Boss DE200 Delay
The Boss DE200 Digital Delay has been with us for a while now and offers the standard functions of a reasonably priced DDL. However, it is its ability to accept trigger voltages from a rhythm machine, thus enabling it to be used as an external sound source which makes it unique in this price range.
This slim rack-mounting DDL is sturdily constructed and attractively finished with a front panel of gun-metal grey, with light grey pushbutton switches and colour-coded pots denoting functions (modulation etc.). All in all, constructed to the usual high standard of Boss equipment, this is a 12 bit delay with a slightly narrower frequency response compared to other 12 bit delays: 10Hz to 10kHz with the mode switch at x1 (max. 640ms), 10Hz to 4.5kHz at x2 mode (max. 1280ms). Yet the sound quality is still good at long delay times.
The controls on the front panel are as follows: on the extreme left is the input socket which overrides an input on the rear panel, this presumably is intended for live use as in a studio set-up the unit would be permanently wired in to the patchbay. Next to this is a bypass switch which enables you to switch out your delay effect completely and retain your untreated sound. Incidentally, this will not function when the unit is switched off. The bypass function can also be controlled from a footswitch connected to a socket on the rear panel.
The input level to the unit is controlled by a pot above which are five LEDs marked -40, -20, 0, +3 and +6dB. Boss recommend +6dB as the absolute peak input level, otherwise sound distortion will occur. Delay time is set by a nine-position rotary switch marked 'Range' which selects delay times from 2.5-640 milliseconds, each of which is double the previous one ie. 2.5, 5, 10, etc., and a 'Fine' control scaled from x0.5 (half preset value) to x1 (preset value). By using these two controls together you can choose any delay time from 1.25 to 640ms and by depressing the mode switch situated next to these knobs your chosen delay time is doubled (max. 1280ms).
The 'Hold' switch allows you to freeze a sound determined by the data of the panel settings which can later be altered to produce interesting effects. Unfortunately, the modulation section does not have an on/off switch but does comprise the usual rate and depth controls. 'Feedback' is situated to the right of these with a pushbutton to invert the phase. Two knobs are provided to control the output levels, one for the direct signal and one for the delay signal. An output socket and the power on/off switch are on the extreme right of the unit.
The rear panel has a variety of useful jack connectors: Input (priority is to front panel input), Direct Output (unmodified signal), Mix Output (direct and delay mix controlled from front panel), and Invert Mix (direct and inverted phase delay). This allows you to choose from two types of stereo effect - delay/direct or inverted delay/direct. Both Bypass and Hold on/off functions may be controlled from footswitches, and Rhythm Sync incorporates two sockets, one for Trig In and one for a Roland DP-2 footswitch (non-latching). The usual voltage selector enables the unit to be used with supplies of 100, 120, 220 or 240 volts.
The DE200 is very quiet in use but one of its problems is its lack of switchable variable input and output. Both are at -20dBm so you may have problems getting enough level if you don't have a pre-amp for your microphone when plugging straight into the delay unit. Also, the -20dB output is a bit low.
Sample settings are given in the manual for the usual effects of flanging, chorus, ADT. The chorus is pleasant and although the flanging setting will not give you the same control as a purpose-built unit, with its additional phase inversion facility you can produce some effects which you could never get on a conventional flanger. Coupled to this is the ability to run delay and inverted phase delay in stereo giving you a psychoacoustical impression of depth which is very pleasing to the ear.
Because of the lack of an on/off switch for the modulation section you have to turn the modulation depth control to minimum in order to obtain a non-modulated signal. This makes the DE200 more suited to studio than live work. The longer delay settings will give a signal of high quality despite the reduced bandwidth, clipped transients, clicks and sudden drops in volume have been eliminated by the manufacturer's decision to cut down the frequency response.
The DE200 allows you to trigger your delay repeats from an external trigger voltage produced by a rhythm machine or any other voltage supply, such as a signal off tape. The trigger-out of your rhythm machine is connected to the Rhythm Sync trigger-in located on the rear panel. This automatically sets the delay range to maximum ie. 640ms regardless of the preset time settings on the front panel. The manual suggests that for quick tempo quarter, eighth and sixteenth notes the mode switch should be set to x1, and for a slower tempo with longer note values, mode x2 is the better option.
