The Boomerang III may look like the control panel for an 80’s arcade game, but it’s simply a unique looper pedal with retro styling. Loop based music has spawned a variety of cool looking devices over the years, but the basic idea is that your guitar chords and riffs are recorded and repeated for you to jam over. Using techniques like reversing, changing octaves, layering and overdubbing, looping can actually become its own art form. For more info on looping, click here.
Looper pedals seem to be getting more complex everyday, providing dozens of features that are supposedly accessible during live performances via various dials, buttons and foot-switches. These claims are usually exaggerated, depending on your definitions of “accessible” and “performance.” I personally don’t like bending over and fiddling with an effects pedal while I’m on stage.
This is where the Boomerang III stands out. Its layout is so simple that you could probably figure most of it out without the manual. The Boomerang’s manual, however, is pretty amusing. Between the specs and the warranty info, there is a section called ‘Craziness’, which suggests “fun things to do with the looper.” One of them is to record your dog barking, then play it back to confuse the dog. Although bizarre, the manual is actually well written and will have a new user up and running with the pedal in no time.
Looping with the Boomerang III
There are four foot-switches running along the bottom portion of the pedal and one in the top right hand corner. These foot-switches are all you really need to operate the Boomerang III. The magic of the Boomerang’s layout is that while three pedals have fixed roles (storing and controlling a loop), you can decide which functions to assign to the other two.
The three fixed foot-switches have simple functionality. You tap to start recording, tap to end the recording and start looping, and tap again to stop. If you want to record something in a different slot, you simply tap one of the adjacent pedals. If something is already playing in that slot, the Boomerang will wait until the loop has finished before it starts recording again. This is called “Serial Play Style.”
In “Serial Master Play Style,” you can use the third pedal as a “master.” The loops recorded into the other positions then become “slaves” to loop stored in the third position. So, if you record something into the loop three position first, the other recorded loops will automatically synch with the recording stored in the third position. Unfortunately, only loop three can be used as a “master.”
There are two other modes, “Sync Play Mode” and “Free Play Mode.” In these modes, all of your loops can still be played simultaneously. In “Sync Play Mode,” the Boomerang III automatically synchronizes your loops, and in “Free Play Mode” the loops play at the original speed at which they were recorded.
Unfortunately, “Sync Play Mode” and “Free Play Mode” are only available through a firmware update. To get the update, Boomerang emails you a MIDI file to install. The installation procedure can be a little difficult, potentially involving a USB/MIDI interface (which Boomerang sells). The full procedure and other installation options are detailed on Boomerang’s website. Although the install is a bit of a pain, Boomerang has excellent customer support and can deliver personalized solutions within a day or two.
Even though you can easily switch between three loops using the Boomerang III, you don’t overdub (or “stack” in Boomerang-ese) by tapping the pedal on a playing loop as with other looper pedals. Instead, you overdub a loop (add new sounds on top of a loop) by using one of the two “Bonus” foot-switches.
Several of the Boomerang’s features are actually accessed via these “Bonus” foot-switches, and you get to pick four (one for a tap of each switch, one for a hold).
“Stack” allows you to overdub by pressing the Bonus pedal. “Erase” is the only way to get rid of whatever is in the other loop-spaces while something is playing. “Play-Stop All” allows you to play or stop two or more loops at the same time. “Undo (Redo)” removes or re-instates your last recording.
“Once” allows you to set a loop so it only plays once, useful if you’re more of a sampler than a looper, or if you want to play live and don’t fancy the pressure of making sure you stop the loop in time. To this end, you can also add “Fade” to one of your bonus pedal slots, so not only do you not have to stop the recording manually, but you also don’t have to come up with a great climax for your song, no big finish, just quietly fade away.
