FIG. 1: The Electro-Harmonix 2880 Super Multitrack Looper lets you record up to four tracks of loops, apply some special pitch, tempo, and reverse effects, mix them down, and then start all over again.
A traditional 16-second digital delay line is at the heart of the Electro-Harmonix 2880 Super Multitrack Looper (see Fig. 1), but this device offers much more than digital delay; it records four independent mono tracks with integrated mixing and looping. You use a fifth, stereo mixdown track to bounce and then retrieve the mono tracks for reuse. The 2880, with its optional foot controller, is aimed at the desktop studio as well as the performing guitarist.
The 2880 gets its name from its ability to store 2,880 seconds of audio on a 256 MB CompactFlash card; however, the unit comes with a 128 MB card. A 2 GB card can hold 23,040 seconds, which pencils out to a maximum loop length of 64 minutes. (The maximum loop length equals the card capacity divided by six, which accounts for the 2880's four mono tracks and its stereo mixdown track.)
Controls, Ins, and Outs
The top of the 2880 houses its sliders, buttons, and knobs. Each track gets its own pan knob and volume slider. The volume sliders serve a dual purpose: during playback, they act like traditional track volume faders. In Overdub mode, they act as feedback controls, attenuating previously recorded audio as new material is overdubbed. With the slider at maximum, overdubs pile up with no attenuation.
A built-in metronome provides an optional click. A Quantize feature activates a 4-beat prerecord count-in and rounds your recordings to the nearest bar. You can sync the metronome to incoming MIDI Clock or use its internal clock and Tempo slider, which has a 30 to 240 bpm range. Once something has been recorded, a handy LED indicates when the Tempo slider is set to the original recording tempo.
FIG. 2: The back of the 2880 houses all of the input and output connections except for the USB connector and the CompactFlash card slot, which are on the right side.
All inputs and outputs are mounted on the back and right side of the 2880 (see Fig. 2). Quarter-inch TS jacks feed the left and right stereo channels. Associated trim knobs control the input level. An Aux In stereo minijack is designed for line-level signals from CD players, iPods, mixers, and so on. You cannot record the signal at this jack, but it is handy for playing along with prerecorded material.
The left and right outputs are unbalanced and are served by ¼-inch TS jacks. There are no output level knobs, but the stereo TRS headphone jack does have a headphone volume knob. Two MIDI jacks for sending and receiving MIDI Clock, a jack for the included wall-wart power adapter, and a USB connector for interfacing the flash card to your computer round out the picture. You can read and write to the card from the computer.
You initiate a new recording on the 2880 by first pressing the New Loop button to enter Record Ready mode, and then pressing the Record button to start recording on track 1. When you're finished, you either press the Record button again to stop or press the Play button to enter Overdub mode, which plays back track 1 while you record on track 2. You then continue overdubbing, switching record tracks at will until you press the Record button again, which stops everything. Once you've recorded some tracks, you can return to overdub recording or, using the Punch In feature, do standard replace recording for any segment of any track. Although the 2880's four tracks are mono, you can configure them in pairs or as one stereo pair and two mono tracks.
It took me a bit of time to get the hang of recording and overdubbing. I kept expecting Record rather than Play to put me into Overdub mode. Even after I got used to it, I found that playing an instrument while pressing the buttons on the 2880 was clumsy, and I used the foot controller whenever I could.
Once material has been recorded, the Tempo slider functions as a varispeed control, affecting both the pitch and playback speed of the recording. Pressing the Octave button halves the speed and drops the pitch an octave. Pressing the Reverse button reverses the audio. The Tempo slider and both buttons apply to all tracks, so you cannot, for example, decide to reverse only track 2. You can, however, trick the 2880 into reversing one track by recording in Reverse mode and then turning Reverse mode off for subsequent recordings. A similar trick works for pitch-shifting one track.
One If by Foot
For a looper to be really useful in a live performance, it needs to be controlled by foot, and Electro-Harmonix developed an excellent companion foot controller for the 2880 (see Fig. 3). The 2880 Foot Controller ($189) is a sturdy metal unit with a footprint similar to that of the company's other footpedals. It has six metal footswitches arranged in two rows of three, with an LED accompanying each switch. You connect the Foot Controller to the 2880 with a standard guitar cable; it does not require a special cable or separate power.
FIG. 3: The well-designed optional 2880 Foot Controller makes live looping a breeze.
The Foot Controller has a footswitch for each 2880 feature you need to access during live loop creation, and they are logically arranged. Footswitches to control loop creation are in the bottom row: New Loop, Record, and Play. Footswitches for special effects are in the top row: Track Select, Reverse, and Octave. The switches are sufficiently far apart that you don't need to worry about hitting the wrong one.
The 2880 offers two mixdown modes: Normal and Constant Tempo. Normal mode mixes the four tracks to a fifth, stereo mixdown track. Press the Mixdown button and then the Record button, and the audio from the four tracks will be recorded to the mixdown track. Any adjustments you make to the track faders and pan knobs during mixdown get incorporated in the mix.
The number of mixdowns is unlimited. You can fill four tracks with audio, mix them down, record four new tracks, mix those with the original, and so on (see Web Clip 1). Mixdown makes the 2880 far more flexible than a typical 4-track looper.
Constant Tempo mode lets you do some special varispeed and reverse effects during mixdown. It locks the tempo of the mixdown track but lets you use the Tempo slider and Reverse button to change the speed and direction of the four tracks being mixed down. I used that to create a varispeed, reversed mix, which I used as a psychedelic backdrop when recording normal audio on the other tracks.
I mostly used the 2880 as a guitar looper, first plugging the effects send of my THD Flexi-50 into the 2880, then trying my Koll Tornado plugged in directly. In both cases, the sound of the 2880's uncompressed, 16-bit, 44.1 kHz audio was very good. I found the 2880 easy to operate and fun to use as both a live-performance tool (especially with the optional foot controller) and a studio loop-construction device.
Although not entirely in the spirit of tape loops, it would be nice if the tracks had independent lengths, instead of having the first recording determine the length of the entire loop. I understand Electro-Harmonix's decision to record audio at 16 bits to maximize storage time, but I would have appreciated a 24-bit option. Those issues are relatively minor, though. The 2880 might not be the most feature-rich looper on the market, but it offers an excellent combination of features and usability. Anyone looking at standalone loopers should seriously consider the 2880, and don't overlook the Foot Controller.
Orren Merton is the author of Guitar Rig 2 Power! (Thomson Course Technology, 2006) and Logic Pro 7 Power! (Thomson Course Technology, 2004).
2880 Super Multitrack Looper
multitrack digital loop recorder
FEATURES3EASE OF USE3AUDIO QUALITY4VALUE4
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Stores loops on standard CompactFlash cards. Includes USB for easy computer integration. Varispeed and reverse functions. Great sound quality. Excellent integration with optional foot controller for live performance.
CONS: Loop length determined by first recording. No 24-bit recording option. Ships with minimal 128 MB Compact-Flash card.