Hands-On Review:BOSS BR-1600CD
Putting the fun back into fundamentals
By Owen Harper
For the past seven years I’ve been in a love-hate relationship. I won’t mention any names because that would be indiscreet … but her initials are DAW. If you’ve had anything to do with her, you know that she’s high maintenance and a tad high-strung—if not downright moody—but when you see what she can do, ya gotta love her … yeah? Like many a guitarist seduced by the power of the DAW side (my Tools are totally Pro and Logical), I thought that the all-in-one budget multitrackers like the BOSS BR-1600CD were basically toys, right? Wrong. They’re fun! Big difference! Plus, they’re powerful, portable, and don’t crash.
Show us what you’re working with
Joe Walsh once said that if you need more than eight tracks to record rock-and-roll, you’re a wimp. If you agree with Joe, you can limit yourself to the BR’s eight-channel simultaneous recording via its eight mono preamps with XLR and 1/4" line inputs. Channel one is tied to a front panel 1/4" guitar DI that takes over the channel if you plug into it. That’s where you get your realtime COSM guitar and bass effects. On the other hand, if you want to wimp out and make bigger arrangements, the BR gives you eight additional tracks (four stereo pairs) to play with, which include three stereo tracks that can be dedicated to the onboard drums, bass, and an audio loop function. There are also 256 virtual tracks from which you can select your favorite takes for the final 16-track playback.
On the output side, the monitor is RCA line out, which makes it easy to connect to a home stereo. Or, via the S/PDIF digital outputs, you can use Edirol’s DS-30A biamp monitors, which I would recommend, as they give you better access to onboard presets that model different speaker types. Plus, there’s also MIDI I/O and USB.
Excursion into the new version
From what I’d heard, Version 1 of the BR-1600CD was already excellent, but the unit I had was loaded with Version 2 operating software (standard on all new BR-1600s), which offers some dandy new improvements. The enhanced Vocal Tool Box can automatically tune vocals and create harmonies. You can now set precise start and stop times for pitch correct and harmonies anywhere in the song. Next up is something bass players are going to love. The BR-1600CD is now the proud inheritor of COSM bass effects ported in from the world-famous GT-6B bass multi-effects processor! Muy cool yes, but wait … there’s more. The Mastering Tool Kit has been greatly simplified and BR-1180CD/1200CD owners who wish to upgrade can easily import song data into the BR-1600CD.
Flattening the learning curve
I decided to put the BR-1600CD’s highly touted one-button simplicity and famed ease of use to a test of fire—I wanted to see how long it would take to make music with it starting cold. On a Sunday night at 8:30 I took the BR-1600CD out of the box. By 8:38 I was hooked up and ready to go. With the quick start guide at my side, by 9:36 I had recorded a song with three guitars, bass, and drums. Okay, it wasn’t a magnum opus by any stretch, but just by using the onboard drum and bass machine and some COSM modeling for the guitars, I had some pretty respectable hard rock going—and something else I haven’t had in a long time—a big smile on my face. I just had a blast scrolling through the guitar presets. As you would expect from BOSS, maker of cult-classic stomp boxes, the guitar/bass effects sound great, as do the onboard drums. You can even import highly realistic drum loops that automatically sync to temp thanks to the included Discrete Drums CD-ROM library.
On behalf of myself and the band …
With one test passed with flying colors, next came crossing the bridge of eternal peril—recording the band! First, I used the BR to map out a song and burn it to CD. Each band member got his parts, and more importantly, a solid idea of what I wanted the song to sound like produced. Next step was a trip to the rehearsal studio with the BR-1600CD under my arm. When it comes to capturing great performances, I believe that the recording process should be invisible, and past a few miking compromises (less mics on the drums), it pretty much was. The only downside is that there’s no ability to create a cue mix so you have to control your levels as you play, which ironically makes it a great practice tool. Meanwhile, we blew through a set in one day. Thanks to the onboard 40GB hard drive and CDRW, by the time we were done, we had a CD with 10 songs ready to sell at gigs.
… I hope we’ve passed the audition
Used properly, this unit can be the centerpiece of an up-and-coming band. You can use it to sharpen not only your writing and production techniques, but also your studio and live performance skills. Plus, you can create a CD that you’ll be proud of. That said, first and foremost I’d say it’s for guitarists, songwriters, and do-it-yourselfers à la Ani DiFranco, who want a powerful, portable recorder with quality effects but without the rocket-science and clearance from Houston to fly it. Next, the BR-1600CD or her little sisters, the BR-900/1200CD, are for people like me (and you); guitarists with DAWs who’ve spent more time on the phone to tech support, updating software, and running out of RAM than actually creating music. Will I give up my DAW for a BR-1600CD? No and yes. When it’s not performing enough illegal functions to become public enemy number one, my DAW is truly mighty. I will, however, be making room for a BR-1600CD to use when I want a quick and easy way to make quality music and have some real fun. So, if you’ve found that your forays into the overtone series have become, well, a bit overbearing, put some fun back into the fundamentals and get yourself a BR-1600CD.
Features & Specs:
- 16-track (256 V-Track) digital studio with 40GB hard drive and CDR/RW drive
- Record all 8 XLR inputs simultaneously
- Powerful onboard effects including COSM modeling for guitar, bass, and vocals
- New Vocal Tool Box with auto pitch correction and Harmony Sequence function
- 16 individual track EQs, plus 8 dedicated compressors
- Mastering Tool Kit with multiband compression for loud and punchy CDs
- Create backing tracks quickly via independent Drum/Bass and Loop Phrase tracks
- USB port for easy data exchange, plus V-LINK video control
- COSM models added (derived from BOSS’s GT-6B)
- Enhanced Vocal Tool Box for better vocals and backings
- MIDI slave capable for control from external MIDI devices
- BR-1180CD/1200CD data compatible
- Internal hard disk: 40 GB
- Signal processing: AD conversion: 24bit
- Modulation internal processing: 24 bit (digital mixer section)
- Recording data: 16-bit linear
- Sample rate: 44.1kHz
- Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz (+1/-3dB)
- Total distortion: 0.02% or less
- S/PDIF: 16-24 bit (coaxial type)
- USB connector (B type)
- Display: 130 x 36mm (Backlit LCD)
- MIDI I/O
- Foot switch jack (1/4" phone type)
- Exp Pedal jack: (Stereo 1/4")
- Line out: jacks (RCA Phono type)
- Input 1-8 jacks (unbalanced, 1/4" phone type)
- Mic: 1-8 jacks (XLR balanced)
- Phones: 2 x stereo 1/4" phone type)
- Guitar/bass jack: (1/4" phone type)