Boss RC-30 Loop Station Review
- The Good: Huge internal memory, great sound quality, multi-track functionality, on-board effects and generally easy to use.
- The Bad: Limitations on dual track usage, no control over effects parameters and limited potential for live use.
- Conclusion: For recording or practicing, it could be a great unit, but for live use – or anybody only looking for “core” looping functionality – there are better options available.
Boss is a pretty big name in the world of looper pedals. The RC-20XL was the mid-sized looper of choice for many guitarists, offering the ideal compromise between size and capability and ease of use. But the RC-30 hopes to improve on the older model, taking the reigns as Boss’ go-to mid-size looper. It’s in stiff competition, though, because along with Boss’ own older, dependable model, the JamMan Stereo is also worthy of consideration as a mid-sized unit. We’ve put the RC-30 to the test to see if it can really stand out among the crowd.
The RC-30 measures 6 and 13/16 inches wide and 6 and 1/4 inches back to front, making it quite easy to fit into your signal chain but still offering room for a couple of pedals to aid hands-free use. It has stereo 1/4 inch input and outputs, a footswitch jack, a 3.5 mm stereo aux in jack, an XLR jack with phantom power, a USB jack and a spot for an AC adapter. A minor gripe is that the RC-30 comes with batteries, rather than an adapter, which must be bought separately. Nobody in their right mind would want to continually use batteries for a looper pedal, and with the price of the unit, you’d think they’d be willing to throw in the AC adapter as standard.
The bottom half of the pedal is virtually identical to the older model, with two footswitches separated by some general labels for what they do. For the bottom half, there’s only one small change in the functionality of one of the switches, but the top half looks considerably more “busy” than the older pedal. It features volume sliders (with track select buttons) for each track, an active effects list and selection buttons, an LED display (with memory-related buttons below), output volume controls for the rhythm sounds and mic input level dial. It’s not perfect, but the layout is fairly intuitive and you’ll be using it comfortably after consulting the manual a few times.
The main selling point for the RC-30 is the fact that it offers twin stereo tracks for recording your loops. This is an excellent feature, but if multi-track looping is a big priority for you it’s better to look at Boss’ larger units (the RC-300 and RC-505) because these really take the multi-track looper element further. You can switch between the two tracks by pressing the dedicated “Select” button for the track you want or holding down the right pedal for two seconds or more. If you want both to play simultaneously, playback has to be stopped and then you can press both “Select” buttons together or change track with the footswitch multiple times. There’s a small gripe too in that the tracks must be of identical in length, limiting your freedom to experiment pretty significantly. If you want one track two measures and the other four, you’ll have to record a double-length version of the first manually if you want to keep the second track four measures long.
Internal Memory Capacity
The RC-30 offers 3 hours of recording time, which can be stored across 99 internal memory locations. In comparison, the RC-20XL offered just 16 minutes spread across 11 memory slots. The recording time on the RC-30 is plenty for the bedroom looper or even most live-performing looping enthusiasts, but you can obviously store a loop library of whatever size you like on your computer via the included USB jack.
There are also five built-in effects with the RC-30. Multi-effects connoisseurs might be inclined to balk at such a tiny number, but for a looper pedal any additional effects are basically a bonus. The included effects are “Bend Down” (a pitch-lowering effect), “Step Phaser” (a phaser that works in steps), “Tempo Delay” (a delay synched with your loop’s tempo), “Sweep Filter” (again, synched by tempo) and “Lo-Fi” (for if you want to sound endearingly poorly-processed). These are controlled by switching on the “Loop FX” and then choosing an effect using the “Type” button. You can’t add them as you’re recording though, so you have to make the adjustment during the loop playback.
The problem with this is that the pre-set parameters aren’t ideal (an issue many players have noted), and there is no control over them. This is understandable in a way because it’s specifically a looper pedal, but if you don’t like the sound from the factory settings the feature can become effectively useless. Even if you ignore the poor execution, the choice of effects in itself isn’t too inspiring either, so it’s a bit of a disappointment all-round.
Rhythm and Tempo
As is pretty standard for looper pedals, there are several rhythm patterns programmed in to the RC-30. You have ten options in total, ranging from basics like hi-hat and kick and hi-hat through to genre-specific options like two rock backings and others like funk and Latin. Prior to starting playback you can also select 4/4 or 3/4 as your time signature, which leaves off some of the more obscure signatures but will be adequate for most players. You can set your tempo (using the “Tap tempo” button or the right pedal) before you start recording if you prefer, so the rhythm track will start at your intended pace and your recording will automatically be adjusted to the nearest whole bar (without altering the pitch). If you don’t set a tempo, it’s just calculated automatically based on your time signature and the assumption that you’re playing 1, 2, 4, 8 or 16 bars.
You can also adjust the tempo after you’ve made a recording, which is a fun feature if you’re looking for some crazy effects, but also has great practical advantage if you’re trying to learn a song or master a solo. The pitch is unaffected by these changes, so if you record a solo via the aux input, you can slow it down and practice the techniques at a more comfortable (yet consistent) pace. You can’t go insane with it (speeding up the tempo so much the phrase would fall under the minimum recording time of 1.5 seconds, for example), but most users won’t run into any limitations.
There are also a few recording and stop-mode options. You can set it to “arm” after you press the footswitch rather than recording immediately, so it only starts when you begin to play, or set yourself a rhythm “count in” before you start. For stop modes, you can either set it to stop immediately, fade out or play to the end of the phrase before stopping. Additionally, you can have your loops play in “one shot” mode, so they don’t loop at all and stop after a single run-through. There’s nothing to complain about here, but it’s pretty standard fare from Boss.
There’s also the much-needed “Undo/Redo” function on the RC-30, activated by holding down the left pedal for a couple of seconds. This removes the previous overdub without affecting the whole phrase, so you can clear any mistakes you might make, or add and remove the top “layer” of sound at will.
Notably absent is the “Reverse” function. This was a cool additional feature on the RC-20XL, but admittedly its uses were fairly limited. Some players love the feature, but it’s hard to imagine the majority of people who purchased the looper doing too much with it other than some playing around with mind-bending noises. For most, its absence won’t be a deal-breaker.
Issues with the RC-30
The original firmware for the RC-30 meant there was a distinct lag when changing between your saved phrases (presenting obvious issues during live play), but this has thankfully been updated and fixed. However, that’s not the only problem. The most irritating issue not yet mentioned is the order of the core operations of the looper by default. It goes “Record/Overdub/Play” instead of “Record/Play/Overdub.” Who wants to play their first phrase and immediately start recording an overdub? Maybe expert loopers who never make mistakes and can’t possibly allow a loop to play through before adding more, but it shouldn’t be the default option. You can change it easy enough, but you shouldn’t have to do it at all.
The lack of MIDI will also annoy some, and the only options from Boss which offer the function are the RC-50, the RC-300 and the RC-505. It’s not perfect for live use for several other reasons too, mainly the fact that the hands-free control you have is fairly limited. For example, there is no hands-free way to change phrase memories, whereas Digitech has dedicated switches for the purpose on the JamMan Stereo. You could probably perform live, but it would be a challenge and you’d probably need to stoop over and use your hands mid-song a little too often.
As always from Boss, the quality in terms of construction and sound is great, there are interesting features and generally plenty to keep you entertained, but there are a few too many problems with the RC-30 for a glowing recommendation. If the large internal memory and multi-track functions are important to you and you’re mainly looking for a practice tool to use at home (or record with), it may be your ideal looper. But if all you want is the core features of a looper, the JamMan Stereo probably wins out in this size category.