You might not see it on a magazine cover or tattooed to someone’s arm, but the lowly looper is one of those things many musicians find invaluable. And in hardware loopers, the BOSS Loop Station reigns supreme – I’ve even seen a San Francisco-based musical act who call themselves LOOP ! STATION.

Believe it or not, the (actual) Loop Station hardware from BOSS has just turned ten. In one of the more overlooked hardware announcements this week, BOSS has rolled out some significant and promising-looking upgrades to these well-loved, affordable tools. There’s a new RC-3 stereo stompbox-style model, as well as an updated “dual track” model, the RC-30. (That lets you run two stereo tracks at once. No question, the RC-30 would be the one I’d get; it’s still reasonably portable, and having two tracks means geometrically more musical options in my opinion. But I can see the appeal of the RC-3 being small and stompbox-like.)

One weird thing about hardware is that it’s tended not to keep pace with storage capacity in computers and mobile devices. That’s not the case here – both models, even including that little stompbox, can record up to three hours in stereo. I’m not quite sure what people will use that storage capacity for – stompbox version of Erik Satie’s Vexations, perhaps?* But it’s nice to know it’s there.

How do these models compare to the previous models, and to competitors?

  • More processing power (a six-fold improvement)
  • Aforementioned three hours of stereo recording. (Seriously, you’d probably use that for more loops – up to 99 phrases – not one really long loop.)
  • True stereo recording.
  • Auto-quantize, which Roland’s Amanda Whiting describes as “forgiving looping.”
  • Tempo-synced effects on the RC-30.
  • USB 2.0 for import/export of audio, making this a foot-operated mobile workstation of sorts. (Try that with an iPhone or iPad. Actually, really, don’t – just had visions of broken glass and bloody feet.)
  • Battery-powered for extra mobility.

If stompbox is what you want, Roland tells us the RC-3 is substantially easier to use. (Any RC-2 users who can tell us what they might mean?)

Check out the shot below of the back of the RC-30, too – it’s nice seeing a proper XLR jack on this kind of device and not just 1/4″; it’s even got phantom power. That makes this practical for acoustic instrumentalists and vocalists who might otherwise ignore this sort of gear.

There’s more to talk about – see additional specs below — but I was already sold on the Loop Station. Having a better Loop Station is just icing. Having talked to many, many musicians, it’s a perennial favorite among everyone from fairly large stars to obscure Game Boy artists. Roland’s Amanda Whiting is quick to tell CDM that competing loop pedals are limited to around half an hour of mono-only recording with no mic jack, but I’m guessing part of the reason I’ve never heard anyone using one of the competitors is that people found that out already.

The real rival: While it’s not a stompbox (no pedals) and therefore is a bit apples-to-oranges, the one competitor I think worth mentioning (and thanks to readers for chiming in) is Electro-Harmonix 2880. It’s the one box that can take on BOSS, provided your hands are free: it’s stereo like a BOSS, it’s got loads of storage like a BOSS (1GB card now), and it has USB connections like the BOSS. While I think it’s not as friendly or accessible as the BOSS may be, it has some advantages in other respects: there’s four-channel recording instead of two for some really advanced looping, and it has the one key feature missing on the Loop Station – MIDI sync. It’s a shame BOSS missed the opportunity to add a MIDI IN, at least on the RC-30. EH is actually here in NYC, and they assemble their gear right here, too, which almost no one does. (In the five boroughs, no less. It’s one of the only things Queens manufactures that’s not a doughnut or other pastry item.) So expect to see more of that EH, ideally close to the source.

RC-3 Loop Station

  • 99 phrase memory
  • Records to 44.1 kHz WAV, stereo.
  • USB Mass Storage class compliant for file transfer. (Actually, here’s a twist: that means you can transfer files from this to an iPad, using the Camera Connection Kit. Or a computer, if you prefer.)
  • Tap tempo, and/or play a “guide” rhythm with built-in percussion sounds.
  • 1/4″ in (stereo pair), 1/4″ out (stereo pair), plus an aux stereo minijack. (Can’t be used simultaneously, but handy.)
  • 9V power; use an alkaline or buy an adapter separately if you want a wall wart. 3 hour expected battery life.

RC-30 Dual Track Looper

The RC-30 has what the RC-3 does, but with some extra goodies:

  • 2 track stereo recording.
  • Effects: “BEND DOWN, STEP PHASER, SWEEP
    FILTER, TEMPO DELAY, LO-FI.” It also boasts indicators so you can see what those effects are doing. (Sorry, Daleks. No Ring Mod, apparently.)
  • XLR mic input with a dedicated level knob.
  • 48V phantom power.
  • 7.5 hour expected alkaline battery life. (Longer than the RC-3, because you can add more batteries. Did I mention that I would recommend the RC-30?)

