You just bought a Boss SP-202, what next?

Forum

While GearSpace and ModWiggler both have some subforums with a bit of information on the Boss SP-202, the best place to find information is at sp-forums.com. There is a specific forum at SP-Forums that is dedicated to the Boss SP-202, and while it is pretty quiet, there is a lot of good information contained, and was a solid source for getting some details for this specific page. You can get access to the forum anonymously, but to post it appears you’ll need an invite from somebody on the forums. I don’t have an account on sp-forums, so I won’t be able to get you an invite :(.

There seems to be a lot of information on the SP-202 over on reddit, but r/sp202 is dead, maybe check r/sp404?

Tutorials

Seriously, you cannot go wrong with checking out SPvidz over on YouTube. Start here for sure!

Manual

You can currently still find the Boss SP 202 manual on Roland’s website, but the folks over at SP-Forums have archived off both the user manual and the service manual.

Better for the user manual, somebody took the time to convert it to text, so it is now a searchable PDF that you can get access to at: SP-202_OM_searchable.pdf

If you are interested in repairing your SP-202, you’ll probably be interested to get ahold of it at: roland_sp-202_dr.sample_sm.pdf

Firmware

I am not aware of the SP-202 being able to have firmware updated, though I am sure it has some kind of firmware to make it all run. So as far as I know, there isn’t any way to change the behavior of the SP-202 or anybody that has taken any steps to reverse engineer how it works. That said, it is an area I may come back to in the future to see if there have been any hackers who have done anything interesting to the device.

Power Adaptor

So to start, the most important thing you should know about the power adaptor for the SP-202 is that it is 9v and center negative. It also needs the adaptor to provide at least 300ma in order for it to be properly and fully powered.

Additional information AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Many guitar pedals use 9v and center negative power, so if you have a power adaptor for your guitar pedal, it is quite likely 9v and center negative. Personally I would still check the specifications on the power supply, but chances are that if it provides over 300ma it should work. If you are feeling extra fancy, and have enough power, you may even be able to power guitar pedals and the SP-202 off the same power supply with a splitter that allows you to power multiple 9v devices off of the same power.

The SP-303 needs a 9v 1000ma power adaptor, and I have found this to work just fine with the SP-202. So technically if you have a power supply that works for the SP-303, it should work. Again, I’d still check that the power supply is 9v and center negative, but it should work.

Battery Power

You probably already know this, but the SP-202 can run off of 6 AA batteries. The manual says to expect 8 hours of continuous use off of Alkaline batteries. In practice I find I get about 5-8 hours roughly. This should be more than enough time for most people, and if you need more time you can always bring more batteries or look into using an external USB power pack with a USB to 9v center negative power adaptor.

Personally I tend to stay off of battery power where possible to avoid ground loop or other issues that can introduce noise into the system, but if you’re using the SP-202 battery powered with headphones you should be fine. We’ve all got different tolerances or awareness of some of these noises, and some devices may not exhibit this noise, so if you don’t notice, hear, or get bothered by it, don’t worry about it and just have fun!

SmartMedia

The Boss SP-202 uses 5v SmartMedia (SSFDC) cards and from what I have researched they must be either 2MB or 4MB cards, anything larger or smaller will not work. The majority of SmartMedia cards out there are are larger than 4mb, and of the 3.3v variety, so definitely keep an eye out and make sure you know the specifications if you are looking to get a memory card.

To insert the card into the SP-202, you will put the contract traces towards the SP-202 and flip the card so that the contact traces are facing down, then gently insert it into the device.

Of particular note, these cards have been, and continue to be expensive. As of September 2021, they look to be going for around $100 for a 2MB card and $150 for a 4MB card. That’s a lot of money for something that doesn’t necessarily provide a ton of value.

A question that comes up a lot is whether the SmartMedia cards are even worth it for the SP-202. That’s something you’ll have to answer for yourself, but here are a few notes.

  • The only way to access banks C/D are through SmartMedia
  • Samples played from SmartMedia consume 3 of the 4 available voices
  • Samples played from SmartMedia cannot use the Pitch, Time, or Delay filters
  • Banks C/D are the only way to record 4 minute or longer samples
  • SmartMedia is the only way you can backup samples from internal memory

Sourcing Media

If you’re not up for paying market prices for the 5v SmartMedia, there are a few ways you might be able to find some at a reasonable price. First, you never know what a pawn shop, thrift store, or yard sale might have. If you keep your eyes open you might just find a deal from somebody who doesn’t know what they have.

