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Looper's Delight Review #1 of the
Boss RC-20
Loop Station

by Bruce Satinover
June 1, 2001

I picked up a RC-20 Thursday evening and just spent a couple hours with it.

The manual is fairly well written, a surprise. It is brief and occasionally nebulous but understandable.

Looping is a breeze. You press the left pedal and when finished press it again. If you want to overdub you use the left pedal yet again, on and off as needed. The right pedal stops the loop. If you hold down either pedal for 2 seconds you erase the loop. You can play loops in reverse but the button is small and behind the main pedals. You can buy a footswitch for it and the step through loop selector. Roland has a specific pedal they recommend which is optional. The unit comes with six AA batteries, a wall wart is available for $20 more.

I paid $269 for it. It wasn't worth finding out if there were better prices, save $20 and wait until the next batch hits the stores?

The construction is pretty good, it isn't built like a Line 6 DL-4 which is a tank but it is fairly heavy.

If you want to freestyle you can, Boss makes much of the quantizing feature which works if you think in terms of math. I'm not knocking it but to me it sounds unnatural if you hit a loop and hit a good endpoint only to hear it "corrected." You can defeat quantizing. In fact unless you set up time signatures and tempo you won't be able to quantize.

There are three modes, instrument/microphone, the mic input is quarter inch with another quarter inch input for instruments. The CD/MD input is a mini plug. When using the CD/MD input there are controls to change frequency response to "flatten out signal." I haven't tried it yet but my guitar sounded good. There are input volume controls for instrument and mic inputs but not for the CD/MD.

Other controls include output volume, guide tone volume (if you want a metronome pulse you can turn on a guide to keep in time providing you set one up. There is also a rotary control for the 10 loops and 1 one shot that the RC-20 can save.

There are small buttons for reverse, tap tempo, write select, exit (if you decide not to save), auto start and mode. Auto start only works with tempo based loops. You can tap tempo the speed and again, you need to set these kinds of loops up. The mode button toggles you between normal, center cancel, and flat amp simulator. Center cancel, to quote the manual, "Sounds localized at the center (such as vocals or guitar solo) will be erased from the sound being recorded."

Haven't tried that, don't think I have a need to. I haven't tried the flat amp simulator either, will expand when I do.

So how does it sound? Well, pretty good actually. Some have complained of a hiss. My setup is either a Carvin LS127T, Fernandes Revolver w/sustainer or Schecter 5 string guitar (tuned in 5ths, low string is at open A on a bass up to high C# of a 6 string guitar) clean there was some change in timbre, the most on the Carvin, with any kind of distortion no difference. So in terms of sound quality I'd say good, Line 6 is very good, it's also a 14 second looper vs a 5 1/2 minute looper.

I compared output to a Boomerang+ and the Rang was harder to tame but far more usable to my tastes.

Here are some areas I think the RC-20 would be useful:

  1. DJs or keyboard loopers. You can push on the pedal comfortably plus if you are beat concerned you can catch the beat and lock step it if that's your thing. Even if I used it with my synths I think I'd go freestyle. However, it's there and as long as you aren't doing complex timings it works. Problem, no tempo display, dumb move but for a sub $300 5+ minute looper it's understandable.

  2. Guitar loopers. I love the Rang, I use it all the time but I find myself running to a recording source when I have a good loop, I can always reuse it later if I save it. It's not a great solution though and at gigs it's even harder if not impossible. But you have 10 loop memories available and a one shot, so you could save something you like. There are some catches though. First, you need to have the memory. Second, the loop is written to a memory buffer, if the buffer is higher than the amount of memory required to save the sound it will not save, nor can you overwrite an old loop. You have to delete the loop memories.

  3. Vocalists, voice work. It has lots of time and you can save what you do and even work it out where you can reuse what you save.

  4. One person bands. If you can deal with mono output you can do a lot with this pedal. I haven't tried it but I think you can use all inputs. An easier way would be to use the effects section of a mixer. Either way it can be done.

Positives: lots of loop time, memory slots, battery powered (25 hours alkaline), reverse and loop advance switches

Not Sure: many of the interesting controls require pushing of buttons or twisting knobs, if you use it as a floor pedal this, at least for me, is awkward. If you use it as a tabletop unit it is easier to deal with but is lacking for off the cuff loopers, it would have been interesting if Boss made a secondary switch available for looping/ovedubbing, redundant, yes, but it would have solved a lot of problems.

Negatives: if you want to loop on the fly and use the RC-20 as a pedal you will be bending over a lot if you want to use some of the features. Optional footswitches necessary for reverse trigger and loop cycling which is wherever you start the trigger, so if you're on loop 5 it advances to 6, etc. No slow mode which would have been very cool. I noticed noise as others had noticed coming from the RC 20. It was not offensive to the point of not using the unit but I would suggest a noise gate after the RC 20 for people that can not tolerate it or take the unit out of the mix when not in use.

Additional initial thoughts, I didn't notice much or any padding of loops, you can't edit the loops you make in any way other than volume on the pedal. If set up well and you know your setup you should be fine, on the fly volume control with a built in volume control would have been a nice feature.

The thing to remember is this is a sub $300 looper. For it's cost you get a lot of playback time, don't ask me the sample rate or frequency range, Boss isn't telling. I suspect 16 - 24k sampling rate. I'd be surprised if it's higher. If saving your loops matters this is a good unit to check out. Remember though, you'll still have to back up what you save as there's only 10 loops available to save.

Still, I like the RC-20 so far. It can phrase train as well, never would use it, won't bother with it. It is probably designed for bass and guitar players although it does offer modes to record line sources, they call it CD/HD. I haven't tried it yet but don't expect much, probably nice for drum beats and spoken word.

I tried a Korg Karma and Waldorf microQ with guitar loops and was impressed with the quality. I did not go past 4 or 5 overdubs so I don't know how far it can go in that direction.

Well, I hope this was helpful. I will try to follow up as I spend more time. I will be gigging with this and the Boomerang. The Rang will be my primary looper. It's kind of early but I still prefer the Rang for on the fly looping and ease of use.

Bruce Satinover

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