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Roland R-8 MK II

Created by nick. Last edited by nick, 11 years and 250 days ago. Viewed 15,500 times. #3
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This is an article culled from archive material, circa 1997.


For my first (and probably last) drum machine, I wanted the most powerful machine available. With the possible exception of some of the sampling production stations, the R-8 MK II must be it. As far as I can tell, it is pretty identical to the original R-8, except for a far larger set of onboard sounds.

The feature set is largely what one would expect. The unit has a stereo output and eight polyphonic outs. There's a song mode where patterns can be chained and looped, tempos programmed, and markers set. Patterns can be programmed in real time or in a matrix-based step mode. Versatile editing modes allow event timing to be altered with accuracy, and the individual pitch, decay, nuance, pan and velocity of sounds in a pattern can be swept and altered in real time while a pattern plays. The programming interface is typical Roland, but there is a logic to it; one just has to discover it for oneself.

The most innovative feature of the machine is the provision of feel patches, which are templates for altering attributes of specific sounds within a pattern, either according to a rhythm template, or via various kinds of random variation. Programming of feel patches is fiddly, but the results are worthwhile.

The MIDI specification of the instrument is quite sophisticated. MIDI controllers can be routed to various sound parameters, and of course MIDI note data can be generated or received. Controller data is also generated to reflect parameter variations within patterns. The system exclusive format follows the memory map model found on recent Roland synthesisers, and seems to work well.

The major drawback of the instrument, from my point of view, is the monolithic and intertwined nature of the various data objects, making it very hard to organise and manage sounds and patterns. Sounds have their own global settings (pan, output assign and so on), stored according to the original sample. Patterns refer to these sounds by sample number and contain their own settings. Feel patches refer to sounds globally, and there are only ten feel patches to be shared amongst all possible patterns. Pad sounds and parameters are global and unrelated to patterns or songs. It is impossible to perform a uniform edit to a set of closely related patterns.

To be fair, I suspect that most drum machines are organised this way; the notion of "patch", "preset" or "performance" as found on synthesisers has not made it as far as the average drum box. These problems are solvable with external software such as Max, although some work would be required.

The only other drawback of the machine is its size, although this is also a benefit when programming. The LCD screen is rather small and not backlit, which is a shame. Otherwise, this is a fine machine, although it does require a particular mindset.

The R-8 MK II takes the same PCM sample cards as the R-8, although it has such a large selection of onboard sounds that it's probably not worth hunting cards down, especially given the high prices charged for them.

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