Multi-effects units remove the requirement to lug around all of your compact pedals, adapters for each of those pedals and patch leads. Not to mention setting all that up when you get to a practice session or a gig. But admittedly, some multi-effects units just can’t cut it when compared to the performance of a dedicated compact pedal. For example my old Zoom 606 just couldn’t produce the same distorted punch as my Boss DS-1. This Boss ME 80 review gets to the bottom of whether or not this offering can really cut is as a multi-effects unit.
Overview of Boss ME 80
Let’s start with the dimensions. The ME 80 weighs around 3.6kgs, so not cumbersome to carry around with you. For a pedal packing so many features, it’s actually quite compact.
There are 36 preset effects, which are accessed via the manual mode. Additionally you can store 36 custom effects via the memory mode. When in manual mode, the switches simply toggle the selected effects on and off. You can make alterations when in manual mode using channel allocated knobs.
For example you might select your preamp mode as clean, then use bank 1 to select compression. You can alter the gain, level, bass, middle and treble of the preamp. Then use the knobs above bank 1 to control the sustain, attack and level of the compression effect. Each bank has grouped effects assigned to it, which are then controlled by knobs appropriate to that groups of effects. So distortion, overdrive, fuzz etc is has drive, tone and level control knobs.
Here are the preamp modes available:
- Stack: Vintage sounds suited to hard rock
- Drive: Direct tone that works with a range of styles
- Lead: Vintage lead tone
- Combo: Simulates the VOX AC-30 vintage crunch tone
- Crunch: picks up on your picking style for enhanced expression
- Tweed: Simulates Fender’s vintage crunch tone
- Clean: rich high end and full low end
- Metal: Heavy, distorted, does what it says on the tin
- Acoustic: Suited to an electric-acoustic guitar
Additionally there are four banks of effects, including:
- Defretter: Simulates a fretless guitar – a bit niche?
- Slow Gear: Creates violin like sounds
- Octave: Adds layer an octave lower
- T.Wah Down & T. Wah Up: Matches wah effect to picking, like auto wah
- Compressor: Provides sustain without distortion
- Ring Mod: Creates metallic sounds with no pitch – again, a bit niche?
- Acoustic Sim: Changes the sounds of electric to acoustic guitar
- Single > Humbucker: Alters single coil tone to humbucker tone
- Humbucker > Single: Alters humbucker pickup tone to single coil pickup tone
- Solo: Boosts the signal. Use with overdrive or distortion to create a great tone for soloing
- Distortion: The classic sounds of the Boss DS-1 pedal
- Turbo Overdrive: Powerful overdrive. Sounds of the Boss OD-2 Turbo
- T-Scream: The sound of the Ibanez TS-808
- Overdrive: Sweeter and milder sound of the Boss OD-1
- Boost: Boosts the gain
- Turbo Distortion: Emphasizes the mid-range. The sound of the Boss DS-2
- Metal Distortion: The sound of the Boss Metal Zone MT-2 pedal
- Core: Great for high-speed metal riffs. The sound of the Boss ML-2 pedal
- Fuzz: Models the sound of the Electro Harmonics Big Muff pedal
- Oct Fuzz: Adds a pitch one octave higher to original sound
- Pitch Shift: Shifts the pitch of the original sound up or down up to two octaves
- Vibrato: Intense vibrato effect that you can’t produce manually
- Chorus: Subtle wavering effect to thicken the tone
- Tremelo: Retro feel with change in volume
- Flanger: Swirling type tone
- Phaser: Whooshing sound
- Harmonist: Creates harmonies by introducing a second guitar to original sound
- Rotary: Sounds like rotating speakers
- Uni-Vibe: Create the rock sound of the 60s
- Delay: Echo like effect from 10 to 600 milliseconds
- Overtone: Adds more body to the tone
- Modulate: Delay with a chorus effect
- Tape: Wavering echo
- Analog: Mild analog delay effect
- 500-6000ms: Delay range
- 100-600ms: Delay range
- 1-99ms: Delay range
- Reverse: Playback effect
- Chorus & Delay: Stereo chorus and delay
- Tera Echo: Neither reverb or delay – an interesting one
- Phrase Loop: Allows you to record a phrase of up to 38 seconds
- Freeze: Sustains the tone of the guitar
- -1 Octave: Shifts the pitch by up to one octave down
- + 2 Octave: Vary the pitch by up to 2 octaves above original sound
- +1 Octave: Vary the pitch by up to 1 octave above original sound
- Voice: Simulate a human voice
- Wah: Classic Jimi Hendrix wah effect
- Oscillated Delay: Control delay and feedback
- OD/DS: Allows you to control level of overdrive or distortion
- Mod Rate: Control the rate of modulation dynamically
- Delay Level: Control the delay level dynamically
- Tuner: Enables you to tune your guitar on the fly
- Low Battery Indicator: This will blink annoyingly when the battery level is low
- 1/4 inch Jack Input: Plug your guitar in here!
