Roland just dropped a huge update for their SP-404 MKII, with a bunch of new features for playing and processing sound – including TR-REC step sequencing. Here’s your guide, if you’re lucky enough to have one of the units.

What’s new, in short – a ton of stuff that makes this unit make more sense:

  • TR-REC step sequencing
  • Scale input and polyphony/legato in chromatic mode
  • Pattern sequencing is expanded, and you can record chromatic playing into patterns
  • New encoding options for pitch/speed
  • Enhanced DJ mode with crossfader, pattern support, and roll
  • New effects: Cloud Delay, SX Delay, SX Reverse, BackSpin, Harmony
  • SP-303-style reverse playback
  • USB audio input can send directly to line out – that’s interesting, actually, that makes the USB in a bit like a traditional Roland MIX IN

There are a ton of other little workflow enhancements, too.

So here’s a quick reference so you can dive in:

Chromatic Mode

SHIFT + PAD4 and you can record in patterns – or in real-time recording, start playing in chromatic mode

Press REMAIN to toggle between three chromatic mode options: mono, legato, or poly

Hit ERASE MODE (DEL) to undo notes, just as in real-time recording.

Yeah, this will be a heck of a lot less confusing for those of us coming from MPC and Maschine workflows. Ahem.


In addition to real-time recording, you also now get TR-REC step sequencing, which is great news for those of us used to Roland drum machines.

Enter TR-REC mode using RECORD SETTING > REMAIN to toggle, then hit REC. The 16 pads are steps, with support for up to 1024 steps using multiple pages.

There are some nice features here. TRIG MODE assumes that the triggered sample will be gated at the end of the step length; HOLD STEP allows you to trigger sample durations longer than a single step.

TRIG MODE: substep (multiple triggers per-step), pitch chromatic, velocity

MOTION recording for each of those modes

START timing can be shifted on each step

HOLD STEP mode with gate length (1-32, LAST – last cuts at the end of the pattern)

PITCH PAD locks the pad slot itself to a particular pitch (as opposed to the chromatic mode, which is not impacted by the pad’s pitch setting)

So yes, that’s a very Roland SP way of handling this, but that’s part of the appeal.

Also quite clever, you no longer stop playback when switching between recording modes, so you can move fluidly through modes and your patterns keep playing.

Sound quality with pitch/speed changes

Set VINYL MODE to off, and there are new encoding types for higher quality sound with pitch/speed changes. (Think the equivalent of the Warp Modes in Ableton Live, for instance.)

Like many of the other features here, this also has some classic Roland lineage – namely VARI-ENCODE as introduced on the VP-9000 VariPhrase Processor. Truth be told, we’ve already got the computers, so why not bring back some of the sound of beloved Roland gear?

There are two modes here:

BACKING: Slightly confusing labeled, but the idea here is to preserve transients (like drums).

ENSEMBLE: Better for sustained sounds (like strings).

I’m not entirely sure why someone thought “BACKING” and “ENSEMBLE” makes that more clear, but think of it as part of the charm.

We have the luxury now of choosing whatever processing we prefer now, so it’s actually great to see Roland returning to some rather musical features of past gear. That’s not nostalgia, necessarily; some things just work, and it’s also possible when making things new for the sake of being new to make them worse – or at least more boring.

SP-303 style reverse

([UTILITY] > [SYSTEM] > [GENERAL] > [Reverse Type] > [303])

I like this way of doing reverse – it’s triggered immediately per-pad. My notes from Roland suggest you may want to play with GATE, LOOP, and PING PONG settings in various combinations.

It all looks great to me. If you’ve got one of these, let us know what you think – and I’d love to hear some jam sessions, too, if you’ve got them. It’s great to see the SP-404 back in action in live sets, whether the MKII or the older SPs.


More details, from the source:

And Ave Mcree, who I think sums up Roland users everywhere.

Oh yeah, I totally forgot that the Thing With Pads from Roland that has TR-REC is the Fantom. Sure, just because I can’t tear myself away from my TR-8S and computer. Also nice grooves, Ave – listen: