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Re: RiffBox review

A simple question--does the riffbox do "sound-on-sound" looping.  Once
a loop is going, can you continue to record and layer new sounds on
top of it?  Thanks, a quick look at the backline website didn't seem
to give any answers.

On 5/11/05, Marc Benigni <Marc.Benigni@yale.edu> wrote:
> Hi all.  I'm new to the list but I've got a couple of old friends here.  
> recently purchased a RiffBox and wrote up a pretty long review for 
> forum.  I thought it might be more useful/ interesting to the loopers
> delight crowd, so I'm sort of cross posting.  I hope the length of this, 
> first contribution, isn't a problem:
> This is long, so I'll start with the very short version: well worth the
> money if you can imagine having any use for a looper. If the "long 
> gets too far off on tangents etc. I'd be happy to answer specific 
> I haven't had nearly as much time as I'd like to play with the RiffBox, 
> I think its about time I posted that review. I'll continue to post ideas 
> eventually sound clips here, until someone says, "Stop! You're WAY
> off-topic!"
> First of all, I still love the thing. I have found a couple of 
> but I believe most of them can be easily overcome or worked around.
> I tested the unit for a couple of nights in the Vetta's effects loop, 
> for about a week as a send from my the Delta 66 on my PC, running Guitar
> Rig. I used an external footswitch so I could have the controls 
>available on
> a desktop (and because I wasn't really in a hurry to be stomping on my 
> new toy. I tested with electric guitars with magnetic and piezo pickups,
> clean and distorted, and I tested with an acoustic guitar.
> Backline Engineering is a startup company, so packaging and documentation
> are simple affairs, but everything is in clean and professional order. 
> unit itself is also very old-school, with its 7-segment LEDs etc. Not the
> prettiest thing, but it gives you that cool sense that you're playing
> something out of the ordinary.
> Sound quality is excellent, to the point that I don't have much to say 
> it. Without giving much thought to levels, loops out sounded
> indistinguishable from the signal I was feeding in. On a Sonar bus on the
> PC, where levels and routing are very flexible, its a total no-brainer. 
> only concern I had was with the Vetta effects loop: its a relatively 
> signal, and I could not get it to clip the RiffBox's input. This made it 
> little bit hard to diagnose problems at first, and (pure speculation 
> may impact the RiffBox's ability to track events.
> Which leads us to "events"... definitely the most significant feature, 
> probably what Gary's patent is all about. You can program the RiffBox to
> count events - notes or chords that reach a given threshhold - as you 
> Looping begins automatically on the first event, and playback begins on 
> (n+1)th event, where n is the count you specify. So, theoretically, you 
> specify 8 events, play one bar of eighth notes, and RiffBox will repeat 
> measure. What's cool is that it doesn't try to analyze tempo or anything,
> it's just waiting on that next event, so you can play your measure 
>square or
> swing it very widely and the loop will still work fine.
> The challenge is that guitars sustain quite a lot, so if you are playing 
> all quickly, you need to be playing evenly, with an intentional 
>staccato, in
> order for events to count out consistently. Gary's addressed this matter
> creatively by allowing you to record a wet guitar signal while triggering
> based on a dry one - sort of a sidechain concept. This helps a lot, but 
> clean guitars are sustainy. Acoustics are more percussive and so fare a 
> better, but all told, at typical tempos (say 80-120 bpm) 8th notes are a
> more realistic proposition than 16th notes. (More on this later.)
> The issues inherent in counting events aren't so gloomy though, since in
> most cases you won't know the number of notes you intend to play in 
> anyway. 9 times out of 10 you'll use a manual mode - you hit the switch, 
> the RiffBox loops beginning on the very next event. This is really just a
> refinement of the typical looper, where you press the switch and looping
> begins immediately. But its a BIG refinement. The result is glitchcore
> without the glitches. A bit of practice and loops start coming out *very*
> clean. And in this scenario you can play fast, legato runs without 
>worry, so
> long as the last note is distinct from the first, and you hit that pedal
> somewhere in between. i.e. if there's a rest at the end of the 
> you're golden.
> Once you've got a loop in there, there are many (too many for me to have
> tested them in full in a mere week or two), many modes to determine how 
> will then behave. All are variations on "stop after n repetitions", "fade
> over n repetitions", etc. which, when combined with layering options make
> for some cool, musical effects without the tap-dancing typically 
> You can also wire this thing up to a drum machine or sequencer and when 
> loop starts the drum machine will start, synced up at the correct tempo.
> This is a cool feature, but I would love to see a mode that could follow 
> tempo as I continued playing!
> I've e-mailed a couple of suggestions to Gary, most of them minor, and 
> of which can be corrected in firmware at his discretion - things like
> changing LED colors to make status more clear etc. One major concern I 
> is that I find it pretty easy to accidentally stop a loop and not be 
>able to
> restart it (because I'm armed to record again), or to corrupt a loop 
>with a
> bad layer (to be clear, *my* bad playing LOL) and not be able to revert. 
> think Gary's thinking these things through now, and maybe he can post his
> thoughts here.
> My last and biggest recommendation concerns that whole "guitars are
> sustainy" discussion above. Warning, this gets very geeky.  Since I had 
> guitar routed through a PC, I realized I might be able to process the 
> signal RiffBox was triggering on to help simulate a staccato signal, 
> my playing as recorded and looped could remain as expressive as I like. I
> still believe this can be done with an expansion algorithm or something. 
> I didn't happen to have a plug-in that was right for the job. So 
>instead, I
> ran my guitar's MIDI output to a softsynth, set that to a very staccato
> transient tone, and ran *that* output to the RiffBox. This improved
> performance considerably when I tried to achieve consistent event 
>counts. It
> occurred to me that the RiffBox could probably be programmed to respond 
> any MIDI Note On events as if they were event threshholds, and for 
> or guitarists with GK pickups the unit would benefit greatly.
> In conclusion: well, I guess I started with my conclusion. I think this 
> is a very good value for the money, when I consider all the other loopers
> I've tried that, for my purposes, proved completely unusable. Hopefully 
> will manage to get some retail distibution. Check one out!

Art Simon