Electronic Musician 2004 Editors Choice Awards

exerpted from Electronic Musician

DSP Host

VariOS ($1,495)

Software that imitates musical instruments is nothing new. Nor is the idea of a chameleon-like hardware device that assumes a new personality depending on the software you load into it; in essence, that's what a personal computer does. Just in the last year or so, a few manufacturers have introduced shape-shifting DSP engines that can be programmed to perform various types of synthesis and effects processing. Roland's implementation of those ideas is a DSP host system housed in a single-rackspace module and dubbed the VariOS.

The VariOS models whatever instrument its software tells it to. Connecting it to your computer with a USB cable gives you access to virtual control panels and to a dedicated graphical audio editor and 6-track sequencer called V-Producer (Mac/Win). By performing the heavy-duty number-crunching, the VariOS frees your computer's processor for other music-production tasks. For stage use, you can also cut the connection and use the VariOS as a standalone synth and sampler.

The VariOS generates sound using VariPhrase sampling and two types of analog-synthesis modeling. Its processor analyzes pitch, time, and formant data and encodes it in a proprietary format that allows it to manipulate samples as only VariPhrase can. That makes it possible, for example, to stretch a single sample up or down in pitch much farther than normal without noticeable artifacts. VariPhrase handles pitch shifting, beat slicing, and time stretching in real time.

A polyphonic synth model called VariOS-8 re-creates the Roland Juno and Jupiter series. On your computer screen, the software looks and operates much like a Jupiter-8, complete with oscillators, filter, EGs, and effects processing. VariOS 303 is a monophonic model that duplicates the TB-303 Bass Line, a combination synth and 16-step sequencer that was largely ignored in its time but is now in huge demand. VariOS-8 and VariOS 303 both sound terrific.

In the VariOS, Roland has made a rackmount DSP engine that not only works as an advanced VariPhase-based sampler but also resurrects analog synthesizers of the past — and according to Roland, we ain't seen nothing yet. That makes it one of the most promising devices of its kind for electronic-music production. We eagerly anticipate seeing and hearing the VariOS's continuing development as a versatile platform for sound design.