Boss BR-600 Digital Recorder
Boss' BR-600 is a very functional recording studio encompassed in a package about the size of a portable DVD player. The battery-powered device weighs less than two pounds and records to small SmartMedia memory cards.
Yet it features eight playback tracks (and can record up to 64, thanks to Boss' V-Tracks feature) with advanced editing; has a built-in, programmable drum machine with velocity-sensitive pads; includes COS M guitar and bass amp models and vocal processors (including pitch correction); and houses a built-in stereo mic-plus a range of other connections for hooking up your guitar, mics, outboard speakers and computer. To top it all off, it comes with a nifty carrying bag.
The front panel is not unlike that of any portable studio, with a mixer section with seven faders and assorted buttons on its left side, as well as old-fashioned knobs to set input levels. The display, while not huge, is easy to read. The unit's right side includes the transport controls and input selectors, and dual-function buttons that are used for programming and to trigger sounds on the onboard rhythm machine. The ins and outs are well placed and clearly labeled.
Like all disk-based recorders, the BR-600 stores music in "songs," so step one is to create a new, blank song. The user can choose from three levels of recording sound quality. A HiFi setting uses the most storage space, while the "Long" setting offers around 50% more recording time, but the poorest audio fidelity among the three options. And there's an in-between setting, too. The unit can handle SmartMedia cards of up to 1GB, which will hold up to 520 track-minutes in HiFi and 785 in Long mode. Boss asserts that the BR-600 can handle about five hours of "continuous eight-track playback" on a set of six AA batteries. The unit can also run on an optional PSA power supply.
Recording is easy. Once you're plugged in, just press a button to activate the appropriate input, click a track button to arm the track, hit play and record. The BR-600's guitar input automatically routes you through the sweet-sounding COS M effects. The presets include many electric guitar settings, but there's also plenty of acoustic-friendly stuff from which to choose. I plugged in my Taylor and had a grand old time.
The mic setup is pretty impressive. The onboard stereo mic sounds surprisingly good--far better than the built-ins of similar products I've seen. The mic's capsules are about eight inches apart, so you get a bit of a stereo spread. Best of all, the BR-600 does not generate much ambient noise, and so keeps things clean.
You can also plug in external mics via two TRS balanced 1/4-inch inputs. The inputs accommodate 1/4-inch jacks or, with the included adapter, XLR's. Plugging into the Mic 1 input automatically shuts down the onboard mics. As with the guitar, the vocal effects are excellent. You can record more than one source at a time and route each to separate tracks. Mixes can be exported to a Mac or PC via the USB connector.
The built-in drum machine is very cool, offering fine-sounding samples and a range of preset patterns in various styles. These can be strung together to create a fairly elaborate drum backing. It's also possible to program your own drum patterns from scratch, in real or "step" time. The rhythm tracks play in parallel to the audio tracks and have their own fader. A tap tempo feature makes it easy to find the right pace.
The BR-600 also offers a slew of advanced features. You can, for example, punch in and out, both manually (by hand or with an optional footswitch) and by programming automatic punch points. Alternate takes can be recorded for each track via the V-track feature, and there also are a variety of sophisticated cut/copy/paste/move editing, time-stretching options available.
The Bottom Line
The BR-600 comes with a rather hefty manual, but many of the functions are either self-explanatory or easy to remember once learned. The unit lets you get your ideas down quickly with good sound, elaborate on them, and transfer your work to a computer for further development-all in a super-portable package that requires no outboard gear to function. It's an inspiration catcher.
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