- 2x 1/4 Jack Outputs: Plug into your amp(s)
- Headphone Jack: Output directly to your ears
- AUX in: Minature in jack
- USB B Port: Hook up your PC or Mac
- Power Adapter Jack: To, well, power the unit
The real joy with this pedal comes from the hours of fun that can be had using the memory. You can store up to 36 custom effects. Irrespective of where the knobs are positions when playing in manual mode, once you assign a custom effect to the memory it’ll remember the settings, allowing you to access your favorite effects with a couple of taps of your foot. We’ll cover the memory function a little later. The pedal comes with 6 alkaline batteries, which should power the unit for around 7 hours of use. Unfortunately the AC adapter isn’t included and has to be bought separately. Boss also produces a carry bag specifically for the unit. The CB ME80 can also be purchased separately.
Here’s a video overview of the ME 80 and what it can do:
Who Are Boss?
Manufacturing effects pedals since 1974 with the introduction of their B-100 pedal to amplify acoustic guitars. The first proper foot operated pedal was released in 1976, the CE1 Chorus ensemble. From 1977 they started to produce the compact pedals introducing overdrive, phaser pedals and a 6-band graphic equalizer.
Over the years they’ve introduced scores of pedals, each capitalizing on available technologies. Digital modelling was introduced for the first time with the AC3 Acoustic simulator pedal in 2006. Boss uses buffered bypass to maintain a pure and uninterrupted signal during use. As well as compact pedals, Boss has produced many multi-effects pedals. The ME 80 is one such offering.
How Does the Boss ME 80 Work?
Although on first glance the ME 80 looks complicated, it’s really quite simple to operate. As we already discovered there are two main modes of operation, manual and memory. You can interchange between the two simply by tapping the top right most footswitch (to the left of the expression pedal). A light will indicate if you’re working with the manual or memory mode. In manual mode you hit the bottom pedal of the group of effects once to turn on and then again to turn off, it’s that simple.
The top left most pedal toggles the preamp mode selected on and off. The top pedal in the second bank (labelled EQ) toggles the EQ/FX2 mode selected on and off. Lastly, the top pedal in bank 3 toggles the master reverb setting on and off. Press down the front of the expression pedal to toggle those effects on and off. All pretty simple, right 🙂
The pedal really comes alive in memory mode. When you’ve finished playing with the effects and have got a sound you want to use repeatedly, it’s a good time to save it into a “patch” in the memory bank. You can save 36 different patches, which are a combination of effects. When you want to save a patch you hit the WRITE button. The display will then show “UX” where X is a number from 1 to 9. In memory mode the top two pedals on the banks 1 and 2 become bank selectors. The bottom two pedals become patch selector (1 to 4 for each bank). Once you’ve selected your bank and patch hit the WRITE button again and you’re done. All the settings have now been saved. Go ahead, twist every knob then call the saved patch. It’ll be saved, promise!
When selecting a bank the display will indicate if it’s a user or preset bank. You can’t edit the preset banks and you’ll know if you’re working with a preset bank because the display will show “PX” where X is the bank number. For user banks this will show “UX”. You select your bank and patch using the left hand pedals as you would when preparing to edit a bank / patch. You also specify whether the unit immediately switches to the first patch when a new bank is selected, or waits until you confirm the bank and patch you want to select.