The RC-30 even has that handy aux jack for an 1/8″ stereo – another use for your iPad, or your Game Boy, or your Teenage Engineering OP-1.

I’ll try to get an RC-30 in for review, but I’d be curious how you’d review it. Let us know.

*Vexations, by astonishing coincidence, neatly sums up how I felt browsing hotel rooms in Anaheim a few weeks ago. I can stick my head under a fluorescent light, play my BBC sound effects CD cue for crowd noise, and hoarsely shout a press release. It’s just like being there. Oh, and yes, I’m a classical music nerd, too. Bring it.

  • http://truecip.org peter

    Whoa stereo on the stomp box?? The only think that kept me from buying the pedal before was that and that it seem it was impossible to play onesh0t samples, is that/ is that still the case?

  • Peter Kirn

    @peter: Yeah, I think unfortunately that remains the case. But let me ask; that's an essential question! (Hey, we should get you in on that review…)

  • http://mrtunes.ca/blog mr. tunes

    thank you for taking a closer look. these look like a cool upgrade!

  • http://dust.unrecnow.com marcusfischer

    no reverse?!?

  • http://www.myspace.com/gliiitches Leon Tricker

    Isn't the EH 2880 still the most creative looper though? More expensive perhaps. I'm still really keen to see how the Octatrack can be used for live looping of guitars.

  • http://truecip.org peter

    @peter: id love too!

  • http://www.alone-music.co.uk Alonemusic

    hmm.. I'd still go with the 2880, The Boss pedals work great for bands and solo players, but the lack of sync is a killer. MIDI on the 2880 is still difficult, but if its used as a master clock you can groove all day. Those pedals do look tasty though…

  • karljakob

    Is it possible to use both the mic and instrument input at the same time? 

  • Peter Kirn

    The EH isn't really a stompbox like the BOSS units, but I agree – MIDI sync is a must. And so for hands-on operation, the EH is most definitely a rival to the BOSS. Updated the story accordingly. I hope to take a look at both units, though; each should have some appeal to readership here. EH, if you're out there, I'll take the subway over to Queens…

  • Peter Kirn

    Oh, and yes, I do know there's a footswitch input on the EH. ;)

    Actually, if you're doing any more complex looping, I imagine that'd still be ideal – you could put the EH on a music stand and never have to gaze down at your shoelaces.

  • http://truecip.org peter

    I dont see the lack of midi as a deal killer as long as you have decent tap tempo.. guitarists should be used to LIVE playing anyways :D

  • Peter Kirn

    Absolutely – tap tempo is going to work for most people. Honestly, generally speaking, the RC's are going to work for most people. The EH is interesting as a more advanced unit. I think it depends on what you're looping. ;)

  • http://www.soundcloud.com/twofaceee Tyler Pate

    I want to see this device connected to a send FX loop on a mixing console. Then, you can plug in a multitude of instruments and other sound inputs, decide on the fly which get sent to the looper, and craft a one man band kind of performance (with only one looper input!).

  • http://mmi-music.blogspot.com MMI

    Another competitor might be the Digitech JamMan Stereo (SD card expandable) I bought myself one sometime last spring.  Doesn't have the effects but I use it after the output of a Boss GT-10.

    The other looper I was drooling over at the time was the BoomerangIII ( http://www.boomerangmusic.com/ ) but there was no local store…

    These devices are fun and immediate and good for situations where you can't use a computer but I think my ultimate rig will end up being Live with some kind of midi foot control.  For the interested, there are threads in the Ableton forums for people moving off of their RC-xx pedals to Live's looper device.

    http://forum.ableton.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=http://forum.ableton.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=

  • http://www.hispasonic.com Mudo

    The EX 2880 has some minor bugs due to delay estructure. It add a "glitch" each time you hit "loop" and feedback each layer you add.

    Is the most powerfull (without know enough about okta possibilities) hardware alternative to Live.

    Check 5 years ago vid.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2QXL8GYTQg

    ;)

  • http://www.hispasonic.com Mudo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ne3RrkHlCGw&fe

    Setup:

    2 roland VariOS.

    Vestax Faderboard and Padkontrol for controlling the Varios.

    Electribe EM-1 to set midi clock for first loop. 

    Behringer mixer in rack for submix into looper.

    EHX2880 with footpedal.

    Another issue from 2880 is about midi sync recording. When you press record it starts the midi send (the electribe start beat) but 2880 remains without recording 1/4 for "preparing".

    I needed to shuffle my beats starting at 4/4 pattern to get the loop in the right way. In other way when I stop the looper and start again the "loop" it was wrong recorded and the musical phrase started in wrong pattern position.

