BBE are known for their audio hardware and especially their “sonic maximizer” line of professional studio enhancers. But little is known that they also have a range of guitar pedals which they have just turned into plugins for your favorite recording software. The package is named “BBE Stompware” and provides the following recreations of BBE pedals:
Free Fuzz (Vintage ’70s Fuzz)
Green Screamer (Vintage Overdrive)
Mind Bender (Dual-mode analog vibrato/chorus)
Opto Stomp (Vintage Optical Compressor)
Sonic Stomp (Sonic Maximizer)
Soul Vibe (Vintage Vibe/Rotary)
Tremor (Vintage Tremolo)
Two Timer (Analog Delay)
You can use the demo for 15 days without restrictions, I gave it a spin and here is the result using the “Green Screamer”, the “Soul Vibe” and the “Two Timer” Analog delay:
I used my Stratocaster plugged directly into the audio interface. The “Free Fuzz” and the “Green Screamer” provide some sort of amp emulation making them sound as if they were plugged into an amp.
After my quick tryout, I can say that I am not too impressed with the overdrive and the fuzz but the other effects sound really good especially the “Soul Vibe” and the “Two Timer” analog delay. Who does not love the really lush modulation of a good univibe clone even if I still think my good old pedals sound better.
You can get the demo or a license for the package for a reasonable $149 from Nomad Factory. Note that you will have to authorize the demo. To do so, after installing the software, you must execute a program named “HardDisk Authorizer” which will give you a challenge. You will have to copy and paste the challenge on http://nomadfactory.com/register/demo_reg.html to receive the actual authorization code that you will have to paste on the bottom window of the “HardDisk Authorizer”.
In Part 1, I have presented the recording, mixing and bouncing capabilities of the Boss Micro-BR recorder. I would like to present now the mastering and instrument practice features of this little shiny machine. We will also see how we can export our masterpieces but also how we can import material.
In my precedent piece, I forgot to mention the punch-in/punch-out functionality, shame on me! So please know that the Micro-BR will allow you to define a hands-free way to record between two points in time. So if you have recorded a 20 minute guitar solo, as we all do, but you are not satisfied with a 10 second bit right in the middle, you can record over this bit very easily, just tell the Micro-BR where to start and when to stop recording.
The Micro-BR has a mode dedicated to mastering. This mode embodies the “final phase” of music production. It allows you to work on the sound (and loudness) of the final mix. It uses the built-in multi-effect unit to process the final mix. The following stages are available : input gain, compressor, equalizer, limiter and output gain. The compressor is three band (which is pretty awesome for a machine like this). You can chose the band frequencies through the input gain stage which is a bit counter intuitive. You can set different ratios, threshold and attack/release times for bass, mids and trebles. The equalizer has also three bands and can boost by 6db or reduce by 80 (!).
The limiter has a threshold and attack/release settings, it will ensure you are not distorting the output. The input gain will boost the signal before it is compressed/equalized/limited while the output gain will boost it afterwords. All in all, this makes out for pretty drastic changes. I find it especially useful to reach an acceptable level of volume. Now of course your version of acceptable might not be mine 😉 You can record the results of this mastering phase onto virtual tracks (see Part 1 )and the Micro-BR will then ask you if you want to produce an MP3 file (128 Kbps or 192 Kbps) or a Wave file of the recording. After some processing time, the file is available for you to copy using the USB port integrated to the Micro-BR to connect to your favorite computer. And voila.
You can click on the “play” button of these two players alternatively to check out the difference.
Note that mastering is pretty much an art and it will take a lot of trials and errors before you will get it right.
A quite important feature of the Micro-BR is the MP3 trainer functionality. Via the USB port I mentioned earlier, it is possible to copy MP3 files onto the recorder to use them to jam along. The Micro-BR is picky in terms of format and I find that only 128Kbps MP3s will work without flaws. If you are working on a piece that is particularly fast, you can slow it down without altering the pitch (awesome to learn scorching guitar solos). As always with time-stretching technology, the more you steer away from the original speed, the “funnier” the song is going to sound but it is very useful nonetheless. You can also “cancel the center” of the song you are jamming along with which will remove part (or all) of the main vocals or the main lead instruments. This is based on the fact that these are often mixed in the center of the stereo spectrum.
We have seen earlier how it is possible in mastering mode to export a whole mix in Wave or MP3 format. It is also possible to export a single track to an MP3 or Wave file. It is conversely possible to import a Wave file or an MP3 file into a track. Just use the USB connection to your computer to copy files to the MP3 folder of the Micro-BR and they will be available for importing. When you import you can decide where the imported sample will be inserted exactly.
Read the manual and use the tuner
The Micro-BR packs a lot of functionality in a little package and they are all well described in the manual so be sure to read it (not like me).Moreover there is a quite active online community around the Micro-BR on bossbr.net (check out the forums). And this post would not be complete without mentioning the excellent integrated chromatic tuner, there is no excuse to be out of tune when you record anymore!
Conclusion and wishlist for version 2
I must say that after two years of constant use I am quite impressed with the Micro-BR, it does quite a lot for a reasonable price and is an awesome companion to any musician really. There is a number of things that I would love to see should a version two come to the market: faster loading time, the tempo bug mentioned in part 1 solved, a normal size jack for the line/external mic input, a “per track” mute/solo function, the ability to export all tracks to seperate files at once and a pitch shifter/octaver. I will pray to the Boss gods for all this to happen.
