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Recording World

Boss Micro Rack Additions

Studio Test

Article from International Musician & Recording World, March 1986

Two hot new additions to the home-effects range. Tony Reed reports

Chances are that you're already familiar with Roland's Micro Rack effects — compact units, measuring a standard 218 x 167 x 44mm (W x D x H) which can be used separately, bolted together in pairs for conventional 19" rack mounting (using the RAD-10 adaptor), or mounted in Roland's own (yes, you've guessed it) Micro Rack.

The latest two additions to the range are a mixture of the inevitable and the unexpected. On the inevitable side (though nonetheless welcome for that) is the RPQ-10, like much of the range a multi-function device in this case incorporating both a preamp and a two-band parametric eq. And in the unexpected corner, we have the RSD-10 digital sampler/delay: a departure for the range in that as a keyboard-controllable device, it has as much in common with musical instruments as it has with effects.

Reading from left to right along the RPQ-10's front panel, we first encounter the effect on/off button and LED common to all units in the series, then the preamp stage — one rotary input pot, one overload indicating LED, no problem. (This section remains active whether eq is switched in or not). Next up, the eq section itself is governed by two sets of three sliders, for the Low (40Hz-1kHz) and High (600Hz-15Kz) frequency bands covered by the unit — a broad enough range to cover both standard applications (cutting mike howl, or as a tone control) and, with the 'Q' control at maximum, as a tonal 'effect'. Operation is simplicity itself. The frequency to be boosted or cut in each range is set by the first slider, the 'sharpness' of the boost/cut curve set by the 'Q' slider, and the degree of boost and cut (± 15dB) by the third. All six sliders are equipped with a colour coded LED for use in low-light conditions (and for looking flash...)

A seventh, similarly equipped slider sets the overall output of the unit (±15dB), and thus balances the volumes of the effect and 'clean' signal through the unit. Usefully, the LED here also doubles as an output overload indicator. Last, but not least, there's the usual power switch and LED.

Round the back, you'll find the Micro Rack standard Power In/Out sockets (allowing a number of units to be chained from one power supply), a remote effect footswitch jack, jack and phono outs. Rounding everything off, there's another phono socket for Line Input, and jack ins for Instrument and Mike. Simple; it's quiet, and it works.

For mike/line matching, boosting the output of any low-level pickup (contact mikes for example), for putting a bit of zap back into guitar and bass signals, to improve the eq on a basic recording set-up without investing in the subtlety of a graphic (like the companion RGE-10) — even for outre tonal effects — then the RPQ-10 is worth a look. But — at a price of £130 — maybe not too long a look. After all, you could probably buy separate units for less...

Worth a long, hard stare, the RSD-10 sampler/delay goes about its (sampling) business in a way which, remarkably these days, has nothing to do with MIDI, and only a little to do with good ol' fashioned CV/Gate control. And let us not forget, it's also a perfectly respectable DDL. Not bad for £200...

Front panel controls are deceptively simple — nestling next to the effect on/off at the left of the unit is the nine-position mode selector click pot, offering five delay ranges (8-2,000ms) and four sampling modes, together with its associated Overload and Record indicating LEDs. Next to this is a dual function pot: in Delay mode this 'fine tunes' the currently selected range of the effect from x0.25 to x1.0 of the total delay time available. In Sampler mode it literally tunes the sample up or down across two octaves for manual or triggered playback, and sets the sample record time (continuously variable from 500 to 2000ms) for all modes. Playback Trim allows some basic editing of a sample, progressively chopping off the rear end (!) of a sample from MIN (no effect) to 100% (no sample). Whatever you do, the sample remains intact in memory until you overdub, re-record, or switch the machine off, so you can always change your mind. Feedback/Overdub sets the number of repeats in Delay mode, and the level of overdubbing in Sample mode. Effect simply mixes between clean and effected signal, with the power switch/LED at the far right of the panel completing the picture.

The rear panel features the power sockets, remote jack, input and outputs (jack & phono) an input level switch (-10dB or-20dB), and inputs for Pad (Roland's own, Simmons, etc). Trigger (from footswitch or drum machine). Keyboard, and Tape. Unfortunately this doesn't mean the RSD will trigger from tape, to replace drum sounds etc. What a missed opportunity...

