Digitech has just announced a new looper, the Jamman XT Express. I haven’t seen or touched one yet, so I don’t know how it performs in action. However, the feature set is both stripped down and immensely powerful for the price, provided you already own a Digitech Jamman Solo XT.

Digitech JamMan Express XT: it doesn't do much, but it does it very well
Digitech JamMan Express XT: it doesn’t do much, but it does it very well

While The XT Express can be used as a standalone looper, it is so obviously conceived as a companion to the Solo XT that it’s appropriate to discuss them together. The XT Express’s feature set is minimal in variety, but each of the few features contains exactly the right stuff for adding independent layers to a JamMan Solo XT. The XT Express will only record one loop at a time–the next loop you record replaces the previous one–and there are only ten minutes available for the loop. That’s too bare-bones minimum in both dimensions for my taste, but when you consider that you can use the XT Express to add an independent loop layer to a loop running on a Solo XT, that’s a lot of power for an extra $100. (Note that with an FSX3 footswitch, a JamMan Solo or JamMan Stereo allows the player to erase/re-add the most recently added loop layer, which is in effect an independent track.)

There’s no USB connection on the XT Express, so no way to offload a loop except by playing it and recording the audio into another looper or recording device. Other things the XT Express lacks include the ability to mix inputs from a mic and a stereo line input at the same time (which the Solo XT also lacks, though the JamMan Stereo has it–I guess there’s no room for a mic preamp in the Solo XT form factor); the ability to play back multiple prerecorded loops in a predefined sequence via footswitches; the ability two linked Solo XTs have to play independent loops where the length of one is multiple lengths of the other (so you might have a 2-bar drum loop with an 8-bar bassline, for example). You can’t do any of that with the XT Express. The only things you can do with the XT Express are record up to ten linear minutes of high-quality audio (24-bit 44.1 kHz, plenty good for a floor looper), loop it, set the volume level of the loop playback, and sync the loop to a loop running on another XT Express or a Solo XT. This thing is designed for one-shot performance, it seems, which is fine for $99, and super-fine when you have a Solo XT in the picture to fill in all the gaps.

JamMan Solo XTs linked via JamSync
JamMan Solo XTs linked via JamSync

Anyone who wants maximum looping power for $200, plus the option to sync with other Digitech XT loopers, is well advised to buy a JamMan Solo XT instead of two XT Expresses. In effect, the Solo XT gives you two independent loops anyway (when you add an FSX3 footswitch for another $35, which is well worth it). But a JamMan Solo XT paired with an XT Express gives you the equivalent of three independent synced loop tracks–two on the Solo XT, and one on the XT Express–at a total cost of $300, which is a good $100 cheaper at least than you can get the same track count from anyone else. (The alternatives generally come with much larger form factors, too, which gives you a tradeoff between portability and playability to consider.) You can use the Solo XT to carry and manage your prerecorded loops, if any, and route audio signals through the XT Express to the Solo XT to maintain track independence. (If you routed audio the other way, prerecorded tracks would be mixed with new material on the XT Express.)

A big question to me is how well sync (“JamSync”) between these devices actually works in practice. My hope is that it’s fast (meaning they sync instantly) and reliable (meaning no false starts or drop outs). If JamSync doesn’t work well, then these devices are worth a lot less than the asking price. I’ll test one each of these devices sometime in August 2013, when the XT Express becomes available, and we’ll see how JamSync works. Stay tuned.