Demo & Review: Roland SP-404MKII Sampling Workstation

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Roland SP-404MKII Sampling Workstation

The Evolution of Sampling

The original Roland SP-404 changed the game in terms of taking hardware sampling to the next level. The evolution is here with the SP-404MKII, which adds a ton of new features. 17 ultra-expressive pads and updated knobs give you smooth, hands-on control, while an OLED screen and zoomable waveform view give you a clear visual look at your samples.

New additions are a revamped sampling and sequencing workflow, Skip Back Sampling for quick performance capture, DJ mode to mix beats live, a Vinyl Simulator, and more. Dustin Good gave us a very complete rundown and demo showing all the new features, which you can watch below.

Video Transcript

Hey what's up, this is Dustin from Roland and I'm here hanging out at Cosmo Music and I'm very excited to show you all the brand new SP-404MKII.

The SP-404MKII is the brand new model in a long lineage of legendary samplers, the SP series from Boss and Roland. Now we've taken the spirit of the 404 that everybody loves and we've updated it with a ton of new features based on how this instrument has kind of grown in the culture over the past 12 years since the last model was released. To get started let's take a look at some of the different connections that we have. So we've updated the in and outs on the back. We now have quarter inch jacks, stereo in and stereo out, we've got MIDI in and out now, and we're using 3.5 millimeter jacks for this, and that's type A MIDI. And if you're looking for a cable to use with that you should check out the Boss B MIDI series, works perfectly with the 404. Now we've also added a USB-C on the back. Now this is really exciting because not only does the USB-C carry MIDI, it carries audio back and forth to your smartphone or tablet without the need for any drivers. So that means you can sample from your tablet from your phone and if you want to make a quick video just plug it in and the main output is going to your tablet or phone right away. It also can provide power and it's also battery powered. If you want, we've got the DC input on the back for power as well as an optional SD card slot on the side. Now this is really exciting. We've added 16 gigabytes of internal storage in the SP-404MKII so you can load projects and samples to and from the SD card on the side and you can even convert your old SP-404 SX and SP 404a projects to work with the MKII using the app that we'll take a look at in just a little bit. Now on the front, we've got two headphone jacks. We've got quarter inch and 3.5 millimeter. We also have a mic and guitar input with manual gain as well as a switch depending on what kind of input you're using, and also on that input we've got a bunch of really cool effects that you can use to sample live.

Why don't we jump right into it? We'll start making a beat and we'll look at some of the new features. While we do that, I've got my iPad here. I'm going to go ahead and plug that into the USB-C right on the back as I mentioned. Don't need to make any different settings, I've got Roland's Zen Beats. I got a little loop that I made. I'm going to go ahead and press External Source just so I can hear any input coming from the USB external inputs. Whatever, let's take a listen right away.

Nice, simple little loop.

Alright, let's get ready to sample that. So we've now got 16 velocity sensitive pads on the SP-404MKII. Actually it's 17 velocity sensitive pads including the sub pad. Now I'm going to keep these for now on fixed velocity, but we've got a couple new types of settings that allow you to perform in different ways. Now real quick, just to show you that some of those settings are 16 velocities which allows you to play any sample at different velocity levels, increasing as you move on the pads. That's just really useful to add kind of like, human feels, to shakers and things like that. And we've also got chromatic mode now. You can play the pads chromatically with any of your samples.

All right let's jump in and we're going to record this loop that I've got from Zen Beats. First thing I want to do is just pick an empty pad. I'm going to press record, select the pad so now the SP404 is waiting for audio to come right in. Let's press play, and it's going to start recording right away. There we go.

