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Boss Digital Delay DE-200

The lower-price rack mountable digital delay market is highly competitive today. Different makes, with all but identical specifications and wide price variations, abound. Does Roland's Boss DE-200 offer anything special? IT sampled one to find out.

Desirable things that they are to own, rack mounted digital delay units have, during the past year or so, fallen in price and risen in quality, to the point where there must now be at least a dozen on the market - many offering almost identical specifications, but with prices varying wildly. The reason for this is the cheapness with which the 'chips' - the electronic 'dongles' that actually do the stuff - can now be made. What was only possible in pro studio class machines five years ago is now available to even the amateur musician or recordist - and at a price which he or she can easily justify.

Roland's Boss DE-200, launched back in 1983, falls at the bottom end of their range of digital delays, which move up from this basic model through the SDE 3000, 1000 and 2000 types. With an RRP of £350, the DE200 currently competes head-on with quite a few digital rack-mountable delays, but has one or two very useful extras which might justify its purchase against some of the less costly (or apparently more advanced) competition.

Like all Roland gear, the SD-200 is both finely made and presented. The slim (1 unit - 1 3/4" - high) metal case fits standard 19" racks - alternatively it can free-stand, if you prefer.

Facilities on the SD-200 could hardly be easier to understand - something which isn't always the case with such units. The line of controls on the front panel runs through the following: jack input, 'bypass' on/off, 5 LED input level indicators (running from green to red on overloads), a delay time range selector (graduated in click stops), delay time 'fine tuning' pot, mode (standard delay at the maximum available frequency response, or double the range at a reduced frequency response level), hold, modulation rate and depth, 'feedback' level, phase inverter on/off, output mix pots for direct and delay, an output jack socket and a push-operated mains on/off switch. The back panel on the Roland is every bit as straightforward. Mains input is via a 2-core plug-in lead. A voltage selector follows, after which appear twin jack sockets for 'rhythm sync' (footswitch and trigger in), remote hold on/off and bypass on/off (both footswitch activated), invert mix output, mix output, direct output and input.

Does this sound complicated to follow? It isn't - and you'll find Roland's typically thorough handbook (complete with sample settings) a great help in understanding it if you have problems.

Like many modern DDLs, the Boss offers two distinct types of effect - pure delay functions, which spread from a lengthy repeat echo through to a close-delayed signal so near to the original that it sounds like two instruments playing at once (ADT, or 'automatic double tracking'), and those effects where 'modulated' delay signals are brought into play via the speed and depth controls - chorus, flanging, vibrato and so on.

To explore the potential of this unit you really need both time and the handbook. The delay range offered (using the basic x1 setting, which affords a frequency response from your instrument or mixer feed of from 10Hz-10kHz) runs from 1.25 ms. to 640 ms. Neither of these specs, are particularly adventurous by today's latest standards. A maximum delay of just 640 ms. is quite short by comparison with some similarly priced delays, and a cut-off at the theoretically high frequency level of 10kHz is only average, implying a reduced treble performance which might well be noticeable, if not from stage amps or through mid-quality P.A. gear, then certainly in better home and commercial studio applications.

Double the operating range of the delay length (by pushing the x2 button) and you get 1280 ms. maximum - a useful delay length, but one which cuts the high frequency response down from 10kHz to only 4.5kHz - again, not a spectacular performance in technical terms, and one which even some quite modest home studio equipment could reproduce in terms of restricted treble response.

To delve very far into the practical methods of using the Roland would take much more space than we have here, but, in essence, this is a very easy unit to get to grips with. Assuming that you're using it to provide delay effects from your mixer (either for P.A. or recording use) you connect it to the echo send/return sockets, so that the Roland's input/output jacks loop through via two ordinary jack leads. Stage use (with amps provided with effects loop facilities) work ditto - and this makes the Roland very usable as both an on-stage keyboard and guitar or bass effect. If your stage amp doesn't have 'loop' facilities, never mind; just plug your instrument into the Roland, and take an output feed to you amp's input. Regrettably, with a fixed input feed of -20dBm, you can't input a mike direct - although only the most primitive uses of such an effect would require this. Is this a limitation? Not really, although switchable 'attenuation' (to handle various input levels) might have been nice.