    Hard to explain but really annonying for live-act.

  • Charlie Lesoine

    Also sooperlooper:
    http://www.essej.net/sooperlooper/
    This would be great for the iPad.

  • http://antisound.net stk

    Most powerful software looper by an order of magnitude is and remains Circular Labs Mobius. It's also free.

    ..As long as you don't mind an ugly UI, that's the entrance fee ;p

  • Dumeril Seven

    Yep, compelling but I won't be shelving my 2880 to get one. The 2880 is more of a desktop unit, but virtually every front panel control is mapped to a MIDI CC or PC command, so you to create a tailored foot controller with something like a FCB1010. I'll take that flexibility over all-in-one convenience. My biggest complaint about the 2880 is that the audio inputs have very little headroom.

  • http://www.alone-music.co.uk alonemusic

    I agree the 2880 is not perfect by a long way, I have to use it as a master clock, insert empty loops into my mpc, a lot of counting flashing lights… My ideal looper hardware would just say "how long you want this? Cool 4 bars, I'm ready when you press go". I guess with using the 2880 a lot It feels these things should be simpler… and all because I wanted midi sync…

  • http://flavors.me/glorian friedrich glorian

    another great hardware looper is the LP1 from http://www.looperlative.com. it's a one unit rack engine, has eight independent stereo tracks, reverse, octave, overdub, speed up and slow down, scramble and many more features (all for individual tracks), midi sync, 24 bit digital audio, onboard ethernet interface. simple but functional front panel, or to be used via a midi controller. and yes, it is expensive. looperlative just released LP2, a stomp box looper. unfortunately only mono, but it has got interesting features though…

    details
    http://looperlative.com/proddetail.php?prod=LP2

    pics
    http://looperlative.posterous.com/lp2-pictures

  • db

    so the rc-3 finally catches up with the digitech loopman solo? meh.

  • WDI

    I currently have the RC-2 and really like the pedal. But I found 12 storage locations too limited as I would constantly have to delete things I did not want to. So these upgrades are good news. I was contemplating getting an RC-50 to give more storage slots and for MIDI sync. However, now I'm seriously wondering if Boss is going to upgrade record time on that unit and I'm surprised they didn't. Also, fix the delay you get when first loop is done recording and the RC-50 would be a great unit. The EV is really cool but the one thing that keeps me away from it is no storage locations for multiple projects. I'm not interested in connecting the EV constantly to my computer to save something so I can start again or load an old project. They fix that and EV has a winner.

  • benzkji

    just to bring up another: anyone had a look at the vox vdl1 !?

  • http://www.hudost.com JW

    Hi

    A couple of things about your article.

    I got the 2880 and it's not all it's cracked up to be. The 'storage' only allows 'one loop at a time'. You cannot import and export multiple loops and call them up as presets with the 2880 which makes the BOSS units superior in my opinion.

    What I am wondering is why they didn't put MIDI on the RC-30 so one can sync with other looping devices? The RC-50 does have MIDI but apparently the syncing on it sucks royally.

    Still waiting for the perfect looper it seems….

  • nickjazz

    did i miss the answer about the reverse? so…is there reverse or not…if its missing i consider this a major screw up…cutting out such a useful function…hm…what were they thinking …..

  • http://www.westonboucher.com Weston

    Does anyone know if Boss is planning to release a newer version of the RC-50? I'm looking to get a looper but since it's been out since 2006 I'm hoping that they'll have a successor to that model soon that will have more recording time and other upgrades. If anyone knows anything let me know. I'm willing to wait a few months or so and save my money rather than buy an aging model like the RC-50. Thanks! BTW I've read up on the other loopers and the RC-50 is best suited for me.

  • Mike Martinez

    Question on the RC-3, is there a way to retrieve deleted preset tracks? Cause I accidentally dis :'( I need help. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=651736003 Kiyoshi Kubota

    I just timewarped back here through the Kishi Bashi post, but I’d like to point out regarding the EHX 2880, that its MIDI in, as well as being usable for an external clock, can also have pretty much any of its functions controlled by MIDI CC and PC messages.  The most obvious choice would be something like that Behringer MIDI foot controller or something, but for my bedroom studio, I’ve just been using a nanopad2 as a toe-controller.

    My point being that while the 2880 itself is not a stompbox, it is designed to be used with foot controllers, whether MIDI or the simpler one that they made to just control recording functions.  As such, I think it is a valid comparison to the Boss loopers, especially considering that the price of the 2880 (for now at least; according to the EHX site, they have been discontinued) with a foot controller is pretty close to the price of the largest loop station.