The BR-1600CD is Boss's newest portable digital studio, and it's loaded with features that will appeal to a wide range of recordists. The unit offers 16-track recording and playback (eight tracks of simultaneous recording); MIDI bass and drum arrangements; loop sequencing; numerous effects, including Composite Object Sound Modeling (COSM) and pitch correction; mastering tools; a built-in CD-R/RW drive; and a chromatic tuner. I spent about a month testing out this machine and was very impressed.
THE ONCE OVER
The BR-1600CD (see Fig. 1) has been beefed up in many ways compared with other Boss multitracks, including in physical size. Its larger footprint means lots of room for dedicated controls and a decent-size backlit LCD.
This user-friendly multitrack gives you several ways to navigate and change settings. Below the LCD are four Function buttons and four Value knobs, which are used for selecting and editing displayed items. Left and right Page Scroll buttons for the LCD screen are also available, allowing you to quickly move to adjacent pages. Dedicated buttons for accessing the Pan, Compression, and EQ settings and the Loop Effects (Reverb, Delay, Chorus, and Doubling) for each channel are located on the main section of the unit.
The front panel contains 12 individual track faders, called Audio Track Mixer Faders, and one Master Fader. The track faders control volume for the unit's eight mono tracks and four stereo tracks. The stereo tracks can be used as conventional recording tracks, but all four pairs have additional functions. To use the BR-1600CD's CD mastering and burning features, your final mix must reside in Track 9/10. Tracks 11/12, 13/14, and 15/16 are used to output audio from the loop, bass, and drum sequencers, respectively.
Below each track fader is a Track button that lets you put that track into record and set edit parameters. Each Track button also functions as a track-status indicator: a steady green light means that the track contains audio data; a flashing green light indicates that the track has data, but it's muted; and a steady red light means that the track is actively recording data.
The controls common to other Boss multitracks — namely the Time/Value wheel; the four-direction Cursor keys; and the Utility, Undo, Exit/No, and Enter/Yes buttons — are located at the top-right side of the unit. Eight trim controls, called Input Sens knobs, are located on the top left, each equipped with a peak LED. Channel 1's Trim knob can also control the dedicated high-impedance Guitar/Bass input that is located on the front face of the unit.
The rear of the BR-1600CD has eight balanced XLR inputs with globally switchable phantom power (see Fig. 2). Corresponding ¼-inch line inputs are located above the XLR inputs. A pair of RCA line outputs is provided, as are coaxial S/PDIF inputs and outputs.
A ¼-inch jack for plugging in optional punch in-out or stop-start footswitches is included. The unit has a ¼-inch expression pedal jack for controlling guitar effects such as wah and volume. A USB port allows the BR-1600CD to save, load, and share a wide variety of data with a compatible computer. (Windows ME/2000/XP and Mac OS 9 are supported. Disappointingly, Mac OS X is not, although the manual hints at a future upgrade.) MIDI In and Out jacks are provided for connecting MIDI controllers and outboard sequencers and for making SysEx backups.
GETTING INTO IT
The BR-1600CD portable digital studio has four preset input-routing modes, which are activated by pressing one of the four Input Select buttons. Labeled Guitar/Bass, Vocal, Multitrack, and Stereo Tracks, these buttons activate specific inputs and input routings and add appropriate Insert Effects into the signal chain. For example, when the Vocal setting is selected, the Mic bank effects are automatically inserted.
The Guitar/Bass mode is switched on automatically when the unit senses that a jack is plugged into either the Guitar/Bass input or the Input 1/Mic 1 jack on the back. You also have the option of switching on the Simul mode, which activates both the Guitar/Bass and Vocal input modes simultaneously — a handy feature for recording a singing guitarist.
Multitrack mode gives you all 8 inputs individually, with Inputs 1 through 8 feeding either tracks 1 through 8 or the stereo tracks 9/10 through 15/16. Stereo Tracks mode sends all eight input signals to one stereo (or mono) track. One master Input Level knob controls the overall gain of all inputs going to disk. Fine-tuning of individual inputs can be achieved with the Input Sens knobs.
When you're recording with multiple microphones, a function called Level Calibration can be activated to automatically analyze and adjust the optimal level for each input. I tested this out when recording a drum kit with eight mics. After turning the Level Calibration on, I just pounded away on my kit for a few seconds, and the unit set the levels for me. This was a huge time saver and the results were excellent (see Web Clip 1).
Another convenient feature is the Stop + Rec key combination for one-touch saving of your song data. This shortcut requires less effort than the alternative method of opening the Utility menu and then locating and activating the Save function.
In addition to its 8 mono and 4 stereo tracks, the BR-1600CD supports 256 virtual tracks (V-Tracks), allowing up to 16 per physical track. The editing features allow you to select, move, cut, paste, switch from track to track, and even normalize audio.
