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.