ROLAND XV-5080 - EMusician

ROLAND XV-5080

When I first saw the XV-5080, I knew it was destined to be a big success. When it finally hit the street a few months later, the XV-5080 was in such demand
Author:
Publish date:

When I first saw the XV-5080, I knew it was destined to be a big success. When it finally hit the street a few months later, the XV-5080 was in such demand that getting a loaner for this review took a few more months. When I finally received the review unit, Roland made my wait worthwhile by providing all four new SRX expansion boards.

Roland designed the XV-5080 to be the ultimate sample-playback module, and the results are outstanding. A direct descendent of the JV series of sample-playback synth modules and a close cousin of the S-700 sampler series, Roland's new rackmount synthesizer is much more powerful than its predecessors, thanks to a slew of new features.

A SOUND FOUNDATION

You can easily access most functions from the XV-5080's front panel, which bears some resemblance to that of the JV-1080 and JV-2080 (see Fig. 1). Six soft function buttons appear beneath the backlit display, which packs a lot of information into a few square inches. Other buttons let you select sounds, change modes, and maneuver through features. About half of the buttons light up to indicate their status. The XV-5080's only knob (besides Volume) is the Value Dial, which provides a means to change parameter values.

You can configure the eight analog outputs as four pairs or eight individual outs (see Fig. 2). By default, the entire mix is routed to the first pair; the optical and coaxial S/PDIF digital outputs simultaneously mirror that mix. An R-Bus connector passes as many as eight channels of audio to another R-Bus — compatible device such as a Roland VM-series mixer. The XV-5080 also supplies Word-Clock in for stable synchronization with other digital devices.

The XV-5080's analog outputs sound better than those of the JV-series modules. The basses have a solid low end that was missing from the JV-1080. To optimize levels, the XV-5080 lets you boost or cut its overall output by 12 dB in 6 dB increments. Although higher output levels are better for single Patches, lowering the output prevents clipping when you play a large number of Patches simultaneously in a dense Performance.

The XV-5080 is 32-part multitimbral and 128-note polyphonic. (If you need more notes, you can stack multiple units.) It retains the basic structural hierarchy that Roland has supported for years: Samples, Tones (Partials), Patches, Performances, and Volumes. However, the new XV-series synths support stereo Tones (the JV series used only mono Tones), which are featured in many new presets. The XV-5080 can load JV-series and S-700 Patches and Performances, but oddly, it can't load JV Performances.

A stock XV-5080 has nine factory-preset banks, including two banks of General MIDI 2 sounds and one User bank, providing a total of 1,280 Patches, 128 Performances, and 27 Rhythm Sets. All of the JV-2080's waveforms and Patches are included as well as waveforms from one of my favorite Rolands, the JD-990. Three banks contain all new Patches; if you're looking for inspiration, you're going to love the new sounds.

An optional SmartMedia card stores an additional eight complete User banks — each with 128 Patches, 64 Performances, and 4 Rhythm Sets — raising the total to 2,304 Patches, 640 Performances, and 59 Rhythm Sets. All are available as soon as you power up the machine.

You can install as many as four JV-series expansion cards and another four SRX-series expansion cards in an XV-5080, providing even more waveform data (see the sidebar, “Expansion Options”). If that's still not enough, you can load a total of 128 MB of additional samples into the XV-5080 via SCSI. The XV-5080 does not ship with any RAM, but as cheap as memory is, there's no reason not to expand it to its maximum capability through its two 72-pin SIMM slots. The ability to import samples makes it possible to fully customize the XV-5080's sound library.

Roland has obviously continued to refine its products' effects processing. The XV-5080 contains four independent effects processors: multi-effects, chorus, reverb, and EQ. Effects routing is much more flexible than in the JV-series synths, allowing for quite elaborate effects processing, even at the Performance level.

A DIFFERENT BEAST

Although the XV-5080's basic architecture is similar to that of the JV-series synths, the XV-5080 is a more mature manifestation of those multitimbral modules. To save space, I'll assume you're familiar with the older JV-series modules and concentrate on the XV-5080's new features.