In delay mode, the unit operates well, with a fidelity that belies the quoted frequency response of 7kHz — a function of the 12 bit ADA resolution employed in the RSD. Lacking the modulation options and longer delay time (4000 ms) of the dedicated Micro Rack DDL (the RDD-10), this unit cannot offer the more sophisticated flanging and chorus effects, but as a straight, good quality echo, is more than adequate, with a spec which a couple of years ago would have justified the price tag on its own. But it's as a sampler that the RSD really shines...

In its simplest incarnation, Manual Recording, the mode selector is set to B (lighting the Rec LED), the Playback pot to 100%, Feedback to Min, and Effect to Max. Feed in your sample from mike, guitar, tape deck or whatever, keeping an eye on the overload LED. Unfortunately there's no input level pot on the unit — as it is, all you can adjust on the unit itself is the rear panel (!) level switch.

At the appropriate moment, hit your trigger footswitch, drumpad, or whatever, and the Rec LED starts flashing; recording has begun. When it stops, you're ready to play it back. This can be triggered from the selfsame pad/footswitch/drum machine, shifted in pitch, and if necessary, truncated with the Trim control. Easy.

Position A puts you in Auto Record mode — the same thing over again, except the unit kicks into record as soon as any signal enters. The both popular and very naughty practice of 'stealing' samples off record or tape (Mode C) and making your own samples (Mode A) can be covered — though again, Roland drop a couple of brownie points for not including a variable threshold control, to avoid accidental triggering when in Auto mode.

Keyboard control is governed by sampler modes C and D, and theoretically let any synthesiser play a sample monophonically across (slightly more than) two octaves. Mode C triggers the whole of the sample, regardless of how long a key is depressed; Mode D, however, sounds the sample only as long as each key is depressed, and will play it back with full volume dynamics, and performance effects (pitchbend, portamento, vibrato etcetera), if your synth is capable of these things on its own account. A pretty remarkable achievement for a sampler in this price range, but too good to be true? Well, yes, partly...

To begin with, that apparent magic trick of working with any synth is dependent on a number of limitations: only a synth may be used. (The manual dryly points out that using a guitar instead 'will cause a great deal of trouble'). And that synth must produce a simple stable waveform, (saw, square, pulse) with a basic 'organ-style' envelope, operating in the frequency range 523Hz-2093Hz (C5 to C7). Unfortunately the magic trick is worked by no less than an updated version of the pitch to voltage converter found on early guitar synths. And, as with those machines, there are a few problems...

Operation isn't one of them, though. Recording and playback via keyboard simply involves setting the mode selector to B and pressing a key on the connected synth in the range C5 to C7 before recording. This makes the designated key the 'home' point, at which the sample will play back at its original pitch.

The problems occur when you attempt to play that sample back. I found that unless I played cleanly and (at least in Mode C) slowly, the sample would throw a wobbly, swooping and diving whole tones away from the expected note. Using any performance controls in such circumstances became a real adventure in sound... Roland, it seems, are not unaware of this problem, since you are advised, if your host synth offers a Gate Output, to take this into the RSD's Trig In. Happily, the result of this is near perfect tracking, with or without performance controls, but its something to think about if your synth doesn't have one...

Turning the RSD off loses the samples in it, but it is possible to store both a sample sound and its home key information simultaneously to an attached tape deck for re-use later. (Though I think the manual is pushing its luck a bit to suggest that playing a series of such voice/key 'patches' into the machine allows it to function as a sequencer!)

To sum up then, the RSD is a decent DDL, and a very flexible sampler — ideal for drum sounds, effects and the odd orchestral blap. Its use as a serious keyboard-controlled sampler must however, to an extent, depend on whether or not your intended host synth has a gate out. With it — you'd be a fool not to buy this machine. Without it — you'd be a fool if you didn't do some careful checking first. But overall — for its creative flexibility, for its price — how can you quibble?

RRP: See Copy

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

The Producers

Next article in this issue

Track Record: West End Girls

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Mar 1986

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Recording World

Review by Tony Reed

Previous article in this issue:

> The Producers

Next article in this issue:

> Track Record: West End Girls...

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