Boss Micro BR BR-80 Review

AG 229 January 2012 Cover

Posted by Doug Young

It's now possible to put what once would have been a room full of recording gear in a device so small you can carry it in your pocket. Boss, a division of the Roland Corporation that focuses on electronic musical devices from stompbox effects to recorders, has an excellent track record of building creative and high-quality devices at affordable prices. The new Boss Micro BR BR-80 recorder updates an earlier version of the Micro BR, doubling the number of tracks, adding new effects, and more. Boss makes several recorders, including larger units that support 16 tracks and CD burning, but even in the crowded field of small recorders, the Micro BR BR-80 is at least a contender for the title of smallest full-featured multitrack recorder.

Three Recording Modes

There are enough features in the tiny new Boss to keep you busy exploring the device for a long time, but it is also easy to get started recording quickly. The recorder has three distinct modes that act almost like three separate recorders: Live Rec, eBand, and MultiTrack Record (MTR). In Live Rec mode, the unit is a simple stereo recorder with built-in mics. Simply press the record button to arm the device, check levels, and press record again to start recording. Each time you record, the Micro BR BR-80 creates a new file, so you’ll never accidently erase previous recordings. The unit includes a guitar tuner and a looping phrase/trainer, which are available in all modes. A rhythm button activates a metronome in Live Rec and eBand modes and a drum machine in MTR mode.

Although the Live Rec mode is nearly foolproof, the eBand and MTR modes are a bit more complicated, and as you use them you begin to appreciate how much functionality Boss has packed into this tiny box. The eBand mode is intended to let you jam along with prerecorded loops—either the supplied backing tracks or your own loops, which can be loaded into the Micro BR BR-80 via the USB port and software provided by Roland. In this mode, you can use the built-in mics or plug a pickup-equipped guitar into the guitar jack and apply a full suite of Roland’s well-known COSM effects—reverb, chorus, overdrive, and more—to your sound. You can also vary the speed of the playback or use the looping feature to repeat a short section, turning the Micro BR BR-80 into a phrase trainer.

In MTR mode, the Micro BR BR-80 is a full-featured eight-track recorder. You can record two tracks at a time, overdub, and punch in to fix mistakes. The built-in drum machine can be used to assemble rhythm tracks from a collection of fixed patterns, which you can extend by loading standard MIDI files that you create elsewhere, and you can use the COSM effects for amp simulations and effects. Although there are only eight tracks available at any one time, each track supports up to eight virtual tracks, which allows you, for example, to record multiple takes of a solo, and then choose the best one later. In both eBand and MTR modes, the Boss offers mix-down capabilities that allow you to edit, add effects, and master your tracks to produce a finished tune.

Regardless of the recording mode, the Micro BR BR-80 records to standard SD cards, and a 2 GB card is included. There are a few limitations, including a 2 GB limit on the size of a single song, no more than 1,000 songs in Live Rec mode and 100 in MTR mode, but most people are unlikely to run into these limits.

Easy Two-Track Recording

To see how the Micro BR BR-80 performed, I started with Live Rec mode. It proved easy to use without referring to the well-written manual, and my first pass—sitting on the couch, guitar in hand and recorder in my lap—produced a perfectly respectable home recording, completely adequate for sharing with friends, posting to the web, etc. I also took the recorder to a live show at a local all-acoustic coffeehouse and, placed on a table four or five feet from the musicians, the unit did a fine job of capturing the performances. One small issue with this is that the BR-80 is designed to sit on a tabletop. There is no mount that would allow you, for example, to attach it to a mic stand for better positioning when recording acoustic guitar. You can plug an external mic into the 1/8-inch mic/line jack in eBand or MTR mode, but not in Live Rec mode. There are no mixing options in Live Rec mode, but plugging the unit into the USB port on my Mac allowed me to drag the WAV files to my computer, where I was able to edit and add effects easily.

Miniature Multitracker

The fun, however, really starts when you put the Micro BR BR-80 in MTR mode. It’s easy to select and record a track (via buttons on the front of the unit) and then, using headphones for monitoring, switch to a new track and overdub. I soon found myself sitting on a bench in the backyard with a pair of ear buds, happily experimenting with ideas for tunes. MTR mode is where you’ll find most of the recorder’s complexity, and it’s where I encountered a few issues. As with all small devices like this, to access features you need to scroll through a lot of menus. The basic recording steps require very little of this, but functions like applying effects and mixing aren’t as easy as on a computer-based system or a full-size recorder. I also found that the effects—both those available for mixdown and the COSM simulator effects that can be applied while recording—are designed more for electric guitar and not as pristine as I would like for acoustic guitar.

Although the Micro BR BR-80 stores Live Rec mode files as WAVs or MP3s, in MTR mode they are stored in a proprietary format. Boss provides conversion software for PC and Mac that can extract the individual files from the unit and convert them to WAV files for use on a computer. Once the files are converted, they can be loaded into the audio editor of your choice for editing and mixing, a much easier option than dealing with the menu interface on the Micro BR BR-80.

Songwriter’s Delight

The Micro BR BR-80 has an impressive mix of portability and features. Although it’s small enough to fit in a guitar case or even your pocket, it feels sturdy and pleasantly substantial. The solid-feeling buttons provide direct access to the most-needed functionality, although I found the cursor dial a bit awkward. The limitations of 16-bit recording, along with the inability to use high-quality external microphones probably prevent the unit from being used to create serious recordings. But as both a simple, easy-to-operate stereo recorder and complete multitrack recorder, the Boss is perfect not only for capturing live events but as an audio sketch pad for songwriters, a practice system for jamming with loops, or an introduction to multitrack recording. And its convenient size means it can go with you anywhere, so you can be ready to record whenever inspiration strikes.

SPECS: Records CD-quality 16-bit, 44.1 kHz WAV or MP3 (up to 320 Kbps) files. Up to eight tracks (64 virtual tracks), recordable two at a time. Built-in stereo mics, mono 1/4-inch guitar or line-in jack, plus 1/8-inch stereo line in. Headphone output. USB port for transferring files to computer, with included software, or for use as a computer audio interface. Built-in metronome, tuner, drum machine, backing tracks, COSM amp simulator, mastering effects. 2 GB SD card included, supports up to 32 GB on an SDHC card. Powered by two AA batteries or power adapter (not included). 57/16 x 37/16 x 7/8 inches. 5 ounces. Made in China.

PRICE: $400 list/$280 street.

MAKER: Roland Corp: (323) 890-3700; bossus.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar January 2012

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