Roland MV30 Studio M
Unveiled at this year's BMF, Roland's MV30 combines a sequencer, multitimbral synthesiser and an automated mixer in a single unit. Simon Trask previews a new direction in synth technology.
HERE'S YOUR STARTER for ten: it combines a 16-track sequencer with an eight-part multitimbral synthesiser and an automated mixer, measures 390(W) x 309(D) x 80mm(H) and weighs 3.8kg (81b 6oz), what is it? No conferring... I'm going to have to hurry you... No, not a workstation, it's a personal MIDI studio system. Go to the back of the class and write out 200 lines: I shall not use the term "workstation".
Seriously, there's something very appealing about the MV30, and part of that is down to its compactness and portability. If Roland had packaged the electronics around a regulation 61-note keyboard, those elements would have been lost.
As it is, you can use the MV30 as the centrepiece of a larger MIDI setup, but equally you can use it as a semi-contained MIDI recording system which you can carry around with you. If you're a touring musician wanting to record some ideas in your hotel room, or if you get a flash of inspiration while you're visiting your Aunt Edith for Sunday lunch, you can plug in the MV30 and not only get the ideas down but work them up into complete songs as well. Step-time input to the sequencer should make it possible to do without a performance source. However, a more satisfactory solution might be to opt for one of the growing number of cheap MIDI-compatible portable keyboards. If you simply have to get some vocals down along with your sequenced parts, you can sync, say, a cassette four-track to the MV30 using the latter's built-in intelligent tape sync feature (which incorporates bar-number information into its tape sync signal, allowing the sequencer to lock to any position on the tape).
The internal sequencer can record up to 50,000 events across its 16 tracks, while a built-in disk drive allows storage of sequence data to 3.5" 2DD floppies. Linear and pattern-based recording modes are provided, with a choice of real-and step-time input. Eight sequencer tracks are dedicated to the corresponding eight parts of the built-in multitimbral synth, while the other eight are for sequencing parts on external MIDI instruments. The MIDI tracks can contain data on multiple MIDI channels, giving you a total of 24 channels to play with (eight internal + 16 MIDI). MIDI In, Out and Thru sockets appear on the unit's rear panel, and MIDI syncing (including Song Position Pointers) has been implemented.
The built-in synth section is 30-voice polyphonic, RS-PCM sample-based like the U20 and U220. However, Roland have added a filter section which uses the same digital filter LSI as the D70 and the S770 - which is definitely good news. The internal samples include some 20-30 drum and percussion samples for rhythm programming. In addition, the MV30's two rear-panel card slots can accept SN-U110 sample cards, and samples on these cards can be processed through the onboard TVF. Onboard digital effects processing appears to be along the lines of that on the D70, with eight types of reverb/delay and five types of chorus. Effect parameters and on/off status can be stored as part of the sequence data, allowing effect changes within a song. The standard stereo output, which handles both effected and dry signals, is augmented by two direct (non-effected) stereo outputs.
But the feature which is probably going to attract most attention is the Compu-Mix section, whose eight sliders allow realtime control over the level and pan of all 16 sequencer tracks, (in other words, both internal and MIDI sound sources) as well as effects settings for the internal sound sources. All mixing operations performed during a song can be stored as part of the song's data, giving you an automated mixdown facility - though inevitably the more performance data you record the less mixdown data you'll be able to record, and vice versa.
The MV30 is able to convert and load W30 and MC500 MkII sequence files off disk, but more interestingly it's able to read Standard MIDI Files off Atari and IBM disks, a feature also to be found on the company's new MC50 MicroComposer and available as a software upgrade for the MC500 MkII. Obviously, given the potential of the MV30 as an alternative to a computer-based sequencer for live work, being able to load sequence files created on the likes of Notator or Cubase into the MV30 should be an asset. There again, I'm not convinced that Standard MIDI Files always offer the best solution to data transfer between sequencers (sometimes playing the data across can be simpler), but here's no place to get into that.
What's not clear yet is whether Standard MIDI Files transfer on the MV30 is a two-way street. Clearly it would make a lot of sense for that to be the case, as sequences put together in the proverbial hotel room could then subsequently be read off disk into any computer-based sequencer which supported Standard MIDI Files.
Although the MV30 made its performing debut at the BMF, as with a number of other instruments at the show it's scheduled for November delivery. Expect it to create quite a stir when it arrives!
Price expected to be £1500 including VAT.
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Preview by Simon Trask
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