Digitech Jamman Solo XT Looper Pedal Review
- Pros: Connect multiple JamMan Solo XTs for multi-track looping with band mates, 35 minutes of internal memory expandable with Micro SD cards, intuitive design and plenty of cool features.
- Cons: You can only play multi-track if your bandmates by the same pedal, which is a big ask. Many options hidden away in menus; too much button-pressing and footswitch tap-dancing for seamless live use.
- Overall: A great, affordable pedal for new loopers and those just wanting to play or record at home, but there’s better options available for experienced loopers.
Stompbox size loopers aren’t for everybody interested in looping. The small stature of the JamMan Solo XT gives it inherent limitations in comparison to the larger JamMan Delay, especially when it comes to live use. If you’re really serious about looping, you’ll want a formidable machine with more potential for hands-free use, but if you’re just getting interested in looping or want a little additional tool that will fit comfortably alongside your other stompboxes, these tiny units become a much better option. DigiTech’s Solo XT incarnation of the JamMan series offers the basic functionality expected from a stompbox looper, but also adds the possibility to sync up with other Solo XTs for live play. But is this merely a hollow gimmick, or does the Solo XT really stand out among the competition?
JamMan Solo XT Features
First off, it must be acknowledged that for many, the size is a selling point in its own right. Measuring just 2.75 by 5 inches width by length, it’s a breath of fresh air for anybody put off by the beastly larger units. The reduction in size is also accompanied by a more affordable price; another benefit for anybody just getting into looping. If you want to go right to bare-bones, DigiTech also have the JamMan Express XT, which is stripped-down to core functionality, a little smaller and even cheaper.
The basic operation of the Solo XT is right in line with other loopers. After selecting an empty memory location with the up and down arrows, pressing the footswitch starts recording (or you can set it up to arm the unit to auto-record when you start playing), you play your phrase then press the pedal again to start playback. Another press begins overdubbing, which you can do as many times as you like. There’s an LED light that changes color so you can check which mode you’re in at any given time. A double-press of the switch stops playback, and you can also queue up another loop up to play at the end of the current loop if you like. Additionally, you can play your loops once-only, as if they were samples, offering plenty of possibilities in combination with the playback queuing feature.
The biggest selling-point of the Solo XT is the ability to sync up your Solo XT with other units (Solo or Express XTs) for multi-track looping. After making a few connections, you and your band-mates can play synchronized loops together, opening up many new creative possibilities. Unlike with other units that force all tracks to have the same loop length, you’re free to make your second (third, fourth or whatever-th) track longer than the first, as long as it’s twice, three times or any whole number of times as long. This avoids complex issues with keeping everyone in time, but still affords you more room for creativity than the Boss RC-30’s multi-track functionality does, for instance. The only downside is that to enjoy this feature, you (or your friends and bandmates) also have to give DigiTech multiple times more money.
Stereo Looping and Memory
In comparison to the older JamMan Solo, one of the main features of the new model is the option of stereo play, made possible by twin inputs and outputs on either side of the pedal. Although the 35-minute internal memory is the same length as the older model, now that 35 minutes is of CD-quality stereo, which makes all the difference for players looking for top-quality audio in a compact package. You can also expand the memory with external SD cards carrying up to 32 GB, increasing the recording time to a massive 32 hours. 35 minutes is more than adequate for most purposes, but the ability to expand the onboard memory is always a welcome addition. The number of internal memory locations has also been increased to 200, and if you use an SD card you get 200 more memory locations.
Also, you can connect up to your PC via the USB connection and store any extra loops on there too, accessible with the free JamManager software. It must be said, however, that the software is pretty annoying, being generally slow, buggy and not user friendly. If you have a library of loops from one of Digitech’s older pedals, for example, you can’t import them all at once: you have to go through and do it manually.
Staying in Time
A persistent problem during looping is staying in time, or more specifically how the manufacturer controls for players’ inability to loop in time. DigiTech has gone for the ideal solution: you can loop “free form” or in “Auto-Quantized” mode. In free-form, it’s down to you to keep things in time, which is a challenge but offers the freedom many loopers are looking for. If you set a tempo prior to recording (tapping the “Tempo” button or setting the unit up so you can tap out the tempo on the footswitch), the Solo XT will squish or stretch your loop (without altering the pitch) to ensure it’s at the correct tempo and ends at the appropriate point for your chosen time signature. When you set a tempo, you can turn up the “Rhythm Level” knob to hear a guide beat, and there are nine (admittedly fairly simplistic) options available. It’s a metronome rather than anything approaching a drum beat, though. You can change the time signature (before recording) through the “Setup” menu, and can choose anything from 2 to 15 beats per measure.
Somewhat related to the business of keeping your loops in time is if you want to purposefully change the timing of your pre-recorded loops. The “Time-Stretching” feature enables you to adjust the tempo of your recordings without altering the pitch. This is a common feature for loopers, but one that’s always appreciated, especially with units like the Solo XT that allow you to record anything you like to it using the 3.5 mm aux in jack. You can take a looping version of a challenging solo, slow it down and learn it at any pace you like.
There are many other minor features on the Solo XT too, including the essential ability to undo and redo your last recorded overdub. You activate this by holding down the pedal when the loop is playing back; allowing you to get rid of any mistakes or bring the last element in and out of the loop at will. And for those hoping to create something insanely experimental or replicate time-travel sound effects from 60s TV shows, there is a “Reverse” function (which you need to access through the setup menu) that does just what you expect it to: play your loop backwards. Finally, you can also set the unit to any one of three stop modes for when you double-tap to stop playback, a 10-second fade out, playing to the end of the current loop and stopping immediately.
Is the Solo XT Worth the Investment?
The Solo XT, like all DigiTech’s loopers, does its job very well indeed. If you’re considering your first looper or are just looking for something compact with a decent selection of features for occasional use, it could be just what you’re looking for. While some of the operation is a little fiddly, with too much stooping over and navigating menus to make many on-the-fly changes live, not to mention all the pedal-tapping combinations you’ll have to commit to muscle memory, if you’re mainly going to be practicing or just playing around with the looper it won’t be much of an issue. And there are many advantages; the sound quality is great, there are plenty of cool features, it helps you stay in time and lets you import music from an MP3 player to jam along with.
If you’re familiar with DigiTech’s previous offerings, though, the paucity of notable improvements over the original incarnation of the Solo will undoubtedly be a disappointment. Without a group of friends who all go out and buy the same pedal as you, the multi-track, synchronized jamming feature is basically useless, and although the stereo audio will be a benefit to some, many other units offer this feature, which also have additional benefits (mainly increased size, more pedals and the like) for hardcore, dedicated loopers.
For gigging musicians dependent on looping, something like this ordinarily wouldn’t be worth considering without an optional footswitch add-on, but the ability to record multi-track could be enough to tempt you, if and only if you know other people with a compatible unit. It’s not perfect, still, but if you can’t afford a bigger pedal it could be the best option for you. For the intended market however – gigging guitarists with occasional looping needs or those who want something affordable and small to play at home with – the JamMan Solo XT is an excellent pedal. It’s fairly cheap in comparison to the competition, and there is more than enough to keep the bedroom looper happy. Whether or not you should buy it depends on your needs, but as a unit in its own right, it does the job pretty well indeed.