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Looper's Delight
Roland SP-808 Review#1

by Paolo Valladolid,
posted to the Looper's Delight mailing list 10/19/98

When I dropped off my Roland GR700 at a local music tech store/repair shop (heh, if the repair bill is higher than the worth of the unit, I'll let them keep the darn thing! :)), they happened to have the Roland SP-808 on display.

Naturally, I took the opportunity to play with it a bit. What it basically does is let you play up to four samples at once out of a selection of up to 16 samples at a time. You select a pad bank, then watch the 16 trigger pads light up as the samples load up. With a Hold button, you can have the unit loop a sample.

Obviously, the kind of samples you want to work with here are not the perfect tabla sample or that pristine Steinway piano, but rather phrases of music such as a bass line, breakbeat, etc. I was disappointed when told that you cannot playback and sample at the same time. I thought it would be great if one could play two phrase samples while sampling oneself playing live bass at the same time, then work with the newly sampled bass line.

The filter knobs and D-beam are nice real-time features. The D-beam can be set to one of three modes: Filter, Pitch, Sample Trigger. The D-beam is a motion sensor that can detect movement in an oval-shaped area above the sensor. Filter mode has the D-beam perform filtering effects. Pitch allows one to use the D-beam to affect both pitch and playback rate of the samples (like a DJ's turntable moves). Sample Trigger allows one to trigger different phrase samples using the D-beam. I had a lot of fun triggering the D-beam by leaning into it with my head as well as waving around. However, I was disappointed that I could not find a way to not have the D-beam affect playback globally. In other words, I could not, for example, find a way to use the D-beam to mess with a sampled vocal phrase without affecting the playback of a breakbeat that was going on at the same time. I'd like to be able to have a steady rhythmic foundation over which I could do weird things to samples floating on top with the D-beam.

The SP-808 uses an interesting memory management concept. It uses a 100MB Zip disk as virtual RAM instead of real RAM.

Overall, the SP-808 is a fun toy. I enjoyed pretending to be DJ Spooky and a Chemical Brother (the demo samples being inspired by those artists). I was however disappointed that it could not sample and playback at the same time (now I'm beginning to understand Kim's point about dedicated loopers and DJ-oriented gear beginning to converge but not being there yet) and that the D-beam appeared to be always global. Keep in mind, though, that I am not a DJ or remix artist myself; just somebody interested in getting into that stuff at some point.

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