Perhaps the most unexpected product news this month is Roland’s unveiling of RolandCloud. It’s a subscription service from the hardware maker, the biggest component of which is providing access to a range of software plug-ins.

Roland, while one of biggest names ever in hardware and synthesizers, is still a relative newcomer to software. But their PLUG-OUT line has steadily built up to library of a few instruments. That includes modeled remakes of classic synths (SH-101, PROMARS, SH-2, SYSTEM-100) and one new synth (SYSTEM-1).

Those instruments – and two just-announced new ones – are the first additions to the subscription service. Roland tells CDM that all their software instruments will support 32-bit and 64-bit VST, Apple’s Audio Units, and “a broad range of OS versions and digital audio workstations.”

The instrument range looks nice enough. It appears that if you just want the instruments, you can pay US$19.95/month – the current “beta” subscription rate. A “cloud” subscription is $29.95/mo, and something called “Storm” for $39.95/mo. (Visitors to the NAMM show got a free month.)

But, are they good enough to spend $240 a year (or more) on a Roland subscription rather than spend that money a la carte on other software instruments of your choice? That’s the big question, and might explain Roland’s “soft launch” approach. The beta is paid, and available only to residents of the United States. Roland says they’ll offer up more software and services – and more countries – over time.

If you do live in the USA, and you didn’t get access yet, Roland says you can text the word “RolandCloud” to 33233 – or visit https://www.rolandcloud.com/EarlyAccess

roland_anthology_1987

The new instruments may make or break the idea. There’s the ANTHOLOGY 1987 soft synth, which appears to be a recreation of the D-50. And, hey – that sounds like a good idea, as the 1987 digital synth is one of the sources of some of the best-known patches in Roland’s back catalog. (For some absurd reason, Roland dances around referring to the D-50 by name. That’s common when releasing a recreation of someone else’s product and avoiding trademark disputes, but … weird when it’s Roland. But, whatever – 1987 Roland sounds it is.)

The “ANTHOLOGY” series would appear to promise more of the same. That seems to suggest JV series sounds or, say, a 727 drum machine might make future appearances.

roland_tera_piano

And there’s the TERA series, starting with a TERA concert grand, with sampled sounds and convolution reverb.

The subscription plug-in model isn’t specific to Roland, though it seems – whatever Adobe may or may not be doing for graphic artists – musicians aren’t all rushing to adopt this kind of pricing yet.

I think its biggest competition may actually be from Roland itself. Buy a piece of hardware, and there’s a clear sense of lasting value. Part of what makes Roland appealing as a maker is just that. Look at the recent success of the AIRA and Boutique line – people enjoy having physical gear, machines independent from computers, and tangible controls.

But if the subscription model makes sense, Roland is adopting an approach to cloud rendering that is likely to be simply baffling.

There are some clues to this in the product copy for the existing products. For instance, the TERA promises “ultra-deep sampling,” whatever that is, but also spec’s its samples as 48kHz stereo VBR (variable bit rate) .OGG files. That’s a lossy format, and not what you’d normally use for a piano.

Roland also is unveiling something called RAINLINK. I went through some massively circular conversations about what this is. As near as I can figure, Roland’s idea is to send high-resolution performance data in its own format for cloud rendering. Then, a server can spit out a higher-quality version of a performance than your local computer’s storage and computation could handle itself.

In other words, “RolandCloud” is meant partly as a way of linking local plug-ins to cloud services. And it seems they’ll charge extra for the privilege.

Buzzword-compliant as that may be, of course, it raises a question of who this is for. If you have run out of processing power locally, it probably wasn’t running something like a piano. Even devices like $200 ChromeBooks now have pretty decent CPU horsepower – and Roland is supporting plug-in formats like VST and AU, not Web instruments or mobile apps.

I’m going to walk away from this one, at least having (mostly, I think) parsed what Roland was trying to say.

It’s interesting to watch Roland try ideas like PLUG-OUT and RolandCloud. But meanwhile, I think it’s their hardware that really has us hooked.

  • Svantana

    They should do cloud rendering on analog gear, now that would be awesome!

  • Wow…this looks pants.

    You can buy Reaktor 6 and a decent secondhand controller keyboard for around the price of a 1 year subscription to the cheapest tier of this service (which includes no hardware).

    Cringingly bad.

    • Foosnark

      …and then if you decide you don’t want them anymore, you can resell your Reaktor license and the keyboard.

      Really not liking the subscription idea.

  • Wouter

    Confusing names since there is also Eventide Anthology and Virsyn Tera.

  • To be fair, I can see why this might be a good idea for a software vendor in general. As much as I understand the technicalities, this is a way to finally get illegal copying and distribution of software under some control. And if that’s the case, I totally understand why Microsoft, Adobe and many others go this way.

    But I have the same doubts as you, Peter, about how well this will be embraced by the music making community. Personally, I would always prefer either a dedicated piece of hardware (synth or drum machine or groove box) or a piece of software that I can download and install and use without any hassle whatsoever, in any environment I need (with or without internet access etc.) And then, I would prefer to be able to have a local backup copy of that downloaded installation file (like we had those install CDs back in the olden days) and the license key stored in a separate place.

