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Boss SBX-10

Article from Home & Studio Recording, June 1986

This little brother to the SBX-80 overcomes a host of syncing problems.


The Roland SBX-10 is the little brother of the SBX-80, but without the SMPTE facility. Is it still a useful studio tool?


You are probably aware by now of that all too common disease that causes certain manufacturers to make their products as incompatible with their competitors' as possible when it comes to running things in sync. The advent of MIDI has cured many patients but by no means all. The biggest problem concerns older gear that is still useful, particularly drum machines and sequencers, which don't have MIDI. The SBX-10 goes at least part of the way in solving this problem.

It is basically a converter that enables units featuring different Sync Modes to sync to each other and it can also act as an interface for tape synchronisation of such units. It functions as a Master device for running rhythm machines and sequencers, coping with MIDI, DIN Sync, or units with a timebase of 48, 96 and 120 pulses per ¼ note. At around the '900 mark, the SBX-80 was a bit too expensive for most of the home recording market, so it's nice to see the Roland corporation bringing out something a little cheaper.

Construction and Rear Panel



With dimensions of about 23cm x 23cm x 6cm, this is not a large piece of gear and in fact the controls only cover about half of the control panel (tastefully finished in grey, and blue). The main display is a red illuminated numeric type and is a multi-function display indicating tempo, program mode, which sync or time base you are using, and other information concerned with programming. Unlike many of the new Roland products, particularly in the drum machine arena, the SBX-10 has a sheet steel case, so should you ever feel the urge to drop it from a great height or stamp on it, it would probably survive.

Turning to the rear panel we find it packed with connection points. MIDI and DIN Sync have a similar arrangement of two Out and one In which should cover most eventualities. Next to these on the bottom row are the DC In and Power switches, necessary because the SBX-10 needs an external power supply which is supplied with the unit.

Moving to the top row (all 1/4" jacks) we find a Remote input for start/stop should you wish to use a pedal for this function; an Audio Input so that the tempo can be set by applying an externally generated pulse or suitably amplified microphone, with a switch allowing you to select Mic or Line. This is also the input which accepts the SBX-10's synchronisation to tape click back off tape. There are two outputs for Time Base Out; that's the clock pulse output that on this unit can be set to give 48, 96, or 120 pulses per quarter beat and will enable the SBX-10 to act as a Master Tempo control, remember? Usefully, Roland have included two switches on the main control panel corresponding to the two Time Base Out jacks so that you can control two units with different clock rates at once. Roland's own DIN Sync runs at 24 pulses per 1/4 beat, and this is of course covered by the DIN Sync outputs. This means that a pretty wide range of drum machines and sequencers may be run from the SBX-10, and although its big brother, the SBX-80 allowed you to select anything between one and 120 pulses per quarter beat I'm sure that the choice offered by the SBX-10 is not going to upset many people. Roland have also equipped the unit with a Timebase In so that the SBX-10 can be controlled from an external Master device – again with a choice of 24, 48, 96, or 120.

Finally, we come to the Metronome output which provides the click which you record onto tape for the device to synchronise to. This output can be controlled by programming, manually, or from an external Master unit.


Controls and Operation



The controls are all clearly labelled and spaced in two rows on the angled top panel of the unit. On the top row and next to the display window is the large grey tempo adjustment knob (20-250 beats per minute), which, in common with all the other Roland gear I've tried, is very sensitive. There are three methods of setting the Tempo on this machine. The first is obviously by using the Tempo control knob, whilst the remainder entail using the Tap button or feeding an external click or beat into the Audio In jack on the rear panel. In this, it uses the same methods as the SBX-80. Returning to the top row we find two smaller knobs for Metronome and Click In level respectively. The metronome is activated by pressing the large Start/Stop button on the bottom right of the panel and when running you can hear and adjust its level. There is also a red light above the metronome level control which flashes at the rate at which the metronome is running. Furthest right on this row are the two independant Time Base switches which are three position selectable for 48, 96 and 120 pulses per quarter beat.

