Roland SP-404 mk2 Guide v0.7

This was done yesterday, but family interrupted and I couldn’t get it posted.

I started some information about gain staging, and then got side tracked. I mean it is important, but maybe doesn’t make a *ton* of sense in the context of the mk2, still… will keep it in here for now, and see what makes sense as the book progresses. If anything, having the gain staging section prompted me to go off and try an experiment with EXT SOURCE and the pad turning red. Short answer if you don’t want to read the book is that the pad turns red if you are digitally clipping. If you want this or want to avoid it is definitely up to you.

At least I now have a bit of an idea for a format to run the experiments, and it will help to fill out stuff in the frequently asked questions section. Also, had a few requests for some workflows, so I might try and drop a beat making section. Finally… uhm… tried to start to explain sampling, but got entirely side tracked by the rest of my day, so… will get there eventually, but boy is it so dang simple… I doubt anybody is waiting for me to cover how to record new samples straight in, but there are some cool things you can do… so we’ll see.

Later!

Roland SP-404 mk2 Guide v0.6

This was done yesterday, but family interrupted and I couldn’t get it posted.

Changes here amount to maybe another hour worth of work, primarily focussed on the Sampling section. I figured it would be a good idea to add a Gain Staging section, although this is stubbed out for now. I do feel like I finished the Controls for External Source section for now. I did start on the Microphone/Guitar section, but I’m going to have to get some pedals and guitars hooked up first to verify a few things.

Should have more time today though, to keep things moving 😀

Roland SP-404 mk2 Guide v0.5b

I’ve spent a few days kicking off writing a guide for the Roland SP-404 mk2. Today I got about four hours into working on this document, and there is still so much more to do! You can grab the currently latest version here…

I managed to get a couple more hours into the guide and created a 0.5b document. Some restructuring, adjusting some sections to Roland terminology, and working through the Sampling section a bit.

There is a fair amount about the mk2 that is not terribly well documented, or the way it is defined doesn’t line up well with how I would talk about things for any other gear. Polyphony is a good example, and something like the MPC 500 had 32 note polyphony, but this was monophonic. The mk2 states that it has 32 note polyphony, but this is by voice. I suspect that a voice is stereo not monophonic, but I haven’t quite figured this out definitively. This is leaving me with having to make the decision of figuring things out for sure, or trying to fill out more sections. Both will be valuable and need to be done, but it’s going to be a broader task than I expected.

Also, I had originally thought I wouldn’t try and replicate the online manual, but the more I am writing up the more I think it is necessary to some extent, solely for the reason that I’m concerned that directly referencing an online only manual, that is subject to change, and may not be able to be referenced in the future is going to ask for trouble. So please have some patience, but also feel free to give me any feedback that you may have. For now at least I am all ears!

Couple of SP-404 mk2 tracks

Still having fun with the mk2! I find it to occupy a nice space between my other gear, it’s not as powerful as the MPC Live as a sampler or for creating patterns, but there’s also something refreshing about being limited. Also, the product line has been quite focussed on resampling in the past, and the 404 mk2 really isn’t different from that regard. To get the most out of it you’re encouraged to sample from your line/instrument/mic inputs and use fx to sculpt a sound from there. Yeah yeah… super natural for people who have been there, but I’ve been seeing some people saying they are not into resampling… and what the SP to be something it probably never will be.

At any rate, I think it’s found a spot in my studio… and so far been doing a pretty slick job replacing the SP-202 and SP-303. Definitely does not sound the same, and not sure I’ll sell either off, but for now they are one of the few instruments I’m letting stay tucked away safely and not thinking about selling them off.

CooperFX: Arcades – Satellite Sound Walkthrough

I was bummed to hear that CooperFX was going to end making guitar pedals, but super excited to learn that the next move is to begin working on pedals with Chase Bliss Audio. Amazing! Even more amazing, is that the Satellite card was released as the last card for the Cooper FX: Arcades. Definitely excited to hear what is in store for CooperFX in the future!

I guess this is the last hurrah for the Arcades. My advice to others, unless you have a reason to have the Satellite card for the XP-300 space station emulation, I’d hold out and see what this morphs into over in Chase Bliss land.

Today the Satellite card is already going for well over $500, and it is likely to go higher. This is an insane cost, and while I feel that the card has plenty of value to it, $500 is completely crazy.