    I am aware that buying software only means buying the right to use the software under given terms – and not buying the actual software itself. But I am definitely not a friend of giving away control over when and how to use that software and paying the same or more money for it than before. To me, that’s what is fundamentally wrong with e.g. music streaming (amongst many other things that are wrong with that anyway.)

  • echolevel

    $20 on an occasional, per-project basis is worth paying in exchange for being able to free up the square mile of studio space that my hardware D-50 currently occupies! Though it’s still downloading (at excruciatingly low speeds – I guess they’re getting hit pretty hard following the announcement), I have high expectations: Eric Persing and/or Roland have come down HARD on any attempt to replicate or closely mimic the D-50 in software, and I’d sort of lost hope that there was ever going to be an official release. Maybe they’ve finally realised that they could be taking money from everyone who bought Korg’s Legacy M1 and Wavestation (and I struggle to believe that everyone who bought those wouldn’t want this).

    Thanks for the detailed info, Peter!

  • echolevel

    Oh never mind, it’s just a fecking ROMpler :/ I won’t put the D-50 on eBay just yet…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GaIkS9EOE8

    • Oh wait Its only presets with Samples? Not a virtual D50? you can’t Create “New D50” sounds? :/

      • echolevel

        Yup. I should’ve read Roland’s description more closely (or at all) before downloading, but I was too excited. You can adjust the (rather crappy) filter, change the envelope and some other stuff, and save those edited presets, but you can’t do anything in terms of programming LA/partial synthesis. It would’ve been amazing, even for hardware owners who wanted an easier means of programming patches than with a pricey and rare PG-1000 or a fiddly SYSEX solution, for dumping to hardware. There’s a CTRLR panel available, and a pretty good Windows-based librarian that works in WINE, but the D-50 isn’t quite ‘realtime’ when remotely controlled; you have to retrigger the note before you hear any parameter changes. Ah well!

  • Markus Girrulat

    My personal main “pro” effects in cloud software is definetly the permanent up to date of software (also between OS). Also in graphic software there are really huge steps with newer versions and there is a market to do that on a regular basis. In music i and cant see that use at the moment, cause its efficient only for professional full time users… and music has become much more something like a “full time hobby” for so many people..

  • papernoise

    The Adobe comparison is of course due here. I’ve been partially postponing the upgrade to Adobe CC for years now (for the part that I could). I really don’t see any benefit for the user in this whole subscription-based approach, it just costs you more on the long run and you get little in return. I mean you need to see this over a period of 5 years at least. How many plug-ins do you buy in that time (GAS-driven purchases not counting), how much do you spend on it, and how much will a bunch of subscriptions cost (because just one won’t do it probably). Adobe kind of shows how not to do it: Getting all of their applications is nice, but the fact is you’ll never need most of them, nor you need to upgrade all the time just to find out that your software has new bugs, runs way slower and adds very little to make up for it.
    Now of course not everybody is Adobe, and there’s probably a good (or at least better) way to do that… but still I wonder if this isn’t just a way for developers to have more benefits while offering little in return.

  • chaircrusher

    I just went to a company meeting where the idea of Software as Service was discussed — that’s what suits call what Roland and Adobe are doing.

    This is something that companies do for their own benefit, not for the benefit of their customers. It’s a predictable revenue stream. A customer has to do a calculus: Does the subscription cost less than outright purchase + incremental update and support costs? Is there a benefit to being able to simply drop the subscription when the product no longer fits your needs?

    In the case of Roland, this works out to be a very expensive proposition for customers, particularly those for whom music production is not a significant source of income.

    For commercial studios, it would only make sense if adding $20 (or $40 or whatever) to your monthly expenses produces more than $20 of net income. Roland is trying to tell customers that the answer is ‘yes it will.’ But they’re selling into a saturated market, where for every Anthology 1987, there are many other competing products. Including buying a used Roland synth or rack module that is substantially the same thing.

  • FS

    yikes, they are entering some pretty competitive waters here. the leading developers in plug-ins i think have a passion for what they create and offer some incredible products that even though they are software have very unique finger prints. this offering feels generic, not sincere. and i think the price is too high for something like this, if it were $8 a month i could see people jumping in but most DAWs come with great stock plugs and if folks are going to but 3rd party they’ll look to NI, U-he, Fab Filter and so on.

    that said, there’s a few Roland products i’d like to have but they’re hardware.

  • I’ll play the opposite here and say this this may be the future. If you are not locked down to a 1 year Minimum (E.G. can pay by the month cancel anytime) then yeah Heck yeah. (Ifits minimum year Contract my argument is weaker but I think still valid.

    I too, will use Adobe as comparison. I would never buy Adobe Products because they were out of my Range for a little as I need them. Then my daughter started taking design classes and while I didn’t “have” to get her Photoshop or Indesign or whatever, being a good dad, I wanted to make sure she had whatever tools she needs to rock the class. Enter Adobe Cloud. I didn’t have to spend a fortune on something she may are may not use and I could get what ever I wanted for a ridiculously low Monthly rate and cancel when when School out/ class is done (depending on the plan).

