Roland S770 (Part 2)
If Roland samplers have previously been under-recognised by the music industry, the S770 may be about to straighten things out. Simon Trask returns to Roland's super sampler to "delve deeper".
It looks certain that the arrival of Roland's S770 has signalled new standards in digital sampling. The second part of this in-depth review examines the architecture behind the sound.
PARTIALS ACT AS intermediaries between the Sample and Patch levels, and as such all you might want to do with a Partial is assign one Sample to it and give the sample a suitable amplitude envelope. This is because your Patch might simply be a multi-sampled piano or a drumkit spread across the keyboard. Essentially, the Patch level allows you to assign multiple Partials to the keyboard in a multi-split texture. As you might expect, you can do this either by incrementing and decrementing Upper and Lower Note numeric values and clicking on Set or by "dragging" the mouse across the appropriate range of notes on a piano keyboard graphic. In this instance the graphic has another use too, in that you can play notes on the screen keyboard by clicking on them with the mouse. On first encounter the graphic approach to keyboard assignment doesn't seem particularly straightforward, but familiarity breeds content.
Parameters which affect all the Partials within a Patch include octave, coarse and fine tuning, cutoff and velocity-sensitivity offsets, Patch level and Stereo Mix level and output assign. If you set the latter to P, each Partial will conform to its own output assignment - so that, for instance, several drum and percussion Partials can each be routed to different individual outs.
"You can get a real warmth out of the S770's filter, but also a really vicious bite, with a cutoff point which can open and close faster than a clam on acid."
Each Patch can also be assigned a program number for MIDI selection purposes, while, bearing in mind that multiple Patches can be used in a multitimbral sequencing context at the Performance level, you can set Patch Priority on or off per Patch. Priority Patches don't have active notes stolen from them when the polyphony's getting tight. At the Patch level you can also define the response of such Partial parameters as filter cutoff and LFO rate to MIDI pitchbend, aftertouch, modulation and controller messages.
EACH OF THE 32 Parts which make up an S770 Performance can be assigned a MIDI receive channel (1-16), a Patch (1-128), a pan value (L32-R32), an individual audio out (off, 1-6 or Partial), a volume level (0-127), a note range (within 21-108) and upper and lower fade widths (for positional crossfades between Patches).
You can layer Partials at this level simply by assigning the relevant Patches to two or more Parts and assigning those Parts to the same MIDI channel.
If these Partials have been assigned complementary velocity response ranges and curves, you can switch, mix and crossfade between Partials as you can between samples within a Partial. As mentioned earlier, Samples combined within a Partial can't be given separate filter, amplifier and LFO processing. To get round this, you simply assign each Sample to a different Partial and each Partial to a different Patch, then combine them at the Performance level so that, say, four Patches assigned to the same MIDI channel effectively become a "substitute Partial".
But the Performance level's principal application lies with MIDI sequencing. Thus two pages are assigned to MIDI filtering, allowing you to selectively filter out patch changes, pitchbend, sustain pedal, modulation wheel, volume, aftertouch (channel, poly or both) and velocity on each MIDI channel. Additionally you can define a patch map in which Patch program numbers can be mapped to incoming MIDI patch changes.
While Performances allow you to select different instrumental lineups for different songs, they can also be used within songs as a form of automated mixing - snapshot fashion - cutting different instrumental parts in and out and adjusting the level balance between parts. Changing Performances rather than Patches also gets around the problem of having several different Patches responding on the same MIDI channel (as in the "substitute Partial") and wanting to change one or more of them.
Now, you can select Performances from the S770 itself, but a much more interesting method is to select them via MIDI patch changes. You can accomplish this by going to the MIDI Config page in the System mode and setting a Control channel (1-16) and a Control mode (Performance only or Perform/Volume - the latter also allows MIDI patch changes to load Volumes off disk). Now any patch changes received on the control channel will select Performances rather than individual Patches within the Peformance. However, there's a discrepancy in the way that the S770 changes Performances as a result of internal and MIDI selection. From internal selection, active samples continue to play for the duration of their note and their release stage, which is how it should be if you want a smooth transition from one Performance to another. However, MIDI selection cuts all active samples dead as soon as the patch change command is received, which makes life very tricky; in fact, Roland really should change MIDI response to the internal method for it to be of any great use.