The internal hard drive is impressively quiet and has a generous 40 GB capacity. According to Boss, 40 GB translates into 7.5 hours of 16-track recording. The only downside of the drive is that it's not user-replaceable, so if it fails, you'll have to take the unit in for servicing.
The BR-1600CD's effects-processing capabilities are quite impressive. Several effects categories are available starting with Insert Effects, which can be applied either on input or playback. These include compressors, de-essers, acoustic guitar simulators, multichannel equalizers and low-cut filters, delays, pitch shifters, and pickup simulators.
You can enable COSM guitar-amp modeling by selecting one of the COSM PreAmp and Speaker presets. Models of Fender, Vox, Mesa/Boogie, and Roland amps are just a few of the available presets. Overall, I found the amp models to be tonally diverse and easy to edit.
If you want models of classic effects pedals, select one of the COSM Overdrive and Distortion effects. These include models of such classic pedals as the ProCo Ratt, the MXR Distortion Plus, and the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi.
I also tried out the Mic Converter (mic modeling) effect, which is designed to take a signal recorded with one type of mic and imbue it with the sonic characteristics of another. To use the Mic Converter effect, select a mic from the Input list that matches your actual recording mic as closely as possible. Then choose a modeled output mic from a generic list, which includes everything from small and large dynamics to small, large, and vintage condensers.
In testing the Mic Converter effect, I heard mostly high-end boosts on some of the settings and midrange cuts on others. The modeler did change the color of the sound, and that option may prove handy if your vocal track isn't sitting well in your mix. But I found this feature to be more of a curiosity than a must-have tool.
Speaker modeling is also offered, which alters the BR-1600CD's output to emulate various types of studio monitors, as well as TV speakers and boom boxes. However, this feature works only in conjunction with Roland DS-30A, DS-50A, and DS-90A digital monitors, so I was unable to try it.
The BR-1600CD's Track Specific Effects consist of individual compression and EQ available for each track or input. The compressors give you a range of parameters comparable to what you'd find on a hardware unit. The EQs offer Gain, Frequency, and Q controls for each of the three bands (High, Mid, and Low), and you can choose between peak and shelving EQ types for the High and Low bands. The EQs and the compressors offer a stereo link option for processing stereo tracks.
I found the track compressors and EQs to be useful. While they may not have the warmth of vintage outboard gear, they do their job nicely. They are especially handy when tracking drums for fattening up and sweetening the kit.
ALL IN TIME
The BR-1600CD's Loop Effects section consists of Reverb, Delay, Chorus, and Doubling effects. They're connected to the mixer through an internal effects loop and can be applied both on input and playback. There are three Reverb types to choose from: Room, Hall, and Plate. All three sound spacious and lush, and you get a lot of parameter control.
The Delay offers a range of delay times from 10 to 1,000 ms. The Doubling effect makes a copy of your track, delays it slightly, and pans it opposite to the original. The Chorus features Pre-Delay, Depth, Rate, Low-Cut, and Level controls.
One of the more interesting features on the BR-1600CD is the Vocal Tool Box, a built-in pitch corrector and harmony processor that's available only on playback. It uses up quite a bit of the unit's DSP power, so it's not possible to have Insert Effects — or some of the other specialized effects — on at the same time.
To use Pitch Correction, you first need to specify what type of voice you want to process (Lo/Hi, Male/Female) and how smooth you want the pitch changes to be. Although it's not as refined as a dedicated pitch-correction box or plug-in, I found its result to be reminiscent of Antares's Auto-Tune on “automatic” setting. When applied to my entire vocal phrase, there were some slight digital artifacts imparted to my voice (see Web Clip 2). If used judiciously, though, it could improve a less-than-perfect take.
The Harmony Sequence effect can create up to a three-part harmony based on a single vocal part. To make it work you have to enter a Chord Map of your song so that the appropriate harmonies will be generated. When I tested it, I noticed a lot of high-end distortion and smearing on the generated harmonies (see Web Clip 3). Although the harmony generator is an intriguing idea, I found the preparation long and the resulting audio unsatisfactory. Compared with the time it took to program and tweak the chord changes, it would have been faster to record three harmony parts the old-fashioned way.
The Mastering Tool Kit is another specialized effects suite in the BR-1600CD. It's a multiple-effects chain that is applied to Track 9/10, which are the tracks you must mix down to if you are using the internal CD-RW. Your signal first passes through the EQ, Bass Cut Filter, and Enhancer sections. It is then split into three bands (Hi, Mid, Lo), each with Gain, Expansion, and Compression settings. Finally, you get a limiter with soft clipping that pushes your levels to the bleeding edge of digital zero. There are presets available for various applications. I chose Rock Band as a starting point. After some tweaks, this preset added tons of punch and sizzle to my mixes (see Web Clips 4a and 4b). When burning to CD, the Tool Kit also lets you set digital fade-ins and fade-outs. It's a great set of mastering tools.
