DigiTech JML2 JamMan Stereo Review By Michael Ross: Up To 6 Hours Of Looping At The Touch Of A Button
When Lexicon first introduced the JamMan in the mid-‘90s, I was all over it. As someone who lived to overdub guitar parts in the studio, I had been frustrated by having to settle for only one guitar part in many live situations. The JamMan was a looper that allowed me to sound like multiple guitarists by playing a part, have it loop infinitely (or until I pressed the Stop button), and then overdub part after part on top of the original loop—all of it by yours truly—no other pesky guitarists with their own ideas.
Around the same time that Lexicon was feeding my musical megalomania, DigiTech was developing their PDS looper pedal, offering many of the same features and then some. In 2005, with Lexicon no longer making the JamMan, DigiTech registered the name and brought out their first product under this sobriquet.
The original DigiTech JamMan allowed you to store over six hours of looped material on a removable media card. The latest generation, the JamMan Stereo ($299 street), comes with the ability to store 99 loops in its internal memory, totaling up to 35 minutes. However, with an optional 16 GB or higher SDHC memory card, you can increase the total memory time to over 16 hours. This version of the DigiTech JamMan is true stereo, making it ideal for instrumentalists with stereo rigs, as well as for DJs, and those wishing to use the device to store full backing tracks.
The JamMan Stereo is also intuitive to operate. At the upper left is the Loop Level control, which adjusts the level that your loop will play back relative to your input volume. The adjacent Rhythm Level knob sets the loudness of whichever of the nine, onboard rhythm tracks you have selected. You do this by pressing the far left button to engage Shift, then pressing the Rhythm Type button. The display will show the current rhythm type and you can turn the Select knob to pick either a click or one of the included drum samples.
Near the upper right of the unit is the Record Mode button, which you use to select Inst/Mic, Aux Input (for whichever media player is plugged into the unit’s rear mini jack), Center (to remove solos and lead vocals from recorded material for practicing purposes); and Full Range Amp (which re-equalizes recorded material to sound better played through a guitar amp). When using Shift, this same button selects how the loop ends when you step on the Tempo/Stop footswitch—the loop stops dead, finishes and then stops, or fades out.
There are buttons to store and delete loops, to reverse them, to set the looper to start recording only when it detects an input signal, to change the time signature, and to eliminate the dry signal for use in parallel effects loops or through a mixer’s aux send.
The back panel (see Fig. 1)offers stereo 1/4-inch I/O, a mini-jack headphone output, a separate send for the rhythm track, and an XLR mic input that lets you stack, for example, vocal harmonies or acoustic guitar parts. There is also an input for an optional footswitch, the FS3X ($39.95). This option is essential for serious looping because it lets you undo, redo, and reverse the loop without having to bend over to press the buttons on the JamMan Stereo itself. The FS3X is also necessary if you want to change the tempo of a loop while it is playing (see Fig. 2).
You can set the tempo of any new loop or stored loop by tapping the onboard Tempo/Stop footswitch before it starts playing. This might be sufficient if you are playing alone or coming in after a drum machine or sequence has already started, but if you are playing with a live drummer you will probably need the external footswitch so that you can adjust the loop while it is playing, matching any fluctuations in the time.
All this tempo changing is done through Time Stretching, which refers to changing the speed of the loop without changing its pitch. This function works well enough to deal with minor fluctuations in a drummer’s time but if you plan to slow tracks down to learn riffs, be prepared for some serious artifacts when you stray far from the original tempo. Unlike the Line 6 DL4 and various Electro-Harmonix loopers, this looper does not let you repitch loop layers by changing the loop speed.
But one cool feature that the JamMan Stereo does have is a dedicated rhythm output, with its own volume control. This lets you send the click or drum pattern to a separate recording track, while removing the rhythm pattern from the main outputs. You can also plug a set of headphones into this output so that you or the drummer can monitor the click without the audience hearing it (left side, mono only). For this purpose, you set the volume of your headphones with the dedicated Rhythm Level control.
A USB output lets you use DigiTech’s downloadable (Mac/Win) freeware app to organize and manage your stored loops. It does not provide audio out however, so you will have to record your loops to your DAW through the pedal’s main outputs if you wish to access the audio directly.
In The Loop
I placed the DigiTech JamMan Stereo before my pedalboard so that I could add different effects to each overdub. Of course, you can also place effects after the looper to color the recorded loops en masse.
Fig. 2: The optional FS3X unleashes the power of the JamMan Stereo when you want to keep your hands on your instrument.
You can record loops in a number of ways. One involves selecting an empty loop slot, tapping in a tempo with the Tempo/Stop switch, then stepping on the Rec/Play/Overdub switch. If you have the Rhythm Level up you will hear a click start, which will let you hear the tempo for one bar before recording begins. Alternatively, you can push the Auto Record button first. In this mode, recording will not begin until the JamMan detects an audio signal, as in when you start playing or route external audio to the looper.
When you are finished playing the first loop, you step on the Rec/Play/Overdub switch once again and the looper goes into Play mode. To overdub you merely step on the same switch again and layer as many parts as you like. To stop the loop, step on the Tempo/Stop switch and the loop will come to a halt in one of the optional ways described above (stop, finish, or fade).
Though you can step through 99 pre-recorded loops, you cannot record new loops in different slots on the fly: You must hit the Store button before moving to a new loop slot or you will lose the loop. If you are unhappy with your last overdub you can press and hold the Rec/Play/Overdub switch for two seconds to undo it. To put it back, just repeat the process. For this to work well you must return to Play mode between each overdub or you will undo all the layers since you were last in Play mode.
If you set the tempo before looping, the JamMan will Auto-Quantize. That is, if your timing is a tad off it will adjust it to keep the loop accurate. If you prefer more free form looping, simply begin recording without setting a tempo. Even in this mode, I found it easier to set an accurate rhythmic loop with the JamMan than with any other looper that I have tried.
Storing loops is a snap: press the Store button until its LED flashes, then press again to store it at the current location. Turning the Select knob between presses allows you to choose a different location.
Band In A Box
The JamMan Stereo, and the DigiTech looper series in general, seems geared toward creating looped song parts at home, then stepping through them live to add fullness to a performance. Background vocals, rhythm guitar parts, percussion—any and all of these are fodder for the JamMan Stereo. You can create the parts yourself, or load them from tracks on your record (or someone else’s, but you didn’t hear that from me) via USB. It seems ideal for DJs as well, with its stereo ins and outs.
The series seems less suited for those that use looping for ambient parts, sound design, and creating tunes on the fly. The JamMan’s reverse mode allows for some textural work, but having to add an external footswitch lessens the appeal of its small size, and the inability to repitch a loop is a definite drawback. Losing an unstored loop when moving to the next one means you won’t be improvising multiple song sections.
It is up to you to decide what you need from a looper. If avant-garde ambience is your thing, or you like to make up full songs with chorus, verse, and bridge on the spot, you should look elsewhere.
But if you want great stereo sound, time-stretching, and the ability to store a whole evening’s worth of loops in one small box, the DigiTech JamMan Stereo is your baby.
Pros: Great sound quality. Easy loop making. Massive amount of loop storage.
Cons: No repitching. Can’t record different loops in different patch locations on the fly.
Michael Ross in a New York City-based guitarist/producer/music journalist. He contributes articles to Guitar Player, Premier Guitar, Guitar Edge, EQ, Sound On Sound, and Gearwire.com. He is the author of the Hal Leonard books Getting Great Guitar Sounds and All About Effects.