Boss samplers have been slowly but surely evolving over the years, from the diminuitive DSD2 sampling delay pedal of the early '90s to the recent darlings of phrase-loopists everywhere, the Dr Sample range. The new SP505 is another logical step forward and shares much of the SP303's feature-set (see my review in SOS August 2001) while including some noticeable additions and a few nods towards the granddaddy of Roland Groovesamplers, the SP808 (see SOS August 1998, and in its EX version in SOS August 2000). The SP505 loses the Dr Sample tag but gains a multitude of sample-processing effects, graphical waveform editing, an impressive maximum sampling time of 64 minutes at full CD bandwidth (provided you acquire an optional 128MB SmartMedia card), Recycle-like sample-chopping and tempo-matching, built-in ROM samples (Roland TR808/909 drum sounds and various basses and pads are included), preset rhythm patterns, real-time controls, 16 sample pads, a 15,000 note four-part sequencer, and co-axial and optical digital inputs as standard! It's an impressive line-up of features — and all for a reasonable £449.
The SP505 takes its low-profile desktop design and busy layout from other Boss 'Groove' instruments. There are numerous illuminated flashing rubberised buttons and sample pads, an excellent backlit LCD (128 x 64 pixels), a large data-entry wheel and three assignable real-time effects knobs. All in all, it's just on the right side of tacky-looking. You'll either love it or hate it!
Around the back, there are plenty of ins and outs: an external microphone input, left and right line inputs and outputs, a headphones jack, digital co-axial and optical inputs, MIDI In and Out (but no discrete Thru) and an assignable footswitch input. There's also an input for an AC-type power adaptor. A number of manufacturers are now supplying AC adaptors rather than the more universally available 9V or 12V DC type. I'm not sure why this should be, as finding replacements can be a real headache for the gigging musician, as I've mentioned in previous reviews.
previous Boss and Roland SP samplers, the SP505 arranges its samples into Pad Banks, and on this machine each bank has access to 16 sample pads. As supplied, the SP505 has four preset Pad Banks containing various (non-eraseable) ROM samples from Roland TR808 and 909 drum machines, various percussion sounds and a collection of basses, synths and pads (more on the sounds themselves later). All the ROM samples are of a high standard, but annoyingly can't be edited directly (not even their level or pan settings) without an error message flashing up on the LCD. To edit these presets, you first need to copy them to an empty user Pad in one of the RAM-based user banks. This is a painless task, but the process could be wasteful of precious RAM if you're not using an additional memory card (you only have 4MB in the default machine).
Boss have been refining the actual process of sampling with each new SP sampler, and on this mini-workstation it is simplicity itself. In addition to the numerous analogue and digital connections on the rear, Boss have thoughtfully included a dedicated front-panel button (see below) for selecting the sample input source (line/co-ax digital/optical digital/mic). This allows you to quickly switch between say, a Minidisc optical output, the S/PDIF output of a digital mixer or CD player, a microphone or a synth's analogue output — and all could be connected simultaneously.
Most of the usual sampling options are on offer: mono or stereo, eight Auto Start levels, and a 'With BPM' function. This last option would normally be used when sampling beats and loops, and is intended to give the SP505 some indication of the sample's tempo, and so make its life easier when it automatically inserts the loop end point. There are also three quality modes: 'Standard' (44.1kHz), 'Long' (22.05kHz) and 'LoFi' (11.025kHz). The only other things you need to worry about are setting the analogue input level control and selecting an empty pad to sample into. If only all sampling was this easy...
Compared to many phrase samplers (including others from Roland and Boss!), the SP505 is quite well endowed in the sample-editing department, and is helped in no small measure by the informative LCD. The dedicated Wave Edit Menu button on the left of the front panel brings up the main editing screen with plenty of details about the selected sample's length, quality setting, pad number and tempo in beats per minute. You can adjust the audio level and pan here, too (but only left, centre or right settings are possible). There are also options to loop and reverse samples, and three trigger modes: normal, gate and one-shot. The three assignable Function buttons under the LCD take you to various sub-menus to set loop points, trim the start and end and to normalise the level. These deeper menus also display the sample waveform graphically, and you can zoom in or out on this with the controls to the right of the LCD for more precise adjustments. A dedicated Clipboard feature also allows samples to be moved, copied and deleted — very civilised.
Amongst the most useful sample-editing options are the Chop and Pitch features (accessed via the controls shown below). Chop takes a sample and divides it into percussive audio chunks in a similar way to Steinberg's Recycle, although here there is only a single Resolution adjustment to detect rhythmic peaks. Pitch, on the other hand, has three parameters to detect and map the pitch of a sample across one octave. After each function has processed the original, it maps the resulting multisamples across special 'Pitch Banks'. Unfortunately, the results of the Chop and Pitch functions are variable and depend very much on the kind of material you feed them.
As is to be expected in a Boss Groove instrument, there are plenty of options for adjusting and matching the tempo of samples and patterns. All samples have a Play Type tag and are either 'Phrase' samples or 'Single' samples — these definitions tell the SP505 whether it is dealing with a rhythmic loop or not. So Phrase samples have extra parameters for the numbers of measures in a loop and time signature, and can also make use of two tempo-specific functions: 'BPM Adjust' and 'BPM Sync'.