Another tactic is to look for specific devices that used compatible SmartMedia. There’s a nice cheat sheet provided at SP-Forums, that I am typing up from the screenshot provided in the thread. In theory, any device that used the 2MB or 4MB cards should be compatible with the SP-202, so definitely check eBay, Craigslist, or other places for these devices and see if they have SmartMedia cards included with them.

Compatible Instruments

  • Roland Boss SP-202 DR Sample
  • Roland MC-505 Groovebox
  • Roland JX-305 GrooveSynth
  • Roland XP-30
  • Roland JP-8080
  • Roland SRV-3030
  • Roland SRV-3030D
  • Roland VM-7100
  • Roland VM-7200

Compatible Cameras

  • Conia Minolta Dimage V
  • Fuji film DS-7
  • Fuji film DS-8
  • Fuji DS-5160A
  • Fuji film DX-5
  • Fuji film DX-7
  • Fuji film DX-8
  • Fuji film DX-9
  • Fuji film MX-700
  • Apple Quicktake 200
  • Polaroid PDS-2000.60
  • Philips ESP60
  • Philips ESP80
  • Sega Digio
  • Sega SJ-1
  • Samsung Digimax 150
  • Toshiba 007

SmartMedia Care

Be very careful about touching the SmartMedia card’s contact traces with your fingers. The oil on your fingers can bother interrupt the circuit, and can cause the traces to oxidize and corrode, possibly decreasing the lift of the SmartMedia card.

If you are having problems getting the SP-202 to use the SmartMedia card, one thing to try would be to use a q-tip or cotton swab with rubbing alcohol and gently apply it to the SmartMedia contact traces to try and remove any possible debris that may still be on the card. Don’t forget to let the rubbing alcohol to evaporate before putting it back into the Sp-202. I would be very hesitant about using any chemicals that are much stronger or applying to much pressure because the SmartMedia cards are quite fragile.

Samples

Assuming you have available internal storage or SmartMedia storage for sampling time, and a free slot to sample to on A/B or C/D, the actual process for sampling is pretty quick and straightforward.

The SP-202 records samples at 16-bit, and the Sampling Grade is what determines the sample rate. Hi-Fi records at 31.25khz, Standard records at 15.63khz, Lo Fi 1 records at 7.81khz, and Lo Fi 2 records at 3.91khz.

Even at the Hi-Fi setting the SP-202 is still considered lo fidelity as it does not even reach 44.1khz which is believed to be a minimum sample rate for any modern gear to provide a listening experience that does not create artifacts due to the Nyquist frequency.

Sampling

To start sampling, choose your source, and make sure that you have the switch on the front of your SP-202 set to LINE if you want to sample from your line input or MIC if you want to sample from the built in microphone or a microphone plugged into the MIC jack.

If you want to sample to A/B make sure you are either of the A or B banks, and if you want to sample to C/D make sure you are either of the C or D banks. From here, press the REC button to put the SP-202 into record mode, which will immediately open up input from your selected source, so just make some noise to hear if it sounds loud enough, and see the pad that it will record to begin to blink. You can use the CONTROL knob to adjust the incoming volume from your input source, and for myself I tend to make sure I barely see the LED below the CONTROL knob blinking to reduce clipping and artifacts, though certainly feel free to crank it up if that’s the effect you are going for.

The next thing to determine is what Sample Rate you want to record at (Hi-Fi, Standard, Lo Fi 1, or Lo Fi 2), and whether you want to record mono or stereo. Just remember that mono takes up twice as much sample time and for Hi-Fi requires more voices from the SP-202. Once you are satisfied with your selections, press REC again and then start playing your audio to record.

When you are done sampling, press REC to end the sampling session, or if you just let it run it will continue sampling until the unit has run out of memory.

Congrats, you should now have a sample you can play back!

NOTE: If you are finding your recordings noisy, one thing to try to reduce your noise floor by playing from your sample source as loud as possible, before using the CONTROL knob to increase the audio of the sample source. This can be a little bit more of an art than science sometimes, but I personally find it better to increase the sound on the source first and then amplify the audio to the desired level where I am recording.

