April 14, 2015

Roland On The Case...

by Chris Randall

Details of the long-rumored Roland Eurorack modules leaked today, ahead of the Musikmesse announcement. In a nutshell, four 21HP DSP-based stereo effects units (delay, distortion, "scatter" effect, and bitcrusher/filter) with both 9VDC and Euro power connectors on the back, along with USB for Aira connectivity, and the ability to live as a desktop unit. $299 each.

Now, as my time in the music tech business has lengthened, I've gradually stopped putting up editorials about gear on this site, because I have to see all these people at NAMM and various other functions all the time, and I don't want to be that crabby old man that sits in the corner grumbling. But for these, I'll make an exception.

Roland is like Stevie Wonder. At one time, a long time ago, Stevie made some records that are ludicrously good. Then, in the mid-80s, he made "Ebony and Ivory" and "I Just Called (To Say I Love You)." And he's been coasting ever since. As musicians, each and every one of us respects Stevie Wonder, and we all own all those good records and know them by heart. But we willfully ignore everything past a certain point.

Sure, once in a while, Stevie does something that just makes us go "wow." But on the whole, we're not terribly interested. If Stevie went back in the studio and made some stinky, funky iteration of "I Wish," we'd all be like "daaaaaaamn, Stevie still got it!" But for the most part, we're not too concerned with what he's up to.

Same thing with Roland.

Talk of Roland snooping around Euro was the main grist for the NAMM rumor mill, at least among the Euro guys. Our general consensus was that either they would come up with something that would move the platform way forward, or they would repackage their guitar pedals.

As we can plainly see, it is the latter case.

I will say one thing: these will be a powerful gateway drug, as they will be a much less threatening introduction to the platform. But for the real Euro user, they miss the mark by a country mile. What a waste of the biggest and best R&D department in the industry.


When I wrote the above, we didn't know about the System 500. This changes matters quite a bit, and here's how:

1. Powerful gateway drug? I don't even. The System 500 is a very, very good thing on that front, as it is a comprehensive and (I assume) well-supported starter system with Roland's marketing machine behind it. This will really hurt companies that sell full voices for n00b buyers (Pittsburgh, Intellijel, Doepfer, et al) but for those of us that deal primarily in the icing, not the cake, this is a HUGE deal. Especially for us, because I'll note that we sell the best "Roland-style" sequencer on the market, and Roland didn't make a sequencer.

2. This system will be in every music gear retailer on the planet, thus bringing the concept of modular synthesis to the masses, in a way that the existing Euro manufacturers could never hope to do.

Overall, I'm like "whatevs" with the digital modules, because they're by and large pretty dumb and duplicate already-existing Euro products, and not well. But the analog system is, to all appearances, absolutely outstanding, and exactly what was needed.


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Apr.14.2015 @ 5:02 PM
Yeah, these do nothing for me. But, to their credit, these are the least ugly things Roland has made in nigh on two decades.

I'm a little intrigued by the scooper effect description, interested enough to at least reserve judgment until I hear audio from it. Might have potential as a little standalone unit.

"Sure, once in a while, Stevie does something"

To that end, he did some soundtrack work for Spike Lee in the 90s, I remember digging it.

Apr.14.2015 @ 10:09 PM
With these and the Pittsburgh Patchbox, I imagine that the eurorack market could change dramatically over the next year.

I chuckle to myself, imagining the first time Roland support has to deal with someone who connected the power cable backwards.

Apr.15.2015 @ 12:25 AM
System1 desktop is cool and i'm gonna get one. I have been using 101 and SH-2 plugins and been wishing to have control for those without keyboard. If it also connects to euro it's a nice bonus.

But what about the submodules thing?

To me it sounds cool to have module that you can edit with computer and load in new code to change it's function. Sure i would love to have all those as separate modules, but it's not something i'm willing to invest my money.

"But for the real Euro user, they miss the mark by a country mile"
I'm one of those non-real Euro users so these might hit the mark. But i also actually make music with my gear and gig with it and that is something that most real Euro users don't do :P

Apr.15.2015 @ 5:08 AM
...but , then there is the system 500 .

Apr.15.2015 @ 6:40 AM
"I will say one thing: these will be a powerful gateway drug, as they will be a much less threatening introduction to the platform."
Think it like this: every store that currently sale Aira line will soon have Eurorack modules on sale. It's the first time that masses will have chance to play with modulars. Great news for companies like AD ;) Also great news for us consumers. Maybe one day i can pick new AD module from local music store.

Apr.15.2015 @ 6:51 AM
Chris Randall
As soon as I wake up, a big edit incoming, as the System 500 changes matters quite a bit.


Apr.15.2015 @ 6:54 AM
I have felt the same way you describe about Roland...until now. Here are the reasons.

1. The plug-out concept in the module means you could put virtual software under CV control. That could get really interesting.

2. The system 500 modules. They basically created a path to euro addiction through the System 1, and then onto the 500.

3. The 'FX Pedals' are more than just that. They are like little mini Nord Modulars in and of themselves. There is a lot of potential to explore a sweet spot between what CV can do and what DSP/Midi can do in this system. That kind of excites me.

Long term, I think this is going to shake up the Euro market quite a bit. Having a big company like Roland who can bring true scale to keep the prices down (heard a rumor the 500 modules are going to be $300 each...Find me a good dual oscillator for $300...) that it could bring about a shake down in the euro market that could hurt the cottage industry that it is. Is that good or bad? don't know....Ill have to see. I'm just glad I don't work at any of those companies reading this news...

Apr.15.2015 @ 7:15 AM
Simeon Smith
Hmmm... I'm just not sure I understand the price-point/features here. Most smallish companies (like AD, I presume) have smallish distribution lists and therefore the modules cost what they cost. Why would a large company come in with a similar product to AD/MakeNoise at a higher price-point to many boutique makers?

I can't help but wonder why no R&D guy said "Hang on, the one thing these small companies can't compete on is price!" and created smaller, cheaper modules. Hell, if they can make guitar pedals for 60 quid a pop, they could have sold smaller cheaper modules like hot cakes. Look at what Korg did with the Volcas!

Now I'm not encouraging a "race to the bottom" on price and subsequently quality, but cheap is something that ONLY big companies can sustain. Watch Korg release a 50 quid eurorack monotron and all of us rush to preorder.

Apr.15.2015 @ 8:37 AM
"Overall, I'm like "whatevs" with the digital modules, because they're by and large pretty dumb and duplicate already-existing Euro products, and not well. "
So there is digital FX modules that you can patch with your phone?
It looks like you can do FX that yesterday required modules worth of $2000 with just one module. I'll assume that you can have unlimited amount of sub module. Meaning that you can have delay that has 4 LFO's, 4 ENV's, ring modulator, Gate divider, four filters and mixer (or two). IMO that's forward thinking and makes other digital modules look pretty lame. AND you can have it on desktop!

Apr.15.2015 @ 8:41 AM
"I'll assume that you can have unlimited amount of sub module"

Hmm, that seems like a pretty big assumption.

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