Roland MC-808 Sampling Groovesbox


Roland’s MC-808 Sampling Groovebox is the largest and by far most complex of the company’s dedicated sampling workstations—there are bigger models that double as production studios, but this is the pinnacle for straight-up sampling and sequencing. Packed within this hefty box are hundreds of readymade samples and beat patterns, pre-constructed songs, and all the parameters necessary to tweak and build on these presets to create original music. It’s definitely not a beginner’s tool, and the sheer variety and depth of its controls and settings can be daunting, but for those willing to invest the time in learning its nuances, this is a potentially indispensable addition to an electronic music studio.

In Use

Roland MC-808The MC-808, like many sampling and sequencing systems, has three basic levels on which to build sounds: patch/sample, pattern, and song. These three levels can be accessed and switched between using the mode buttons on the front panel, making it very easy to switch between editing and playback at all three levels of sound construction. Patches are the box’s simplest unit of sound, short samples to be used in building larger patterns. There are almost 900 such samples already stored in the MC-808’s memory by default, divided into categories by the type of instrument being synthesized, with the usual complement of guitars, pianos, brass and woodwinds, and rhythm sets.

The sounds themselves are excellent for what they are, though rarely sounding very realistic—with the important exception of the impressive array of drum sets—but always providing an interesting base sound for users to experiment with. The ability to manipulate each patch significantly can greatly change the presets so that they no longer sound very much at all like their original setting. This is especially important for those who wish to use the 808’s base as a jumping-off point for their own original ideas. Equally important is the included sampler, which can record from mics or line instruments, to create new patches from user-generated sounds (and can be stored on a CompactFlash card). The 808 also allows the importation of WAV or AIFF from a computer via USB, for those who aim to create their own samples with software or want to use outside editing and effects on recorded samples.

The MC-808 also provides extreme flexibility in altering and tweaking patches—whether user-recorded or preset—in virtually any way imaginable. The panel features eight motorized faders that can be used to alter the parameters of any patch, including the individual tones (up to four) that make up each preset patch. There is a pair of “synthesizers” that can be switched between like two preset parameter lists, providing filtering, resonance, pitch, amplification control, and other traditional synth features, all potentially controlled by LFOs and envelopes. There are also a pair of multi-effect processors that can further modify the sounds with the usual array of distortions, reverb, delays, etc. All of these features are obviously digital and probably not up to par with individual pedal effects, but Roland has a strong background in effects and these sound as good as any dedicated multi-effect box out there. Those who have had experience with other smaller Roland samplers, like the SP-404, will know that this company can often cram surprisingly good effect units into boxes whose primary purpose lies elsewhere.

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