Sampling Time

To see how much sample time you have left, just press the REMAIN button, and the BPM window will indicate the length of remaining time available.

The numbers listed below are for mono samples, you will want to halve all of the numbers if you intend to record in stereo samples.

Sampling GradeSample RateInternal StorageExternal Storage (2mb)External Storage (4mb)
Hi-Fi31.25khz0m 32s2m 14s4m 27s
Standard15.63khz1m 05s4m 27s8m 55s
Lo Fi 17.81khz2m 10s8m 55s17m 51s
Lo Fi 23.91khz4m 20s17m 51s35m 43s
Sample Grades and Mono Sampling Time

Resampling

The SP-202 does not support resampling, so if you wanted to resampling something onto your SP-202 after applying effects, you are forced to record to an external device (computer, tape recorder, other sampler), and then record it back in. I’ll leave that as an exercise for you, but do be aware that this will add more grit to your samples, and whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is certainly up to the user.

Polyphony

The SP-202 supports playing up to 4 voices, but these voices can quickly be used by Hi-Fi grade samples, samples played from SmartMedia, and from using the built in FX.

If a pad is pressed that requires more voices that are available then the first sound played will be turned off in order to fill the request of playing a new sound. Using this as a side effect of how voices are allocated, you can somewhat use this as a track mute effect if you plan accordingly.

Internal MONOInternal StereoExternal MonoExternal StereoSource
Normal Playback12342
Reverse Playback24Not AvailableNot AvailableNot Available
Time Stretch3Not AvailableNot AvailableNot AvailableNot Available
Delay3Not AvailableNot AvailableNot AvailableNot Available
Filter 1/2 Hi-Fi344Not Available4
Filter 1/2 (standard/LoFi)244Not Available4
Ring Mod Hi-Fi344Not Available4
Ring Mod (standard/LoFi)244Not Available4
Playback/Filters and Polyphony

So what does this tell us? If you’re going to use filters, you are going to use up your voices very quickly on the SP-202. If it is important to you to have all four voices available to you, then you’re going to need to run everything in MONO, off of Internal memory, and not use any filters. On the other hand, if you’re going to be playing only one sound at a time, then you may only want to know which modes and filters are available to you based on the chart above.

Microphone

If you set the SOURCE SELECT switch on the front of the SP-202 to MIC, it will by default use the internal microphone. When you connect an external microphone to the microphone jack in the front of the SP-202, the internal microphone will be disabled and then it will get a signal only from the external microphone.

The manual doesn’t do much to specify what type(s) of microphones are compatible with the SP-202, and while I find my AKG microphone seems to work fine, I’d like to take some time to see if I can find a list of what types of microphones should be expected to work.

I have also seen some people consider using guitar pedals into the microphone jack, which while interesting in concept, I will have to do some more research before I give this a try.

MORE RESEARCH REQUIRED.

Sequencing

The SP-202 has no onboard sequencer, so you will either need to record loops for content, or use an external sequencer. From all reports, the DR-202 pairs quite nicely with the SP-202, and is certainly worth checking out.

Other than that, anything that has a midi output jack, and allows you to specify which midi notes are being sent and to which channel should work well. The MPC line is certainly something worth investigating, and of course a computer with most any DAW ought to work properly.

Page 38 of the user manual has details of which SP-202 pads and banks map to which Midi Notes and Midi Note Numbers.

FX – Pitch

The Pitch effect is probably the most commonly used effect on the SP-202. It definitely has a different characteristic to it than the SP-303 and SP-404. The effect itself alters the pitch of the sample by playing the sample faster or slower, causing a change in pitch to change the BPM and timing of the sample.

The maximum range of the Pitch change appears to be -4 semitones when the CONTROL knob is turned fully counter clockwise, and +2 semitones when the CONTROL knob is turned fully clockwise.

You can test this for yourself by recording a C note into the SP-202, and then with Pitch on you should see that the note tuning at it’s lowest is a G#, and at the highest you should see the tuning is D.

FX – Time Stretch

The Time Stretch effect is used to alter the length of time of the sample playing, without altering its pitch. This is frequently used to take a loop and speed it up or slow it down without altering the pitch so that the sample will stay in tune with other samples that you have recorded.

To note, this effect cannot be used on stereo samples, and cannot be used on samples recorded to banks C/D (SmartMedia card), or when reverse playback is used. This is likely a limitation with the number of voices that the SP-202 has.

