Hands-On Review:Boss BR-1180/1180CD Digital Recording Studios

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Made for musicians—not gearheads

By E.A. Tennaway

The people I know who do home-based recording fall into two camps. First there are the gearheads. These are people who revel in vast expanses of gauges, sliders, buttons, dials, and knobs, and who actually enjoy endlessly tweaking every function in their studio. For some of these people, the music has become a secondary concern. Their gear has become an end in and of itself.


Then there are the musicians. For them, the exact opposite is true: gear is simply a means to an end; a necessary obstacle to documenting their creative urges. For them, technical stuff is a distraction. When they’re burning with creativity, the last thing they’re interested in is twiddling knobs or puzzling through complex layers of hard and software. They want to get their ideas down fast, before the muse vanishes. Boss created the BR-1180 for them.

Deep features

Boss has parlayed its experience with digital effects and combined that with Roland’s V-technology to arrive at an elegantly simple one-box solution for the self-recording musician. When Boss came out with their BR-8 Studio a while back, I was pretty impressed. It was the epitome of user-friendliness with cool icon-based menus that were easy to understand and navigate. The BR-8 sports an extensive list of features clearly designed with the special needs of the guitarist/songwriter in mind.


Boss BR-1180CD

Building on that legacy, Boss has gone deeper with BR-1180. But despite extended capabilities, I found the control surface as straightfoward and intuitive as the earlier studios. Controls are logically and ergonomically positioned and designed with clear labeling that makes each function obvious. The centerpiece is an icon-based LCD which makes all phases of recording, bouncing, and mixing a no-brainer.

Tracks galore

One of the big limitations of earlier compact studios was their limited number of tracks. With the BR-1180, you get 10 standard playback tracks with a stereo master track that greatly simplifies track bouncing and mixing. Because each track can play back one of eight virtual tracks, each song can include as many as 80 tracks. That gives you a whole lot of druthers when it comes to trying out alternate arrangements, solos, and riffs.

The built-in 20GB hard drive offers plenty of uncompressed, linear recording time and supports alternate modes for even more recording capacity. If you spring for the BR-1180CD, you can pop in a CD loaded with quality .WAV drum loops or other samples that can then be seamlessly integrated into your creations. A CD-RW drive is also available as an optional user-installable kit should you decide to add the burner to your BR-1180 later. Either way, the drives offer you an easy way to save all your creations to dirt-cheap CD-Rs while keeping your hard drive clear for the next opus.


Boss BR-1180

Hit the road, Jack

Being the self-contained beauty that it is, you’ll find that taking your BR-1180 along for the ride is no chore. Just bring along a mic or two, your guitar or keyboard, plus your creativity, and you’re road ready. No need to schlep along pre-amps, mixers, signal processors, drum machines, or pedals. Your recorder’s got everything you need to make totally convincing, polished recordings.


The BR-1180 comes loaded with a full complement of effects including reverb and delay to meet every need whether you’re recording with a mic, guitar, or keyboard. It even automatically selects the right insert or loop effect by sensing which input you’re using. I found a comprehensive array of jacks including two XLR mic inputs with phantom power for my condenser mics.


To further tailor and sweeten your creations, Boss includes a killer range of COSM amp, speaker, and mic models plus a powerful mastering tool kit. The control surfaces for these goodies are very logical so reading the manual is strictly optional.

Boss BR1180 Internal CD Burner Option

What, no drummer?

The BR-1180’s new stereo PCM-based Rhythm Track is loaded with a heap of highly useful preset patterns that gave me really credible rhythms without having to sacrifice recording or playback tracks. Aside from the extensive palette of onboard rhythm patterns, you can load in new drum parts via Standard MIDI files or .WAV drum loops. Boss throws in a free Discrete Drums CD jammed with professionally recorded drum parts in seven styles. With the wealth of rhythm loops on the Web, building hot tracks is as easy as ordering fast food … just tell the BR what parts you want and it assembles the tracks for your song automatically! It even has automatic tempo matching. These automated modes turned out to be a powerful way to prod my creativity.


If making music rather than tweaking gear is what really floats your boat, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on the BR-1180. My evaluation convinced me this is a brilliant one-box solution for the songwriter who wants to get on with his or her art rather than endlessly hassling technical issues.

Features & Specs


  • Self-contained 10-track studio
  • 2-track simultaneous record
  • 10-track playback
  • 8 virtual tracks per primary track
  • Stereo master track
  • 20GB hard drive
  • Approx. 60 hours uncompressed recording time
  • Up to 240 hours using Roland’s RDAC modes
  • Built-in CDR-RW drive (BR-1180CD)
  • Optional CD-RW upgrade kit (BR-1180)
  • 13 insert effects including: Vocal processing Instrument processing COSM amp and mic models
  • Loop effects include: EQ Reverb Chorus Delay
  • Mastering effects include: 3-band compressor COSM speaker modeling
  • PCM Rhythm Guide 96 TPQN resolution 5-voice polyphony 50 preset patterns 50 user-programmable presets Imports patterns using SMFs and .WAV files Auto tempo matching of imported loops FREE Discrete Drums .WAV file CD
  • 128 x 64-dot LCD display
  • Inputs: 2 XLR mic inputs with phantom power Guitar/bass Hi Z input 2 line inputs Expression pedal jack Foot pedal jack MIDI jack
  • Outputs: 2 RCA line outs Headphone jack S/PDIF digital out MIDI out