Roland M-1000

Swiss-army knife digital mixer
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With the proliferation of digital audio sources in today’s studio, it’s become increasingly necessary to have some device that can manage all those digital outputs, allowing you to monitor and in some cases mix them together. Digital patch bays work if all you need is routing ability. A large-format “traditional” digital mixer works, but may be overkill if all you want is to combine signals and monitor them.

If your needs fall into the “combine and monitor” category, the Roland M-1000 may be just what you need. It’s a 1U box that can accept 10 channels of input. Those ten channels are arranged as five stereo pairs; inputs can come from a pair of analog ins, or four S/PDIF-format stereo digital ins. The first digital input can accept either optical or coaxial (RCA) input, stereo ins 2 and 3 are coax ins, and input 4 can accept either coax input or — surprise — can connect to a computer via USB. This allows the M-1000 to serve as a 2-channel Mac or PC audio interface.

Resolutions up to 24 bits and sample rates up to 96 kHz are supported. The M-1000 can lock to a variety of clock sources, including digital input 1, external word clock (with switchable 75W termination and “word clock thru”), or the unit’s internal clock. It would be nice if digital inputs 2, 3, and 4 could also serve as a clock source.

However, incoming digital signals on all inputs are automatically “re-clocked” to the Roland, which sounds fine. Each input also has built-in sample rate conversion, which sounds pretty good.

If you’re using the M-1000 with a computer, USB automatically serves as the clock source. Too bad you can’t lock to word clock when using USB. Another bummer is that you have to quit your audio software, and power-cycle the M-1000 when changing USB sample rates. On the plus side, an “advanced” USB driver is provided that allows for 96 kHz operation over USB (single direction only).

Another negative is that you must either turn off your computer or physically disconnect the USB cable from the back of the unit in order to use digital input 4. It would be far more convenient if you could change to using digital input 4 using a front-panel switch.

I used the M-1000 both as a straight-ahead digital mixer to variously combine and monitor signals from Mac (coax) and PC (optical) audio interfaces as well as a CD player, DAT machine, Alesis MasterLink, and a Yamaha 01V digital mixer. I also put the analog inputs to work on a number of sources. The M-1000 is clean, quiet, and works perfectly in this type of application. I monitored both the analog and digital outputs. The analog outs sound fine: clear and uncolored. The digital outs, both coaxial and optical, interfaced perfectly with my reference Benchmark D/A converter.

As a USB computer interface, I used the M-1000 with a dual-1 GHz G4 Mac running OS X. Software included everything from iTunes to Reason to Nuendo. Whether for simple stereo playback/monitoring or for tracking/overdubbing, the M-1000 was easy to use and worked great. For certain applications, you may have to futz a bit with buffer settings, and there is, of course, some latency when overdubbing, but overall, it doesn’t get much easier than this.

For those struggling with an increasing number of digital signals that need to be mixed and monitored, the M-1000 is a godsend. The fact that it can also serve as a straight-ahead computer interface and can sample rate convert, re-clock signals, and accept stereo analog signals makes the M-1000 even more valuable as a studio Swiss army knife.