• Pros: The Boss RC-202 has tons of features, is fairly user-friendly, compact and well-designed. It has plenty of memory locations, a wide range of effects on-board and good sound quality.
• Cons: Getting the most out of all of the Boss RC-202’s features does involve a steep learning curve, the plastic-y look isn’t to everyone’s tastes and the tracks don’t have dedicated volume sliders.
• Overall: A great looper pedal for multi-instrumentalists, vocalists, and non-guitarists. Suitable for live use, but really hits its stride as a jamming, recording and practicing companion.
The Boss RC-505 took looping in a new direction. When it was released, looping was really all about guitarists, and it still is today to some extent. But the behemoth of a looper was expressly designed with broader goals in mind. The “tabletop” looper was designed to be operated by hand, and vocalists and beatboxers (like DubFX) were the intended audience more than six-string wielding guitarists.
The Boss RC-202 is a newer looper that follows in this tradition. While the Boss’s larger RC-505 was a five-track monster, the RC-202 trims things down a little. The fact that it only supports two track recording may be a downside for ambitious musicians, but for anybody looking for the same key features at a lower price, it could well be the perfect choice.
The Boss RC-202: A Trimmed-Down Version of the Legendary Tabletop Looper
The Boss RC-202 is the little brother of the RC-505, just like the RC-30 is a more compact alternative to the RC-300. The design is really similar, with the same red and black color scheme, the same circular, LED-backed controls and the same general layout, just with two tracks instead of five. The big difference is the size, with the RC-202 measuring in at 9 and a half inches by 7 inches, compared to the colossal 16 and a half by 8 and a quarter inches of the RC-505. This means you get the same look and pretty much the same performance, all for less money and taking up less table-space.
Like the bigger model, the pedal’s controls can be split into the lower half and the upper half. The lower half contains two sections (one for each track) with the record/play button, a “track” button and one for stopping playback. Unlike on the RC-505, there is no volume slider for each specific track – you have to press the dedicated track button and then use the “value” dial instead.
Directly above the areas for the individual tracks, there is a row of six buttons for some of the key extra features you expect on most loopers. The left three control starting and stopping the rhythm track, setting the tempo (by tapping it out on the button), and telling the pedal whether you want to overdub when you record over an existing loop or replace the whole thing. The three to the right control reverse playback, undo/redo and whether you want loop or one-shot playback.
Above these, there are eight buttons to activate or deactivate the on-board effects, and each group (Input FX and Track FX) has a dedicated dial on the outer edge to control the main parameter for your selected effect. Finally, the display screen and some dials and buttons are right at the top, for everything from volume adjustments to parameter adjustments on effects to saving your loops.
At the back of the pedal, there are stereo 1/4 inch inputs and outputs, a phantom-powered XLR for a mic, MIDI ins and outs, a USB port, a 1/4 inch spot for an expression pedal and the expected DC power jack. There’s also an aux input so you can load up audio files from a phone, MP3 player or other device.
Overall, the layout is pretty busy, but if you’re familiar with loopers you’ll find your way around it easily enough. The manual is also mercifully quite short and simple, so it won’t be too difficult to get up to speed even if this is your first looper.
Recording a Loop With the Boss RC-202
The best way to understand what using the Boss RC-202 is really like in practice is to see how recording a loop and adding effects works. First, you choose an empty memory slot, using the “Memory” button to the right of the display screen, the “Value” dial to choose a bank (which contain 8 memory locations each) and then the FX buttons (also labeled 1 to 8) to choose a specific memory location.
In total, there are 64 memory slots on the RC-202, and you can record around 3 hours of 16-bit, 44.1 kHz stereo. This is more memory than you’ll realistically need, but there’s also a USB port so you can back up to a computer if you need more storage space. Once you’ve selected a memory location, the “Track” buttons will light up if there’s already something saved there.
