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.15.2015 @ 9:41 AM
Did anyone else notice the Malekko logo on the System 500 modules?
Sup wit dat?

Apr.15.2015 @ 9:50 AM
This is way way awesome news for the exact reason someone already posted - modular into music retailers everywhere. There's no modular in my town at all, despite having half a dozen music instrument dealers - and being a newb with a skinny wallet - buying modules based on videos is not ideal. Very exciting times - bring on the 500.

Apr.15.2015 @ 10:33 AM
Roland may be a pretty easy company to mostly ignore most of the time, but their stage pianos are the only ones I've found that have keys that feel the way piano keys should. If I ever have to replace my RD-300GX, it will almost certainly be with another Roland unit.
(I've also got my eye on a System-1, but that's more of a price-point thing.)

Apr.15.2015 @ 10:45 AM
Some good comments here, and my initial thoughts were aligned with Chris, ie, who needs the crappy Scatter effect in a Euro format? However, the sub-module programmable element is very, very interesting.

For me, personally, I've looked as some of the Euro modules made by companies such as AD, Malekko and WMD and have absolutely lusted over them, but simply haven't been able to invest the time and effort into going modular, let alone the money.

I have a System-1 and I think the SH-2 emulation is the best soft synth I've heard.

The System-1M will allow me to get an all in one package as a kind of starter, or the System 500 modules (priced excellently), and then get all those Eurorack modules I've desired for a while (such as the DubJr and Sequencer 1).

In my book, Roland - love or loathe them - have forced a win-win situation for anyone into synths.

Great time to be a synth-nerd.

Apr.15.2015 @ 5:59 PM
@thatguy Malekko was involved in the design and manufacturing of these modules (link [malekkoheavyindry.co...])

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing what's possible with the digital modules; I think the concept of programmable submodules is quite clever and hope that they expand on it with oscillators and modulation sources

Apr.15.2015 @ 8:08 PM
so glad the 500 series is outta the bag. exhale.

the rest of the year will be pretty interesting in modular land. everyone is working on rad new stuff. just watched the erica synths messe interview.. holy crappers.. some interesting stuff there. and new hotness from all the usual suspects as well. curious you are up to at AD as well! that panel you let slip has a lot going on.

i've seen some variation of this comment many times and in many places:

"that's it. i'm going modular"

Apr.15.2015 @ 9:53 PM
Chris Randall
@boobs: Check your MW email.

But yeah. I'm seeing a lot of people that have said the System 500 pushed them over the edge. Since we make value-added products for systems, the more systems people buy, the happier we are.


Apr.15.2015 @ 10:46 PM
Duke Fame
Pretty freakin' brilliant move by Josh Holley if you ask me.

Apr.16.2015 @ 8:16 PM
CR - checked.. i see nothing :(

Apr.16.2015 @ 9:21 PM
Chris Randall
@boobs: I mailed to sales@

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