As I mentioned, one of the XV-5080's fundamental developments is its use of stereo Tones. XV-5080 Patches are composed of four Tones (built from internal waveforms) or Multi-Partials (when samples are loaded from disk). The earlier JV-series models took two Tones to create a true stereo sound, so most JV Patches were constructed by stacking mono Tones. Conversely, the XV-5080's raw samples can be stereo and still use only one Tone (though each stereo Tone consumes two notes of polyphony).

Rather than simply repackaging the same basic sound set, as Roland has done for several years, the company created a solid collection of new stereo waveforms for the XV series. In addition to the XV-5080's stock waveform ROM, the new SRX boards incorporate new waveforms, mostly in stereo. The updated sound development has given a welcome face-lift to the Roland sound.

The variety of sounds is especially impressive, encompassing almost any music style you can imagine. The basses rumble, the pads are sweet, and the synths have bite. Excellent use of Velocity cross-switching brings many new sounds to life. A lot of Patches have too much effects processing for my taste, but a little tweaking really makes the factory presets shine. It's not difficult to find hundreds of useful timbres of consistently high quality. A fully loaded XV-5080 covers the bases almost anyone requires in a synth module.

The XV-5080 organizes its internal Patches into 37 categories (KEY, ORG, STR, SYN, and so on). A big orange button on the front panel lets you access the popular Patch Finder feature introduced in the JV-2080. To find the right acoustic-guitar sound, simply push the Patch Finder button, move the cursor down to the AGT category, and spin the Value Dial. Only Patches assigned to the AGT setting are listed, regardless of whether they're internal presets, expansion-card sounds, or samples loaded into RAM. When you press the Volume button, a short sequence specific to the category plays to audition the sound. That Phrase Preview feature, along with the Patch Finder, can really increase your productivity when searching for sounds.

CARE FOR A SAMPLE?

As I wrote this review, many people asked, “Will the XV-5080 replace my S-760 sampler?” The answer is yes — and no. Maybe. It depends on what you need, but consider a few important points before you sell your wall of S-760s.

The XV-5080 is not a sampler; you can't record sounds into it and create Patches from scratch as you can with a legitimate sampler. However, the XV-5080 can load existing sample libraries. Roland didn't design it as a replacement for the S-760 but as a logical successor to the JV-series, with sample-loading and -playback capabilities thrown in as a bonus.

The XV-5080 imports any Roland S-700 format sample data as well as Akai S1000 and 3000, AIFF, and WAV libraries. Unfortunately, I had some problems Roland couldn't account for. Although S-700 Patches loaded properly, a few Performances did not. When certain Performances contained numerous Patches with Velocity crossfades, the XV-5080 assigned the Patches to different MIDI channels rather than a single MIDI channel as intended. The Harp Performance from the Synclavier Strings disk, for example, loaded Harp 1A and 1B on different MIDI channels. With those Performances, I also had trouble importing Velocity crossfade information.

For the most part, the XV-5080 does an excellent job of translating the keymap and envelope parameters from foreign file formats, though stereo Akai S1000 files occasionally loaded in mono with only one side of the stereo samples.

Once samples are loaded, you can treat them like any other waveform in the XV-5080. Only a few S-760 sample-editing parameters are available: original key, start point, loop points, loop mode, and loop tuning. You can't normalize, truncate, reverse, cut, copy, or paste, but you can process Samples and Patches with the powerful internal effects. You can even combine your sample-based Patches into elaborate Performances with any internal Patch, making the XV-5080 an extremely powerful all-in-one box.

Sounds that you import into the XV-5080 are always loaded into the User bank. The User bank is different from that of the JV-series synths, in which your customized sound palettes are always available. Like other synthesizers, the XV-5080 holds Patches and Performances in memory when you turn the power off, but like a sampler, it loses any samples you loaded if you don't save the contents first. When you load new sounds, the XV-5080 prompts you to overwrite or append to the User bank's existing contents.

After loading the desired samples and Patches and creating any new Performances, save the contents to a SCSI device or a SmartMedia card if you don't want to lose them. The XV-5080 operating system (version 1.23 at this writing) lets you save only the entire User bank; you can't store individual items such as specific Patches or Performances. After you execute a Full Load, a QuickSave feature lets you write only the changes you made to the User bank since the previous load.