The delay section has a cool feature too. Using the “Time” knob you can select the rhythm for the effects. Once you tell the unit which note type you’re using you can then specify the rhythm buy tapping the delay pedal in time with the music. The modulation and delay effects also have a similar feature.
Fancy recording a small snippet to jam along to? No problem. The unit offer phrase looping, which enables you to record and play back a snippet of up to 38 seconds. Set the delay section to “Phrase Loop”, hit the delay pedal and you’re off and recording. Hit the delay pedal again and it’ll stop recording and start playing the loop repeatedly. Tap delay again to overdub and repeat. Hit the delay pedal twice to stop the playback.
The unit also comes with a guitar tuner. You access the tuner by pressing down on the “Manual/Memeory” pedal for two seconds. The pedal then enters tuning mode. If you want to you can change the reference pitch by pressing the “Edit” button. You cycle reference pitches between 435hz to 445hz. From then on it’s pretty self-explanatory how the tuner works. It’ll show you a note and you want to keep adjusting until the note is shown solidly. Press any pedal switch to exit tuner mode.
Another feature of the ME 80 is the ability to connect to your PC or Mac. This brings with it a number of benefits. Firstly you can use the free software Boss Tone Studio to perfect the tone on screen. Then when you’ve finished you can send the newly created patch to the unit. The Boss Tone Studio software allows you to:
- Edit the settings of patches already stored in the unit
- Set names for the patches in the user banks
- Change the order of patches in the banks
- Download patches directly to the unit
- Save backups of the patches to your computer for safe keeping
You also get free access to Boss Tone Central, a website that contains handy how to guides and patches created by professional musicians, including some that replicate the sound of famous guitarists. The website enables you to preview pre-configured patches. If you like it, you can download it directly to your unit. Then it’s ready for you to play with when you next use the unit. If that wasn’t enough the ME 80 also will work with your Digital Audio Workflow (DAW) allowing you to record directly from the unit.
Boss ME 80 Pros
- Intuitive and easy to use
- Programming is quick and easy
- Connects directly to DAW for recording
- Boss Tone Studio makes customisation easy via PC / Mac
- Loads of features and quality effects for the price
- Comes with 6 x alkaline batteries
Boss ME 80 Cons
- Doesn’t come with a power adapter
- A little light on looping features
Some multi-effects units are disappointing to say the least. There’s nothing worse than buying a unit and expecting it to cover all of your effects needs only to find that it falls short on one or more of the effects. That’s especially galling when you could have spent the same amount of money on a couple of good quality compact pedals. The Boss ME 80 doesn’t suffer from this affliction. There are an astounding number effects and almost endless options for customization. The tones produced to are great quality, owing to Boss’ experience in the compact pedal market. I’d say that this unit is great for anyone who’s starting to get serious about playing. This unit will keep you going and help you to perfect your sound.
Is it suitable to play live with? It’s a good start but you might want to spend a little more if you’re going to use a multi effects unit to play live. I suppose it largely depends on your style. If you’re only wanting to use a few effects, this will probably suit your needs. If, however, you use a cornucopia of effects like John Frusciante for example, then you might want something a little more advanced. That said it’s got to be a top choice for those getting to grips with the guitar and the world of guitar effects.
The ME 80 is so feature rich, it’s almost ridiculous what you get for the price. One draw back is that it doesn’t come with a power adapter. That means an additional, admittedly small, layout if you don’t want to be chewing through batteries like they’re going out of fashion. It’s great that it has looping functionality, however I’d say that 38 seconds really isn’t long enough. Even cheap compact looper pedals can record at least 4 minutes, so 38 seconds is a little disappointing. If, however, 38 seconds is enough for you then you’re getting an excellent unit in the Boss ME 80.
I hope that you’ve found this Boss ME 80 review helpful. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below. Alternatively you can get in touch using my contact page. If you think this might be useful for someone you know, please give it a share 🙂 As always, happy strumming!
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