Boss Micro BR BR-80 Review

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Boss excels at packing its products with features, while keeping ease of use as a top priority. The Micro BR BR-80 multitrack recorder exemplifies this approach, offering the amenities found in larger, costlier Roland/Boss products—COSM modeling, eBand functionality, and USB connectivity—in a roadworthy device that''s smaller (and lighter) than a paperback book.

Weighing a mere 5 oz., the BR-80 is designed for musicians (particularly guitarists and bassists) who want to capture ideas anywhere. The recorder has a pair of built-in condenser mics, 1/4" guitar/mic input, 3.5mm stereo line-level input, and 3.5mm stereo output. The BR-80 provides eight tracks of playback, though it records only two tracks at a time; however, each playback track has seven virtual tracks below it, giving a total of 64 working tracks. 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 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 transfer 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 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 (assuming that part was mixed to center).

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 1/4" 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 started recording.

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 involves 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 BR-80 stores data to SD and SDHC cards, supports media up to 2GB and 32GB, and ships with a 2GB SD card; as expected, lower fidelity frees up more card space. When tracking on the go, the BR-80 runs for about six 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 PCM-based 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.

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 physical controls that larger portable studios have, such as buttons, knobs, and a fader for each channel, although there are virtual faders for each channel in the mixer control screen.

However, the BR-80 is designed for musicians who want an extremely portable multitracker for capturing ideas and fleshing out songs at CD-audio quality. Add to that USB connectivity, a phrase trainer, and the ability to work as an audio interface, and musicians on the go can take advantage of a wealth of creative—and easy-to-use—tools.

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Boss Micro BR BR-80 product page.