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JoeCo BBR1 Blackbox Recorder Review

Apr 9, 2010 12:00 PM, By John McJunkin

A simple device for multitrack recordings.

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JoeCo BBR1 Blackbox Recorder

JoeCo’s BBR1 Blackbox Recorder was developed specifically to capture live performances. Typically, those performances would be musical, but the device could be used for other applications, such as creating a multitrack recording of a board meeting or phone conference. It’s intended to be a bulletproof, rock-solid solution that simply works. And it’s spartan—it offers no over-dubbing conventions nor editing of any kind, but that’s part of its beauty. By focusing 100 percent of its resources on accomplishing a single task, it avoids the pitfalls that happen with too many features and options. I spent time with a Blackbox Recorder, and I discovered a well-designed and well-executed device that fills a significant need.

The front panel of the JoeCo Blackbox is, in a word, slick, with a glossy plastic face. From left to right across the 1RU chassis, you’ll find metering—track-armed indicators and three-segment VU meters for all 24 of its channels—followed by a cool-blue self-illuminated JoeCo logo to indicate power, and then an encoder wheel for data input. Next are the unit’s transport controls (play, stop, record); back, mark, loop, and menu buttons; and finally a high-resolution LCD display that indicates all the particulars about operation: sample rate, frame rates, synchronization status, and so on. System navigation is also handled via the LCD display and encoder wheel. At the far left of the unit’s rear panel are a DC power input and MIDI in connector. A row of eight 1/4in. TRS jacks represents loop-through connectors correlated with channels 17 through 24. Below these jacks are a 9-pin control input, 1/4in. LTC sync input, computer keyboard connector, USB 2.0 port, and RCA jacks for external clock in and out. On the right side of the rear panel are three D-type 25-pin jacks representing the unit’s analog I/O. Above the three D-type connectors are three correlated punch-outs to accommodate the available digital I/O (AES/EBU or ADAT). Finally, on the far right end of the rear panel is a 1/4in. headphone jack—which is, in my opinion, the only serious design flaw of this device. It seems to me that a headphone jack should always be on the front panel of a device, period.

The Blackbox facilitates 24-track, 24-bit/96kHz recording to any external USB 2.0 drive that can be formatted in the standard FAT32 format. I really appreciate the fact that the device is not picky vis-à-vis approved drives that meet exacting specifications. To be sure, you probably don’t want to use an older drive that barely meets the USB 2.0 spec and spins at 5400 RPM, but any modern USB 2.0 drive will get the job done. Indeed, you’ll want a drive that spins at 7200 RPM, and any such drive will do nicely.

I have always appreciated the mindset of universally available recording media—for instance, using a videocamera that takes DVC tape, available in any corner convenience store at 3 a.m., or devices that use AA batteries as opposed to some proprietary rechargeable. And as of this writing, the price of 1.5TB-to-2TB USB 2.0 drives is rapidly falling toward $100. Such a drive would accommodate a lot of 24-track recordings, even at the machine’s full-bandwidth, 24-bit/96kHz resolution. Although drives like this may not be available at 3 a.m. from a convenience store, we’re rapidly approaching that kind of expediency. And although the JoeCo documentation claims that flash drives are not fast enough to accommodate the data stream, I test-drove an 8GB Kingston DataTraveler G2, and it worked flawlessly, recording 24 tracks of 24-bit/44.1kHz audio. Considering JoeCo’s admonition, I doubt if I’d tempt fate with a critical recording, but it’s good to know that flash recording is possible.

I connected the outputs of a DAW to the inputs of the Blackbox and piped a 24-track session from the DAW into the Blackbox. Setup, arming tracks, and establishing the recording resolution were easy via the encoder wheel; navigation through menus is not difficult. Once the system is configured and ready to record, the front-panel transport controls are the only buttons necessary for the recording operation. Press the record button during the recording to establish to a new track number—a function that can also be accomplished with a footswitch plugged into the Blackbox. The files created by the recording process are named according to an obvious and standard protocol. The first number in the file name indicates the ordinal number of the song recorded (the first song is 001, the second 002, etc.) A hyphen follows that numeral, then another number indicating the track, 1 through 24. For example, track eight of the fourth song would be labeled 004-8.wav. Obviously, by virtue of the leading two zeroes in the file name, the box can accommodate up to 999 songs. One other nicety regarding front-panel controls: The stop button must be depressed and held for a full 2 seconds to stop recording, virtually eliminating accidental halting of an important recording.

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