Looking for a no-fuss looper for live performance? Look no further...
Hailing from the heart of Texas, Boomerang's products have always gone their own way, since their first Phrase Sampler appeared back in 1995. Their third-generation looper eschews some of the bells and whistles found on other pedals — no effects, no backing tracks and no SD card slot to save or load loops — in favour of a very sturdy, roadworthy and reasonably compact unit designed with live performance in mind.
The wedge-shaped metal chassis presents dedicated volume controls for the four available loops. Two further knobs set fade time (loops can be set to fade in or out) and decay rate. When stacking additional parts on top of any of the four loops, setting decay to zero means that each part remains at the same volume. The results can be cluttered and unmusical, however. The decay knob lets you set older parts to fade slightly or completely as each new part is added — a canny, practical feature.
The low-profile footswitches have next to no travel, so taps to stop and start loops are instantaneous, with no loud 'clunk' — a huge improvement on the bog-standard stomp-box footswitch. There are dedicated switches for the first three loops, plus two 'bonus' switches, which can be assigned two functions each, activated by either tapping them or holding them down for half a second. These functions, helpfully displayed by a ring of LEDs, range from the practical (undo, copy, erase, stack, stop all) to the more experimental (half-speed, reverse playback, fade in/out, play loop once only).
Bringing the fourth loop into play ties up one of the bonus buttons, however, and loopers who want access to more than four of these functions at once are advised to invest in the additional Side Car controller (£199). This adds an extra two assignable bonus buttons, plus stack, play/stop-all and erase/erase-all buttons. It connects via DIN cables at the rear, where you'll also find the stereo inputs and outputs. These can be used for mono or stereo operation. You can also use a mono input but send the instrument output and the loop output to separate destinations. A fifth quarter-inch jack socket lets you attach an expression pedal to control the level of loop playback or the decay rate.
As with any complex device, it can initially feel like there's a lot to take on board, but it's surprising how quickly the Boomerang III's functions become second nature. Once you understand the various looping modes — series (loops play separately, for verse, chorus and bridge, for example) or parallel, either with loops sync'ed or free to stop and start whenever you wish — you'll soon be exploring the creative potential of this intuitive device.
Audio fidelity is very good, and you can keep stacking on a single loop until the memory runs out. Just under nine minutes is available, working in mono at 24-bit/48kHz. Switching down to 24-bit/24kHz doubles that time, and with electric guitar the reduction in bandwidth is barely noticeable. Having up to four parallel, stackable loops is really liberating, and the ability to copy what you've stacked so far from one loop to another helps free you from the confining cycle of build/break down/build that looping can descend into.
All in all, the Boomerang III comes as close as any looper to striking the perfect balance between functionality and practical usability — you're not forced to dance around umpteen footswitches, but, thanks to the assignable bonus buttons, the functions you want are right there in front of you. Some might miss the ability to save recorded loops, but that would be to misunderstand the device. This is a machine purpose-built for live performance and designed to allow the user's imagination and creativity to flourish.
Pedals from Boss, Line 6, Digitech and Akai represent the Boomerang's main competition.