You can store a maximum of eight User banks on a SmartMedia card. You can also “register” any bank to contain sample data up to the XV-5080's 128 MB limit or the card's capacity, whichever comes first. My 64 MB SmartMedia cards each hold about 62 MB of sample data, in addition to eight banks of 128 Patches, 64 Performances, and 4 Rhythm Sets. The XV-5080 can read the parameter data (but not the samples) directly from the card without loading it into memory first.

DATA DILEMMAS

The XV-5080's file structure is completely different from the S-760's. Whereas the S-760 required you to use Roland's proprietary file format, the XV-5080 lets you store sample data in either AIFF or WAV format. Although the XV-5080 loads data from the older S-700 format, it actually converts it to the new format, just as it converts Akai data. Consequently, an S-760 can't read any data stored by the XV-5080, but your computer recognizes it as WAV or AIFF data.

Although you can view Performances and Patches on SmartMedia or SCSI devices, you can't see Partials. Likewise, sample names are stripped away and replaced with names such as sound0032. When you load the data back into the XV-5080, though, the proper Sample and Partial names reappear. Roland says that most users “don't want to be bothered” with such details, but I found that inconvenient when trying to find the perfect snare-drum sample. Fortunately, the problem affects only data written to a storage disk — when you preview existing sample libraries, their full sample and Partial names are displayed.

I was also dismayed to find that if too many objects are in a User bank, the XV-5080 takes much too long to save them. For instance, it took from two to three minutes to save a 50 MB User bank containing 110 samples to a Zip disk. If that 50 MB User bank contains 900 smaller samples (such as drum sounds), it might take almost half an hour to save the data via SCSI. For one project, a 90 MB User bank took almost an hour for a full save. The type of SCSI device you use makes a difference, but even saving to SmartMedia cards is slower than I prefer.

I don't understand why it took as long to reload samples in native XV format, either WAV or AIFF, as it originally took to import them. Slow load times might be understandable during the initial conversion, but the native WAV or AIFF load times should be much faster.

Further disappointing is the fact that you can't play the current Performance while the XV-5080 saves in the background (as you can with some samplers); the disk-write process completely takes over. If your XV-5080 is loaded with a lot of samples, you might be forced to take a lunch break just to perform a full save.

Although saving Patches and Performances without sample data is quick, the time it takes to save sample data is annoying. I hope Roland devotes more programming effort to addressing weaknesses in the operating system and disk structure of an otherwise excellent product.

EFFECTIVE PROCESSES

Compared with previous Roland products, the XV-5080's effects section is supercharged. Each output pair has its own 2-band EQ, and in Patch mode, each Tone or Partial has its own send control for separate chorus, reverb, and multi-effects modules.

Like the JV series, the XV-5080 has separate chorus and reverb modules with discrete send amounts per Part in Performance mode. You also can bus each Part to one of three simultaneously available multi-effects units. (In the JV-1080, only one multi-effects unit is available for the whole Performance.) Each Part has its own individual send control for each effect, and you can completely or partially bus all the effects into each other. The effects routing is much more flexible and useful than ever before.

The XV-5080 has 90 multi-effects units, each with a comprehensive set of editable parameters. (The owner's manual devotes more than 60 pages to describing the multi-effects and their parameters.) You can use MIDI to modulate many multi-effects parameters in real time.

A few dozen effects are true multi-effects algorithms, containing several simultaneous effects. Some effects use COSM-based modeling technology found in Roland's line of guitar processors. The XV-5080's effects engine is powerful and sounds great for many types of processing. Especially for live performance, the quality of the internal effects can't be beat.

PROOF IN THE PLAYBACK

Despite my criticisms, I really like the XV-5080. The XV-5080 greatly fills the void left by Roland's discontinuation of the S-760. Nonetheless, I hope that Roland will address my concerns about its operating system and file structure. Seen as a continuation of the JV-series sound modules, the XV-5080 is a huge leap forward in design and implementation.

Although you can get a lot of mileage from computer-based virtual synths and samplers, it's hard to beat the sheer collective power of the XV-5080's incredibly large assortment of internal sounds, expansion cards, sample-playback capabilities, and internal effects processing. It doesn't drain your computer's resources, and it resides in just two rackspaces. The XV-5080 is a formidable product that might well be the ultimate sound module.

