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When I was growing up in the sixties, like most boys of the time, I had a radio, and eventually got myself a tape recorder. These were fun, and primarily for music, though most had little built in microphones. By the Time I was a boy, the older style reel to reel portables had been supplanted by cassette recorders, though "serious" audiophiles still used reel to reel recorders, for their better audio quality and longer playing time. For the rest of us it was the cassette recorder. It also became possible to get a combination radio/tape recorder, eventually to develop into the boom box, which set us all off recording our favorite music from the local stations. An entire generation grew up with these things, and watched the old portable of the sixties, shrink down to the Walkman style recorders of the seventies, and eighties. By the time I was twenty, you could carry a stereo in your pocket and listen to it with headphones.
For those who considered themselves to be musicians, the dream machine was a four track reel to reel recorder. These were large and expensive; but were able to record with the most accurate rendering, the best and most extended frequency response, and the least amount of noise. They also permitted a certain amount of mixing and even dubbing. For serious amateur musicians, or for those who considered themselves to be pros, the ultimate was to have their own little recording studio. many famous musicians had such studios, in basements, or extra rooms. These would generally consist of a sound booth, and separate studio. There would be a mixing board, a mixing board, speakers, possibly a bank of reel to reel recorders, and perhaps some effects gear, like a reverb or echo machine.
For the rest of us, component stereo was the big deal. You would get yourself a receiver, or possibly an amp and tuner, and then get a turntable, a stereo cassette deck, and perhaps a home reel to reel. These things were far from portable, and could fill an entre wall, or even an entire room for the true audiophile. Though the tape decks could record, they were far from being portable, and were generally used to record music from the radio, or as players. For recording at remote locations, the standard cassette recorder was the only option for most of us. For those who wanted something a bit better, multi head, multi track recorders were available, in either reel to reel or cassette. These were nominally portable; but were comparatively large, heavy, and very expensive. Even they were not the whole answer though. Having made your recording out in the field, you then needed to use your home studio or deck to dub, add effects, and clean up the recording. The results were anything but professional. Today it is different.
Some years ago, micro cassettes, and then digital voice recorders were introduced. These were small and portable; but could not produce anything like quality sound. The digital recorders initially had built in memories; but were eventually designed to use memory cards. Advancing technology made it possible to make these recorders quite small. The technology also made these small recorders capable of audiophile quality sound. Memory density and cost has also been improved, to the point where these recorders are now capable of very long recording times.
While advances were being made in digital recording technology, other technologies were also not standing still. The old analog mixing, effects, noise reduction, and enhancement gear have been largely replaced with newly developed digital counterparts. These too, have become quite small, quite powerful, and quite cheap. It was, I suppose, only a matter of time before the related technologies were joined. The ultimate expression of this joining, for the time being, is the very small, and exceptionally capable MicroBR recorder.
Though it has many other features, the BOSS Recorder is, first and foremost, a small, digital audio recorder, capable of recording at CD quality. This is the primary use to which I put mine, and though I like all of the little bells and whistles, I do not often put them to use.
The MicroBR is about the size and shape of a basic small pocket calculator. It has a simple display, and a few multi function controls; but between them can perform a number of fairly complicated tasks, once the user becomes familiar with the unit's operation. The complexity of the unit, and the variety of the functions that it can perform, is attested to by the need for a 137 page manual - yet even this does not completely uncover the possibilities. In addition to its recording capabilities, the MicroBR is a modeler and effects processor. It can even be loaded, via USB cable, with your favorite songs, and act as an MP3 player.
There is a built in condenser microphone, giving the unit a high degree of compactness and portability; but this hardly does justice to the unit's recording capabilities, though it is of reasonable quality. The MicroBR is really designed to be connected to an external microphone, or directly to an instrument. In particular, it was designed for use with a guitar. The right side of the unit is the input side, and has connections for the standard quarter inch jack, used by most musical instruments, and, as well as the smaller and more common eighth inch jack used by most computers and personal electronics. This side also has the control for adjusting the input level.
The left hand side of the unit is the output side - more or less. This is where the headphone jack, and USB connector are located. It is also where the volume control is located, and where an external power supply can be plugged in. When connected through the USB port, the Micro BR shows up as an external hard drive. This makes it quite easy to move recordings around, or back them up. It also makes raw recording available for manipulation with audio software, sequencers, and mixers. Though the Micro BR is a very capable unit, it can be pretty difficult to access all of its features through the few multi function controls on its front face. I would not like to mix, dub, add effects, and edit a recording on this unit. Though it is possible to do all of these things, it would be difficult. Where this really comes into its own is when it is used with a computer, to dub, mix, and master. As for the power connector, it comes in pretty handy. Current drain is very high, killing the batteries off pretty quickly. A six hour battery life is claimed; but I don't see how. An hour or two is the most I have ever been able to get. A power adapter is both available and recommended.
