In the current age of digital sampling, the art of looping dominates much of the contemporary music scene, although not everywhere in the same way. For many DJs and producers, for example, looping means capturing and manipulating beat loops for recording or other kinds of music production; for some instrumentalists and vocalists, looping means capturing and layering live phrases into evolving musical textures. Several manufacturers have created specialized samplers to support one or the other of those approaches, but the Electrix Repeater loop-based recorder offers a hybrid approach with features that should interest musicians working in either mode.
With its solid, almost military-style 2U rackmount case, the Repeater clearly resembles its Electrix forebears (see Fig. 1). The removable rack ears, compact housing, and unusual trapezoidal profile let the recorder serve equally well as a rackmount device or a tabletop unit. When the Repeater is set on a table, its front panel tilts back slightly, offering a better viewing angle; and without the rack ears, the unit's softly rounded corners make it suitable for throwing into a gig bag with cords, pedals, and other odds and ends.
The back panel (see Fig. 2) has unbalanced ¼-inch and RCA stereo line-level inputs, but you can switch the RCA jacks to high-gain phono inputs for a turntable. A separate ground-wire attachment point is also provided. Four ¼-inch jacks offer left and right effects send and return connections, and another pair of ¼-inch jacks supply the main stereo analog outputs. In addition, you can reconfigure the two main output jacks and the two effects send jacks as four independent outputs for the four tracks that each loop can contain. The back panel also offers MIDI In, Out, and Thru ports; a coaxial S/PDIF output; a rotary switch for selecting the MIDI channel; and a footswitch jack.
FACE THE MUSIC
As with other Electrix units, the Repeater's intuitive front panel is colorful and stylish with plenty of space around the controls. If you've used a mixer or tape recorder before, you should be able to get started using the Repeater without even cracking the manual.
The Repeater's front panel is laid out in four sections, representing the signal flow from left to right. The Input section consists simply of a Level Control knob and a ¼-inch instrument input jack. The Loop Transport section is the heart of the Repeater, providing tape-deck-style transport controls, a single-line alphanumeric display, several controls for editing, and a Compact Flash Card (CFC) slot. The easy-to-read seven-segment LED display is flanked by large dedicated Loop-Select and Tempo-Adjustment knobs.
The Edit section offers simple controls for setting the pitch, time-offset, and panning parameters of individual tracks, and it also includes a Tap Tempo button for establishing the tempo of the current loop. On the far right, the Tracks section provides faders with eight-segment VU meters for adjusting the track levels within loops; four Track Select buttons activate tracks for recording, editing, and other modifications.
The Repeater's user-friendly controls make it a cinch to tackle most workaday operations. Functions such as setting the tempo, selecting and mixing tracks, starting and stopping playback, tempo-shifting, pitch-shifting, slipping loops forward and back, and recording are clearly presented and readily accessible. A few of the more obscure features are less intuitive and a bit awkward to access. For example, simultaneously pressing the Stop and Overdub buttons lets you mute or unmute the dry signal when mixing tracks.
Cumbersome key combinations are relatively few and far between, with most functions presented in a straightforward and logical manner that avoids the hierarchical menu structures and navigational nightmares of many hardware devices. In fact, the Repeater's red and green LED screen only occasionally displays text; normally it shows the tempo, loop number (you can have as many as 999 loops per CFC or 16 loops in internal memory), and bar:beat counter location.
The Repeater's seemingly simple controls belie its powerful and sophisticated processing capabilities. For example, recording is easily done by punching in and out with the Record button. By default, however, the unit's Loop Point Assist function detects the current tempo and automatically trims the loop. If you hit the button anywhere near the downbeat, the Repeater figures out what you're trying to do and cleans up the loop for you.
In addition, the unit's Tempo knob smoothly changes the playback tempo without altering the pitch. If the Pitch button is engaged, the same knob changes the playback pitch without changing the tempo. You can even use a MIDI keyboard to trigger pitch shifts in semitones. The sound quality of these transformations is excellent, and with beat-based material, you can shift the tempo about 40 percent down and 100 percent up without sounding too weird. As with all pitch- and tempo-shifting functions, pushing things too far does cause the sound to get a bit wacky. However, the Repeater's pitch- and tempo-altering algorithms, sound different from others I've heard. I wouldn't be surprised if the extreme-range sounds become cult classics; they have a cool kind of distortion.
