On The Rack
Boss Micro Rack
Five new effects for the home studio
Gradually we the masses are being educated to accept that SMALL isn't necessarily LESS. Miniaturisation has already brought with it such huge benefits as video game watches, personal hi-fi and talking motor cars, and now Roland, or more accurately, Boss, have applied it to a new series of sound processors going under the collective title of the Micro Rack Series.
They are, of course, not the first to take the sound processor away from its 19" wide home. Companies such as dbx, Rebis and Scamp (Audio and Design) have enjoyed considerable success in the compacting of every kind of processor; the snag for most of us has always been the price.
Certainly, small and cheap isn't a completely unknown quantity. The Accessit range offers a great value for very little money, but the facilities offered are generally commensurately limited.
The Boss Micro Rack currently consists of five models each contained in a standard neat aluminium case looking not unlike expanded, upmarket Accessit units measuring 8-9/16"x 1-13/16" x 11/16". Just as with the Accessit range they can either simply be stacked on top of each other - free standing, or 19" rack mounted in pairs using an optional 1U high adaptor. Unlike the Accessit range, Roland have designed a special Micro Rack in which up to five processors can be housed. This is expected to cost in the region of £50.00, and should give a positively expensive, professional look to what are actually fairly inexpensive devices.
One way of keeping the price and size down is to keep the power supply separate to the processors. Once the one PSU has been connected between the 13A wall socket and the first processor, the others can be powered piggy-back style up to a maximum of 200mA, by interconnection with the first. This current limit means that you will need a couple of supplies if you want to run all five units simultaneously. Maintaining a little distance twixt the 240 volts bit and the audio circuits is also a fine idea by way of avoiding the horrors of induced mains hum. The units look very sleek and their relatively wide, flat design makes them very stable even when stacked five high.
A really wonderful point is that all five units are equipped with both unbalanced ¼" jack sockets and phono sockets for audio inputs and outputs. This shows a genuine understanding of the plight of the home recordist who, it is well known, is doomed to be interminably short of the right kind of leads. A switch on the rear panel of each unit switches its audio operating level between -10dB and -20dB which should cater for most equipment designed for home use. Also common to the whole range is a ¼" jack socket to take an 'Effect On/Off' footswitch, further freeing the generally over-stretched hands of the operator to be musical and so forth.
For those brave, inquisitive few who want to know what goes on inside the black box, a block diagram of each unit's inner workings is etched in light blue on the top cover.
One gripe that I must bring up is the general lack of input overload indication. Apart from a single overload LED on the compressor, there is none to be had at all. In my view this is a sad oversight indeed, because if you've spent all morning patching together a dozen effects using sends, returns, break points, parallels, innumerable leads, etc, and distortion suddenly raises its ugly little bonce, you really do need some assistance in determining from whence it originates.
On the basis that the old is the best, we'll start with that well established stalwart, the phaser. The RPH-10 is a very effective phaser and really gets a grip on the sound rather than just creating lots of obstructive swooshing noises around it. It has a full set of modulation and feedback controls and a 3-way mode switch which progressively adds more stages to the process producing an increasingly deeper, fuller effect. A jack on the rear panel allows access to the speed control of the modulation LFO making it possible to link to units for stereo operation. Having done this, a phase inversion switch puts the sweep of the two units out of phase with each other, thus greatly widening the image.
Quiet, powerful, simple to use and very effective. If you're looking for a phaser this shouldn't disappoint you at the price.
The Flanger also features full modulation feedback controls and is very capable of creating all those favourite graunching tunnelling sounds. There are two sets of rear panel outputs marked 'direct - effect' and 'direct + effect' - ie sum and difference, and these can be used as the two sides of a stereo pair for a really big swirl. A direct/effect mix control is provided to determine the balance between the direct and effected sounds so that the character of the original sound isn't necessarily lost.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that, just because it's been around for a long time, the flanger is passe. Used carefully it's a great and flexible effect. The RFB-10 is a very good unit, especially considering the price.
In its normal application a compressor is a PROCESSOR rather than an EFFECT, and it isn't intended to be heard in the same way that an effect is. Rather it is required to disappear - to be as transparent as possible.
Unfortunately, as it goes about its business, rapidly altering its gain inversely to the change in level at its output, unpleasant pumping sounds are often incurred. This is where the system's background noise is heard to whoosh up and down in volume, as the compressor increases and decreases its gain to maintain a constant output level for a wavering input level. As the input signal gets weaker, so the compressor progressively cranks its gain up, thereby giving maximum volume when there's nothing but background noise present: not the perfect situation. Hence, combination compressor/gate devices such as the RCL-10, are becoming increasingly common at all levels and really are an indispensable facility to have. With an expander/gate in the system, you are able to compensate for this by juggling the two threshold levels so that the expander/gate closes down on the noise but lets the actual signal through.
For a small unit, the RCL-10 offers a lot of control, and unlike any of the four other models, this one features an input overload indication LED.
On the compressor/expander section, threshold, compression/expansion ratio, attack and release are all continuously adjustable, as are the threshold and decay time on the noise gate. This makes the RCL-10 a very flexible unit considering its price. The compressor's attack time is adjustable from 0.2ms up to 2secs which should take care of most things.
The unit's small size means that there is only a limited amount of space for controls etc. Even so, there could perhaps have been a few LED's included as a basic indication of how much compression is taking place. As it is there's but the one LED to indicate the crossing of the threshold.
Though not perfect, the facilities are excellent considering the price, and the unit will provide a great range of very useful effects.
A 10-band graphic offering +/-12dB at single-octave output level control. With black faders on a grey background, the settings could be a little difficult to see in low light, and so Roland have taken the trouble to put a small LED in the centre of each slider.
Not a lot more to say in this case. A reasonably quiet and effective equaliser for the price.
The RDD-10 is capable of all the standard time domain effects such as flanging/phasing, single repeats, repeat echos and ADT (automatic double tracking) and offers continuously variable delay times from 0.75ms to 400ms with full modulation and feedback facilities. There are both 'delay only' and 'mix' outputs with the latter allowing you to mix the relative volume of the delay signal via a front panel control - ideal if you don't have the sophistication of auxiliary sends and returns, or are simply using a channel break point. There is also a tone control for the delay component which works in conjunction with the feedback control to change the tone and resonance of the effect.
With a 90dB noise floor and a surprisingly wide 20Hz to 15kHz bandwidth this device is up to most things, as long as you don't need more than 400ms. At £200.00, it's very good value.
In the general the whole system performed very well. The idea of creating a moderately priced, diminutive rack system for home recording is an excellent one, and Roland have certainly maintained their usual high level of design, construction and musicality. Now hear it on tape.
Roland (Boss) (Contact Details)
Gear in this article:
Review by Jim Betteridge
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!