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January 11, 2012

Roland Quad Capture Review

Filed under: audio interface — Tags: , , — audiofanzine @ 3:33 pm

Do you want a small sound card with a high quality sound, clever features, a good construction, and an affordable price? If you do, follow me to give Roland’s Quad Capture a try. If you need even more, follow me too because Roland has something in store for you.

When it comes to audio interfaces, if you ask for renown manufacturers you’ll hear many brand names but probably not Roland.

The brand’s visibility is rather low in this market segment where it used to go under the name Edirol until a couple of years ago. Edirol audio interfaces were no “reference products” but offered a rather good value for money for beginners. Its audio quality didn’t quite meet professional standards. However, Roland has the knowhow for professional audio products: just consider the V-System digital live mixers sold under the brand name RSS (Roland System Solution).

So why not put RSS’ technology into a Roland sound card? That’s what Roland did with the Quad Capture… And it worked!

Description

Roland Quad Capture

The Quad Capture is a 4×4-channel audio interface with 2 analog plus 2 digital inputs and outputs.

Both analog inputs are on XLR/TRS combo connectors, while the line outputs are on balanced 1/4″ jacks. All digital ins and outs are on coaxial connectors. You also get a 1/4″ headphones out.

If we do the math, we have 4 input channels but how many output channels? 2 analog line-level output channels + 2 analog headphones channels + 2 digital output channels = 6 output channels, right?

Unfortunately not! Like the Duo and Tri interfaces, the headphones out doesn’t use dedicated channels, but rather the main output signal is just split inside the hardware to feed both outs. The monitoring quality doesn’t seem to be affected by this. However, in use it can become a bit annoying.

Add a pair of MIDI ins/outs and you get a full overview of the available connections. Surprisingly it lacks ADAT connectors, but considering the price…

Roland Quad Capture

All this is packed in a 19″ half rack typical for 4×4 sound cards. The housing is made out of black metal except for the plastic front plate — and it looks nice. The rounded edges and the chrome binding surrounding the front panel give the unit a sleek but classy look. The big chrome BTR screws give it a professional touch. Considering its light weight (1.26 lbs, it seems that the metal sheet used for the housing is quite thin. But it is made out of aluminum instead of iron, which increases rigidity while decreasing weight. Thus, you can easily fit this sound card together with your laptop inside a (large) carry bag.

Moreover, the quality of the controls and buttons is pretty good. The same applies to the LED indicators on the front plate.

The rear switches are the only negative aspect. These small plastic switches feel quite cheap — the low price doesn’t come without compromises.

However, the quality of the switches is not the main problem, it is the functions they are assigned to.

The Quad looks nice and provides a quality feel that is very different from the abundant plastic products in this price range that try very hard to look pro. Pro musicians or sound engineers won’t be ashamed to take it out of their bags for a session.

Now let’s take a closer look….

Conclusion

If this audio interface had different audio channels for the main and headphones output, I would award it with the “Top Value” Award. In spite of the few cons detected, this audio interface is well built, offers MIDI and digital connections, low-latency operation and premium audio quality for only $270 —easily worth a “Value for Money” Award.

If your are seduced by the premium audio quality but need more connections, give the Octa Capture a chance — my first choice if I had to change my RME Multiface.

Advantages: 
  • Build and look
  • Sound quality
  • Amazing Auto-Sens function
  • Ground lift
  • No additional power supply
  • Price
Drawbacks:
  • Speakers and headphones share he same analog channels
  • Average-quality switches on the rear panel
  • No phantom power indicator
  • No ADAT connectors

To read the full detailed review see:  Roland Quad Capture Review

 

October 24, 2011

Roland CB120XL Cube Bass Review

Filed under: Amps, Bass — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 1:27 pm

If Ikutaro Kakehashi named his company with this typical European name, it wasn’t to honor the famous traditional song of heroic deeds. Since its inception the company has been committed to export, and the first goal of its founder was to find a name that was easy to spell and original enough to attract attention.

Ikutaro Kakehashi chose a brand name beginning with an “R,” which is quite rare in the music industry and thus allowed the products of the manufacturer to distinguish themselves from competitors during international trade shows.

We all know the company for its electronic products: synths, drum machines, effects (under the name Roland as well as under the brand name Boss for guitar effects), electronic drums, and other MIDI gear. But I know only a few bass players who play a Roland amp. This doesn’t mean that Roland amps don’t perform good, but we must admit that the manufacturer doesn’t belong to the most renowned brands among four-string players. With the present review, we want you to discover the Roland Cube 120 XL bass combo that saw the light of day after the introduction of the guitar version.

It Was the Year That…

13 demonstrators were shot during the Irish Bloody Sunday while 16 men survived the crash of their plane in the Andes where they had to eat human flesh until rescuers arrived. In 1972, bass players Christian Mac Bride, Mike Dirnt and Mark Hoppus were born. And in Japan, two major events marked the year: on a national level, Okinawa finally returned to Japanese hands; while, on the musical level, the company Roland was created. I would love to write about Roland’s history and share with you some delightful anecdotes about it. But with its 12 controls, 9 switches and 8 connections, this small Cube gives me enough material to write two reviews.

So, I won’t lose any more time and I’ll start by describing the amp.

A Cube? Not Exactly…

Roland CB120XL Cube Bass

In school they taught me that a cube is a volume made of square sides. It doesn’t really add up in this case…! The actual dimensions of the amp are: 20.5″ (length), 18″ (width) and 12.5″ (depth). I know, I quibble a little bit, but that’s what is expected from me.

If the Rubik Cube had had uneven dimensions, users would have called it misleading publicity a long time ago. I hope this brief remark made it more enjoyable to read about the Cube’s physical dimensions… And let me add another figure: the amp weights almost 44 lbs, which is not so heavy considering the output power of 80 watts, but also surprising considering the dimensions. In this respect, I guess the first request of the normal user would be for Roland to add casters to the amp. The younger and more athletic readers will surely laugh, but my back doesn’t. It’s old and has had plenty to withstand already. The single handle is also not the best solution, maybe Roland should rethink the design to improve the ergonomics.

If the amp won’t move a lot and will stay in the studio, this is certainly an insignificant detail. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to my lumbar vertebra. Just try to play three gigs with a 5-string bass and an aching back and you’ll become as demanding as me! I know those of you familiar with osteopathy will agree with me. But let’s go on (don’t let my digressions distract you), and talk about the finish. Even if there’s not much to say.

Although it doesn’t look really nice, the CB120XL has the advantage of being simple and rugged. No carpet covering but a simple black Tolex one, reliable protection edges (where shocks can have bad consequences) and a strong protection grill. Finally, the combo is equipped with a 12″ woofer and huge coaxial tweeter horn. Two front bass reflex ports allow the air moved by the woofer to circulate. The product is made in China. By the way, did you know that China and Japan restored diplomatic relations exactly the year Roland was founded?

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

A tester must know how to put things in perspective instead of reviewing a product only from his point of view as an experienced musician. If I put myself in the shoes of a young bassist having only a fistful of dollars in the pocket looking for a first rehearsal amp that offers versatility and some effects, I think I would seriously consider the Roland Cube. For $736, this amp is very appealing.

Used without an additional speaker, the small combo provides enough output power to play in a band with a drummer. The tone is good, not kicking but good enough to make your first steps with a band. Personally, I find the effects are dispensable. But if I put things in perspective, once again, I guess they can be useful for some beginners interested in effects. And I cannot reproach the manufacturer for making use of its knowhow by adding many electronic features, even if it’s a bit useless from where I stand. Moreover, this trend is noticeable on many similar products… So Roland also has to appeal to these young musicians who like new technology!

Note that Roland’s catalog, which includes only combo amps, also features two smaller versions: a 20-watt amp and a battery-operated amp with four 4″ speakers. I would like to invite you to read my next bass amplification review with a colorful brand that’s following a completely opposite direction.

Advantages: 
  • Price, even though a bit high still affordable
  • Integrated tuner
  • Nice sampler
  • Compact size but enough output power to play in a band
  • Good sound
  • Good finish
Drawbacks:
  • Not really ergonomic (only one handle in spite of its heavy weight)
  • Maybe too many effects with not enough editable parameters
  • Looks like a copy of the available guitar combo version
To read the full detailed article see:  Roland CB120XL Cube Bass Review

September 24, 2010

Roland SH-01 Gaia Review

The SH-01 is Roland’s answer to the analog modeling synths market where low budget and ergonomics are not compatible. Let’s see what tradeoffs were made to combine ease of use and a competitive price.

Since the SH-1000 was launched in 1973, the SH series is without a doubt the most comprehensive among the whole product range of the Japanese manufacturer. Modern SH models are very different from their ancestors: they are programmable, digital, polyphonic, incorporate Midi, etc. Their name has more to do with a marketing concept than a sound concept. However, they focus mainly on direct-access controls and are meant to be immediate and easy-to-use instruments. Since the Nord Lead from 1995, the glorious times of modeling synths are way behind us. Japanese heavyweights have partially withdrawn into themselves while Americans don’t move forward anymore and Europeans try to amortize their R&D costs. The market became bipolar: at the top, the quiet kingdom of the Nord Lead, Virus, Origin, Accelerator, and Solaris that changes very slowly; at the bottom, the merciless world of cost killers like the Korg Micro & R3, Blofeld, SH-201, Miniak, etc. These instruments are often affordable but don’t provide the best ergonomics and manufacturing quality. With the SH-01 “Gaia,” Roland wants to enhance the ergonomics absent in budget products. Compromises had to be made. Were they wise decisions?

Easy Handling

Roland SH-01 "Gaia"

The SH-01 is a compact synth with a standard, velocity-sensitive, 37-note keyboard (three octaves). It is easy to transport and it runs on a power supply or batteries (the manufacturer says battery life is 4-5 hours). This summer, we took it along with a notebook to the sunny French beaches to test it while getting tanned. The black and white plastic housing isn’t as cheap as it seems. It seems to have some sort of reinforcement and it endured rough handling pretty well. The instrument is an invitation to tweaking. Its front panel is packed with clear, ergonomic and logically implemented control elements. Handling is easy with any synthesis form because you can understand the signal and modulation paths right away: D-Beam controller, LFO, oscillator, filter, amp, effects, etc. The 18 envelope sliders and 11 rotary controls recall the design of the prestigious Jupiter-8 or JP-8000. The rotary controls are not screwed down but they are well secured anyway. On the contrary, the sliders with plastic heads are fragile. It is very disappointing that in today’s modern digital era, controls only seem to to “jump,” because this limits their use in live performances.

Roland SH-01 "Gaia"

A “Bank” key plus eight dedicated keys allow you to select the 2 x 64 ROM and RAM programs (RAM is for user presets). Editing arpeggios and sequences is harder because controls are reduced to their simplest expression. Many commands use key combinations using the shift button, and many functions are not written on the front panel, which is a serious design flaw in our eyes… To use the SH-01 in real time, you get an optical D-Bean controller you can assign to many synthesis parameters, a pitch+modulation joystick (typical of the manufacturer) and an assignable port for a foot controller. The unit offers some valuable direct performance controls: tap tempo, octave transpose and V-link for image/slide-show control with compatible devices. A “Manual” control allows reckless sound designers to start programming from the position of the physical control itself, or they can start by reseting all parameters all at once.

USB Gets the Place of Honor

Roland SH-01 "Gaia"

The rear panel makes a very good impression (except for the usual external power supply): stereo audio output and phones output on 1/4″ jacks, versatile assignable 1/4″ TRS input for a foot controller, Midi in/out, and a dual USB port. The USB ports allow you to connect the SH-01 to computers and storage devices, which is rather unusual for a device in this price range. Even better: the “Host” USB port allows bidirectional Midi and audio data transfer with a computer (drivers are provided on the CD-ROM) for direct audio recording into a host application without quality loss. It also allows you to route the audio mix of the host application to the SH-01 analog outputs. We chose this solution for the sound samples in this review… The device can also send the computer the audio signal feeding the stereo minijack on the front panel. This signal can be processed within the SH-01. You can mute it, attenuate it and cut frequencies according to three modes: high/mid frequencies (to suppress vocals and solo parts of a song, for example), low frequencies and full range. On the contrary, it is not possible to route the input signal to the internal filters and effects. (We are still wondering why the device has this frustrating limitation.)