The Repeater comes with only 8 MB of internal memory; however, the memory slot on the front panel accepts the convenient CFCs in sizes up to 512 MB. Loops are recorded onto the card as simple WAV files, so you can easily import and export them to a PC or Mac with a CFC reader. If you plan to buy a Repeater, you should also buy a CFC reader for your computer; the readers are available for less than $30. Even if you don't transfer audio files to and from your computer, you'll still need a CFC reader to keep up with system software. The only method for upgrading the operating system is to download the new version to your computer, write it to a CFC, and then transfer the data to the Repeater. While I was testing the unit, an upgrade (to OS 1.1) came out, and new releases are likely to follow.
Members of the live-looping crowd will applaud Repeater's hands-free capabilities. The footpedal input lets you trigger basic recording and playback functions, and the unit's extensive MIDI support allows for more complete recording and mixing control if you're willing to do a bit of MIDI programming. Almost all of the Repeater's controls generate MIDI Control Change messages, and all of the controls respond to Control Change and Program Change messages.
The Repeater lets you overdub each track in a loop an infinite number of times, mixing new and old material in varying proportions or just replacing the old material with the new. As with the popular Gibson/Oberheim Echoplex, loops can be multiplied in length so that, for example, one-bar, four-bar, and eight-bar phrases can coexist in sync. Also, the Repeater's resampling and mixdown capabilities allow you to build up as thick a sound as you like. The sound quality was good, but getting smooth padlike loops was a bit tricky. Without a crossfade function, it took a few tries to set up a smooth pad that didn't have a noticeable glitch at the transition point.
For beat-oriented DJs doing live or studio work, the Repeater can be an amazing time-saver. Grabbing a loop from a CD or LP and pitch-shifting and tempo-shifting it to match other material takes only seconds. The Repeater's MIDI Clock support and audio Beat Detect function let the unit get along happily with a wide range of drum machines and computer-based sequencers. Moreover, the menu-free tabletop operation of the unit makes it ideally suited to live club settings; most functions are accessible directly and are easy to find in dimly lit environments.
Unfortunately, the one-line display doesn't let you name loops, and anyone with an extensive loop collection will need a sheet of paper to remind him or her what loop is number 46 on the third CFC. The Repeater's architecture also doesn't let you load a multitrack loop from one card and join it smoothly to a loop on another card, which limits its flexibility for on-the-fly performances.
As you would any complex music machine, check out the Repeater in detail to see if it meets your needs. Electrix has followed the laudable practice of making the well-illustrated 48-page manual available for download from the company's Web site.
With its no-nonsense design and its solid list of features, the Repeater should prove a valuable tool for a wide variety of music production and performance projects. For loopers of all styles and stripes, this box is a clear winner.
Tim Perkis is a musician and engineer living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Repeater loop-based recorder
FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.0AUDIO QUALITY4.5VALUE4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Easy to use. Flexible routing and mixing options. Good pitch- and tempo-shifting sound quality. Phono inputs for turntables.
CONS: Separate power supply. Can't name loops. No crossfade feature. A few functions require awkward button combinations.
Resolution/Sampling Ratesupports up to 24-bit, 44.1 kHz audio; loops stored in 16-bit, 44.1 kHz uncompressed WAV formatFrequency Response20 Hz-20 kHzSignal-to-Noise Ratio>94 dBATotal Harmonic Distortion<0.014%Inputs(2) unbalanced ¼"; (2) RCA switchable between line level and phono; mono ¼" instrumentOutputs(2) unbalanced ¼" analog; S/PDIF coaxial; ¼" stereo headphoneEffects Sends/Returns(2) unbalanced ¼" sends; (2) unbalanced ¼" returnsMIDIIn, Out, ThruFootswitch Controlplay, stop, record, and undo with TRS-style 3-button footswitchStorage Capacity4 mono (2 stereo) tracks per loop; as many as 999 loops per Compact Flash Card; 16 loops in internal memoryDimensions2U × 3.5" (D)Weight4.15 lb.