In March of 2008, I went hunting for a recorder that could be used to record ambient sounds (check out my girlfriend Pia’s soundscapes) and interviews without requiring an external microphone as well as doubling up as a guitarist notepad (and that could run on batteries). I went for the BOSS Micro-BR and I thought I would tell you about its strengths and weaknesses after two years (a performance review of some kind). In this first part, I will focus on the recordings and mixing capabilities of the machine. In a following post, I will be looking at mastering on the Micro-BR, the integrated MP3 player, the exporting capabilities as well as the pros and cons of this little machine. I will also include a wish list for version 2. The Micro-BR is the little brother of the BR-600 and Br-1600 themselves being descendants of the VS (now V) series of recorders that Roland started over 10 years ago (I remember drooling over the VS-880 in the late 90s). In a nutshell, it sports 4 tracks plus a rhythm drum box track (and 32 virtual tracks, more on that later). It stores data on a standard SD-Card and is small enough to fit in a pocket:
The integrated microphone is stereo and surprisingly good and there is a standard jack input for your guitar or your bass. There is also a mini-jack input in which you can plug a microphone or a stereo line source. On that topic, a piece of information that was not that easy to find is that yes you can use a standard mono dynamic microphone, for instance a good old SM-57 to record an amp, providing you have the right cable or adapter to plug into the mini jack external port. In that case, you will only be able to record one track at a time of course. If you plug a stereo microphone or 2 microphones with a Y cable, you can record two tracks at a time. It is quite flexible although you cannot record using two different sources (e.g. the integrated mike and the guitar input) simultaneously. I must say I am not too fond of the external mini-jack port, I would have liked to have a full size jack port, adapters can be a bit wiggly sometimes. Here is a little example with an acoustic guitar recorded by the built in microphone:
There is one reverb unit and you can hear the reverb on the input as well as on every track and the rythm track. There is also a multi-effect unit which, depending on the type of input selected (guitar/bass, microphone, line) will behave as a guitar/bass multi-effect unit, a vocal multi-effect unit or a generic audio processing unit (think compression, equalization, limiting, etc.). The Guitar multi-effect unit is based on the usual COSM modeling found in BOSS multi-effects (which means that if you don’t like them, chances are you will not like the Micro-BR guitar tones). That said, there is some good stuff in there and it allows for quite some tweakability. The guitar amp models cover all the bases (from clean to heavily distorted) and some of the effects are very good, I am especially fond of the chorus/delays. This multi-effect allows to record guitars by plugging them directly into the machine, quite invaluable if you don’t have your favorite amp nearby. There is something that I miss though, it is a pitch-shifter or octaver to simulate a bass with a guitar.
The rhythm track can be thought of as a ‘fifth’ track. It is actually an integrated drum box whose patterns cannot be changed. That said you can create “arrangements” (play pattern 1 for 4 measures then play pattern 45 then go back to pattern 1, etc.). It does sound “drumboxy” but can be useful for recording a demo or just practicing your instrument. There are plenty of drumming styles and a few kits to choose from and even a good old metronome sound. I especially like the TR-808 kit if you are into that sort of stuff. There is something super annoying (so much that it seems like a software bug to me): if you don’t create an arrangement for a song, the tempo will default back to 130 the next time you power up the Micro-BR.
Mixing and Bouncing: Virtual Tracks
Before going into the mixing and bouncing capabilities of this little shiny machine, let’s have a closer look at the notion of “virtual track”. The Micro-BR has 32 virtual tracks. Each can contain a full quality mono recording. Out of these 32 tracks, only 4 can be played simultaneously. In other words you can think of them as “repositories”. You can for instance record 4 versions of a solo each stored in a virtual track and you can choose which version you prefer to be played alongside 3 other tracks and the rhythm track. You can also copy and paste between virtual tracks (you can select parts of the track based on time or bars which make it easy to create a composite track out of several other tracks).
Apart from that, mixing is pretty simple as you don’t have any automation, all you can set is pretty much the volume, pan and amount of reverb of every track. You can also use the aforementioned multi effect unit to process one or two tracks (you can “join” two mono tracks to form a stereo track). There is no EQ per track which means using the multi effect is the only way to really tweak the sound of one track (we’ll see when we approach the subject of mastering that there is some EQ possibilities for the overall sound). You can also apply this multi-effect to the rhythm section. Once you are happy with the sound of that processed track, you can bounce the result of the processing of one track onto a virtual track which allows you to process another track with the multi-effect and so on. Moreover, the Bouncing mode takes full advantage of these virtual tracks and allows you to bounce as much as all of the 4 tracks + the rhythm track onto a pair of virtual tracks in order to free up some track space. Exactly like in the old days of tape based 4 track recorders except we often had to bounce 3 tracks on 1, we did not have the luxury of virtual tracks. So after some mixing and some bouncing action, you should be ready for the final phase: the mastering. But this will be for another post. While you are waiting, here is a quick demo recorded and mixed on the Micro-BR:
[audio:http://www.guitartoneoverload.com/audioHIDDENZZZZ/CHAMPR10.MP3|titles=CHAMP Rock number 10]
All the guitars were recorded with a 1978 telecaster (stock pickups) plugged into various pedals and a 1978 fender Silverface Champ. The amp was miked with an SM-57. The bass was plugged directly into the Micro-BR. The drums were provided by the little machine itself (don’t you love the drum rolls ? 😉 ).