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electronic MUSICIAN

Review: Roland MV-8800 (Bonus Material)

July 8, 2008

HOOK IT UP

I wanted to see just how “all in one” the MV-8800 was, so I first connected only the stereo output to my monitor speakers. I could connect digital audio using coaxial or optical connectors, or stereo analog audio using the ¼-inch TRS jacks. The unit also has a headphone jack with a dedicated level control. There''s plenty you can do in this configuration, but I wanted a keyboard controller on the MV-8800''s MIDI input for recording melodic passages using something other than the trigger pads. I also connected a VGA monitor and a mouse; neither is required to access all of the MV-8800''s functionality, but they certainly make things easier (in fact, operating in this manner makes the device look not too different from a PC-based DAW program). If you have sample content to transfer from a computer, you''ll want to attach a USB cable as well.

Two MIDI Outs and two pairs of audio inputs round out the MV-8800''s connections, although the latter is not perceived as a pair when working in the screens and menus. So why have two input pairs if they aren''t individually selectable? One pair appears as ¼-inch TRS jacks, suitable for connection to a synthesizer or pair of microphones; you also get sensitivity knobs for the left and right channels to dial in the appropriate boost for the mic-level signals.

The other stereo audio input appears on phono jacks, complete with a grounding screw for connecting a turntable. The MV-8800 is targeted to the DJ and hip-hop markets, so this makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, the MV-8800 offers no provision for phantom power, so you''ll have to find another powering option if you want to use your favorite condenser mic. If the stock MV-8800 doesn''t provide enough connectivity for you, you can purchase the optional MV8-OP1 expansion card. This accessory adds six analog outputs, stereo digital inputs (on both electrical and optical connectors), and a Roland R-BUS connector (which provides eight channels of digital output).

BUILD YOUR MASTERPIECE

Anyone familiar with sample-based synthesis will feel right at home with the MV-8800. The unit ships with 128 MB of RAM, and you can expand it to 512 MB by replacing the memory module inside (using standard computer memory). All audio, whether samples or linear recordings, plays from memory, so the stock MV-8800 allows about 12 minutes of stereo audio material in each of your projects. It supports only 16-bit, 44.1 kHz samples.

Sample content can come from numerous sources. You can transfer data from a USB connection or CD (but not DVD) in WAV, AIFF, SND, or Akai S1000/3000, S700, and MPC2000 formats. Acidized files are supported. You can also record your own samples or rip portions of audio tracks. The MV-8800 provides the requisite tools for trimming, looping, mapping, and adjusting your samples. Up to four samples can be included in a partial (which adds filter and amplitude envelopes, as well as an LFO). You then combine as many as 96 partials (one for each note from A0 to G#8) into a patch for use in your MV-8800 projects. The MV-8800 is 16-part multitimbral with 64 voices of polyphony, but recorded audio tracks can steal as many as 32 of these 64 voices.

As you''d expect in a device targeted for beat generation, the MV-8800 has ample capabilities for audio beat slicing, tempo synchronization, and stretching. You can split Audio Phrases into as many as 96 pieces and assign the pieces to the trigger pads. Also available is an Auto Chop feature, which automatically divides the phrase using time, sequencer beats, or sample level.

Roland provides a head start on your sample content, with about 450 MB of samples preloaded on the hard disk, representing approximately 150 instrument and drum kit patches. Bass and drums (including sounds from classic drum machines such as the TR-808 and TR-909) make up more than half of the included patches.

The patches sound great, and a respectable variety of sounds are categorized in synths, strings, horns, keys, and guitars. But frankly I expected much more sound content in something with the MV-8800''s price tag. Roland has made a few additional patches and percussion loops available for download, but I''d like to see a lot more of the company''s excellent sounds already on the box.

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