Anyways, this is just my walkthrough and take of the card. If there’s interest I’ll happily go through more of the cards to show off what they do.

Drop a note in the comments if you’d like to see something and I’ll see what I can do. Stay cool and keep jamming everybody!

Getting the Tape Grain Glitch case back into working order… plus Track – Sounds From the Universe

More or less took a couple week musical break. Two things happened. First, I wanted to do some more case modifications to my make noise case… and having to take it apart, drill and Dremel… it was a several day investment of time for getting it all squared away, measure everything to get it to fit, get it back together… and just hope that I haven’t overloaded the power supply!

However, that work is done…

The case now has modded into it an ES-8/ES-5/ES-6 for input and output access when I want it… though I’m not sure how much I’ll use the ES-5 because… well it is vampire’d off of the ES-8 outputs 7/8, and I’m pretty sure miRack doesn’t have a silent way patch in it… I suppose I could always figure out the math and make my own patch… but it’s also possible that I send signals out 7/8… and use the ES-5 as a somewhat random output… I don’t know.

The other side of the case I modded in the Strymon AA.1 (in addition to the Ladik euro to line and line to euro modules up top.

A few thoughts for somebody looking to hard mod their case like this. First… it’s not easy, and it makes a huge metal shaving mess. As I mentioned in previous posts… I would have any knobs or switches exposed outside of your case, they are liable to break. For me I am only modding in modules into this case that I think are going to have a good utility usage, something I’d almost always want in the case, and doesn’t have any crazy parts sticking out so I can take it with me to a gig.

Anyways… this is a 100% Tape Grain Glitch patch… no Akai or SP or anything… it’s just a glitchy sound on Morphagene with automation on morph, then grain size, and start… that output is pushed through the AA.1 into/out of Cooper FX Arcades guitar pedal with the Generation Loss on CD skip, that is being run through Mimeophon for some tonally changing delays with automated adjustments to the Halo effect, then pushed through Beads for some additional space and other tonal additions. This recording is probably the rough second half of me being interested in the fake environmental sound and trying to see which ways I could push it to both keep it interesting as well as continue to make it feel like a somewhat real space. If space frogs suit you… you’ll probably get a kick out of this track.

Good to be back to messing around… and will definitely start patching things back up for the more chilled out beats, but also want to spend some time adventuring back in ambient land 😀

Roland SP-404 mk2 Firmware 1.13 Bugs, Issues, Concerns, Oddities, and Feature Requests

These notes are all for SP 404 mk2 firmware 1.13.

Bugs

  • In pattern mode there is a slight gap between the end of a pattern and the start back to 1.1.1.
  • In pattern mode edit, you cannot adjust the start position of the pattern, only the end position.
  • Exported samples do not contain the project they were from, just named “<bank 1-10> <pad> <sample name> Sample”.  The bank should be a-j to match naming, it should include the project, and there ought to be a way to name the sample.
  • Exporting samples will overwrite whatever you have on the SD card without warning you that there is already a sample there.

Issues

  • The pattern mode gap bug makes it difficult to sample a perfect loop with either resampling, or skip back.  The best option I have found is to double the length of the pattern and then resample or use skip back to work on the first half.
  • You cannot record samples while playing a pattern.  As soon as you hit REC it wants to record into the pattern regardless of which screen you are in.
  • I have not be able to figure out how to exit pattern record mode without stopping everything, which forces you to hard stop whatever you have playing.
  • When you are in pattern record mode you cannot enable bus FX.
  • EFX are a pain to edit, and require a bit of menu diving, there are only sixteen favorites that you need to menu dive to edit, and bypass.  I’m not sure why these aren’t part of the Bus FX to move around/through, but it is annoying.
  • Probably a setting someplace, but every time I resample the sample gets quieter and requires a normalize to bring it back up to level.
  • Once you resample your Bus FX are disabled, would be nice if there were a setting for the new sample to just not be routed through Bus FX instead of disabling the Bus FX.
  • There is no way that I have found to change quantization on a pattern once you have recorded it… you need to rerecord it which is annoying.
  • There is no Redo after undoing a pattern note entry.
  • Chromatic does not work in pattern mode, forcing you to resample or use skip back to record a single note used chromatically.
  • Chromatic mode does not support custom scales, so you’ll need to know which pads are for your scale and which ones not to use.
  • Chromatic mode cannot be customized to play the notes that you want.
  • Start/End does well, but could use a snap to 0.  For the moment I have been using Envelope with a attack of 1 and/or release of 1 to hide the pops and clicks as appropriate.
  • Personally think this is a bug, but GATE does not honor a release setting, so you cannot have a gated note have a nice subtle tail.  This implementation may be intentional, but I think it is wrong.
  • The controls on the FX are rather inconsistent, which I’m mostly okay with, but a fair number of them do not have Dry/Wet independent controls… so for example, you do not have a Reverb that can have a 100% wet, and 0% dry setting.  For Reverb, you just get level to control the amount of reverb, but no way to reduce the level of the dry signal… boo.

