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
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
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.
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