• Pros: Five, independently-controlled tracks, intuitive controls, helpful features like Loop Quantize and plenty of effects ensure that this table-top, hand-operated unit has ample to offer vocalists.
• Cons: For guitarists, the difficulty in hands-free control really limits what the pedal offers, meaning the only way to use it on the fly is to periodically stop and mess around with the buttons and dials.
• Overall: A great looper overall, but it’s really a unit designed for vocalists, beatboxers, keyboardists and synth players as opposed to guitarists. If you play the six-string, it’s better to look elsewhere.
Loopers are traditionally a plaything for guitarists. Boss has played their part in establishing this status quo, putting out numerous looper pedals of varying sizes from the RC-3 style stompboxes through to the behemoth options like the latest flagship, the RC-300. For beatboxers like Dub FX, this meant the only option was to use the supplied mic jacks and use the guitarist-centric pedals their own way. With the RC-505, Boss has thrown out the rule book and made something specifically for beatboxers, synth players, keyboard players and singers looking to enter the world of looping. The RC-505 is a hand-operated, tabletop looper pedal; potentially opening up a new era in the domain of the looper. But is it worth the substantial investment for a guitarist, or is the pedal only worth consideration if you happen to build your beats with your vocal chords?
The biggest selling-point of the RC-505 is the tabletop intent, which leaves the unit feeling altogether small and borderline flimsy in comparison to the beefcake units you’d ordinarily get for the price. Weighing just over three pounds and measuring 16 and a half by 8 and a third inches, it’s pretty unassuming for a looper with the power to support five independent tracks. Anybody familiar with Boss’ product line will instantly notice how the design is tailored for hands-on operation; the soft touch-buttons controlling record/play/overdub for each of the tracks in place of the rugged, metallic pedals guitarists will be used to are immediately noticeable.
In addition – as you may expect – there are many smaller buttons on the unit to control things like stopping (and clearing), undoing and redoing operations, editing parameters and tapping out tempos. Previously, small controls like this would be the bane of the live musician, making it a delicate procedure virtually impossible to perform under the glare of stage lighting and the numbing effects of a few cans of beer, but beatboxers and singers at least have their hands free to do things like that.
The RC-505 records in CD-quality audio, and has sufficient memory for three hours worth of loop recordings. Along with this, you get access to a wide complement of effects and a total of 85 rhythm backings to choose from – with some options with odd-measure beats. There are also plenty of connections available at the back, with an XLR input with phantom power, stereo ins and outs, MIDI ins and outs, a 3.5mm stereo aux input, a headphone output and a USB port for connecting up to a computer.
Blowing the three simultaneous tracks available on the RC-300 out of the water, the RC-505 has the capacity to handle five tracks at any one time. Each of these has a dedicated record/play/overdub button, a stop button, a sliding fader control and an “Edit” key. These take up the majority of the real-estate space on the unit, but offer excellent control over the five tracks if you happen to have your hands free while playing. You can control everything individually, as if you have a chain of five stompbox-size loopers right in front of you. It’s also easy to set a playback mode (such as one-shot, loop or reverse) and assign a unique tempo to the track (aided by Boss’ standard Loop Quantize, time-keeping feature). You can also start and stop all of the tracks simultaneously – with the option to set the specific tracks this action affects.
The wide range of effects on the unit can be applied universally to the input signal or applied to specific tracks, and the specific settings you choose are saved along with your loops in the phrase memory location. Many of the options are specifically designed for vocalists, such as the “Vocoder,” “Vocal Distortion” and “Robot” effects, but there are plenty of standards that are great for use with a guitar, such as phasers, delays and a guitar to bass effect, which is great for creating a whole-band feel with just your guitar. The Input FX and Track FX controls have three buttons to activate and deactivate the effects and each has a dedicated knob which can be used to tweak parameters on the fly.
How it Works In-Use
The RC-505 is undoubtedly expertly-designed for singers, beatboxers and anybody else who will largely have their hands free during a performance. For guitarists, however, there are several niggling issues which arise from the tabletop intent of the device. In comparison to the ordinary Boss loopers, it’s virtually toy-like, with plastic construction where you might be expecting a rugged metal chassis. It’s technically possible to operate the basic controls with your feet, but it doesn’t really feel like the sort of thing you’d feel comfortable stomping on.
You can attach external control pedals or use a MIDI controller, but setting either up isn’t the simplest of procedures. For an external pedal, the operations you choose are only assigned to one “target” track at a time. This might seem like an expected limitation, but the process for switching the target track effectively requires stooping over and getting your hands figuratively dirty in order to, say, start recording onto another of the five tracks.
Although many beatboxers will be happy to create their own rhythmic backings, the ones included on the RC-505 could be better, and many users suggest using an external drum machine to handle the backing beat with higher quality. Otherwise, though, the operation of the unit and the features included on it are ideal for the main target audience. The huge array of possibilities opened up by the five tracks, ability to apply unique settings to each track and the individual faders mean that creating looper-driven songs is completely within the realms of possibility, and the user-friendly design (particularly for anybody familiar with what Boss offers) makes it extremely easy too.
As a guitarist, you’ll probably find the RC-505 a little lacking though. The only thing is that the limitations pretty much all come from the overall intent of the looper as a tool for vocal performers or keyboard/synth players, so it isn’t so much that Boss has done something wrong, it’s just that the RC-505 isn’t for everybody. The difficulty in operating the unit hands-free means that for guitarists, you could get about as much live functionality out of a mid-size unit like the RC-30.
The RC-505 takes the multi-track improvement from the RC-300 and goes a few steps further. If you’re a budding beatbox looper or a singer looking for some creative accompaniment, the RC-505 could well be the gigging companion you’ve been looking for. As a guitarist, though, the abundance of hand-operated controls and the relatively poor hands-free functionality really does hold the unit back.