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.17.2015 @ 6:17 AM
""I'll assume that you can have unlimited amount of sub module"
Hmm, that seems like a pretty big assumption."

Current version of the editor software shows that you can use at least nine submodules at the same time. Not un-limited, but still enough for complex patch. It can be more, but we know when it's released.

Scatter module is actually sampler and ppl who have used it have said it's the coolest module. With sub-patches you can sample something in and mangle that or use the sample to mangle something else.

IMO with sub-patching these FX modules are THE icing on the cake. So Roland is catering both, cake and the rest :P

Editor: link [www.gearslutz.co...]

Btw, Nick Bat did great interview with Josh from Malekko about 500 modules: link [youtu.be]

Apr.17.2015 @ 3:05 PM
System 1m seems to be a sweet spot of "science project" vs patch storage/repeatability. I'll be interested to see how it handles incoming audio rate CV. Add an outboard analog filter or two, or maybe just an Arturia Microbrute, and you could be set for a while for well under $1K.

Apr.18.2015 @ 3:32 AM
seems, you are on a constant path away from plug-ins towards modular. which seems perfect, if the numbers are right for you. are there any future plans towards releasing plug-ins?

Apr.18.2015 @ 6:13 PM
I guess that everybody else here already has Eurorack in their workflow. I'm piping up as somebody that has never wanted Eurorack because it's not my way of thinking (not good or bad, just is). It's the 'system' part of the Roland gear that's appealing - the one identity as opposed to multiple personalities. If I went for this, I'd choose a case that fit it all neatly and then deal with it as a single thing.

I think that if you drew a Venn diagram of people who rack up and people like me that go for strongly defined systems, the overlap would not be great. You'd somehow have to get the latter to accept a changing sprawl of modules, and that might take quite a different manner of speaking to what works with the current audience.

tl/dr: Roland's audience is not the same audience as the current bespoke euro audience and the cross over influence might not be so great.

Apr.18.2015 @ 7:50 PM
@TomE - there are a few manufacturers who make complete systems. a few others who almost have all the pieces in place.

i think this year we'll see a couple more manufacturers offering complete systems.

Apr.19.2015 @ 5:45 AM
Chris Randall
I think Tom is referring specifically to the Roland _eco_ system, and not what we would refer to as a single-manufacturer voice.

It's kind of funny, because I was reticent about using the Euro stuff in my music, and I tend to go in cycles with it. Right now, I committed to creating an instrument I can actually play, and I'm getting pretty good at it. But at the end of the day, it's still a difficult, complex, and expensive way to make music. Personal satisfaction with your own craftiness aside, Euro is one of the least efficient ways to get sound to people's ear-holes.

But that said, personal satisfaction in my own craftiness is a key aspect of my music-making (and it better be, because it sure as fuck doesn't pay the mortgage.) Right now, I'm greatly enjoying using the Euro. Long-time readers will know that this will eventually wane, and I'll sell the whole rig in a fit of disgust.

To answer the plug-in question from previous, of course, we'll continue releasing software. That is still the majority of our business. I'm working on Ricochet 2 right now.


May.03.2015 @ 11:13 AM
I'll take beat mangling and synchronized live looping without an Octatrack for $300, Alex.

Not at all interested in the Eurorack compatibility, but the Scooper module has me intrigued. Hard to find a sinkable stereo looper for this price. Thanks to the virtual sub-module application's ability to fuss things up a bit and reassign the GRF knobs, I'll probably end up with a Scooper running filter and parallel looping duties on my live mixer's master output.

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