Concerns

  • The Value knob gets used *a lot*, not sure how long it will last.  Hopefully a long time.
  • You only get 10 mute groups per project.  I suspect that this will make things a bit more confusing if you are planning on using all of the banks, and don’t take good notes.  I’d prefer to see 16 mute groups, as having one per pad bank and a few spare would be super helpful.  Just remember to take notes on what is what folks.
  • I’d like to see under record settings for resampling a way to create a perfect loop.  You can kind of wing this with pattern mode and just recording a longer sample and then retriggering the resampled sample in the pattern, but I think there’s a great opportunity here for making this a mini looper that doesn’t quite have a workflow it would need to do it.  Or I need to think outside of the box more.
  • It would be nice if you could set the velocity for FIXED VELOCITY, instead of it always being max… I know you can use 16 VELOCITY… but then you’re bouncing between samples… so meh.
  • Probably a setting for this already I need to dive into… but I’m finding resampling is always quieter than what I was playing, so I then need to normalize the sample again to get it back to the level that I want.  This might be the setting under GAIN Noise Gate (which is -12db for now)… need to experiment.
  • Remain button doesn’t show you any information about the battery when powered… what’s the voltage left, time left, anything?
  • Chop exporting samples to pads… I haven’t figured out to only export the chops that I want yet and ignore whatever else is there that I do not want.  It may be able to do this, but it definitely seems fiddly.
  • No way to convert a sample from stereo to mono that I have found.  Would be nice to be able to do this.

Oddities

  • It is just strange that there are 3 FX that are only present on INPUT SETTINGS. Auto Pitch, Vocoder, and Guitar Amp Sim are only available as INPUT FX Settings.  I could definitely see uses for them in the rest of the MFX, and my guess is they will show up there eventually.
  • The online only manual sucks… why is there no freaking PDF?  Change my mind.

Feature Requests

  • Add in the three INPUT FX into the other MFX… please.
  • Have GATE use the ENVELOPE release setting to trail off the sample if the release is anything other than 0.
  • Would love to have an FX to cancel center channel or only keep center channel.
  • A way to name samples, even if you have to use the VALUE knob would be super handy… I’m old school and don’t mind doing the three letter GTR, PNO, BAS, shorts… and being able to add in note names into the sample would be helpful.  Heck… if it even output the assigned sample and BPM value in the name when you exported… *chef’s kiss*.

Roland SP-404 mk2 – Second(?) Attempts

Had some slight misinformation… the semitone changes with PITCH/SPEED are -12 semitones and +7 semitones for a range (effectively down 50% or up 50%). The CHROMATIC mode can do +/- 12 semitones. Obviously you can resample to stretch beyond this… but wanted to clarify that if you’ve got something specific you’re looking to do that you may want to make sure you know what mode(s) can do what.

I messed around for a couple hours today and was able to get a few samples going, dug into resampling and skip back… and you can def make some solid loops.

First loop here was nothing too special, just messing with sampling off of my iPad… drums from the Korg Electribe app, and the melody came from Chomplr and notes at -4 semitones
https://neartao.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/3-08-backing-sample.wav

From here I just did a -4 semitones on the loop… and I forget if I added more fx… but
https://neartao.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/3-07-backing-sample.wav

Then I started messing around with the FX a bit more and went with downer and layered in some clean drum sounds again.
https://neartao.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/3-10-new-sample.wav

This was the last pass… you can hear that I’ve bunged up the start/end points as it loops a bit noisily… but this is a finishing pass with some more drums added back in, but also some use of Ha-Dou for the reverb’ish kind of sound and super filter to tame some of the high end a bit.
https://neartao.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/3-08-new-sample.wav

Kind of interested in where this last loop ended up… might make a tweak or two and have some ideas for lyrics on it… so might make a track out of it.

