Review: Boss BR-80 Micro BR

The Boss Micro BR BR-80 is a very interesting little device packed with three different basic operating modes: It can be a full-blown digital eight-track recorder, a stereo recorder with built-in mics or a Roland eBand-compatible one-stop solution for all your practicing needs. The Boss BR-80 uses SD-HC-cards as its recording medium.

This little box of tricks is aimed mainly at guitarists, but the Micro BR offers many features that make it very useful for bass players or vocalists, too.

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The Boss BR-80 (current price in Finland: 284 €) is only a little bit larger than most smartphones, but Boss have succeeded in keeping the device surprisingly easy to use, regardless of its feature-packed nature.

The Micro BR’s transport buttons have been placed at the bottom of the front panel, between the built-in stereo condenser microphones. Left of the display you’ll find access to the unit’s three operating modes  – MTR, eBand and Live Rec. The buttons for access to the BR-80’s menus, drum machine, tuner and effects are also found here.

Right of the display the navigation buttons are situated, as well as the data wheel.

The four push-buttons underneath the display have different functions, which relate directly to the currently selected operating mode.

The Micro BR can be powered by two AA-size batteries (or rechargable batteries) or by using an optional power supply.

The switch placed on the Boss’ bottom plate changes the 1/4-inch input’s impedance from high impedance, for use with electric guitar, to low impedance, when using an external microphone.

All of the BR-80’s inputs and outputs can be found on the unit’s sides: The left-hand side has the usb-port, the headphones/line-output and the corresponding volume control. On the other side you’ll find a 1/4-inch mono input, a mini-jack for the stereo line-level input, as well as the recording level control.

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In MTR-mode the BR-80 works as a typical Roland/Boss multitrack recorder, offering eight tracks of simultaneous playback with a stack of eight virtual tracks (V-Track) per track (64 V-Tracks in all). One typical use for the V-Tracks would be recording eight takes of the same guitar solo from which to choose the best one during mixing.

The main screen (pictured above) shows you the signal metering and indicates which track is currently assigned to recording.

Navigating ”down” toggles you through different mixer views, so you can set fader levels and pan positions, as well as select tracks for muting or soloing.

Boss’ on-board tuner is very easy to use.

It is a real joy to work with the BR-80’s fantastic COSM-effects. In its ultra-compact league the Micro BR’s multi-effects clearly are among the best. There are 156 factory presets loaded into the BR-80, containing effects tailoured to acoustic and electric guitar, electric bass, vocals and stereo signals – and there’s also plenty of space for your own creations. The factory presets can be browsed by signal type (guitar, bass, vocals etc.) or by musical style (Jazz, 80s Metal etc).

The Boss also features a built-in drum-pattern-player, packed with loads of different drum patterns, as well as metronome clicks. You can choose from nine different drum kits. Each Song features a rhythm track (pictured above), which allows you to chain patterns into a complete drum track for your projects. Alternatively, you can also import a SMF-midifile into the pattern player – the file can contain a single pattern or even a whole drum song.

The drum track’s signal has its own mixer channel feeding straight into the master buss, and it doesn’t need to be recorded, saving you two tracks for other uses.

Once you’ve recorded all your audio, the song (drums and all audio) can then be mixed and mastered inside the BR-80. Master stereo-files can then be exported to your computer via usb or used for practising in the unit’s eBand-mode.

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In eBand-mode the BR-80 turns into the Boss JS-8 eBand’s kid brother. eBand-mode is meant as a practising platform, with the unit playing back WAV- and MP3-files, which can either be eBand-loops (of which there are many already loaded into the Micro BR) or whole songs (either imported from your computer or recorded using the BR-80).

You can play along to the tracks or eBand-loops, utilising the unit’s COSM-effect section. If you want, you can also record your playing for later review of your improvement.

The Center Cancel -feature helps you to home in on a part you want to attenuate in a stereo mix. Regardless of its name Center Cancel can be directed to any point in the stereo field. Choosing one of three frequency bands helps to limit the cancelling to the chosen part’s musical range, keeping the rest of the music more natural in turn.

The second important feature in eBand-mode is called Speed & Pitch, which allows you to change the current loop’s or backing track’s tempo and/or pitch on the fly.

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Live Rec is the most basic of the BR-80’s operating modes, turning the Micro BR into a portable stereo recorder that uses only its built-in, high-quality microphones.

Live Rec can be used for quickly recording new song ideas, as well as for making recordings of your rehearsals or live shows. The only tools on offer are a metronome click and the tuner.

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The Boss BR-80 has one last ace firmly up its sleeve: The device can also be used as a usb-soundcard – along with its effects section – in your favourite audiosequencer.

Boss even include the Sonar LE -software (Windows only) along with the Micro BR.

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In my opinion the Boss Micro BR is an amazing little box. Yes, we’ve all seen miniature stereorecorders, pocket-sized effect-units and compact multitrack machines, but the BR-80 is something special: It manages to combine successfully all of the above functions without any weak points or strange compromises.

Each of the Micro BR’s sections works at least decently: The built-in mics have a good, clean sound, the rhythm section patterns and eBand-loops really groove and inspire, the COSM-effects are fantastic (especially considering this unit’s size and price bracket), and the multi-tracker allows you to record anywhere and anytime.

And still, regardless of the wealth of features on offer here, Boss have managed (once again) to keep the Micro BR extremely easy to use.

Here’s a track I recorded, mixed and mastered using only the BR-80 for the whole process. A few instruments and a lead (cable) were all I needed in addition to the Micro BR:

Gentle Wind – Boss BR-80

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In 1985 I owned a C-cassette four-track machine – despite it being a model from a very reputable manufacturer, it sounded completely rubbish.

In AD 2012 we are offered devices like the BR-80 – they fit in your shirt-pocket, are multi-track recorders packed full of fine effects, they can also help you improve your playing, and offer very decent stereo recording – is this fantastic, or what!?

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Boss BR-80 Micro BR

current price in Finland: 284 €

Finnish distributor: Roland

Pros:

+ size

+ audio quality

+ quality of built-in microphones

+ quality of effects

+ eBand-mode

+ built-in drum machine

+ ease of use

+ value for money

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