Hands-On Review:Boss BR-600
Eight-track portable digital recording with big-studio flexibility
By Brad Genett
The Boss BR-600 gets my vote for the slickest new digital recorder on the market. It is supremely powerful, super compact, a breeze to record with, and incredibly inexpensive. Eight simultaneous playback tracks and 64 virtual tracks, onboard effects and drum machine, built-in stereo mics, battery power, 1"-thick portability, and a carrying case make the BR-600 a potent self-contained home studio and a bootlegger's dream.
The first things that gripped my imagination about the BR-600 were its tiny profile and the pair of built-in mics, one on either side of the unit. With this, thought I, I can record live music with pristine digital quality and very little hassle. I popped in six AA batteries (included), hid the unit under my trench coat, and strolled nonchalantly into The Plastered Pelican, where my little brother's band, Heidi and the Perps, has been playing every Friday night for almost a year.
I've tried to record Heidi and the Perps three times in my home studio and the results have always been disappointing. They all get nervous in the studio and everything sounds tense and canned, unlike their live sets, which are totally killer. The BR-600 was my ticket around all that. I sat facing away from the band for the first tune and set the levels, then turned my chair around and sat between the band and the unit and watched a great set by the hard-rockin' Perps.
Carrying the BR-600 in my coat, I avoided the band between sets and ended up recording a full hour and a half of music. I was astounded at the quality. Using the BR-600's onboard effects, I mixed the recording down at home, axed the sloppier tunes, and produced a live master that completely blew the band away. My brother borrowed the BR-600 and added some rhythm guitar parts. Then he gave it to Heidi, who added a few harmonies to her vocals. We then sent the file to my computer via USB and burned a CD. Now the thing sounds great and they're planning to sell it at their gigs. And we recorded all of it on the BR-600. It would have been worth the price of the BR-600 just to make this recording for my brother.
Going it alone
My next test for the BR-600 was playing all the instruments and recording myself on a song I've been working on. I'm no drummer, but the BR-600's built-in drum machine gave me almost 300 built-in patterns to work with. It also has velocity-sensitive pads for programming it yourself. This time I didn't need them; I quickly found a couple of patterns I could patch together for a very cool, organic-sounding drum part.
For the guitar and bass parts I plugged directly into the Hi-Z input on the front of the BR-600 and took advantage of a full set of studio-quality effects derived from Boss's high-end recorders and multi-effects processors. The COSM guitar and bass amp models are amazingly accurate while chorus, delay, reverb, and EQ for each channel make generating exactly the right tone and overall ambience a piece of cake. The BR-600 even has pitch correction (but you'll never catch me admitting that I used it).
Best of all, while the BR-600 offers eight tracks of simultaneous playback, there are eight virtual tracks for every track--it actually holds 64 tracks of music per song. I cut tracks over and over again without having to delete earlier takes. With layers of vocals recorded with the included XLR to 1/4" mic cable, multiple guitar solos, multiple rhythm guitar tracks, rhythm keyboard tracks, a bass solo, the drum machine tracks with added percussion accents, and even a few mandolin and flute solos thrown in for good measure, I could then pick the tracks I wanted to play back in groups of eight until I found just the right mix.
Of course I could have bounced six tracks onto a stereo pair, added more music on the newly freed-up tracks, and repeated the process for a virtually unlimited number of final tracks. But I usually find that eight tracks is just enough for solo work. It's too easy to garbage up a mix as it is.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the BR-600 is the amazing ease of recording. Most functions are immediately accessible from a large array of top-panel buttons--42 in all--including the familiar transport buttons similar to those you'd find on a tape recorder. Three knobs let you control input levels on channels one and two and record level. A jog wheel lets you control time and value functions. The eight sliders move smoothly and provide precision control of levels.
The BR-600 records onto an included 128MB CompactFlash memory card. With multiple cards you can store individual projects on their own cards and do cross-country collaborations with buddies who have their own BR-600s.
I couldn't be more pleased with the BR-600. It's very clearly the product of a lot of deep thought and brilliant engineering, and its price tag makes digital recording available to people who spend most of their time playing rather than trying to make more money.
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