Roland SP-404MKII sampler hands-on | Engadget


The Boss and Roland line of SP samplers (particularly the SP-303 and SP-404) are a number of the most vital devices in hip hop historical past. Right up there with the MPC and the Technics SL-1200. They’ve been utilized by the likes of MF Doom, Madlib and J Dilla, and are a favourite amongst lo-fi hip hop artists in every single place. They’ve additionally been utilized by loads of different musicians like Panda Bear, Four Tet, Oneohtrix Point Never and even Radiohead. But, the unique SP-404 was launched in 2005. And despite the fact that it was succeeded by the 404SX and the 404A, these have been extraordinarily minor updates that did issues like change from the growing older and gradual CF Card format to SD. The new SP-404MKII, although, lastly updates the basic sampler for the trendy age with out sacrificing what made the OG so alluring.

Physically, the 404MKII is similar to previous variations of the 404. There are 4 knobs throughout the highest; a round window beneath them, flanked by six results buttons; and pads on the underside for triggering samples. The MKII does look higher than the A, at the least. The 404A was designed to slot in with the remainder of Roland’s AIRA line — meaning stark black accented with garish pink and inexperienced. It’s… a glance. But not one that everybody (myself included) can get behind. The new model is a way more subdued grey and black, with white and muted orange accents.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

Beyond pure aesthetics, although, there are some enormous upgrades within the MKII. The two most blatant variations are the detailed OLED display that has changed the old-school seven-segment LEDs, and the transfer from a 12-pad structure to a 16-pad one.

The display represents the most important change to the SP expertise. Editing samples on an OG 404 could possibly be painful. The three-digit LEDs gave you solely generic begin and finish factors, and due to the excessive decision wanted to create good loops, the vary was very small. That would result in having to crop a pattern a number of occasions to take off all the surplus. The OLED on the SP-404MKII is excessive sufficient decision to point out the precise waveform because it’s being edited. You can zoom out and in as wanted to crop as little or as a lot as you need. I might go so far as to say that recording and modifying samples on the MKII shouldn’t be solely simpler, however truly kinda enjoyable.

The 16 pads provide you with entry to extra samples and patterns to assemble your beats out of. Also, the four-by-four grid has turn out to be one thing of an ordinary. It’s the structure utilized by Akai on the MPC, on Pioneer’s DJ gear, on the Native Instruments Maschine, Ableton’s Drum Rack and even a number of the bigger members of the SP household just like the 808 and the 606.

Terrence O’Brien / Engadget

There are different extra refined adjustments as properly. For one, these 16 pads on the entrance are all velocity delicate, a primary for the SP line. That mentioned, it’s nearly unimaginable to get full velocity out of them with out simply turning on fastened velocity. Some finger drummers particularly could want to show fastened velocity on to maintain melodic and percussion parts persistently blended, however it may additionally go away issues sounding a bit robotic and unnatural. Just one thing to remember.

Roland added MIDI out to the again of the SP-404MKII as properly. The earlier variations had MIDI IN solely. Now the 404 can be utilized to sequence exterior gear, and even be hooked as much as a PC to regulate your DAW through USB-C. That makes the 16-pad structure much more vital, as a result of it’ll map higher to no matter you’re connecting it to more than likely. Oh. and that USB port will also be used to stream audio to your PC.

This additionally marks the primary time that Roland has ditched RCA in favor of ¼-inch jacks for the audio ins and outs on an SP. Now, it is a internet constructive however there’s a down aspect. Often an SP is getting used to pattern straight from vinyl and most turntables use RCA. That means there can be an middleman step to getting loops from a report to the 404. But, it does make it simpler to pattern straight from an instrument. Synths, drum machines, guitars and basses all typically use ¼-inch plugs. And, because the ins and outs on the MKII are balanced, it ought to be much less vulnerable to noise and interference.