The Looperlative LP1 is quite possibly the ultimate phrase looper for improvised performances. Like the long-discontinued Gibson/Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro and the current Boomerang III, the Looperlative LP1 does not offer stored loops. However, like its afforementioned cousins, the LP1 is in a select class of technological tools to assist in musical improvisation.
The LP1, like the Boomerang III, offers stereo operation. The LP1, though, offers twice as many tracks (eight rather than four) and many more features than the Boomerang III. The total recording time is about four minutes on both units, all other things being equal. (The Boomerang III offers a selection of mono operation and low sample rates that multiply the available time.)
If you remember the earlier Boomerang products, you'll probably recall that their noise floor wasn't at all impressive. By way of contrast, the Boomerang III is very nearly dead quiet. The LP1's noise floor falls somewhere in the middle ground. In my rig - and that's an important qualification, because noise is quite often influenced by overall system design - there's a just-noticeable hiss from the LP1, which is wired to run in the FX loop of my Eleven Rack. To be fair, I have to crank my PA to levels well above my normal playing volume in order to expose the LP1's hiss, but it's there; the Boomerang III didn't have any noticeable hiss under the same conditions.
I suppose that I could have surmised that there might be a noise issue, given that the LP1 has a built-in noise gate. On the other hand, the actual noise source may be in the LP1's analog circuitry, as I can discern absolutely no difference in idle noise level by adjusting the gate.
I don't want to overemphasize the noise issue. At comfortable playing volumes in a very quiet room, the hiss is just noticeable. To put things in perspective: I haven't heard many pedalboards (certainly none with more than a couple pedals) that are quieter than the LP1 without assistance from a noise gate. But the noise is definitely there and worth noting.
Moving along... The real strengths of the LP1 lay in its vast functionality and its plethora of I/O connections. The LP1 has a set of stereo inputs and outputs as well as two sets of auxilliary outputs. In normal operation, all signal flows out to the main outputs. Selected loops can be routed to either of the auxilliary outputs via an LP1 command.
The LP1's audio I/Os are on unbalanced 1/4" TS jacks. I'd like to say that this is unusual for rack gear, but it's not. Many vendors use unbalanced I/O despite the potential advantages of a balanced connection.
Interconnects between units that use a mix of balanced and unbalanced connections requires special considerations. Depending upon the implementation of the balanced outputs, the interconnect to the corresponding unbalanced input may require a specially-wired cable or a signal level adjustment.
The LP1's rear panel hosts a 2.1mm x 5.5mm barrel jack for power input, a trio of 5-pin MIDI jacks (input, output and thru) and an RJ-45 network connector.
The LP1 accepts a tip-positive DC source of 9 to 12 volts, and consumes - according to the manual - about 700 ma. The included power supply is not only a so-called "universal-voltage" supply, accepting inputs from 100 to 240 VAC, but also comes with an assortment of adapter plugs. As such, the LP1 may be readily used just about anywhere in the world.
The RJ-45 connection allows the LP1 to join a computer network. The device supports DHCP, allowing plug-and-play use on most networks. In the rare case where a network does not support DHCP, you may use the LP1's menu to manually configure its networking parameters.
The network connection supports several activities. Most impressive is that the LP1's menu has a command to update the unit's firmware over the network. I did this immediately upon receipt of my LP1, updating from revision 1.34g to 1.39. The process worked flawlesslessly and required no knowledge of computer networking beyond the ability to find a BaseT cable and plug it into the LP1 and a network hub.
It's possible to use the LP1 as a standalone device via its front-panel controls. A row of nine buttons is used to select one of the eight tracks or all tracks at once. Each track has an associated two-color LED to provide a visual indication of the state of each track. A REC/DUB button and a PLAY/STOP button provide access to the most basic of the LP1's many loop control commands.
A data wheel and a pair of buttons (MENU and ENTER) provide access to the LP1's configuration menus.
Finally, a cluster of buttons (USER1 through USER4) provides access to additional commands. A command, or a sequence of up to eight commands, is associatd to each user button through the LP1's configuration menus.
