go.

Kudos 8-channel playback, with 64 virtual tracks. Acts as a USB 2.0 audio interface. COSM modeling and eBand functionality. Supports 32GB SDHC cards.

Concerns Records only two channels at a time. Max audio resolution is 16-bit, 44.1kHz. AC power supply not included.

Contact rolandus.com

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