If the feedback level is then set to give more than one repeat the rhythm machine will trigger the echoes of the played note(s) in perfect time with the rhythm machine. In this way, some interesting rhythmic patterns can be built up between echo and drum machine. Of course, you have to be able to strike your original note or chord in time with the drum machine but once mastered you will find this a very useful feature and the DE200 will even follow program changes in a rhythm machine with no problem.
For sound-on-sound recording with the delay unit, the signal is built up in layers by switching the hold mode on and off directly, or by remote footswitch, as each voice is added and having a high feedback level so that the previous sound remains in the delay.
When sampling on the DE200, the unit is switched to rhythm sync mode as soon as a trigger input (from the DP-2 footswitch) is inserted. The set delay time of 640ms then becomes the sample length time. In record, the positions of the Fine Delay and Mode switch do not affect the recorded sound. On playback, however, the pitch of the sampled sound may be transposed up and down by as much as two octaves.
The manual recommends that for short sample recording you set the mode switch to x1 (max length 640ms) whereas something like a cymbal with a long decay time is best recorded with the switch set at x2 (max. 1280ms). Although frequency response is cut at this longer sampling time the results are still surprisingly good. Unusual effects can be obtained with the minimum of imagination and sampled sounds can be modulated too. However, if you have the modulation controls up whilst sampling, you cannot lessen the modulation effect on playback by turning these controls down.
To sample, first you have to make sure you have a good level from your sound source entering the delay. The DP-2 (or any non-latching on/off footswitch, such as the sustain pedal for a keyboard) will then serve as a recording start switch, and you are then faced with the complicated task of depressing the footswitch at precisely the moment you make the sound, then pressing the Hold button.
To play back the sample you may trigger it by using the footswitch or by using the trigger from a drum unit. Of the two inputs in the Rhythm Sync section, the footswitch has priority.
If you manage to do all this and still get your sample in at the beginning of the sample time then you must be pretty nimble (or lucky) as we've found this an almost impossible task! If your sample does not start at the beginning of the sample time you will not be able to achieve synchronisation with a rhythm machine to any degree of accuracy. Obviously with sounds that have a slow attack this is not so noticeable.
To avoid this problem we found that you can use the trigger from a rhythm machine to open up the sample time (after first disconnecting the footswitch which would otherwise take priority). After programming into your drum machine a suitable piece in the bar for your trigger pulse to occur, you must then synchronise the playing of the sound to be recorded with the rhythm machine trigger. At least this way you can have a few beats count-in if you also programme in and monitor, say, a snare counting four beats to the bar, and have the trigger pulse on the first beat of bar 2.
Although this is an improvement on the method suggested in the manual your timing still has to be pretty hot. We took the problem to Paul White, the Technical Editor of this magazine who, after minutes of extensive research, came up with the design for a sound trigger unit with a variable threshold. As the sound is created it triggers off a pulse which you send to the trigger input on the rear panel of the Boss DE200. In this way, the beginning of the sample time is determined by you actually making the sound and - hey presto! - synchronisation.
So now you can create all those silly vocal sounds that go into dub recording because you are able to re-trigger the sampled sound before the sample time has ended, enabling you to repeat the first syllable or part of a word or sound as often as you like. For the price this makes the DE200 a very useful tool, and as yet there are no competitors in its class and price range.
There are gripes of course: no switch on the modulation section and no switch on the front panel for the Rhythm Sync mode. When a plug is in the rear connection for Rhythm Sync, the delay is set to 640ms and you can only operate the unit by a trigger signal to that socket. So Rhythm Sync and normal delay cannot be used simultaneously and this makes it a bit of a pain for live use if you have it rack-mounted.
As a DDL, the Boss is more than adequate in its price range. In the studio the Rhythm Sync and sampling features allow you to be both original and creative. So, if you want to get into sampling and you also need a decent digital delay, at this price you need look no further.
The Boss DE200 has a recommended selling price of £300 including VAT.
Details from Roland (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details).
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue: