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Roland SD-35 MIDI Player

Get creative with Brush and Canvas.


Effectively a Sound Brush and Sound Canvas in one box - does it add up to a masterpiece?


When GM was first mooted as a concept a couple of years ago, Roland was promoting a policy of 'active listening' - an approach ably demonstrated with the first Sound Canvas and Sound Brush modules which let the user change sounds, volumes and so on while a piece of music played back. Roland also promised to release many more instruments in a similar vein and I remember wondering how many forms an essentially preset instrument could take.

Now I know. The SD-35 is the third Sound Canvas variation to appear, and we've already had GM/GS modules such as Dr Synth, the SC-33 and SC-7, not to mention sound cards for the PC. And there are more on the way, I hear.

The SD-35 is a GM/GS module with a built-in disk drive capable of playing Standard MIDI Files and up to 16 parts simultaneously. It has 128 main or capital sounds plus 95 variations, nine Drum Sets, eight types of reverb and chorus. Maximum polyphony is 28 voices, but some sounds use two voices and this will reduce the overall polyphony. (Actually this is a major source of confusion with the GM format; if you find it difficult to understand check out the GM feature in May's MT.)

The sounds can be edited but you'll need a computer-based software editor for that and the manual offers no information on this at all. Presumably Roland believe that if you're using the unit to playback GM/GS files you wouldn't want to edit the sounds anyway. But I would have thought this was an option the more adventurous user might well wish to explore.

Any changes made to the SD-35 are stored on power down - although you can turn this backup function off. There are also GS and GM mode select options (for those who know the difference).

A pair of stereo jack sockets provide the output for the unit and there's also a pair of stereo ins for mixing an audio signal with the internal sounds of the SD-35. There are three input select positions - Guitar, Mic and Line - which should cater for most types of equipment, and there's an input volume control on the top of the machine.

Also included are Solo and Mute buttons - the latter used to mute Parts during playback so you can sing the melody or play that instrumental riff you've been practising. The Minus One button lets you mute a Part as far as internal playback is concerned, but play it live on a connected MIDI keyboard. This is okay for practising but for live use you may as well mime - everyone else does.

There are MIDI In and Out sockets on the rear panel and a second MIDI In on the front. A soft Thru option will channel data arriving at the Ins to the Out socket and this can be switched off for either or both of the Ins.

The small 3-digit LED display keeps you informed about what's going on. It shows the Instrument numbers, Part numbers, Song numbers and all sorts of other numbers, but uses the usual hieroglyphics to produce words where more meaningful information is required for the display of error messages etc. Keep the manual handy.


The disk drive begins playing a song the moment you insert a disk - ideal for quick starts! - but you can disable this auto play function and select the songs manually. The drive reads the data directly from the disk, storing it in a small buffer. It doesn't load it into a RAM area first, so the length of a single song is limited only by the disk capacity.

The unit will play through all the songs on the disk automatically with the option of setting the time interval between them - ideal for segues. You can also specify the order in which the songs will play and control playback via an optional foot pedal - more useful gig functions.

When practising (what do you mean, you never practise?) it's possible to repeatedly play back an entire song or just a section of it to help you master the tricky bits. There's a pause button plus fast forward and rewind functions which show the bar number in the LED display as they scroll. These actually work more quickly if the file is in MIDI Format 0. The unit has a function to convert Format 1 files into Format 0, which can be useful as not all sequencers can easily save files in both formats.

Recording is a one-take operation. You can't record tracks one at a time or edit them as you can on a dedicated sequencer, so in that respect the SD-35 has its limitations - but no more so than other MIDI Data Filers. You can record data into the SD-35 directly from another device, but unless you have a sequencer or computer which can't easily handle MS DOS disks (such as the Amiga) or one which can't easily produce Standard MIDI Files (such as Music X on the Amiga whose MIDI file conversion routine is bugged), it's easier to transfer files by disk.

The songs are numbered sequentially from 0 upwards, it's possible to store up to 99 on a disk - space permitting. There's no point in naming them as the LED cannot show names, but the drive will play named files created on a computer.



Niggles? Well, the main gripe must be in the user-friendliness department. It's not that the unit is difficult to use - it has several buttons which let you select Parts, Instruments and Songs, adjust the tempo, change key, select the reverb type and so on - it's just that there are many functions which require combinations of key presses. And these are not at all intuitive. Admittedly, most do not involve the sort of changes you'll want to make every session, but you'll still have to keep the manual handy for those occasions when this does become necessary.

Functionality is not helped by the small LED display; compared to the big orange affair of the Sound Brush and Canvas (also reviewed in this issue), this is definitely a step backwards. You must remember, too, that the disk drive acts as a MIDI file player and not a dedicated sequencer. To get the best out of the unit you need a separate sequencer capable of saving files in Standard MIDI File format and saving them to an MS DOS disk.

I suppose the prime SD-35 user will be the gigging musician who uses GM/GS arrangements for backing tracks. The program playback functions give maximum control over the selection and playback of the songs, and the block repeat and song loop functions let you practice in the comfort of your hotel room without having to lug your main sequencer around with you. To that extent, the combination of disk drive and sound module in one unit makes a lot of sense and should prove an excellent proposition for the muso on the move.

THE LAST WORD

Ease of use Keep the manual handy
Originality Third of a kind
Value for money You pay for its convenience
Star Quality Just what the gigger ordered
Price £759 RRP
More from Roland (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details)

Hard fax

Number of Parts: 16
Number of sounds: 223
Number of drum sets: 9
Maximum polyphony: 28 voices
Effects: reverb, chorus

Interfaces
MIDI In
MIDI Out x 2
Audio stereo Out jacks
Audio stereo In jacks switchable to Guitar, Mic or Line Headphones
Play/Stop socket for Foot pedal control

Sequencer
Number of tracks
MIDI Format 0: 1 (16 channels)
MIDI Format 1: 17 (16 channels per track)


File-o-fax

The SD-35 can play MIDI files saved directly to an MS DOS disk. In fact the manual covers itself here by saying you should use disks formatted by the SD-35 rather than by a computer, but I found no problem reading disks formatted on a PC and using the ST's built-in formatter. The drive can also play back files created on the Mac, but you have to load them onto an MS DOS disk first using Apple File Exchange (if you have the patience) or one of the better DOS disk readers such as Access PC or DOS Mounter.

You can, of course, record your own material directly onto a disk in the unit, though if you want to play back the recording on another sequencer you must first select a time base or resolution. The SD-35 defaults to 96, but it can be set from 24 to 240. That said, I would have thought the more common use would be to play a piece recorded on a dedicated sequencer on the SD-35 rather than the other way around. In such cases, the SD-35 automatically detects the time base.



Previous Article in this issue

Lexicon Alex

Next article in this issue

Akai CD3000


Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

 

Music Technology - Sep 1993

Quality Control

Gear in this article:

Sound Module > Roland > SD35

Review by Ian Waugh

Previous article in this issue:

> Lexicon Alex

Next article in this issue:

> Akai CD3000


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