Anyways… this gave me a good sense of exporting samples, and it works well enough to dump content to the SD card… I expect importing is pretty seamless as well, but figured I’d focus on just sampling in first and maybe mess with loops a bit later.

Have not tried to add any custom graphics yet, but the instructions look fairly straight forward. Will take a look into it, but from what I’ve seen on reddit you must make sure you hit the exact resolution… and I’m not sure if dpi causes any hiccups… will see what I can do though.

The Roland SP-404 mk2 is in… Initial Thoughts

Got mine Wednesday… been knocking on the pads quite a bit. Never had a 404 (but got the 202 and 303)… mostly a heavy MPC user… so my thoughts come at this through mostly an MPC lens, but definitely with appreciation of where the SP line has come from in previous generations.

One of the first things I did was hook up my iPad to the mk2 over USB C. I will tell you, this is an amazingly seamless connection that carries audio and midi data like a champ. Some apps you may have to worry about routing, but stuff like Koala Sampler and Korg Module Pro work wonderfully. You can throw audio and samples around so damn fast it’ll make your head spin, and is just *chef’s kiss* for bouncing effects back and forth. Even better, if you have Audio Bus 3 or AUM, you can access the stereo inputs, or two stereo outputs directly. Heck, you can even route to outputs 1/2/3/4 as mono, and get your iPad four mono track outputs as it honors those outputs correctly. All of this works without going into any special modes, or booting the 404 as a controller or anything else. Seriously a killer feature in my mind.

Overall I found sampling just as fast and natural on the mk2 as I have on previous SPs, and getting content onto pads is a bit faster than the workflow on the MPC. There’s also, as usually plenty of editing you can do for start/end points, pitch/speed options… and now we’ve also got Chop and Envelope. Chop is quite solid and I can see this being a consistent part of my workflow, but I’m not entirely sold on envelope. I was really hoping that with GATE on it would honor the envelope release, but instead you just get a hard stop. So Attack/Hold/Release really only effect the sample as the sample would play from start to end… and GATE off effectively plays the pad as a ONE SHOT, and GATE on effectively plays it as NOTE ON with no release. I’m hoping it is a bug or something that Roland will adjust (or maybe is a parameter setting to find), but so far I haven’t stumbled upon anything.

Pattern Sequencer is sufficient for knocking out beats, but there is no grid edit. Personally I am comfortable with the DEL and hold a pad method of removing events because I do it frequently on the MPC, but I can certainly see people not enjoying the “by ear” and “get good” for timing on the mk2. Honestly, this is probably where people will need the most practice if they want to get all in on the SP, but I could be wrong. I’ve also found a few bugs in the Pattern Sequencer firmware, such as when adjusting Pattern loop points, Start doesn’t seem to make any change, while End can be changed. Still, I think trimming and duplicating patterns will lead to some super fast workflows in the future, and I’m confident that Roland will suss out some of this early day issues.

Going to confirm with Ill here… the noise floor on this is just so much lower, as to be non existent, especially compared to the 202 and 303. If you’re looking for that dirtier sound, the Cassette FX seems to have you covered, but I can absolutely give a thumbs up that the mk2 is going to capture your audio without coloring it *until* you want it to with effects. As an FX box the mk2 is also covering a large amount of ground with the 37 FX. I understand that Roland will likely add some more banks, so hopefully we’ll see another 32 or so added over time, but for what is on offer I think most people will be happy with what is here, and besides subsonic not being represented (at least yet)… I think it covers a lot of ground from the 303 quite well, and reviews seem to be positive on a lot of the effects with the 404 og/sx/a, but this is not a space I have experience. So cassette, vinyl (303 and 404), and lofi all sounds quite good to me, and cleaner in a generally positive way than the 202/303.

