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Boss ME-70 Review

The ME-70 provides a wealth of effects with an affordable price tag.

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GT-10 too complex? ME-20 not enough? The ME-70 might be just what you need. Guitarists Gerry Leonard (David Bowie, Duncan Sheik) and Kevin Breit (Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson) do their high profile gigs employing a plethora of individually chosen stompbox and/or rack effects, each dedicated to a specific sound. But for fly-dates, where it is essential to travel light, or small club gigs where stage space is at a premium, both have been known to use a multi-effects unit from the Boss ME series. These musicians could afford the more complex, larger pedals from the Boss GT series, but seem to find that the compact, lighter-weight, simpler to use ME line gets the job done—hogging less cargo and stage real estate in the process.

With its 24-bit, 44.1 kHz processing, the ME-70 gives nothing away to the GT-8, or even the GT-10 in tonal quality, and its metal chassis sits firmly in the Boss tradition of indestructibility. As with its predecessor, the ME-50, what you get with the ME-70 is a stripped down offering of some of the essential Boss effects, in an easy to use, wallet-friendly package.

The ME-70 ups the ante on the ME-50 in a number of ways: adding a separate Preamp section, featuring Roland’s terrific sounding COSM amp modeling, four extra presets and one more footswitch—for a total of four. On the other hand, some things have fallen by the wayside; while the Distortion section now has a clean Boost and a setting called Natural, its names are now generic (Metal, Fuzz etc.) as opposed to referencing well-known sounds (Screamer, Muff, etc.)—legal issues, perhaps? Other sections reflect similar changes. Gone are the synth-like Square distortion, and the ring modulator, as well as some pan effects in the delay section, indicating a more conservative approach to effects.

Not that you will lack for tonal modifiers with the ME-70. In addition to the classic Boss compression, the Comp/FX section offers the coveted Slow Gear effect that gives you automatic level swells, freeing your finger from the guitar volume, and your foot from the expression pedal. Also in this section is a touch wah.

A subsection has settings that do a creditable job of making your single coils sound more like humbuckers and vice versa, and also contains an effect labeled Solo that is optimized for driving an amplifier preamp or a distortion pedal. Solo sounds like a bit of compression mixed with some high end EQ for extra bite—subtle but useful. Unfortunately the ME-50’s Acoustic simulator is MIA.

The Overdrive/Distortion section adds the aforementioned Boost and Natural to a range of gritty effects from overdrive to fuzz. The Boost is a clean level boost that is delightfully transparent. In this setting, goosing the Level knob to full on added only a minimal amount of boost, unless I also increased the Drive knob—this does not add distortion, merely more level. In the Natural position, the Drive adds just what it claims: a very realistic, amp-style breakup.

In addition to the usual suspects (phasing, flanging, chorus, tremolo, vibrato, etc.), the Modulation section provides a smart harmonizer, and an octave device. It also offers a delay effect that is independent of the pedalboard’s Delay section. This way you can have two different delay times, that can be engaged one at a time or together, instantly available at the touch of a toe. Each can be tap tempoed to its own time. (The modulation effects can have their rates tapped in as well.) This also conveniently allows you to have a delay effect on your guitar when using the looper.

The Delay section sports settings for various ranges of echo from 1-6000ms, as well as flavors such as analog, modulated delay, reversed delay, and a chorus/delay combo. A Momentary setting engages the delay only as long as the footswitch is held down, acting as a kind of manual ducking delay.

Though you can tap the tempo of any delay setting, the dedicated Tap setting lets you choose between straight eighth notes and dotted eighths (for those U2/Edge effects). The 38 second Phrase Loop function is simple to use: just step on the Delay footswitch to ready recording, step again to record, once more to stop recording. Repeating the process allows you to overdub as many layers as you like. A double tap clears the palette and lets you start over.