Having wired yourself up, the next stage is to set the effect you want - pure or modulated delay being the two options. The delay range, as we've established, is fairly modest; but in terms of its performance the Roland's sound quality is excellent and suffers from very little hiss or extraneous circuit induced noise. Despite the fairly low level of H.F. performance, only with quite sophisticated P.A. or studio gear, in practice, would you be able to detect any loss of highs. In fact, even with the 'x2' button in, lengthening the maximum delay to 1280 ms. but cutting the top-end cut-off to 4.5kHz, the sound quality of the delay is still, on a listening test, extremely good, with little unwanted noise intruding and a good, smooth performance.

Having played around with the delay (which can be, of course, blended between 'dry' and 'delayed' signals via the two mix pots), you next start - inevitably - to play around with the 'funny noises' bit - the modulation section. Here you have two parameters to juggle - 'rate' and 'depth'. It's the combination of these highly variable settings which allows you to discover the most exhilarating flanging, chorus and general 'spaceship' noises - and if we tried to detail the full gamut of what you can prise from careful fiddling around with these two pots, then we'd take this whole issue of IT in the process! Suffice it to say that there are more weird effects possible here than in a sackful of pedals - and endless hours can be spent playing with them. Next to the fun you can have with these controls, mere cocaine looks like a harmless, non-addictive drug!

One of the most obvious attractions lies in using the 'hold' facility, whereby you can 'record' a repetitive phrase and then play over it, much as with an old tape-loop Echoplex, but with much greater clarity. Using a footswitch to control this facility, or just using the front panel's 'hold' button, gives you this useful plus. Again, it's hardly unique on a DDL, but Roland's application of it works very well.

On the face of it (and this is being pretty brutally honest), as a straight DDL with modulation, the DE200 has been left a bit behind in the value for money stakes - viewed as a straightforward delay/modulator. Quite a few other makers have bettered both the delay ranges and the frequency response, and managed to do so at equal or better prices. Roland, however, are nobody's fools, and they've added a couple of features to this unit, making it one of the very few DDLs which will do certain - very clever - tricks, over and above basic delay and modulated delay effects. The sources of these lie on the back panel and comprise extra facilities, mostly for use with rhythm machines. The first of these is for synchronisation effects. Take a rhythm machine, link it to the DE-200 and you have the ability to start or re-start the delay effect from the external trigger provided by the drum machine itself. Frankly, to attempt to describe the full range of facilities which this function can perform is way beyond the space allocated for this review - but let's just say that, for example, using this feature with a suitable rhythm machine, you can effectively synchronise a rhythm so that you can generate complex patterns, using the delay to vary the beats and their timing. Start the recording with a foot-switch, or via the 'hold' button on the front panel, and you can recall the required pattern, which can then be replayed, activated either by a footswitch or by an impulse from the rhythm machine. Fun? You've never had fun like it!

Still more can be achieved by using the DE-200 as an external source for a rhythm machine. Here you can vary the effective playback pitch of the note (via the 'fine' control), moving the sound up or down a full octave in the process, just by employing the 'mode' switch. Again, it/s another great effect to be played around with.

With all these extra facilities on offer, the Roland Boss DE-200 certainly has some useful extras up its sleeve - and yet the question remains: how does it compare in today's intensely competitive market? The answer is that it has been surpassed by some other units in terms of its basic abilities as a delay/chorus/flanger/sound-on-sound effect, and yet it has extra facilities which, if you can use them, will still make it an unbeatable buy. At the current asking price, for recording, keyboard, bass, guitar or P.A. uses it has been, to some degree, superceded by several other DDLs offering better delay lengths, improved frequency response and identical effects. Where the Roland does score, however, is on its versatile uses with rhythm machines - and here (as far as we can tell) it is unique. If electro-music using rhythm machines is your thing, then it still has an all but unbeatable role to play. Think hard about what you want when buying a DDL today. If rhythm machine interfaces and advanced synchronisation effects are what you need, then this is a very good choice. If not, and basic delay/modulation effects are all you want, then maybe some more recent DDLs might be better buys.

RRP £350

More details from Roland (U.K.) Ltd., (Contact Details).

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In Tune - Apr 1985

Donated by: Gordon Reid

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Studio FX > Boss > DE200 Delay

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