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Boomerang Phrase Sampler Review

Andre LaFosse

I was in the Hollywood Guitar Center last night, taking a passing glance at the footpedals on display, when what should I see but a Boomerang Phrase Sampler sitting there. I gave it a fairly quick run-thru, and here are some thoughts:
  • The thing is nicely laid out for live performance, and is clearly designed more for live work than studio endeavors; the pedals feel pretty substantial (definitely a step up from the Lexicon jobbies), and the addition of a foot-roller volume control and a thru-signal bypass are very clever features. There's also a selectable, three-stage input gain switch for toggling between instrument or mic level inputs.

  • The controls are somewhat reminiscent of a tape recorder, as there are controls for "starting" and "stopping" the loops, as well as a "one-shot" playback feature.

  • The overdub function only seems to work while the button for it is being held down; this is a fairly significant limitation in my opinion. (I didn't have access to an instruction manual, so there may be provisions for this that I'm unaware of, but the thing is pretty spartan in terms of its layout and available controls, and seems to be designed very intuitively, so I'm a bit inclined to doubt that I may have missed a possible way around this).

  • The half-speed function is very cool. Unfortunately, I was only able to access it by first stopping the loop and then hitting the overdub button (which alternates as the half-speed button), and then starting the loop up again. Not exactly the most seamless procedure. Again, there may be provisions around this that I missed by not having the manual, but I doubt it.

  • The reverse function is cool (as it was/is in the Echoplex) and has its own dedicated pedal.

  • I didn't see any feedback control on the unit. There may have been one lurking on the back panel next to the input gain, trim, and other controls, but once again, I think I would have noticed running across it. The volume control can be used to fade a loop in or out, but there's a lot more to using feedback than simply fading in or out, and if this isn't an available factor, then that's another fairly substantial drawback.

  • The sound struck me as very good. I was running a guitar (with a still-affixed, broken top string -- see, it really *was* at Guitar Center!) direct into the Boomerang, then straight out into the standard-issue Fender combo, and heard fairly little difference between the actual input signal and the looped sound. If someone's hoping to loop higher-fi sounds than an electric guitar, they should spend more time checking it out, but it seemed quite passable to me, especially given the Boomerang's obvious slant towards off-the-cuff live work.

This is a very happening box; GC was selling it for somewhere around $350 (one of those year-end Holiday deals, ya see). The half-speed function is awfully cool, though I'm not sure it's $350 worth of cool for someone who already owns one of the other Big Three. There were some things, such as feedback, automatic record start, and others, that I missed from the Echoplex, and I would much rather have seen a pedal dedicated to half-speed rather than to a one-shot playback. Nevertheless, it's a must-see for anyone on this list, and if the Hollywood GC is carrying the thing, then chances are most other store sin the chain can get one in. Check one out if you get the chance, and please correct me if I'm in error regarding the limitations I cited above. (That seems to be my mantra these days... :-/ )


Andre later posted this follow-up, in March, 1997:

> Meanwhile, does anyone have any
> hands-on experience of this, or any clue as to how it stacks up against the
> Echoplex?

I gave a Boomerang a quick spin at a Guitar Center store a couple of months back. My impression was that it's primarily designed as an off-the-cuff live tool. The main advantages to it are that it's a self-contained floor unit, with a decidedly sturdy construction and casing. Most of the main parameters have their own dedicated pedals, and you can select from three different input gain stages. It also has a self-contained roller to continuously adjust the volume level of the loop as you go, which is pretty neat (though, as I've recently discovered, you can do the same thing with an Echoplex and a standard volume pedal -- thanks to Kim for putting up that page on footpedal/switch applications in the Echoplex web section!) Finally, the Boomerang can reverse a loop on the fly (also an Echoplex feature), and can change the speed of the loop after playback, which none of the other Big Three can lay claim to.

Disadvantages? You have to stop the loop if you want to alter the speed, due to the nature of the footswitch layout. There's no individual feedback control to regulate the decay time of a loop; my understanding is that feedback is automatically scaled back as new layers are overdubbed on top of old ones, which are themselves phased out. As I understand it, there's no factory-installed control over this feature, i.e. if you want to be able to overdub new layers without a preset rate of feedback decay, you need to have it modded to bypass this feature. (This is my main personal quibble with the unit.) Also, the sampling resolution isn't up to that of either of the other Big Three; its low sampling rate is pretty much optimized for electric guitar and other "lo-fi" instruments, though some would no doubt advocate its use for any and all instruments.

I should also add that since I've only given the Boomerang a cursory spin in a music store, I don't claim 100% certainty on the above information; since Mike "Motley" Nelson is on the list, I'll readily defer to him if I'm in error regarding any of the above information.

I've seen the Boomerang on sale for around $350 at Guitar Center, which is about $150 to $200 less than the Echoplex (which doesn't come with its own dedicated footpedal; that costs about $100 more). As an Echoplex owner (and apparently one of the few who have been able to try a Boomerang), I'd just as soon stick with what I've got, though the Bomerang is very handy as a bare-bones live unit. There really is a slew of features on the Echoplex which neither of the other Big Three can touch -- so much so that almost a year and a half after getting mine, I'm *still* discovering new things that it can do. It's very deep in terms of what you can do with it, but with the combined cost of the footpedal (which is essential, as far as I'm concerned), it is more expensive than the 'Rang. (Note that a MIDI footswitcher can also be used to control Echoplex [and JamMan] functions). If you'd be content with a no-frills unit optimized for stage use, and if your budget's limited, the 'Rang may be for you.

Daniel Lanois apparently uses a Boomerang quite a bit; in the current issue of _Guitar Player_ magazine (the one with Clint Eastwood holding a pistol and Telecaster on the cover [!]), Lanois makes several mentions of soundtrack work he's done based around a guitar and a Boomerang pedal; I'd be interested to hear the results. I'd have to assume that Lanois is in a position to use any of the Big Three if he's so inclined, so his preference for the Boomerang suggests that even studo-mavens with expendable income might opt for the 'Rang.

That's all for now. Hope this has been of some help,


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