The ME-70’s Preamp section provides the common classic amp simulations, including Twin-ish Clean, Vox-like Combo, Bassman-based Tweed, ’70s Marshall voiced Stack, high-gain Lead Stack, and Boogie inspired R-Fier. If you are perfectly content with the sound of your own amp, you can either avail yourself of the section’s EQ setting, which provides Low, Low-Mid, High-Mid and High adjustment, or Off, which bypasses the section altogether.

The Expression pedal defaults to a volume control. It also offers toe-switch engaged settings for Wah, Voice (a voice-box sound), and octave up or down Whammy effects. In addition, you can choose to use it to control your modulation rate or delay wet/dry mix.

The ME-70 gives you the options of using it as a simple pedalboard, or in Memory mode, as a programmable multi effects. In Pedalboard mode, each of the four footswitches controls an effects section. You just pick one effect per section and adjust the parameters just like any stomp box pedalboard.

In Memory mode the footswitches choose presets, and the small Bank arrow buttons scroll through nine banks each of user and factory presets, for a total of 72 programs. If you don’t want to bend over to press the arrow buttons, stepping on footswitches 1 and 2 simultaneously, allows you to step through the banks using switch 1 for down and 2 for up. You can also attach an external pedal to a jack on the back of the ME-70 to scroll through banks in Memory mode. In Pedalboard mode the same external switches will let you switch the Preamp section and Reverb on and off. The rear panel also includes a stereo recording/headphone output with speaker emulation.

I wouldn’t deem the ME-70 completely intuitive, but I was able to have a fair amount of fun before having to crack the manual. Plugging a Fernandes Strat, equipped with DiMarzio Virtual Vintage pickups, into the Boss unit, I first tried it out as a compact pedalboard through both a Reverend Hellhound combo and an Orange Tiny Terror head. I turned the Preamp section off, and then started checking out the stompbox models.

As expected, all the sounds were the professional, high quality tones that we have come to expect from Boss. I found that setting the overdrive section to Natural with the Drive around noon was like adding a second channel to the single channel Reverend and Orange amps. I could back off my guitar volume for a slightly thicker clean sound than with the effect bypassed, or, full up, get a nice crunch rhythm. To this I could add the Solo setting from the Comp/FX section for my, well, solos.

Another highlight was the Harmonizer effect, which tracked my playing with nary a glitch. Though the Reverb options are limited to Room and Hall, the sound of each is exceptional.

To plug the ME-70 into my computer for recording, I came out of the recording/headphone output, through an audio interface and into Ableton Live. The recording output added speaker emulations to the amp models, and once again I was impressed with Roland’s COSM modeling. All the digital amp sounds seemed warm and analog in character. At lower gain levels they responded well to touch dynamics, as well as cleaning up naturally with the guitar volume rolled down.

A few things deserve special mention. Often a device requires that you step on two footswitches at one time to turn on a tuner, enter bypass, and with the ME-70, for example, access Memory mode and the Bank up and down option. Usually it is a frustrating balancing act to make the two switches click on at the same time. Not so here. Also, the Boss unit’s presets are all extremely usable—rather than designed with as much gain, delay and effect as possible, to impress pre-teen bedroom guitarists.

The only downside to the ME-70 might be that it imparts a distinctly Boss tinge to your sound. As this tone is an industry standard, heard on thousands of hit records, you may not find it to be a problem at all. Still, I found that it slightly homogenized the sonic distinction between the Tiny Terror and the Hellhound.

The ME-70 inhabits an essential area between a bag of stompboxes and commitment to a full-on, floor pedalboard. It is for the guitarist who wants the basic Boss effects and COSM amp sounds to be available in an affordable, portable, simple-to-operate unit. Even if you are a boutique pedal guy, or a full on rack guy, you might easily find yourself in a situation where something like the ME-70 would come in handy.
Buy if...
You want a variety of great sounding effects and amps that will fit in a laptop bag.
Skip if...
Your pedalboard must have all the bells and whistles.

MSRP $299 - Boss -