Roland MC500 Sequencer
A preview of Roland's first software-based digital recorder. As Paul Wiffen reports, it takes over where the MSQ range left off.
So, there's a new Roland sequencer at a price significantly less than that of the MSQ700, something of an industry standard over the last couple of years. Yet amazingly, the new MC500 is a lot more sophisticated than the MSQ. In fact, the only machine which bears any sort of comparison with the MC500 is the Yamaha QX1, in that its operating software is at the same level of flexibility.
But the new Roland scores over the Yamaha in several areas, like price, ease of operation, and MIDI implementation. To start with, its five-track format provides for a real innovation: a dedicated track for recording a rhythm part. This means that drum machines which are unable to store velocity data can be used as velocity-sensitive units - if the drum parts are programmed from a suitable keyboard or set of drum pads.
Complete freedom of movement is possible between real- and step-time recording, playback and editing without the delays that result from disk access. This means you can program a part in step time, overdub a second track in real time, try some auto-correction on that track, revert to the original or use a different value if necessary, copy sections of the piece or insert or delete measures, without any annoying pauses caused by the machine needing to load different software to accomplish the tasks you're asking of it. All this makes for faster music composition, which is what sophisticated MIDI sequencers were supposed to be about in the first place.
Another exciting aspect of the MC500 is that it's able to record and play back MIDI System Exclusive data, not just from Roland instruments, but from other popular machines, too. This means you can hold all the parameter information for an FM or analogue patch along with the sequence to be played, all on the same disk. If that doesn't save a lot of messing around with different RAM packs, I'll eat my chips.
The MC500 is also (as far as I'm aware) the only sequencer which allows you to bounce tracks together and then, if you need to re-record or edit them at a later date, to separate them again. This is possible thanks to the format of the sequencer's MIDI assignment. Data for each MIDI channel is memorised independently within each track, and is always accessible simply by specifying which MIDI channel you want to work on - much as you would do with tracks on a standard sequencer. This gives you the equivalent of 64 tracks to work with internally, all of which can then be bounced down to 16 tracks, with different MIDI channelisations, in your finished song.
The four discrete tracks give you enough 'elbow room' for any simultaneous editing and subsequent bouncing operations you may want to perform in the course of your recording.
The MC500 hardware (as distinct from the initial software supplied with it, which is known as MRC500) has two independent MIDI Outs. Currently, this allows you to assign different channels to each socket (in case you're stuck with an old synth that tries to play all incoming MIDI data), or even send just a MIDI clock signal from one to allow slave sequencers or drum machines to take timing data without getting all the note information being sent from the other.
But seeing as the MRC500 software is entirely disk-based, there's no reason why updates or different software packages couldn't provide for two independent MIDI buses, each with their own 16 MIDI channels, allowing 32-track operation. Roland have already announced an alternative systems disk which works in the same way as earlier models in the MC range, ie. as a true Microcomposer.
Synchronisation is also an MC500 strong point, and two of its most important implementations are Sync Record and MIDI Song Pointers. The first allows you to record new tracks while the tempo of the MC500 is being controlled either from another MIDI device, or from tape code. The second means that sequence playback or recording can start from any bar in your piece of music.
In conjunction with a suitable SMPTE adaptor, the MC500 will be the only sequencer on the market that can easily replace or augment tape tracks, all the way to the mixdown stage.
The MC500 seems set to open a lot of musicians' eyes to the possibilities of MIDI-based recording- not simply as a replacement for or an addition to conventional tape, but as a sequencer whose disk-based software allows it to grow with new developments, rather than getting left behind by them.
Price £799 including VAT
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Review by Paul Wiffen
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