While the VF-1 claimed to cater for everyone, its mostly made for guitarists. I does feature two bass preamps and lots of general studio patches, but the focus is on guitar amps and related effects. Having said that, this is not a bad unit. It has good tones, great connectivity (including a S/PDIF digital out), and a decent user interface. It's a half-rack unit, so it sits well on your desk.
Connections and Specs
The Boss VF-1 came out in 1999, in the heels of the GX-700 (1996) and GT-5 (1997) guitar processors. In a way it was an effort to remedy the main issues with those units: the lack of digital connectivity and a lowish converter resolution.
The VF-1 sports a dandy coaxial S/PDIF output. Digital outputs in general offer a more realistic guitar amp tone when plugged into the mixer. Also, the VF-1 features a greater bitwise resolution in general. The signal path is now fully 24-bits, instead of 22-bits in and 18-bits out as on the GX-700.
Like many Boss boxes, the VF-1 features MIDI connectivity. The front of the unit has a high impedance input for guitar or bass, but lacks a headphones output. In addition to the digital out, there are analog stereo out and stereo in ports.
Using the Category-button you get quick access to the available groups of patches as categorized by use. These include electric guitar, bass, keyboards, reverbs, and mastering patches. The VF-1 features a total of 36 algorithms each consisting of several collections of different effects. Later revisions of this device (possibly from 2000 and onwards) have a 37th algorithm for monitor speaker modeling.
Something for the Rhythm Section
The unit has a little something for bass-players. It features two preamps named ”AC” and ”AMG”, both with a full set of tone controls. It's definitely a question of quality over quantity here as the two bass amps do have a punchy, musical tone. AMG produces a deep, modern sound, while the trebly AC is best suited for 60s cover-duties or punk rock; the AC tone is very Sex Pistolesque.
The bright-switch in both amps provides plenty of useful variation across the entire frequency spectrum. I found the best tones by keeping the gain setting on ”mid” and the volume in the 20-30 range. The four-band EQ plays an important role in bass tones, too.
While you can't change the VF-1 bass preamp's cabinet type, they sound beefy enough as they come, both simulating a nice stack sound. The mids in particular are exceptionally well-defined. You do get to adjust mic proximity with the bass preamps, just like on the guitar ones. Naturally, that effect isn't as pronounced on the bass.
The VF-1 features thirteen guitar amp models and four stompbox emulations, including the venerable Boss OD-1. Unfortunately, these can't be used at the same time. Also, you can't experiment with different cabinets for the preamps, like you can on the GX-700. But, compared to the GX-700, the VF-1 does have a couple more emulations: ”blues”, ”vox drive” and ”crunch” preamps are all very usable especially when shredding on a guitar with single-coils.
I always appreciated the Boss GX-700 Soldano and 5150 amps, when appropriately EQ'd, of course. Coming from the VF-1, they sound even more luxurious, especially when using the wonderful digital output. Hell, even the previously grating Boogie emulation sounds passable coming from the VF-1.
The preamp section is perfectly complemented by a fine four-band EQ module. Finally, a four-bander in a Boss box. You get a decent 20 decibels of adjustment for each band. The noise suppressor, however, fails to impress with its choppy operation. Somehow Boss never got that right. Zoom Corporation, for one, was and is light years ahead in smooth noise reduction.
Tape and Dimension
Like in many Boss boxes there's an isolated chorus module offering both mono and stereo functionality. The modulation section also features the usual suspects: a flanger, a dual-band chorus, and four types of phasers. Also in this module is another four-band EQ in case you want a total of eight bands of sonic sweeping inside your patches.
Other effects in the VF-1's arsenal include five Roland Sound Space (RSS) algorithms, an emulation of the Roland Tape Echo delay (with adjustable tape distortion), a mic simulator, and a Roland Dimension D chorus (from the SX-700 from 1996). All of these effects are very good if used sparingly.
Hidden in this box are many sonic treasures for general studio use. The dedicated reverb algorithms are probably taken from Boss' earlier unit, the SX-700. This is a good thing. These reverbs feature tons of adjustable parameters and sound great most of the time. The maximum decay length, like in the SX-700, is 32 seconds. These reverb algorithms shouldn't be mistaken with the reverbs offered by the guitar patches in the VF-1. The guitar algorithms come with the acoustic processing capabilities found in the GX-700. This means two average halls, two poorly rooms, and a sterile plate. Make sure you don't use those on your vocals.
My VF-1 also features a speaker modeling algorithm. This allows you to sample your audio as if it was played through a professional monitor speaker – or a tiny boom box. There are eleven virtual speakers to tinker with. Your results may vary; the effect isn't fantastic. Then again the manual states you do need a set of Roland speakers for optimal performance.
Other special effects in the VF-1 include above-average lofi-processing and rotary speaker algorithms. Less exotic effects include a de-esser for vocals, a hum canceler, and a frequency enhancer – a take on the Boss EH-2 box perhaps?
The mastering patches, while fine on paper, are not on par with a pro-grade solution. This is mostly because of the connectivity provided. While the digital out is great, a digital in would also be useful in providing hiss-free input for the box to work with. However, I was thrilled to discover a dedicated ten-band EQ algorithm.
All the good modules aside, the box does feature quite a few clunkers. The ”bass guitar simulator” is nothing but an exceptionally poorly-tracking pitch shifter. And while the two bass preamps are good, the accompanying bass distortion boxes are extremely bad, lacking any semblance of definition (protip: keep the distortion level at zero). The acoustic guitar preamp is nothing but a very tinny and mediocre preamp.
In closing, the Boss VF-1 is a highly useful tool for the small studio owner. If you feel like scoring some quality outboard gear instead of another bunch of plugins, why not hit eBay today and look this pink box up.