BOSS´s latest looper/phrase recorder, the RC-20XL Phrase Recorder, is a direct upgrade of the previous RC-20 Loop Station. Of its type the RC-20XL is streets ahead of the current competition with 11 programmable memories and a total of 16 minutes recording time - over 200 per cent more than the previous version.
While at £249 it´s priced acceptably in terms of the competition, to extract the most from the unit, especially in a live situation, you´ll need the additional PSA-240 power supply and footswitches: this will bump up your outlay to £345.
In the box
That said, the metal-shrouded unit, about the size of two-and-a-bit compact effects, exudes stage-proof quality. Laid out in a virtually identical fashion to the RC-20, the XL´s bottom half comprises two sturdy rubber-topped pedals that handle the record, play, overdub and overdub erase functions (left) and stop, tap tempo and phrase erase (right).
The upper portion houses the rotary controls - instrument and mic level controls, phrase select, guide (metronome) volume and output level. Below these are six push buttons: mode, auto start, exit, write, tap tempo and reverse. All have dual functions, with the exception of reverse. The unit is also peppered with coloured LED indicators that light, blink or flash depending on what process you´re carrying out.
On the top edge are the hook-up connectors: 6.4mm metal chassis jacks for instrument and microphone inputs, output (mono), and footswitch inputs for the phrase select and reverse functions. A stereo 3.2mm jack input is provided for CD/music players, plus there´s the AC adaptor input (the unit also runs on six AA-size batteries).
In its basic form, the RC-20XL is the same as most other loopers. You hit record as you start playing your riff or part then hit stop at the end, giving you a seamless loop over which you can add different parts. To aid tight playing, there´s a tempo guide (which can be configured for various time signatures so long as they still have a denominator of four)with a choice of eight metronomic tones.
Then there´s loop quantise, which means that if you stop the loop record slightly off-beat, loop length will be corrected and hopefully play back in rhythm.The RC-20XL also acts as a phrase trainer (or backing track/beatbox for solo performance if you want to record from CD or other source) with a choice of recording modes that includes normal and centre cancel, then both of these with Flat Amp Simulate - a preset EQ that aims to make a pre-recorded track sound acceptable through the limited range of your guitar amp.
There´s a slight lift in audible hiss with the RC-20XL plugged into your amp, and while it´s not intrusive, it´s important that you correctly set input and output levels to minimise this. Recording a phrase is simple, although you can´t go directly to overdub mode: one press of the left pedal enters record, you hit it again and the phase replays with a choice of continuous loop or one-shot, then you kick it again to add your overdub.
If you´re using the tap tempo as a guide, you can´t start recording immediately, you have to wait for one measure before recording starts (alternatively, with auto start engaged, you can automatically start recording after the same intro). You have no visual display of the tempo - you have to tap it in with finger or foot - and this is fine for most purposes, but if you work to a strict BPM for a song it would make sense just to be able to dial that in. Saving phrases to the 11 memories is easy but, as we said, to replay phrases live - for example an intro, main loop, then outro - you´ll need that additional footswitch.
As the most powerful guitar-intended looper we´re aware of, the RC-20XL is impressive. But while the 16-minute memory will allow you to create a lot of loops/backing tracks, you have no facility to load them on to a computer for future use. The unit´s live potential is increased by adding footswitches, but so is the price. Also, it´s not the most guitarist-friendly or intuitive product we´ve seen, so the manual is essential. Yet despite its shortcomings, with a bit of homework the RC-20XL does a fine job, and remains the best there is. For the time being...