Alright, so I've got one loop there recording completed, so just as simple as that, I've got that sample right on this pad. Now some of the new features for dealing with samples on the SP-404MKII, you just press start and end, the beautiful new OLED screen, we can zoom in, see our sample that we just recorded, we can change the pitch and the speed. Now this is really powerful. So we can speed things up, slow them down, we can use what's called Vinyl Mode, which is that kind of old-school way of pitching up and down. As you can hear, changes the pitch and the speed at the same time, but we've also added BPM sync as well as a mode where we can just turn that vinyl off and we can change the pitch without changing the speed. Right, so it's like time stretching kind of technology is right inside the SP-404MKII Now, but I'm going to leave that on Vinyl Mode, keep it old school. We can go in, we can truncate our samples if we want to. What I want to do is chop this up first, so I'm going to go shift and go to chop mode, and there's a couple different ways to chop samples. I'm going to go to Auto Mark and I'm going to select Transient and what this is going to do is look for the transients in the audio file and automatically, it's going to put some different markers down. So now we see we've got three pads lit up. You can hear the first chop, second chop, and third chop. You know what? I don't want that last one so I'm just going to go in, I'm going to edit this manually real quick. Nice, and then the last one there and move that over as well. Awesome, so now I've got those chops there. I'm just going to go ahead and assign these to some pads quick as that I'm going to go one, two, three, and now from the recording that we took from the iPad, we've got these three different sample chops.

I'm going to go ahead and change the setting on these pads. We're going to turn Gate off for each of them so they play out after we hit them once. I'm also going to go ahead and put these into what's called a Mute group. So we have 10 Mute groups and I'm going to choose those three pads quick as that just means that they're going to choke one another if you play one pad right after the other. The other one's going to stop. Just like that.

Now I want some drums so I've already got a drum loop loaded into the SP just like that.

Now I'm going to chop this up as well. This time I'm going to use a different kind of chop. As soon as you go to chop mode, you're able to use the pads to start playing the sample and put in chops manually in real time. Check this out. Nice, let's take a listen, and again I'm just gonna go in there, kick that up real quick.

There we go. So now just like before, I've got all my chops set up. I'm just gonna automatically assign these to some pads. Let's go pads one through eight. There we go. Now we've got all our different drum chops ready to go. I'm gonna do the same thing, change our mode. And I'll do a mute group for these as well. Let's go to Mute group B. There we go. Perfect.

The SP-404MKII comes loaded up with lots of different factory sounds for you to get started with, but as you can see, it's really easy to get started with your own sounds as well. So what I'm going to do is take a look at the new pattern sequencer. Now that we've got some of these samples loaded up and ready to go, and I'm going to use some of the samples we just put in there, and we just created, and then I'll go ahead and layer them with some of the factory presets that come in here. What we want to do is press Pattern Select, and we're going to go ahead and select an empty pad to put a pattern. Pattern on press record, select that pad, now here we're able to choose the BPM of our pattern and that BPM is set for the entire bank if you'd like, which is really great if you want to use different sections. We can set our length, let's go straight to four bars, and this is really cool, we've got quantization strength. So if I put that up to 100, that means that everything I play will be fixed on a grid. I can change that grid, I'm going to keep it on 16s for now, but what's really cool is while you're recording you can change that grid in real time to add a bit of a looser feel. But I want to start with 100 first. So I'm getting ready to record, let's press Record one more time. As soon as I press a pad and start playing we're gonna start recording. Let's start with those drums. Nice. Perfect. Now I'm going to go ahead and record some of the samples that I took from the iPad.

What's really nice is I can press Record and I'm in what's called Audition Mode. So here, I can go ahead and play some pads without recording them into the sequencer. but when I'm ready, I can just press record again. Now I'm going to go ahead and turn the quantization down to like 25, play some drums, and we'll have that loose kind of vibe. Let's try this out.

Awesome, now I just want to find a bass sound. Let's quantize that all the way. I've got a bass sound here. I like it. Let's find one more sound to add in on there. Nice, let's add in that Koto sound there. So I'm just going to go back, run in my pattern, I'm going to press Record. I'm just going to add in that sound at one point. Right here.