Roland SH-01 "Gaia"

The other “Media” USB port is conceived for connecting external storage units, (like a USB key) to save and exchange user data (programs, patterns). But there is a fly in the ointment: on the one hand, the USB key can only hold 64 programs + 8 patterns (i.e. some kilobytes) regardless of the memory size of the key. What a waste! On the other hand, a “hot connection” is not possible, which means that you have to power off the device before disconnecting/connecting. No comments… Finally, we have to mention that the SH-01 cannot be USB powered, in spite of its minimum power requirements (9 V – 600 mA), which could be perfectly supplied through the USB port.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Mixed Impressions

In the end, the SH-01 left us with mixed impressions. This affordable standalone instrument is easy to use, includes a real dynamic keyboard and is more sturdy than it seems. With its numerous controls and not very versatile signal path, it was clearly conceived for beginners. However we don’t quite understand why so much DSP power is wasted with three fully independent signals instead of letting them interact. The same applies to the very generous polyphony in detriment of multimbrality for the VA section, and to the three multimode filters and five effect DSPs which can’t be assigned to the external signal source. USB provides you deluxe bidirectional audio transfer but a lousy management of mass storage units. The sound is less controlled than on the 1997 JP-8000. It shows an overall lack of consistency and punch, and tends to become aggressive as soon as high frequencies are not cut. Its very attractive price makes the SH-01 a great instrument to discover subtractive sound synthesis without risks.

Advantages:

  • Attractive price
  • Battery operation
  • Compact size
  • Easy handling
  • Audio & Midi over USB
  • Full-size dynamic keys
  • Generous polyphony
  • Effects section

Drawbacks:

  • Sound is not very consistent and it tends to be aggressive
  • VA section is monotimbral
  • Mono in sync mode
  • Very limited modulation possibilities
  • Very basic arpeggiator/sequencer
  • No external audio signal processing
  • Silkscreen does not mention shift functions
  • USB storage unit management
  • OS could be greatly improved
  • Rather toyish PCM

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Roland Gaia Review

March 31, 2010

Best of Musikmesse 2010: The Top 11

They came to Frankfurt, Germany, showed their stuff, we looked, touched and video taped. Now with everybody back home, it’s time to make sense of the best gear presented at Musikmesse 2010.

Wrapping up a trade show like Musikmesse is no easy feat.  The editorial purpose here is not to declare that such and such product is the best, because as we all know it’s comparing apples to oranges in most cases.  For us here at Audiofanzine is it an opportunity to give a congratulatory nod to the products that we felt stood out in the crowd and did something for us.

Audiofanzine’s Top 11 picks from Musikmesse 2010 is presented in no particular order.

1.  RME Babyface:

Equipped with 192 kHz AD- and DA-converters and two microphone preamps the bus-powered Babyface uses the USB 2.0 high-speed bus and has been optimized under Windows and Mac OS. The Babyface combines analog circuit design with AD/DA converter chips of the latest generation. On top RME’s SteadyClock is designed to ensure an AD- and DA-conversion. Both digitally controlled preamps provide individually switchable 48V phantom power.  The Interface allows to record multiple channels and it’s still very simple setup. It is very small and actually fits in a laptop bag. Most other small interfaces are a lot bigger…

2.  Line 6 Variax James Tyler:

james tylerThis new line of guitars is designed to ”deliver the feel of the finest boutique instruments and the optimal tonal performance of Line 6 guitar modeling technology,” the company says.

Variax guitars are designed to reproduce the sounds of a collection of 25 vintage electric and acoustic instruments, and a dozen custom tunings. The modeled instruments include solid-body, semi-hollow guitars and hollow-body electrics with a variety of pickup configurations, six- and twelve-string acoustics, and other guitar-related instruments including a resonator, banjo, and an electric sitar.  This new line of guitars will be available in three styles, said to reflect the designs of James Tyler in each curve, component and control.

3.  Roland GAIA SH-01:

roland gaiaThe triple-stacked engine of this synthesizer features a “fun, friendly and inviting” designed to attract first-timers, according to Roland. The signal flow is said to be simple to grasp, with logically arranged knobs, sliders, and buttons.

This instrument is designed for music students, songwriters, session players, and live performers of all styles and skill levels and features, among others:

  • Three virtual analog engines onboard, each with a dedicated oscillator, filter, amplifier, envelope, and LFO
  • Layer up to five simultaneous effects, including distortion, flanger, delay, reverb, low boost, and more
  • 64-voice polyphony for massive sounds without note drop-out

To see the rest of the Top 11 from Musikmesse please see: Best of Musikmesse 2010

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