ZIP Disk Music Recorder, the BOSS BR-8


Hello, and welcome to another episode of 8-Bit Keys. In a previous episode I showed you this old
tascam portastudio multi-track recorder that uses cassette tapes. Now, in this episode I’m going to show a
different type of multi-track recorder. Although this did come out in 1999. So, this is the Boss BR-8, and it was donated
to me by Brett out of Northampton, Pennsylvania. So, thank you very much Brett! This thing has way, way, way, way more features
than I would dare try to show in a 10 or 15 minute-long episode. But there is one feature that I think you
will find particularly interesting about it, and that is the media that it records to. That’s not a floppy drive, which is iomega
ZIP disks. In fact, it is the original 100 MB version
of the ZIP drive. According to the manual it has 3 quality settings,
standard, live, and long. And those will give you 50, 60, or 75 minutes
of recording time on a single ZIP disk. Now, it is important to realize, as an 8-track
recorder, this time is shared between all of the tracks. So if you were just recording a single, mono
track, that’s how long you will get. If you record two tracks, then that number
is halved, and so on. If you use all 8 tracks then you would be
getting around 6 minutes per track on the highest quality setting. Which, isn’t bad really. It’s probably not often you would need to
record a song more than 6 minutes long, especially with all 8 tracks. Now what’s fascinating to me is that if
you look at a regular, standard music CD. It holds 650 MB of uncompressed digital audio. And that’s for two tracks, because it is
stereo, at 44 Khz and 16 bits. And you’re able to store 74 minutes of audio. So I’m thinking, ok, well, if it we break
it down to a single track, that’s about 325 MB for 74 minutes of audio. So I’m quite curious how this machine puts
that same amount of audio on a 100 MB ZIP disk. So, my first thought is, maybe they lowered
the sampling rate or bit depth or something like that in order to compensate. But, I looked at the manual and found out
its 24 bits. So, the only conclusion that I can come to
is they must using some kind of minimal audio compression, although I have not been able
to figure out what kind it is. OK, well, let me try this thing out. I’m going to attempt record a song that
I’ve been tinkering with on the keyboard for a while that is a song thats going to
be featured in the game I’m currently developing for the Commodore 64. So, I actually don’t really care too much
what instruments I use, because this is going to eventually get transcribed into SID chip
music. But I’ll be using my Yamaha PSS-470. So, first thing I need to do is insert a blank
ZIP disk and it will ask me if I want to initialize it. So I will go ahead and do that. After initialization it tells me I have 49
minutes and 49 seconds of record time, I guess that is close enough to the 50 minutes they
said I would get. Believe it or not, this thing has it’s own
drum machine built in. So I’m going to select a rhythm here to
help keep me on beat. However, this drum track is never actually
recorded to audio, it is always generated on the fly. I’m going to change it to ROCK #3. So, before each time you record, you need
to always hit this button to essentially rewind back to the beginning of the song. Then select the track you want to record,
in this case one is already blinking. Then hit record, then play. I always like to record my bass lines first,
so that’s what I’m doing here. When you are done, click stop. Then you can select track #2, or whatever
track you want. Then, rewind of course. then we start all over again. OK, so now I’m going to add track 3. And here’s track 4. OK, so when I’m done with the unit, I click
the power off button and it asks me if I want to shut down, i click yes… then yes, I want
to save. Then it ejects the ZIP disk and powers itself
off. So naturally, I was curious what would happen
if I stuck this disk in my PC and tried to read it. Well, I only have one functioning ZIP drive
right now, and it’s an old parallel port model. So, I can use it on this old 486 laptop in
Windows 95. So, I put the disk in, and sure enough it
can read it. I thought it would be some foreign file system. But it’s just a regular FAT32 filesystem
of all things. I can’t tell you what any of these files
are, but you could make a copy of it for backup, I guess. However, it turns out that Boss actually provided
a software utility you could run on a PC called the wave converter.. I just need to select drive D as that’s
my ZIP drive. and you can see the different tracks on the
disk. I never renamed them from default, so they
still say they are guitar and whatnot. But I can select one and tell it to convert
the track to a WAV file. Now, for all the good this does since my 486
laptop has no sound card, so I can’t even play it. But you get the idea. So this thing is actually pretty cool. I mean, back in 1999 you did have removable
flash media like compact flash cards, for example. But, back then the capacity was very small
and they were also very expensive. So, the ZIP disk would have been a much more
viable option for doing this kind of recording. And, you know, it’s pretty neat because
it did give consumers the ability to digitally work with their music and have a method to
get the digital files over to their computer in a lossless format. Probably one of the few devices that could
do that in 1999. And, considering that hard drive capacity
back then was typically not a whole lot much bigger than a ZIP disk anyway, people would
probably store their music projects on the ZIP disk. Where today, we think of flash media as a
means of recording and then transferring something to something like a PC. This would have not only been the recording
media, but I imagine this would have been the storage and archival format as well. I managed to find the original demo disk on
ebay for a few bucks, so I thought we’d try that out and see how it sounds. It looks like there are 4 different songs
on here. I’ll just play the first one. It’s more interesting to play with the volume
sliders when it is somebody else’s song. So I thought I would disassemble this thing. I’m really curious to see what’s inside,
especially which CPU it is using. Considering when it was made, I’m guessing
it will be a PowerPC of some kind. Well, it turns out all of the good stuff is
covered up by this metal shield. I went ahead and took the board out in case
there was something on the other side, but turns out there isn’t. Theoretically, I could desolder the shield,
but I’m not willing to risk such a nice piece of equipment over just a curiosity. Well, I guess that about wraps it up for this
episode. I think this is a pretty neat device. It would have been really awesome to have
back in 1999, but it’s really pretty usable even today. And you know, even though they don’t make
ZIP disks anymore, you can still buy these. There’s packs of them on ebay you can buy
that are brand-new in the box and never been used. And they’re actually considerably cheaper
today than they were back in 1999. So it’s still a fairly viable way of recording
music. Well, thanks for watching and stick around
because I do have more content coming!

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