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Roland SP-808 Review#2

by Jason Karney, 12/29/98

Here is a little bit of info on the Roland sp-808:

I've been working with the 808 for a week or so, and I really like the unit. Effects are great, the 100Meg of virtual mem is really nice, and sampling in works really well. Why is the memory so large? Because there is no RAM to speak of. Rather, the internal zip drive is used as virtual memory, so you have about 100M / zip disk, which translates to 23 minutes or so sampling time.

The sequencer is pretty nice from what I've done with it -- primarily arranging existing loops. There can be drop-outs on the sequencer if you try to play too many pad events too quickly -- this is a limit of the zip drive, and you can get more detail in the Sound on Sound review (from August 1998?), also a Keyboard Magazine review (July 1998). There are work-arounds; but I haven't yet encountered this as a severe problem. The sequencer is 4-track, whether recording stereo or mono. You can resample tracks though, bouncing up to 3 tracks down to a 4th. Recording can be of samples, or external digital audio, with effects inserted if desired. Note that this is NOT a midi sequencer; rather, an old-style analog sequencer.

The sampling editing is limited. You can break down a sample with a little effort (a little math and the updating-BMP counter make it straightforward so to do); and resample with effects; but that's about it. No ADSR-envelope editing like other samplers (although I've wondered if the built-in analog synth could be used as an effect for this type of processing).

My biggest complaint is the zip drive noise; to me, it's loud, especially in a small room with the music turned down (so my neighbors don't complain :-) You wouldn't notice in a noiser setting. I haven't noticed the extra noise picked up on a mic yet, but the noise is annoying. I may yet trade my 808, primarily because of the zip noise.

The reatime-updating BPM counter makes looping samples easy. Set the number of beats in a sample (for example, 16 quarter notes in a 4-bar, 4/4 piece), then adjust the loop end and watch the counter. When it's BPM shows the expected value (this assumes you know the BPM of a loop), you know you've got the correct loop end.

The timestrech seems fast to me. It sounds good so far. You can adjust by a ratio/percentage (50-200%), or match another sample.

All in all, a good solid unit. Price is good, as is portability, and the 808 looks really cool (let's face it, form factor is important). The D-Beam allows some real-time control of effects by waving your hands over it, which is a really neat experience, especially if you're a live DJ.

If you want to create loops from scratch, this is probably not the unit for you. (See editing samples, above.) You can manipulate somewhat, but this unit's strengths are combining loops and digitial audio. Definitely good for remixes (as advertised by Roland). Great job, for the most part. My only complaint, again, was the zip drive noise. Machine does its work quite well.

---> Jason (riftweaver@hotmail.com)

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