FX – Delay

Personally I find this effect to be the worst thought out, it is stuck at 50% wet and you have no option for feedback. Worse, it stops the delay when the sample stops playing. I am sure that it is related to conserving voices on the SP-202, but it just makes for a more difficult effect to use, especially compared to the other effects on the SP-202.

That said, a few things to try with the Delay:

  • To have the delay play beyond the length of the sample record silence at the end of the sample.
  • Push the up or down buttons to increase or decrease the delay by changing BPM speed.
  • Change the delay knob while playing a sample to get a kind of glitched out effect

FX – Filter 1

This is a pretty standard non resonant low pass filter. It does the job, and a lot of people feel it sounds better than the low pass filter on the SP-303 and SP-404. It is definitely useful, but I am currently not convinced that it has any special properties going for it, and will definitely need to do more testing to see if I change my mind.

If you’re recording content in using LoFi 1 or LoFi 2, this is absolutely a solid option for getting high end artifacts under control, and honestly having any low pass filter is a necessity when dealing with noisy content.

FX – Filter 2

This is a pretty standard resonant low pass filter. While Filter 1 has no resonance, Filter 2 will add a little emphasis right around where the cutoff frequency is set that can give a little bit more shimmer or emphasis to a sample that is playing. I was hoping that the manual would cover how resonant the filter is, but that’s not outlined in the manual.

One trick that is mentioned and I’ll note here, is that you can get a pretty compelling Wah Wah effect from Filter two by rotating the knob manually. Sure, guitar pedals have an LFO to do this for you, but if you wanted to get a different or specific Wah Wah pattern, you might be able to do something here.

FX – Ring Modulation

A ring modulator is an effect that takes a signal, and more or less makes it sound more metallic. This effect cannot be used on stereo samples recorded to banks C/D or when reverse playback is being used.

Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of this effect, but I should give it more of a chance.

Tips

Here’s a collection of tips I’ve found while using the SP-202, digging through SP-Forums, and other places. If I get some more time in the future I might expand on these someplace, but all of these are definitely worth giving a shot if you’re looking to try something new on the SP-202 to get the creative juices flowing.

  • Create a breakbeat loop, set delay to the center point and wiggling to create a Questlove’ish pattern (https://sp-forums.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=7540)
  • We all know the 202 has a killer low-end filter. Find a sample with an ill and audible bassline. Put it on one pad. Put the same sample on a pad right next to it (using the Mark Button and setting the BPM prior to recording the second sample comes in handy here). Apply the low-end to one of the pads and tweak till the high-end frequencies have been eliminated to your preference and bang! Works like a primitive resampling feature if used correctly. When I turn my 202 on/off it retains the settings which is a quirky feature I appreciate. (https://sp-forums.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=5014)
  • I also used to re-sample by recording my effected sample to cassette or mini-disc and throwing it back in the 202. Quite a process but that’s how it was done in 1998! (https://sp-forums.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=5014)
  • You can engage reverse while a sample is playing to ping ping a sample (same on the 303)
  • if you have a turntable or tape deck with pitch control, you could sample drums pitched up and then use the pitch effect to slow them back down. or filters, or reduced quality record mode might do the trick. 
  • Try recording in with different bit depth settings
  • Use Filter 2 to low pass filter and isolate the bass
  • Don Golman method – breaks on hifi and samples on standard
  • Clip method – snare on standard, everything else lofi1, and make sure clipping hard (lots of red led)
  • Press Mark button quickly to make short loops (https://sp-forums.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=24039)
  • Fake mute groups (hifi samples, with Filter 1 consume 3 (4?) voices, choking same settings for other samples (https://sp-forums.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=26280)
  • Use mark to create weird loops (live?)

Glitches

If I find anything interesting while researching the SP-202, I’ll put them here.

Repair

I haven’t found too much information outside of the service manual and a few people posting some tips on areas to check and solder, but definitely wanted to capture things here for people who are having issues with their SP-202.

Battery prong repair (https://sp-forums.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=26795)

Defect Units (https://sp-forums.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=26019)

I have found my knobs to be super wobbly, but they still work just fine, so I haven’t taken the time to replace them. One thing I have found though is that the VOLUME knob and the CONTROL knob are not exactly the same, so when doing repair make sure to check the manual on what values you need for the two knobs, as they are different.

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