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

by Michael Donahue
September 1, 2004

This is the newer model... "XL". The upgrade has more memory (16 minutes!) and greater editing capacity. I think it also has more metronome options too... but Iím not certain (donít know much about the old version).

This is the first looper I purchased (besides my computer). Technically, this is the third piece of looping hardware I have purchased considering that I have owned a Roland MC-303 and still have a Yamaha RM1x. Both units are for writing and playing midi loops but are not real time sample based loopers. My prior exposure to looping hardware was as follows: I saw a guy use a first edition RC-20 with an upright bass at an art gallery. I also goofed around with an older Boomerang at a party once. Finally, I saw a very inspiring one person band from San Francisco called "That One Guy" (highly recommended... best one man act in the world!) He uses an Oberheim Echoplex.

To be honest, I wasn't expecting a lot from this unit. I read the reviews of the first version and had heard that it produced hiss. When I heard the XL version came out, the additional memory and editability drew me into the local retailer to check one out. Keep in mind, I'm a tone freak and all of the other 8 pedals on my board have true bypass switching. I was skeptical about the RC-20XL because it wasn't a true bypass stompbox and was reputed for noisy bypass.

I have recently been in e-mail correspondence with Dann at 4MS Pedals. We were on the subject of true bypass and he said that it is quite possible for a non-true bypass pedal to not drain your tone. I canít comment about the first edition RC-20 since I havenít tried one. However the RC-20XL is very impressive in terms of transparency.

I'd say the XL clearly surpassed my expectations. I could not detect any noise. Note: I have not listened to it through studio monitors. I only tried it on my guitar amp and a powered PA speaker. I have an Analogman true bypass looper which allows me to bypass all of the effects in my chain. When switching back and forth, the difference in my signal (including my other stompboxes in the chain) was hardly audible if at all.

I also doubted that it would accurately recreate the tonal quality of the signal through my other effects. I own a T-Rex Replica digital delay which is reputed to have the highest sampling rate of any digital delay and I felt that it made my overdrive signal sound a little ìglassyî. The RC-20XL however, recreated the crunchy overdrive from my SIB Varidrive tube overdrive pedal surprisingly accurately. I tried every combination of phaser, trem, wah, delay, overdrive... all sounded very close to the original.

I have a one person band (Guitar, midi loops, drum triggers, pedal bass module, Theremin, Electric Kazoo, vocals, etc.) and have been researching phrase samplers for a while. I needed something that I could use to open the show where I am creating a complex, layered phrase in front of the audience. That way I can present the ìillusionî that I am ìkick startingî some weird music making machine; thus making the midi phrases and pre-programmed material seem less ìcannedî.

Until I checked out the RC-20XL Loop Station, I thought no phrase samplers on the market would fully suit my needs. Here's the good and bad of all the other loopers I researched and considered:

Oberheim Echoplex: The Good: Versitile, great sounding, lots of memory. The Bad: Expensive, pedal board is too big, overkill for my needs. Line 6 DL4: Good: Small pedal board, true bypass, stereo in/out. Bad: only 14.5 seconds of memory, can't save loops. Boomerang: Good: Can control everything with your feet. Bad: mono in/out, can't save loops, pedal board too big.

Size matters. Since I have eight other stompboxes, one drum trigger pedal and a one-octave foot activated bass module, my floor space is limited. The RC-20XL takes up very little floor space and you can store ten loops and one single shot phrase... 16 minutes of memory (fantastic)!

Some complain there are too many buttons that you can't operate with your feet. I don't have an issue with that. Start, Stop, Record, Overdub and Reverse are all I need to control with my feet and since I perform on a drum throne, crouching over isn't a big deal for me. You can even set your stop pedal to fade out (cool).

I thought I wouldn't like the mono output but it worked out that it wasn't an issue. I first tried running my line mix through it to my PA speaker (drum triggers, bass pedal, etc.) but since I'm not a "real" drummer those loops were rather uninspiring anyway (no fault of the pedal). It did recreate a very good mono signal through full frequency amplification. Since I'm most proficient at guitar, I moved it to the end on my guitar effect chain and have been very please with the results. I actually like the metronome function but I wouldnít use it in live, on-the-fly performance. The ability to work backwards and delete overdubs on an unsaved phrase is HUGE.

All in all, The Loop Station has completely surpassed my expectations. Even though I prefer to support the little guys in the stomp box market, in this case Roland/Boss packed the most into the smallest package at a very reasonable price ($265).

Michael Donahue
(aka: Primadonahue, one person band)

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