Pitch shifting compared to the 202 is definitely different. Given how the SP-202 creates sounds, and the sample rate that it works at though, I don’t think you’re going to recreate the 202 with the mk2. Whether you love the 202 sound or just want to pitch up/down though… well the pitch goes +/- 12 semitones on the mk2 compared to the 202’s -4 semitones and +2 semitones. On the other hand, at least for me, I can see this as a nearly drop in replacement for even the 303… and heck it might even cover both well enough for me to pull them out in favor of the mk2.

Although I’d kind of like a few more options for ordering and editing the 4 bus FX. No joke, 4 is pretty damn sweet. Right now I’m thinking of them as 2 mastering FX for doing stuff that I want to be “my sound” for whatever I run through the mk2… and still having 2 bus FX for samples to do some special and specific effects. The biggest drive I have is that it’s just a hassle to get at and edit the 2 master effects, and they take up a limited number of favorites slots. Something Roland should probably re-implement, but to get it off the ground and running this at least gets the job done.

Storage… 16gb is pretty nuts. Sure a lot of us have way more samples… but just consider this an opportunity to curate and actually stick with the stuff you love or want to work with. Otherwise you’re going to end up with tons of junk, just like you’ve got on your MPC, computer… or wherever else you store your sample collection. Max sample time is 16 minutes per pad, and this ought to be more than enough sample time for folks looking to dump tracks to and then go searching for samples and chops. Don’t forget, this thing still operates fully functionally when hooked up over USB C… so you can use your computer, phone, or tablet to shuffle off samples and mess with stuff from there without committing a lot of storage on the SP. Backups work fine… though if you load your SP up with 16gb of audio, you’re only going to be able to backup twice to a 32gb SDHC card. So keep it in mind if you’re going to use the mk2 as your workhorse. Also the import/export is “fine”… but I do find it to be a bit clunky overall… but will try it out a bit more. I suspect for getting samples around, this is where the App will shine, but I tend to be a more standalone kind of person myself. Should check it out though as it might open up some things for me that I’m not considering right now.

Velocity sensitive pads are nice… though they do take quite a hit to get to full velocity. I’m going to have to mess with the settings to see where I land… so while nice, I’d put it as better than an MPC 500 for sensitivity but under the MPC Live for me at the moment. Fixed velocity and 16 velocity are a savior here when you’re just struggling… and a nice feature.

Chromatic mode is nice, but man… you cannot play them into Pattern mode. Which is a big *booooo* for me. Hopefully another thing that can be added in a future update, but for now, it looks like if you want chromatic, you’re going to need to use multiple pads with multiple samples, or record your chromatic performance into a new pad as a loop. Something that is the 303/404 way, so I cannot hate on Roland for implementing it this way, but it’s just a bummer when this is such a good effect on stuff from Akai MPCs to the Pocket Operator KO-33.

What else? Oh Skip Back is a solid feature. I’m on the fence of whether 25 seconds is too much or not enough… but even just having the mk2 at an end of chain gives you one last chance to grab some kind of “holy smokes that was awesome” content… and I suspect it will be a quicker way for recording some types of audio into the SP without having to hunt and peck for a sound over long streams of audio content.

Size wise, I’m figuring it is about 1/3 the size of an Akai MPC Live mk2… so much more back packable. Being able to be powered over a USB C connection is handy, and battery power is always refreshing, even if it would have been nice for it to have a rechargeable solution built in.

Overall, I think for the price this is a strong competitor with a lot of other devices in this price range, and it’s a pretty easy thing to recommend to others if they are looking for a Swiss army knife of a sampler/fx box/pattern sequencer…

Tear It All Down!

So, the Tape Grain Glitch case is apart… as you can see from the image for the post… and I’ve got some work to do before I get it back together.

First up, I flipped the Ladik A-520 and P-520 modules so that I can access the jumpers while working inside the case. The way they were oriented I’d have to take them out and the case apart to get at the jumpers to adjust the signal level changes. The change in orientation didn’t make too many problems either, biggest is that the power jack from the larger board sits right over the screw for the rubber foot of the case, so I just put some electrical tape over it to ensure that I don’t accidentally cause a short in the case.

Next up on the list…

  • Investigating adding/moving more of the sliding nuts in the rails so I can secure modules in the 1u row better
  • Adding the Strymon AA.1 into the case
  • Investigating into adding the Expert Sleepers ES-8 and expansion modules
  • Considering if I want to modify Links/Kinks/VCAs someplace into the case