Composer and arrangerRob Shrockhas worked with Burt Bacharach, Garth Brooks, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Gloria Estefan, Faith Hill, Whitney Houston, Chrissie Hynde, Mikaila, 'N Sync, and many others.

XV-5080 Specifications Sound Enginesample playbackMaximum Polyphony128-noteMultitimbrality32-partWaveform ROM64 MB, 16-bit linearROM/RAM Patches1,152/128ROM/RAM Performances64/64ROM/RAM Rhythm Sets23/4ROM Expansion(4) SRX slots; (4) SR-JV80 slotsRAM Expansion(2) 72-pin SIMM slots; max. 128 MBRemovable StorageSmartMediaSequencernoneEffects(90) multi-effects (max. 3 simultaneous);
(4) reverbs; (2) choruses; 2-band EQ ×
(8) outputsAnalog Audio Outputs(8) unbalanced ¼" TS; (1) ¼" TRS stereo headphoneDigital Audio Outputs(1) S/PDIF optical; (1) S/PDIF coaxial; (1) R-BusMIDI Ports(2) In; (1) Out; (1) ThruOther Ports(1) DB 25-pin SCSI; (1) Word-Clock in (BNC)Display320 × 80-pixel backlit LCDDimensions2U × 11.06" (D)Weight10.81 lb.

EXPANSION OPTIONS

If a stock XV-5080's 1,083 internal waveforms are not enough, you can add as many as four JV-series and four SRX-series expansion boards. Roland has four SRX- and 18 JV-series boards available. During the course of this review, I worked with all four SRX expansion boards.

The SRX-01 Dynamic Drum Kits board ($395) offers 719 waveforms, many of them stereo. With no electronic percussion sounds, the board's emphasis is on real drums. A total of 79 Rhythm Sets provide kits and single instruments, from rocking kicks and snares to a collection of detailed brush kits. Although sound quality is mostly good, the crash cymbals don't have much transient attack.

The SRX-02 Concert Piano board ($395) devotes its entire 64 MB of wave data to acoustic piano. I don't think any sampled piano sounds perfect, but the DynamicGrand and Bright Grand Patches are stereo piano sounds that I turn to for everyday work. Most Patches respond well to touch and record nicely too. Only 50 Patches are provided — no Performances or Rhythm Sets are included — but the handful of pianos sound great.

The SRX-03 Studio SRX board ($395) offers 128 Patches and 12 Rhythm Sets to augment your meat-and-potato studio needs. The collection of pianos, guitars, basses, brass, saxes, woodwinds, pads, vocal, lead synths, and effects isn't exhaustive, but it effectively supplements the similar sounds in a stock XV-5080. The board is not glamorous, but you will probably use it a lot.

The SRX-04 Symphonic Strings board ($395) is a collection of gorgeous violin, viola, cello, and bass samples. Ensembles and small sections provide various articulations — such as marcato, legato, spiccato, pizzicato, and tremolo — but muted sections are missing. A good number of Patches contain four stereo Tones consuming eight voices per note, quickly chewing through polyphony. However, you might need hundreds of megabytes of RAM and an expensive sample library to rival what this single expansion board provides.

In addition to offering the SRX boards, Roland has reissued the LCDX series of sample CD-ROMs in packages that are more affordable. The sample libraries are still distributed in S-700 format, which means that they are available to new XV5080 users as well as to legacy Roland sampler users.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Roland
XV-5080
synthesizer module
$2,495

FEATURES4.0EASE OF USE4.0AUDIO QUALITY4.5VALUE4.0

RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: 128-note polyphony over 32 MIDI channels. Stereo Tones. Expandability. Loads Roland S-700, Akai, WAV, and AIFF sample data. Expandable RAM to 128 MB. SmartMedia card memory storage. Eight assignable analog outputs. Word-Clock input. Patch Finder feature. Superb effects with flexible routing. More simultaneous effects than previous Roland synths.

CONS: Can't load JV-1080 Performances (Patches only) or save individual objects. Doesn't always correctly load Performances from Roland sample CDs. Slow disk-write times under certain circumstances. No playback during disk-write operation.

Manufacturer

Roland Corporation U.S.
tel. (323) 890-3700
Web www.rolandus.com