If your musical message can only be truly understood in glorious reverse audio, you give the pedal a tap, and the loop will play in reverse. If, however, you are so deeply rooted backwards that you don’t want to hear it forwards at all, this is your lucky day. In ‘Reverse Solo’ Mode you actually produce sound backwards. This function takes up both of the slots in your Bonus foot-switch, but it is pretty cool. First of all, when you tap, “Thru Mute” is turned on, which mutes the signal from your guitar to the pedal (required for some set-ups to work), then you play through the silence. When you have finished, tap the pedal and your recording plays in reverse, and you have set the length of your future reversed phrases. That’s right, you can play backwards for as long as you like, provided you can think ahead, and in reverse, at the same time as the previous one is playing. Kill it with a final tap of the pedal if this kind of multi-lateral planning confuses you as much as it does me. It is good fun though.
“Octave” plays your loop back at half-speed and an octave lower. Good if you want to sound weird, record some bass parts at double speed on your guitar, or if you’re a fan of the “Craziness” section of the manual. Another humorous suggestion from the manual is to record yourself saying something quickly in a low a voice, then hit “Octave.” The recording then plays at normal speed, but in a very low pitch, so it sounds pretty trippy…
“Copy” allows you to copy any loop into another slot. It doesn’t sound particularly useful at first, but say there is something in loops two and three, you can play those one after another, and copy the entire thing into slot one. So if you have an intro/verse in loop two and bridge/chorus in loop three, you could then push the entire thing into the loop one slot so that you have an entire song structure on one pedal, and two free loops to use for variations. It increases the power of the Boomerang III exponentially, and allows for some pretty cool experimentation. It literally copies any sounds that come from the pedal.
Finally, the big daddy of bonuses, an extra loop! It uses a whole slot, but it gives you another loop! This even puts the Boomerang III ahead of the monster Boss RC-50 Loop Station in terms of simultaneous looping. In theory, you can make up four connected parts that fit together beautifully, and play them all in reverse, at the same time! Whether you’d want to after the first time is another matter, but still.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, the only problem is that you have four slots for all of those things. You can alter them, but at any one time you’re still limited to four slots. And that’s if you don’t use “Reverse Solo” or “Loop 4.” Really, you’ll want “Stack,” “Undo” and possibly “Erase” for any live situation, and that just leaves one option to choose out of “Reverse,” “Octave,” “Copy,” “Fade” or “Play-Stop All.” With only four slots, there is very little space left after you add the near-essentials. It’s beyond me why Boomerang thinks the ability to overdub should be rationed on a looper.
The Boomerang III also only has seventeen and a half minutes of mono recording and eight minutes forty-five in stereo. You’ve got a choice of sampling rate, either 24 or 48 kHz, and the times quoted are obviously for 24kHz. Double the sampling rate and the memory is cut in two. There is also no extra storage or space for your favourite loops to be preserved. They are gone forever, which is in some ways poetic, but really you’re just left with the choice of erasing your favorite backing track for the sake of having a spare loop pedal for your future endeavours.
The crux of the matter is that you shouldn’t be forced to make choices like this. Choosing the sampling rate is picking between poor quality and poor memory capacity. And assigning bonus pedals is akin to the rationing of the unit’s features.
Despite its deficiencies, I’ve got a soft-spot for the Boomerang III. For one, I think the people at Boomerang are awesome, and they are brutally honest about the pedal’s limitations in the manual and on the website. They are also extremely helpful with any issues you may have with the product. It strikes me as a true musician’s pedal, and you get a sense that they’re giving you a toy and guiding you through the process of tinkering and learning to use it to suit your needs.
Still, it would be better if Boomerang fixed some of the issues with the pedal. For more than $400, you should really have more than eight minutes of memory, and you shouldn’t have to download an update to be able to fully use technology that’s already on the pedal.
The Boomerang III does have a lot to offer and it’s basic operation is intuitive, but there are a few limitations to consider as well.
- Pros: The Boomerang III looper can play up to 4 loops at once! Intuitive controls, and tons of features to play with.
- Cons: These features are limited by a seemingly arbitrary set of rules, and relatively small memory.
- Overall: Good for impromptu jamming, and live use, but for the price you may be better off checking out other options first.
Boomerang III Demo