Once you've finished mastering your mix on Track 9/10, you can burn a CDR or CD-RW in one of three modes. Track-at-Once lets you compile songs one at a time until you fill a CD. It doesn't finalize the disc until you tell it to. Disc-at-Once by Song lets you burn a playlist of songs from the hard drive in one shot, including finalizing. The third mode, Disc-at-Once by Marker, allows you to split long sections (such as a continuous live recording) into separate tracks by inserting markers. I tried out the CD and mastering features by using Disc-at-Once by Song mode. The procedure was simple and produced a CD with plenty of gain and no distortion.
HOME ON THE ARRANGE
The BR-1600CD portable digital studio will appeal to bands looking to demo their material. It will also appeal to the lone songwriter or collaborator because it offers a number of useful arranging tools. The unit features a programmable rhythm section that consists of a loop sequencer (Loop Phrase) and bass and drum tone generators and sequencers. All three elements can be used together in a song arrangement.
There are several preprogrammed arrangements included, which can be copied and modified. You can also create your own and save the results to one of ten User-Arrangement memory spaces.
The Loop Phrase function lets you drop audio loops into your song. They can be sampled from your own song or from a generous selection of included loops. Full drum kits and percussion loops abound, along with their associated fills, bridges, and alternate grooves. Additionally, you can import WAV and AIFF files from sample CDs, and Boss even includes the Discrete Drums Limited Edition CD-ROM. Time expansion and compression can be applied to loops for tempo changing (or matching) purposes.
Placing loops into your arrangement can be accomplished in several ways, but perhaps the easiest is to assign each loop to one of the Track buttons. You first have to name the loops and assign them to a button, but once that's done you can simply push the Track button and insert them into your song.
Bass and Drum patterns can also be added (and recorded) using the BR-1600CD's internal sounds and sequencing features. You can use onboard preset patterns (600 drum patterns and 583 bass patterns), import Standard MIDI Files, record your own parts from an external MIDI controller, or play in your parts using the Track buttons (in the same way as described for Loop Phrases). Quantization is available on input or playback. You can also program your parts into the unit's step sequencer.
The bass sounds are reminiscent of Roland's Sound Canvas series, including electrics, an acoustic upright, and a couple of synth basses. Nine decent-sounding PCM drum kits are available (see Web Clip 5), but you can't edit the sounds.
User drum and bass patterns can be named and saved. If you enter your song's changes into a Chord Map, the BR-1600CD will automatically change the notes of a bass pattern to fit the chords. Although the idea isn't bad, I was generally dissatisfied with the bass lines that were generated.
WHO'S YOUR BOSS?
After using it for a month, I found many reasons to love this new Boss multitrack. Its 8-track simultaneous recording, large array of effects, flexible arranging tools, and built-in CD burner make it a serious contender in the portable digital studio competition. It's the most powerful Boss recorder to date, offering enough features to keep any band or songwriter happy.
Steve Brodersonis senior creative associate at Ad-Success Marketing in Lexington, Kentucky, where he also creates original music for broadcast.
Analog Inputs(8) ¼" unbalanced line; (8) XLR mic;
(1) ¼" unbalancedAnalog Outputs(2) RCA line, (2) ¼" TRS stereo headphoneDigital I/Ocoaxial S/PDIFData TransferUSB (Windows ME/2000/XP or later; Mac OS 9.1.x/9.2.x)MIDI PortsIn, OutChannels12 (8 mono, 4 stereo)Faders13 (12 track faders, 1 master fader)Simultaneously
Recordable Tracks8Simultaneously16 (3 assignable to stereo tonePlayable Tracksgenerator/audio loops)Virtual Tracks (V-Tracks)16 per track (256 total)Recording Format16-bit linear, uncompressedA/D/A Converter24-bitSample Rate44.1 kHzSignal Processing24-bitHard-Disk Capacity40 GBMaximum Recording Time120 track hours (7.5 hours of 16-track recording)Frequency Response20 Hz-20 KHz (+1/-3 dB)Total Harmonic Distortion0.025% or less (input sens: center, 1 kHz at nominal output level)Dimensions19.5" (W) × 3.94" (H) × 13.38" (D)Weight10.81 lb.
portable digital studio $1,595
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.0DOCUMENTATION3.0VALUE3.5
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Eight tracks of simultaneous recording. Extensive feature set. Comprehensive effects processing. Onboard pitch correction and mastering tools. Intuitive controls. Level calibration feature for automatic level setting. One-touch file saving. CD-R/RW drive included. Quiet, 40 GB hard drive. Large LCD display. Flexible rhythm arrangements. Hundreds of user loops, drum patterns, and bass patterns. Discrete Drums Limited Edition CD-ROM included.
CONS: Hard drive not user upgradable. Mac OS X not supported as of this writing. Vocal Tool Box won't run simultaneously with certain effects. Harmony Sequence feature generates distorted parts. Drum sounds not editable.
Boss/Roland Corporation U.S.
tel.: (323) 890-3700