May 2007

BOSS Micro BR Digital Recorder

From our phones to our stereo systems, svelte tech appears to be every man’s desire these days. So it was only a matter of time before something like Boss’ Micro BR digital recorder came along. Other companies have marketed similarly small recording units, but this is the first that looks like something you might see on the shelf at your local Apple store. To wit, the Micro BR arrives in packaging a helluva lot like an iPod’s, and Boss even compares the recorder’s size to the iPod’s. The Micro BR is in fact so image conscious that—get this—in a pinch you could use its sleek front panel as a mirror. That’s a mighty expensive mirror at $319.50 retail, but it’s not a bad price for an all-in-one, portable recording solution designed with guitarists in mind.

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Boss did a wonderful job in keeping the Micro BR true to its name, even if it’s more than “slightly larger than an iPod,” as the company claims. Measuring 5 1/4 by 3 1/4 inches and 3/4 of an inch thick, it’s closer to the size of two iPods. Nonetheless, it’s a truly portable recorder that might prove difficult to operate were it any smaller. As digital devices like this go, this one has an easy learning curve.

Using just the manual’s quick-start section as my guide, I easily connected my guitar via the quarter-inch phono jack and a pair of headphones and had three tracks of guitar recorded in a few minutes. I’m not one to bury my nose in a manual, so to me that’s the best thing about the unit: You will need to read a little in order to operate it, but you’ll get by fine with just a small amount of education, because the recorder’s main features all revolve around using the same buttons in more or less the same way. Once you have a handle on the Utility, Cursor and Value controls, you’re pretty much a master of the machine.

The Micro BR is a four-track recorder, so if you’re an old-school musician/producer, you’ll feel right at home with the barebones mixdown. If you came up in a digital recording environment, you might be satisfied by the Micro BR’s 32 virtual tracks (eight on each main track) that give the flexibility to record multiple takes on one track and select the best for the mix. Additionally, rhythm can be summoned from the Micro BR’s onboard memory, and the rhythm runs independently from the other four tracks.

The Micro BR’s rhythm features, along with the onboard effects and modeling features, make it better than just a pocket-sized four-track. The dozens of available rhythm patterns, fills, intros and endings can either be set to repeat or combined to create unique arrangements for your specific needs. That makes songwriting on the Micro BR all the more dynamic and enjoyable. Rock ’n’ roll, pop, jazz, R&B, fusion and country are all represented in the onboard rhythm patterns, and the drum samples can be altered to create a more tailored sound—even if that sound is still worlds away from live drums.

And that’s where the few caveats about the Micro BR come into play. The unit is billed as the “world’s smallest pro studio.” That’s misleading if you expect it to perform like a pro studio, because in order to maintain its slim profile the Micro BR makes some concessions. The headphone jack, for example, is an eighth-inch phono, while most pro-level headsets will be a quarter-inch. Similarly, the line-in/microphone input is 1/8-inch stereo phono. Obviously no portable device could accommodate an XLR jack, but this is an inconvenient input for a microphone. So some additional adapters and perhaps even an outboard mixer might be needed to get certain signals into or out of the BR. At the same time, Boss has included a feature on that line-in/mic jack that will supply power to a condenser mic, and the BR has its own internal microphone that fared nicely with my acoustic guitar and voice. As internal mics go, this one seems to deliver smoother, overall better sound than that of other analog and digital recorders I’ve heard. It makes a case for the Micro BR as a sketchpad tool for horn players, singers and maybe even drummers who want to capture an idea without the hassle of setting up an external mic. Is the Micro BR a full-blown pro studio? I think not. But its convenience is hard to beat.

The music you record to the BR saves to SD memory cards, the same type you put into most digital cameras and PDAs. Musical data can be stored as either WAV or MP3 files, in a small variety of quality levels. The range of storage capability is wide: The highest quality level of recording yields 15 minutes total recorded sound on a 32 MB card; the lowest quality level allows for 755 minutes recording time on a 1 GB card. The SD cards let you conveniently move your recorded files to a computer or perhaps a friend’s Micro BR for sharing ideas and songs. The Micro BR also includes a USB port for much the same purpose.

For guitarists in particular, the Micro BR includes a time-stretch capable phrase trainer, a tuner and a full array of effects and amp models. These distortions, phasers, reverbs and the like offer good but not earth-shaking digital approximations of “real life” sounds—as good as any you’ll hear without spending hundreds or even thousands more on plug-ins.

There’s a lot of stuff packed into this tiny enclosure. After giving my dusty, early ’80s cassette four-track a glance, the Micro BR amazes me, and I’m further astounded that it runs on two AA batteries. Despite the few reservations I have regarding the input and output sections, I can recommend the Micro BR to anyone who needs a portable unit for songwriting and demo purposes or for live recording.

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