"The S770 is a powerful, flexible, extremely easy to use, and for the most part, very well thought out sampler which is sure to win itself a lot of friends."
At the Performance level you also get a very useful MIDI monitor page which allows you to look at the data coming into the S770 (or, equally, see what isn't arriving that should be). You can set the page to monitor all MIDI channels or a specific channel and to monitor or filter out System Real Time messages, while monitoring can be triggered by a specific type of MIDI message.
RESAMPLING IS BY no means a trivial aspect of the S770. Mind you, even its simplest function has great value: if you resample a 44.1kHz or 48kHz sample an octave higher than original pitch, again at one of the higher sample rates, and then replay it an octave down to return to original pitch, you've halved the amount of memory needed for the sample. But the really interesting stuff comes when you discover that there's no appreciable difference in sample quality - which suggests that you can effectively double your memory without doubling your memory. The only reason I can think of why this should be so is the S770's Differential Interpolation method of sample playback, which interpolates samples between the actual samples when you pitch a Sample down the keyboard - suggesting in this case that it "regains" top end that has been lost during resampling. Roland make great play of the fact that DI is more intelligent than straightforward linear interpolation, so maybe this is the result. However, this process doesn't work for samples originally sampled at one of the lower sample rates - you get noticeable loss of top end on the octave-higher resample.
The S770's Resampling section allows you to combine two samples into one, which makes it a merge function. But you can also route each sample through its own TVF and TVA in a variety of configurations known as "algorithms". These include not only straightforward sample merging, but also ring modulation of the two samples, so we're talking sound creation here. Additionally, you can set a delay time together with coarse and fine tuning for each sample, which provides even greater flexibility. Incidentally, to resample stereo samples, you do each side of the sample independently and then recombine the two (re)samples using the Set Stereo command.
Resampling is triggered by playing the sample(s) via a MIDI keyboard, which means you can resample samples at different pitches and different velocity responses, and even create new samples consisting of melodies, chord sequences and rhythms. You can also add emphasis when resampling, in order to boost high frequencies. The only inevitable shortcoming of resampling, apart from the fact that you have to loop (re)samples afresh, is that filter and amplitude envelope times and LFO rate become fixed as part of the new sample.
Finally, I must also give brief mention to the excellent manual, which is thoughtfully laid out, for the most part clearly and concisely written, and includes several indices. Whenever I needed an explanation of a particular aspect of the S770, the indices without fail led me directly to the appropriate spot in the manual.
THE S770 IS a powerful, flexible, extremely easy to use and for the most part very well though out sampler which, to use a well-worn cliche, is sure to win itself a lot of friends. The only real disappointments are the lack of sample looping aids and cut 'n' paste-type sample manipulation commands, plus of course the absence of time compression and expansion of samples. The potential to make the S770 as much a synth as a sampler already exists, and in this aim it could be greatly helped by the inclusion of waveform drawing and additive synthesis capabilities (which, after all, aren't unknown on other samplers). I'm sure that some people - particularly those working in conjunction with video and film - would rather like to be able to compile cue lists and trigger them off SMPTE times, but as the S770 can't read SMPTE or MTC I guess this isn't on the cards. Perhaps with the increasing numbers and increasing prominence of hard disk-based recording systems (some of which offer MIDI multitimbral facilities), high-end samplers like the S770 will have to move in this direction if possible. But as a musical instrument the S770 is well impressive.
Prices S770, £4860; M07 Magnetic Optical Disk Unit, £5225; CD5 CD ROM drive, £1340; RC100 Remote Controller, £250; all prices include VAT.
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Review by Simon Trask
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