Review: Boss DR-01S Rhythm Partner

At the heart of the DR-01s is a large variety of authentic acoustic percussion sounds.

Rhythm machines have a bad reputation in some circles thanks to their indiscriminate use by lounge performers and one-man-bands, but songwriters know that having some rhythm early in the songwriting process can not only be helpful, but can also help shape a song into it’s final form. For years, songwriters have been programming rhythm boxes to test and develop a song’s feel before making a recording, but, until now, most rhythm devices didn’t have a believable acoustic sound. In other words, you might use one, but usually locked away in your studio. The Boss’s new DR-01S Rhythm Partner, might just change your thinking about rhythm devices.

The first thing I noticed about this unit is that it comes with it’s own electronics. You can run it into an amp or sound system, but for your personal sessions, rehearsals, or small groups, you don’t have to. A four-inch speaker with seven watts of power doesn’t sound like much, but the DR-01s produces a convincing acoustic sound from crisp high-end sounds to a surprisingly convincing (for the size of the speaker) bass drum sound. Right out of the box, the device pairs well with acoustic guitar and vocals, and just about any combination of acoustic instruments in an acoustic setting.

The Boss website says, “The DR-01S flows seamlessly with that relaxed unplugged vibe…” and it really does. It has a friendly, easily readable front panel and a tasteful appearance with a hint of wood grain. A push of a button can call up one of many popular beats and variations, and tap tempo is available to get you into the correct feel for your song. I like that you can layer up to seven instruments together right from the front panel to create your own unique sound. Then, save up to 50 of your best rhythms for later recall. I also like the availability of an aux input to incorporate prerecorded material into the mix, say, from an iPhone recording app.

While all DR-01S functions can be handled from the front panel, you can ‘dig in’ to add breaks in your songs, adjust reverb, and instrument levels. You can also get some nice performance features by connecting one or two optional footswitches. In addition to start/stop, tempo up/down, tap tempo, and pattern variation, it’s also possible to trigger most of the unit’s percussion sounds by foot to add to your performance. Other nice performance features include the ability to add a count-in before the rhythm starts and fade out endings for your songs.

At the heart of the DR-01s is a large variety of authentic acoustic percussion sounds, including popular Latin percussion instruments, and cajon, as well as full acoustic and electric drum kits. However, what really makes this device useful to writers and acoustic performers is the large selection of expressive grooves that you can use immediately to provide a rhythmic framework for songs. The availability of many grooves ensures that you will be able to find a rhythm for just about any unplugged performing or songwriting style.

Boss’s DR-01s is a convincing acoustic-sounding rhythm box designed for acoustic musicians and songwriters. If you’ve never worked a rhythm device, or you’ve secretly hated them, you should listen to this one.

Street Price: $229.99