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Roland SPD-SX

May 15, 2012
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As a major innovator in electronic drums, it’s not surprising that Roland would offer a percussion instrument that has sampling capabilities. What is surprising is that the result, the SPD-SX, is easy to use, lightweight (5.9 lbs.), and has a footprint the size of an LP album cover. That makes the instrument ideal for desktop use as a MIDI pad controller with a DAW, or as a highly portable addition to an acoustic drum setup.
 
The SPD-SX combines nine velocity-sensitive pads with stereo audio I/O (including secondary audio outputs), MIDI I/O, a pair of footswitch inputs, and two USB ports. You can augment the SPD-SX with two dual-zone pads or any combination of four acoustic-drum triggers or single-zone pads.
 
The built-in rubber pads are 3.75 inches wide and have a low profile and a nice rebound. I like that you can trigger two adjacent pads on the bottom and middle rows simultaneously by hitting them flat with the shaft of a stick. The upper row is raised at the top and easy to strike. Every pad has a red LED in the lower right corner that indicates the dynamics of the sample being played.
 
The SPD-SX’s sampling features are rudimentary, but that makes the device a snap to use. You can capture sounds using the 1/4" inputs or load them via USB—16-bit, 44.1kHz WAV and AIFF files are supported. The rear-panel input gain ranges from Mic to Line level in order to accommodate a variety of signals. The SPD-SX includes 2GB of internal memory that holds up to 180 minutes of stereo samples, and Wave Manager (Mac/Win) software is provided to manage and transfer samples and kits to and from your computer. The second USB port is used for moving sounds to and from a flash drive.
 
Once you’ve sampled your sound, the LCD screen shows a waveform display where you can adjust the start and end points, edit the sample’s pitch, divide it, normalize it, or reverse it. The SPD-SX can also record a performance as a WAV file, resample a sound with effects, sample consecutively (Multi Pad mode), and combine two sounds into one from within the same kit. The LCD is easy to read and many of the front-panel buttons are backlit in red—perfect for a dark stage.
 
While the SPD-SX can trigger two samples per pad, it doesn’t allow you to assign individual samples to specific velocity levels. However, the Dynamics function can be used to simulate multiple velocity levels. To tailor things further, you can dial in the sensitivity, threshold, and velocity curve for the sound on each pad.
 
The SPD-SX’s tempo-synchronized master effects include Filter, Delay, S. Loop (short loop), and FX (multi-effects). One master effect can be used at a time, but you have real-time control over two parameters for each effect. My favorite is the S. Loop and its speed control, which can be used to create stutter effects on the fly. An additional effect can be assigned per kit.
 
The SPD-SX’s USB connection allows you to use the device as an audio interface and send MIDI data over USB. And it is essentially plug-and-play: install the drivers and get to work.
 
Overall, the SPD-SX is intuitive to use as a sampler and performance instrument, but more importantly, it’s fun to play. If you’re looking for a no-nonsense sampling percussion instrument that can go anywhere, the SPD-SX is tough to beat.

Gino Robair is a former editor of Electronic Musician magazine.
 
 
SUMMARY
STRENGTHS: Lightweight. Compact. Easy to use. USB interface.
LIMITATIONS: No expression pedal input. One master effect can be used at a time.
$999 MSRP/$799 MAP
rolandus.com/spdsx
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