    It seems like everyone here is assuming that you would keep it forever.. WTF? Hardware you keep forever, SW is Vapor. Rent what you need when you need it then move on. Unless your are going to use that d50 Plugin all day every day forever, I know enough Synth freaks to know that most of us seem to keep our toys sitting in a rack while we diddle with “Toy du Jour”.
    I can also see folks grabbing a particular Roland Plugin because you need it for a specific Project and you are done. As for cloud Rendering yeah Lets work in 96khz on Chrome Book. CPUs are good but Crushing them with High Resolution Renders is not hard. Having it rendered nicely so you can mess with it later is pretty good idea. But the devil is in the details on how the subs work.

    • papernoise

      Well that might work for educational licenses. I did some comparison between buying the software I need from Adobe (which is more or less the old Creative Suite Standard + After Effects) and renting it via CC, and the latter is going to cost me 50% more than before (over the period of 5 years). Of course these figures change a lot depending on how much and how many software packages one actually uses, so it’s not like I can make a rule out of it. But for me personally it’s really a bad deal. Add to that that CS6 is still working perfectly for me, except for Adobe’s “artificially” added incompatibilities in some file formats.

  • Charles

    WTF. Software subscriptions are good for corporate accountants and bad for users. Hopefully this dies a painful death.

  • I’m really not a fan of the subscription model. over years you end up paying a ridiculous amount of money. If it’s true that you can cancel anytime or only use it when you need it then I guess that’s a little better but it would have to be some amazing software that I absolutely needed for me to sign up for a subscription. This shit Roland is offering looks pretty weak IMHO.

    I have Live Suite, Komplete 11, Maschine, FabFilter Bundle, Serum, Sugarbytes Bundle etc. Come to think of it I’m doing the rent to own Serum thing right now through Splice which I must admit is pretty cool. But that’s different than this. I will eventually own it and they’ll stop charging my account. This model one just pays and pays and pays forever. What if you have it for 10 years. You’ve just spent enough to buy a nice piece of hardware.

    I can see this being useful for professionals who’s income relies on plug ins but for the hobbyist or even artists (major and not so major) this seems like a fail.

    I have just recently started using Spotify premium. It’s 10$ a month and I’m still deciding on whether I like it or not.

    • Jesse Engel

      +1 for rent to own on splice. It works out well for everyone because it encourages more people to actually pay for software.

  • mckenic

    Not a fan of micro-transactions, DLC, season pass or subscription to be honest (Ive not used Netflix in months if it wasn’t for Dad being addicted I could survive on just Youtube).

    Im building my 1st Windows based PC in ten years currently and the 1st thing Im going to download (after drivers) is a copy of FLStudio – not used it since Fruity Loops but Im still a registered customer. I think indie and 3rd party are the way forward for me if this becomes a thing. Was burnt with Komplete Kare and Kore2 and decided to embrace hardware – so glad I did (just got a TG-33 for €85). Hate to be a curmudgeon or Luddite but I dont want to go down this route, ever.

  • Dave Whiting

    Does anyone else feel like RolandCloud was incredibly rushed?

  • freqn

    So, to sum it up, Roland is now trying to become the Adobe of sound. Barf.

  • cpc464freak

    Having nothing to do with Roland from now on, I’m not supporting this kinda sub crap.

  • JJ Jettflow

    Seems like lots of people are off the mark about Roland Cloud. The concept of cloud rendering has nothing to do with the audio resolution but MIDI resolution. Right now we have a MIDI resolution of 128 steps but the cloud service will render a MIDI file using (from what I have heard) over 30,000 velocity increments. That is why the Tera piano is 8 terabytes. The realism, if this is correct, could be staggering and completely eclipse what can be done on a home computer.

    I think Roland needs to do a better job of letting comsumers know the real potential of this because from what I am seeing, most people think this is just another subscription like Slate….not at all.

    • Andres

      Well, for your information… your keyboard controller would need to work with a different kind of midi. The terapiano is ok but… any controller sends midi over 128 steps so you are not taking that advantage any way. And on the other hand, you can have your terapiano but what about your studio sound? and what good is to have a terapiano if every media is in mp3 any way? Roland is offering a bunch of stuff just to get your subscription but ANY will be an actual improvement to your studio unless you replace a load of things. And a the end is a matter of what you like, not your audience. In 30 years in this business I have never heard a song never selling because of the “wrong piano” just to give you an example.

      • JJ Jettflow

        No, you do not need a special keyboard. It works along principles similar to dithering.

  • Andres

    When you have the money you buy something and then forget about it. Or get credit and pay it and is yours. What about that I write a song today and in a year I want to mess up with it, do I have to re subscribe to get the sounds? So, I am slave of that system? I mean… all my studio is basically from 1997 and works great. I have Logic Pro which is $250 and I got it 4 years ago. And a few good plug ins. Imagine… for the Roland Cloud I would have spent $1000 already and still no own the use of the sounds if I do not pay. No thank you.