When you’ve connected up your instrument or mic and have set your input volume (which is really easy), you’re ready to loop. Press the “Play/Record” button on track 1 to start recording, and then hit it again when you’ve laid down your first phrase, at which point it will play back. Now you can either overdub or start on track 2 by pressing it’s “Play/Record” button. The red LED arc around each button counts down the time remaining in your loop, so you can see when to come in at a glance.
You can add effects to either your input (the pitch shift, lo-fi, ring mod and delay effects) or the track itself (the beat, filter, slicer and delay effects). To turn an effect on, you simply press the dedicated push-button to make it light up in red, or press it until it’s blinking in purple to edit the parameters before activating. The Track effects can be assigned to a specific track using the relevant track button. You turn the effect off by pressing the relevant effect button until the light switches off.
You also have several other options you can use when constructing your loops. The in-built rhythm tracks are useful if you don’t have an electronic drum kit, beat-boxing skills or some clever percussive guitar-playing to fill the gap. You get 17 patterns across pretty much any time signature you’re likely to need. The simpler ones in particular work on everything the Boss RC-202 supports, but a couple are only available in 4/4. It’s a good selection, but there’s an aux input you can use to add any backing beat you want if you need more selection.
The undo/redo function, the ability to play your phrases as loops or just once through and the reverse effect all work in the same way: tap the corresponding button, and then choose a track to apply it to. Undo/redo is a must-have feature for any looper, and for the Boss RC-202 (and 505) in particular, “one-shot” playback is really useful, letting you use the pedal like a sampler.
Changing between memory slots is a smooth process – with the new phrase starting just as your previous one finishes – which works excellently in combination with one-shot playback and makes it really easy to change between song sections if you’re performing live. Other features like the automatic quantization and the MIDI capability make the RC-202 well-equipped for live use.
Overall, the RC-202 gets a lot right when it comes to looping, and offers a solid set of features that you can get to grips with easily enough whether you’re new to looping or you’ve used similar pedals before.
Really getting the most out of it means spending some time getting to grips with the combinations of button-presses for on-the-fly adjustments, learning the three-digit codes used by the small display screen (mainly so you can adjust more than just one effect parameter easily) and a lot more. Using the pedal to its full potential is a skill of its own, but it’s easy to get started without going to all of this effort.
Is the Boss RC-202 Worth Picking Up?
The big question is whether the Boss RC-202 is worth the $300 price tag, and the answer – as usual – depends on what you’re looking for. On its own merits, while the plastic aesthetic gives the looper a slightly cheap look and feel, it still has a lot of great features and is well set out for tabletop looping. The size – especially in comparison to the huge RC-505 – and reduced number of tracks might be an issue for the more ambitious loopers, but for more casual players, the trimmed down size and the two simultaneous tracks are more than enough to work with. It’s even a solid choice for live playing as long as you can keep your songs relatively simple.
The short version is that the RC-202 is a pared-down, somewhat less impressive version of the RC-505. Put like that, it might not sound great, but for $200 less than the bigger unit and still having more than enough to offer for both live playing and jamming at home, you shouldn’t discount it right away. In fact, Boss has really cornered the tabletop looping market, so if you don’t want to use a pedal primarily intended for guitarists, and you don’t need an absolute beast of a pedal like the RC-505, this is really one of your only options.
For guitarists, the Boss RC-202 definitely has enough to keep you happy, but given the tabletop style you’ll need to buy an additional pedal to really get the most out of it. Add in that extra expense and the case for just getting a guitarist-focused pedal is too strong to ignore. However, if you’re a multi-instrumentalist, or basically anything other than solely a guitarist or bassist, it’s still a great offering.
So it isn’t the perfect looper, and if you’re serious about looping and playing live, the five tracks of the Boss RC-505 – each with dedicated volume sliders – and the additional space it provides can really be worth the extra money. But if you have less ambitious goals and still want the tabletop style, the RC-202 is really hard to beat at the moment.