One of the most important aspects of 404 sound is the effects. Now what's very different about the SP-404MKII is that you can go in and you can customize which effects are on each of these buttons. Any of the 37 effects that ship with the SP-404 are available to be put on those buttons. Easy to grab real quick. One thing that's really neat about this new system is we've also got a bus effect system, and take a quick look at that what that means, is we can set up multiple effects in different kind of orders, so we can put certain pads through certain effects, and I'm going to do that in just a sec, but also I want to throw on some master effects. We've actually got bus three and four so I'm going to go ahead and select one of the presets, which is throwing everything through an equalizer, and then the classic 303 Vinyl Simulator. So already this will have an effect on how this whole beat sits and sounds with that vinyl sim. And let's take a look at putting some different effects on different pads. I'm going to go ahead and choose which pads we want to go through a different effect, so I'm going to route the drums because they're a little bit big. I added some different hip-hop drums on top of there, I want to like, filter these out a little bit so I'm going to go ahead and put all of these drum effects, excuse me all these drums, through bus two. So now what I can do is go over to bus two, select a filter, and let's take a listen to these drums.

As you can see run through this bandpass filter, so those other drums kind of bang through a little bit more, but all the other pads, all the other samples are going through bus one. So I can put on the classic effects looper. Isolator. Delays.

Many other effects, if you take a look at the MFX, we've got tons of effects here to choose from.. Lots and lots of new effects, reverb, chorus, juno chorus, flangers, tons of stuff. So cool. So as you can see we've kept that 404 flavour but we've added so much more. One thing I want to point out is that we've added a really neat feature called Skip Back Sampling. Now Skip Back Sampling, that allows you to access a 25 second buffer of anything you've been doing. So anytime you're making noise on the SP-404MKII, it's recording. So I go ahead I press Mark. Just press the Mark button, you can see we have a waveform, just like a sample on the screen, and what this is, is this is the last 25 seconds of whatever I was doing, so that means if you've got a cool idea, you're sitting on the couch working on a beat, you make something cool, you forgot how you did it, you just press Mark, check out the Skip Back Sampling. You can sample that to a pad. As easy as that.

You know, playing back full tracks is something that a lot of people like to do. So what we've done is we've added what we call DJ mode to press these two buttons together. We're going to go to a brand new mode and in DJ mode, it's like having two decks and a DJ controller or two records and a mixer. We can go ahead and we can just select not a record or a track, but select a pad to go on either of those kind of DJ decks, so I can just pretty much go in, grab any pad, any full beat, load it into the deck, do the same thing for channel two, and now I've got two tracks that are playing once I press play. And we've got a little mixer section on top and we've got control of our Q mix on the top as well. As you can see, we've got our BPM readout and the buttons along the pads are now shown as having different functions. So we've got Play and Pause, Q, Rewind to the beginning of the track. We've got BPM up and down, we can even bend the tempo just like you're touching a record. And then we've also got BPM sync. So as soon as I press Sync on channel two, it's automatically gonna sync the BPM to channel one. This is greatly increasing the type of performances you can do with the SP-404MKII. Really great for having a portable thing to play back full tracks and take advantage of all the effects.

So to help you manage your samples and projects, we've got the free SP-404MKII app. Now this app runs on Windows or Mac, and you can download it for free via Roland Cloud. So with the app, you can easily drag and drop samples straight from your folders directly onto a pad, and this is working in real time with the SP-404MKII, so you don't need to set everything up and then transfer it over as soon as you drag and drop your file on, it's immediately in the hardware. And now we have that sample rate on the pad, we just put it on also within the app. Aside from just loading in samples, you can edit specifics of each of those samples in terms of the behaviour. You can truncate, normalize, add emphasis, you can also manage patterns and many other settings. Another thing that we've seen coming out of the SP-404 culture is customization, and you know we recognize this and we love this, so what we've done with the SP-404MKII is made it that much easier. We've given you the ability to pop off the face plate using these four hex screws and you can go ahead customize it however you want, and we even are going to be giving you the design file. You can download from the website not only the faceplate but you also have the ability to customize the startup screen so you can put your own logo on the screen for when you turn the SP on, and you can customize the screen saver.

So thanks for checking out the 404MKII with us today. It's a brand new era in the SP lineage. To find out more, head over to CosmoMusic.ca.

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