Boss RC-300 Loop Station Review
- The Good: Massive unit with three separate stereo tracks (each with dedicated controls), plenty of pedals for easy live use, huge memory, excellent sound quality and on-board effects.
- The Bad: Onboard pitch-shifters can suffer from artifacts and the MIDI doesn’t receive clock messages as easily as you may hope.
- Conclusion: An outstanding looper, which – despite suffering from a few problems – seems like one of the best options on the market today for live musicians.
- Amazon: Boss RC-300 Loop Station
Boss is one of the biggest names in the looping world, and that isn’t going to change any time soon. The RC-300 is the replacement for the RC-50, and it’s similarly beastly. Measuring over 21 inches wide and 9 inches front-to-back, the new looper’s big selling point is the fact it can support three separate stereo loops at any time. Throw in Boss’ usual dedication to sound quality and sturdy manufacturing, and there’s a chance the RC-300 could become the go-to pedal for serious loopers. If you’re just getting into looping, it’s probably better to consider something smaller, but if you’re a loop-dependent performer or write a lot of music using loops then it might just be worth the sizable investment.
Three-Track Looping, FX, Expression Pedal and More
The layout of the RC-300 is clearly geared towards the three-track operation. The RC-50 offered three tracks, but each one had to be controlled with a single “Record/Overdub/Play” pedal. While it was possible to get it all working nicely, changing between them involved a little too much foot-tapping. Boss has clearly listened, equipping each of the three tracks on the RC-300 with two dedicated pedals (the other handling stopping for the track) and including a separate “All Start/Stop” pedal so you can bring all three loops in together. In practice, you can start by hitting “Record” on track one, and when you’ve finished press the next track’s “Record” pedal to start playback on the first and recording on the second simultaneously. Additionally, each track has its own fader control for volume, so you can adjust the mix to your preferences. The manual is fairly long (as you may expect for such a goliath pedal), but it’s pretty easy to get yourself started with three-track looping.
Another feature that receives a lot of hype in the marketing of the pedal is the on-board effects. There are 16 in total, with seven modulators (flanger, chorus, tremolo, phaser, pan, slicer and “bend”), three vocal effects (male, female or robot), delay, filter, lo-fi, distortion, a transpose feature and a guitar-to-bass converter (i.e., transposing an octave down). There’s a “Loop FX” pedal used specifically for activating and deactivating the effects, and in “Pedal Setup Mode” (entered by holding this pedal for two seconds) you can use the track 3 pedals to choose an effect hands-free (you can also change save locations using the track 1 pedals in this mode). Otherwise, you can use the dedicated button on the upper half of the unit. You can bring effects in and out (as well as adjusting the main parameter) with the included expression pedal.
The effects themselves aren’t always great though. Although the guitar to bass transpose function is cool for laying down a bassline for a recording or just to get a full-band sound, there is a notable artifact from the pitch-shifting process, producing a stuttery, choppy, glitch-like effect. This isn’t so bad when it’s drowned out in other sound, but on its own it’s pretty off-putting. Similar issues affect the “bend” setting and the transpose feature, but it’s not too bad if you don’t push it too far. Many of the others are great for messing around with, but even though it’s a nice extra to have effects included, it’s hardly what you’re looking for in a looper, and chances are you already have some (much better) effects-specific units in your signal chain.
There’s quite a lot of freedom with the RC-300. The expression pedal, for example, can be assigned different parameters, or to other functions rather than the effects, such as a dedicated “Undo/Redo” pedal. If you want to, you can change the functions of any of the pedal on the looper, which saves alongside each loop memory. The same type of freedom applies to the effects: you’re allowed to assign them to any specific track, all tracks, or even all tracks and the rhythm if it suits you.
You also get all the features you’d come to expect from a Boss looper, including three stop modes (immediate, fade and play to the end of the loop), reverse playback, time-stretching (altering the tempo without affecting the pitch), quantization (so even if you’re a little off with your final pedal-press it will fix it), one-shot playback, the “Undo/Redo” function (accessible by holding any tracks’ “Record/Overdub/Play” pedal down for two seconds or more), a tempo synchronizing tool for the three tracks and more.
Again, you’re free to do what you like with these, most settings and features can be assigned to a specific track, and you can keep things turned off if you want to. An example would be if you want two tracks to loop as normal but the other to play as a once-through sample, with onboard effects applied and played in reverse, that’s no problem. Even the tempo sync, which helps to guard against many of the timing issues when you’re trying to make a three-track masterpiece, can be turned off if you want to go it alone.
There’s also a well-stocked library of rhythm sounds for you to play with, a wide range of patterns available across a fairly eclectic range of time signatures. You need to set the signature (unless you’re sticking with 4/4) and the tempo, as well as turning the volume up for the rhythm sound, which can all be done with the small column of controls to the left of the display screen. This is another good feature, better than a metronome, but admittedly no-where near as useful for backing up serious compositions as a drum machine.
Memory and Connectivity
The memory has been expanded to a whopping three hours on the RC-300, all contained within 99 internal memory locations. You can connect to your computer to back up your compositions too, so realistically this is a pretty infallible element of the looper. You can store more than you would ever need, which is kind of what you want in a looper’s memory capability.
The array of connection options is dazzling. The very wide unit makes the most of its space with stereo ins and outs, MIDI thru, in and out ports, a phantom-power XLR jack, 1/4 inch headphone slot, auxiliary input jack, spots for additional pedals and a USB connection port. Using the USB port, as well as backing up your loops, you can use the RC-300 as a recording interface for your DAW. The MIDI functionality is good, but there are some problems with getting it to receive clock messages. Users have figured out workarounds in forums (look for the more recent posts), but this is not ideal for such an otherwise capable device.
Is it Worth it?
Despite all the minor errors, it has to be said that the RC-300 is an excellent looper, and undeniably does its job brilliantly. There is some over-reaching – perhaps the effects and rhythm sections don’t need to be so extensive, for instance, since the people interested in them will have other things to do the job – but overall it’s hard to complain when you have such a dependable unit at your feet.
One of the more substantial complaints is for those who need more than three tracks. The changing between tracks within a memory slot (the three you can load up at once) works excellently, with smooth, clean transitions, but if you’re bumping it up to the next phrase memory location (containing another three tracks) you can’t make the change without a notable lag that affects the timing. This is only really a problem if you’re heavily dependent on it (particularly if you need to use one track for a drum machine, for example), but it’s not ideal for everybody and worth keeping in mind.
Still, the vast majority will be quite satisfied with the pedal regardless of these minor issues, especially given the huge potential for live use. This is why you’re likely to be interested in such a big looper, and as long as you can be economical with how many tracks you need to use up, it really is one of the best options available for live looping. You might need to spend some time with the manual (which is an improvement over older Boss manuals, it must be said) to get to grips with everything you can do, but soon you’ll have it set up just the way you want it.
If you’re thinking about making the upgrade to a beefy, floor-space-hogging monster of a looper pedal, you probably won’t be disappointed with the RC-300. Nothing is perfect, but if the few little issues don’t seem like things you’d run up against, then you may not even notice them. It doesn’t come cheap, of course, but if you’re looking for a fully-stocked looper with huge potential for live use, this could well be the one for you.