Moving to the bottom row we discover three dark grey switches each with red status lights which govern which Mode of operation the unit is in. The first selects whether the SBX-10 is under Manual, external MIDI, or TB (Time Base) control, indicated by three status lights above the main switch. When the unit is powered up it comes on in Manual mode and gives a display of the current metronome speed. If MIDI is selected the display reads 24, but this seems slightly illogical as this is the time base of DIN Sync! If TB is selected the display reads 24, 48, 96 or 120, selectable by further tapping of the master switch below. When the display reads 24 in TB mode, it indicates that the SBX-10 is externally controlled via DIN Sync, and must be connected up via the DIN Sync In and not the TB jack. I'm not sure whether this combination of Modes is a good idea. It would have avoided confusion to the uninitiated if DIN Sync were kept separate, as it is on the rear panel. Furthermore, any slave devices connected to the SBX-10 when it is itself being run externally via DIN Sync will not receive the 'Continue' command, which means you'll have to start from the beginning of your song each time.

Next to this is the Play button which has it's own red status light and two other attendant ones indicating whether the device is in Ext Click (used in synchronization to tape mode), or Internal (Play mode). A Similar grey switch for Program is selected by holding down Play at the same time and the display changes accordingly to the programmed metronome speed.



"...it's trump card is the fact that if you've recorded something onto multitrack without a code, or if you've somehow damaged the code, you can create a new one by tapping along in real time."


Programming



In its function as a master device the control and programming of Tempo is an important feature of the SBX-10. As we have seen it is possible to programme tempo by tapping it in in real time, or by connecting up an external click or other audio signal to the Click In jack on the rear panel. Pressing both Program and Play switches at the same time will illuminate the Program light, and the machine then waits for your eager and sweaty fingers to commence tapping. If the Tap button is not touched for three seconds during programming, the SBX-10 will read this as new tempo data and clear what has gone before it, so there's no chance of sneaking in a quick slurp of coffee or having a minor brainstorm about the arrangement whilst programming using this method! When programming is completed you merely press the play button twice and the Int indicator will light up to show that the machine is ready for playback. The memory will hold up to 8 minutes worth of clicks at 120 beats per minute which is probably enough for most uses.

Alternatively, a sequence of tempo may be recorded into the Sync Box, allowing the storing of a multi-tempo composition, but this is by no means an easy operation on this machine, and, unlike the SBX-80, there is no method of editing. With your drum machines/sequencers set to run from the SBX-10 you start off by entering the basic tempo into the memory, again by pressing Play and Program together.

Next select the required basic tempo, and hold down the Program button for 3 seconds which will cause the display window to momentarily flash, indicating that the unit is ready for further programming. Pressing Start should now run the units which the SBX-10 is controlling at the basic tempo which we selected, and then it's possible to tap, or feed in from an external source a change in tempo but once we change the tempo the controlled units will stop. If we should then wish to return to the original tempo, or go to yet another tempo, we have to 'return to go'.

Sync to Tape



Again, this is a relatively simple operation, as once the metronome part has been programmed into the SBX-10 you merely record the metronome output from the jack on the rear panel onto a spare track of the tape machine. Level onto tape should be -3 to 0db according to the manual, but if you record a metronome at this level onto tape you get an incredible amount of crosstalk onto other tracks. So it's worth experimenting with levels to see what you can get away with.

If there's already a piece of music recorded onto the multitrack you can create a code for running sequencers and drum machines by tapping along with the track and and recording the metronome output as you tap onto tape. Obviously the accuracy of your synchronisation code will depend upon the accuracy of your timing, so if you're hopeless at this sort of thing it might be a good idea to get a drummer to tap it in for you.

Conclusions



This is a versatile unit. With a Timebase choice of 24, 48, 96 or 120 pulses per beat, MIDI and DIN Sync, Roland have covered most eventualities. For me, it's trump card is the fact that if you've recorded something onto multitrack without a code, or if you've somehow damaged the code, you can create a new one by tapping along in real time. It's also nice to be able to bring a bit more of the human element into a drum machine track by clocking it from a manually programmed SBX-10 metronome. All in all it's a useful addition to the studio. It's a shame it doesn't have SMPTE like its big brother, but then what do you expect for this price?

The Roland SBX-10 costs £299.00 including VAT.

Further information is available from Roland UK, (Contact Details).


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Previous Article in this issue

The Five of Jacks

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Down the Tube


Publisher: Home & Studio Recording - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Home & Studio Recording - Jun 1986

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

Synchroniser > Roland > SBX-10

Review by John Harris

Previous article in this issue:

> The Five of Jacks

Next article in this issue:

> Down the Tube


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