Boss ES-8I’ve owned several Boss multi-effects units over the years and have always been impressed with how configurable and adaptable they tend to be. Boss’ emphasis on practical, real-world utility and user friendliness remains intact in the ES-8. And it offers a ton of flexibility at a very reasonable price.
At a glance, the ES-8 looks like a compact multi-effects unit. But there’s a lot of functionality jammed into a little package. The back panel almost looks like a studio patch bay for all the jacks crammed onto such a small space. All told there’s—count ’em—33 1/4" jacks and a pair of MIDI in/out jacks. There are eight send/return jacks (the seventh provides mono send and stereo return, and the eighth offers stereo send and return), control jacks to let you switch amp channels and turn on reverb, jacks for connecting expression pedals, and a plethora of additional connections. With that many I/Os, real estate is at a premium so it’s vital to use straight 1/4" cables.
Manual mode lets you turn pedals on and off just like you would on a conventional pedalboard. Memory mode, however, is where the real action is, and here you can access saved loop combinations via 100 banks that provide a total of 800 presets.
At times, you might wonder why there are so many preset options—particularly given how easy the Boss makes it to add effects to existing presets on the fly. Nevertheless, the flexibility afforded by all these options is impressive. And given the Boss’ ability to delve into nuances like effects trails and series and parallel routing (the latter feature in particular can really open up new possibilities for your old effects), you might start crafting presets in the hundreds before you know it!
Thankfully, the Boss is pretty easy to program and edit. Changes in pedal order are represented on the loop structure screen, which provides a very simple numeric representation of the pedal order. Boss has always excelled at creating these kinds of simple interfaces and, in a pedal that can be as complicated as the ES-8, it does wonders in streamlining programming and easing the learning curve. One shortcoming of the readout is that it does not reveal the order of pedals when you select the preset itself. You can only see the order in edit mode. That means you’ll need a pretty good memory, a thorough system of organization, or a lot of practice to navigate a deep library of presets—but that goes for most loopers this complex.
The Boss is thoughtful at the nuts and bolts level, too. Buffers can be turned on and off for each input to compensate for pedals like old wahs and fuzzes that are particular about their positions relative to buffered switches. Better still, these settings can be stored for each preset. It’s a small detail, but it eliminates a lot of the headaches that would ordinarily come with switching pedal order. MIDI capability is useful in cool ways, too. I especially liked the Master BPM, which enables you to assign tempo parameters for compatible effects in a given patch.
There are many switchers on the market, but outside of custom-built units that cost thousands more than the ES-8’s $699 street, you’d be hard pressed to get this level of control over your entire rig at this appealing price.