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:[audio:http://www.guitartoneoverload.com/audioHIDDENZZZZ/TheHawksbury.mp3|titles=Micro-BR Acoustic]
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 ? 😉 ).