Display of the LP1's status (and configuration menus) is given via a dot-matrix vacuum-flourescent display. Given the constraints of the LP1's 1U rack size, the display is fairly small. Still, it's quite readable for its two signal-level bars and two lines of text. You'll use the display mostly during programming and configuring the LP1; I can't imagine any reason to need to watch the display during a performance. The row of track LEDs is probably far more important for the quick overview they provide of track activity.
The LP1 really comes into its own when used with a MIDI controller. The LP1 is what I've come to know as a "learning" MIDI device. Rather than configuring your controller to send a predefined set of messages to the LP1, you configure the LP1 to respond to the messages that your controller sends. The LP1 recognizes PC, CC and note messages; as such, the LP1 should be usable with virtually any controller that can send MIDI data.
The downside of a "learning" device only applies to those of us who use more advanced MIDI controllers that must themselves be programmed to send a specific MIDI message in response to a switch activation. In this case, you must program both ends of the dialogue between your controller and the LP1.
While in learning mode, the LP1 asks you press a front-panel button or send a MIDI message, then turn the data wheel until you see the LP1 function that you want to invoke in response to the button press or MIDI message.
The LP1 features approximately sixty (!) commands. The commands can be grouped as follows:
- Track selection commands
- The LP1 follows a noun-before-verb command model. You select a track (or group of tracks) to which subsequent commands apply. The LP1's track selection commands allow selection of track 1, the next or previous track (with wraparound), a track group (ten groups may be predefined using the LP1's configuration menus), all tracks or all tracks except the current track.
- Record, play, stop, overdub and erase commands
- These commands have permutations to operate on individual tracks, groups of tracks and all tracks. Recording may be synchronized to a master loop or may be free-running. You can undo an overdub of less than 30 seconds' duration. Playback may start immediately or at a loop cycle point.
- Track editing commands
- You can replace audio on a track while hearing either the existing or new audio. Replacement can operate on quantized divisions of a track; the divisions are preset using the LP1's configuration menu. You can multiply the length of a loop; there are commands to double, triple and quadruple a loop by repeating existing audio.
- Track audio settings
- You can alter a track's feeback amount (which affects how quickly "old" audio fades away when overdubbed), stereo pan position, and output assignment. Preset combinations of volume, pan and feedback settings can be defined using the LP1's configuration menus and selected via a button or MIDI message.
- You can play a track in reverse, play a track at half speed, chop and rearrange (i.e. "scramble") a track, and fade a track in or out.
- You can bounce a track and any real-time alterations onto a new track. You can copy an existing track unchanged to a free track.
- Mellotron mode
- Mellotron mode is exactly what you think it is: a track can be played back at original pitch or any of twelve other pitches in the chromatic scale.
- You can have the LP1 send a MIDI start or MIDI stop command in response to a button press or MIDI trigger. You can assign a track to be the master track for synchronized loops. (By default, the first track recorded becomes the master track.)
The LP1 can follow or generate MIDI clock. I personally have no application for this. I've read on the Looperlative message board that some users are unhappy with how the LP1 follows an external clock source. I can neither confirm nor deny that this is a problem based upon personal experience.
As the above brief summary suggests, the Looperlative LP1 is an incredibly capable looping instrument, easily in the same class as the venerable Gibson/Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro, but with the addition of a stereo signal path and multiple independent outputs.
The LP1 comes at a dear cost: US$1,249 plus shipping and handling. That's more than $500 over the cost of a Boomerang III plus Sidecar, and $400 to $500 more than the cost of a used Gibson/Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro with footswitch in excellent condition. (Of course, if stereo operation is important, the financial balance handily favors the LP1 over a pair of mono EDPs.) Personally, I believe that the LP1's features supply more than adequate justification for its cost.
Assuming that you want to try an LP1 for yourself, your biggest problem will be to locate one for purchase. I'd been aware of the LP1 and had been wanting to own one for at least a couple of years. I happened to get lucky and notice before anyone else that a new unit, which turned out to be the only such unit, was for sale.
Looperlative's principal, Bob Amstadt, runs the company as a sideline to the responsibilities of his day job. According to one of Bob's associates who posted on the Looper's Delight forum, Bob needs to build ten or twelve units at a time. Judging by the fact that LP1 users seem to like to talk about the LP1, there are clearly more than a handful of units out in the wild. On the other hand, the LP1 having been out of production for a couple of years suggests that there isn't a huge demand for the product.