My primary use for this unit, is as a high quality recorder, for use with a microphone. A friend took one look at this recorder and advised me that it was tailor made for creating bootleg recordings of concerts. Various small, disguised, and hidden microphones are available, so I suppose he was right. While this may be true, I have a more socially and legally acceptable use for it. I record sounds, and sound effects, for web pages and other uses. I also use it as a voice recorder for jotting down thoughts, and organizing some of my ideas, sort of like an electronic notebook. In point of fact, it can be quite a bit of fun going out and capturing sounds. Its almost like going out with a camera and recording images. I have quite the audio library, and continue to add to my collection of sounds.
As a voice recorder, the built in mike works fine; but for music and sound effects recording, I needed something better. I picked up a Sony stereo microphone, which hooks up to the smaller microphone jack, and is powered by its own internal battery. It essentially has two semi directional microphones in a single body, and can even be switched to have different directional patterns. The combination is great for picking up everything from crickets at night, to planes flying overhead. I have also used it to record the firing of various of my guns, in preparation for adding sound files to my firearms section. In combination with a set of headphones, you can use the Micro BR as a sound amplifier, and also monitor what you are recording in real time. Recordings are made in a proprietary format, probably to support the V-tracks, and some other features of the recorder. Conversions are easily made to MP3 and WAVE formats, and the recorder is able to play these formats directly.
Recording quality can be adjusted to get more time; but at maximum quality, this unit can achieve sampling rates of 44.1 KHz - the same as a CD. It can do this at 24 bits, which is actually a bit better than the 16 bit conversion of a CD. At maximum quality, a 1 GB memory chip will hold 94 minutes of stereo sound. At lowest quality settings, over 34 hours of audio can be recorded. The unit takes SD cards of up to 1GB. Larger cards might work; but the unit will be unable to access more than the 1 GB for which it was designed. SD cards are very small, about the size of a thumb nail, and are quite inexpensive. During portable operation, battery life will probably be the limiting factor. The unit takes a pair of AA batteries or a 3 volt adapter.
The basic recording controls are in a row at the bottom of the mirror finish front of the unit. They are the basic Forward, Back, Stop, Play, and Record buttons common to all recorders, and are so marked. Input can be selected between the quarter inch guitar jack, the eight inch mike jack, or the built in condenser mike. Sound quality can also be selected, to balance recording time against recording quality. I suspect that most users will generally select the highest quality. A special noise reduction circuit eliminates any noticeable hiss, while the 44.1 kHz sampling, and 24 bit digital conversion give better than CD quality. If there were nothing more to this unit, than high quality digital recording in a small package, it would be more than worth having; but there is quite a bit more.
This unit is a four track recorder, which can record two tracks at a time, and is capable of dubbing, and mix down. As if that were not enough, the use of V-tracks, permits the saving and mixing of up to 32 tracks all together. Dubbing and mix down will allow the user to accompany himself. When combined with the built in rhythm machine, this unit can make one player sound like a whole group. It is a great unit for recording live performances, and is pretty good for doing demos. Roland calls this thing the world's smallest recording studio, and this is not too far from the truth. Tracks can be bounced, adjusted and mixed, just like on a multi track recorder at a studio. For any serious mixing or processing, I would prefer a computer, due to the complexities of remembering the multiple key combinations required to make so few controls perform so many tasks. Still, for the determined, it can all be learned.
The primary market for this unit, is the serious guitar player. For this user, the MicroBR has a built in guitar tuner, a guitar modeler, and an effects processor. There is also a rhythm machine, which can set up a drum line, though this appears to be limited to 4/4 time. In addition to this, is a variable speed setting, called the trainer, which will allow fast passages of loaded recordings to be slowed down, so that they might be learned. Unlike a standard tape recorder, slowing down the tempo here does not change the pitch.
The modeler is pretty interesting, and makes the unit quite addictive. The modeler portion of the unit differs from the effect processor, in that it turns the unit into a bit of an emulator. Many different guitar/amplifier combinations may be modeled, allowing the player to get the sound of whatever instrument might best fit an individual playing style, or musical style. Hooked into an amp, the modeler can be used in real time for live performance, and need not be limited to processing recordings.
Though not as flexible as traditional pedal mounted units, the effects processor gives a pretty good accounting of itself. Flangers, Wha-Wha, reverb, phase shifting, and many other effects are available, allowing a whole bank of pedals and black boxes to be replaced by this one unit. Like the modeler section, the effects generator can be used for live performances, or used with a set of headphones for practicing.
At a street price of a couple of hundred dollars, this unit is a real bargain, even if it will only be used as a portable recorder or player. Its small size and versatility allow it to be taken along for over 30 hours of voice notes, making it great for writers, or for the avid photographer (like myself) who wants to have notes to accompany photographs. It can then be set to high quality, to record live performances, or act as a miniature studio. This unit is a real dream for audiophiles, musicians, and anyone else who wants a compact but very capable digital audio unit. I suspect that it will be finding its way into a number of guitar cases and shirt pockets. It may even find itself connected to home or car audio systems.