Roland just released the 3.0 software update for its SP-404MKII sampler/sequencer/effects unit, and we’re psyched to share some of the features with you (and try them out ourselves!) Quick overview:

Perform with Multitrack Files from DAW Sessions and Other Projects

Expanded Motion Recording

Pad Mute and Pad Mute Automation

Optimized MIDI Sync

One-Shot Playback

Convert Patterns to Samples

Expanded DJ Mode

Quantize after recording, finer tempo setting range, default MFX setups, and more

I’ll start this by saying that 1) I purchased my SP-404MKII used, and am not being paid by Roland for this, and 2) without hyperbole, for the cost, this is the most valuable electronic instrument I’ve ever owned. Yes, regardless of whether your main squeeze is lo-fi beats.

For the 3.0 update, the biggest changes affect workflow, in a way that removes more hurdles and allows for far more possibilities with this already nimble machine. So forget about playing End Snap quickdraw with your patterns, making extra copies of a pattern just to bring sounds in and out, or fretting over where to place retriggers for a long sample (for starters). 

This is the most valuable electronic instrument I’ve ever owned. Yes, regardless of whether your main squeeze is lo-fi beats.

Patterns & resampling

Since the SP-303 (the first in the line to support patterns and resampling), SP-404 users have figured out new and novel ways to make it a little bit easier to take your pattern sequences and resample them. With the 3.0 update, all the major requests have been answered – and then some.

  • Copying a pattern now gives you the option to copy it to resampled audio – no one playing quick-draw with End Snap recording!
  • Select individual pads to take samples in and out of a copied pattern or resample
    • You can also bring individual samples in and out in real-time with the new pad mute mode, including the option to record the mutes on and off as automation.
  • Motion recording is greatly expanded – record the on/off of effects and tweaking parameters in real time with a pattern, then switch your motion recording on or off at will.
  • Post-recording pattern quantize. Another hugely requested feature, with the nice option to specify which pads you’re quantizing. Tighten up the snare and leave the tambourine a bit draggy.

Sample & batch processing

Maybe this isn’t a sexy marquee item, but the batch editing features in 3.0 make the SP-404MKII just that much quicker of a tool. 

  • Edit the parameters of an entire bank of samples at once – including pitch, time-stretch, BPM, and envelope.
  • Copy an entire bank of samples from one project to another – no more export/import needed to get that perfect kit from project to project.

Individual sample processing has some new capabilities, too.

  • 1-shot mode plays a sample through and ignores all retriggers until the sample is done playing. So if you have, say, a 16-bar loop, you can sequence it in a 1-bar pattern and it won’t retrigger until it finishes playing. Some interesting polyrhythmic possibilities come to mind here…
  • With “fade-out” mode, set the release time on the envelope for a gated sample and you can hear it fade out naturally after you let go of the pad.
  • Edit the BPM of a sample up to two decimal places.
  • Roland says the SP-404MKII has improved capability when playing back multiple long files at once, suggesting that you put on stems from your tracks and then improvise over them with samples and effects. I’ll be interested to see more demonstrations of what specifically is new here.

Bit of an isolated improvement as effects aren’t much the focus for 3.0, but you can now set the default MFX for when you turn the unit on – essentially the MFX button now doubles as a 6th direct effects button.

Plays well(er) with others

Roland made significant improvements to how the SP-404MKII handles MIDI, both going out and coming in. Updates:

  • New Pad MIDI channel option lets you use banks A->E and F-J to get an 80-note range on MIDI channels 1 and 2, respectively. This gives you a much wider range when playing an external hardware or software instrument or sampler, while also providing a larger palette of sounds you can trigger from one external MIDI control source.
  • Note offset for MIDI notes in/out
  • Add sync delay value for MIDI sync in/out to compensate when needed

Additionally, DJ Mode has some additions that make it better as both a standalone performance interface and as part of a larger setup:

  • Setup up to 8 cue points per sample, either in sample edit mode or in real time
  • In addition to improved MIDI sync out, you can also now have external hardware sync to the bends up and down in timing from your DJ Mode set.

App, plus custom skin. Yes, while we gripe about the fact that the new SH-4d launched without an editor app – the 404’s app is invaluable.

Don’t forget the app

For as full-featured as the SP-404MKII is as a standalone (and portable) piece of gear, improvements to the SP-404MKII desktop app is now available as an AUV3/VST3 plugin in addition to standalone, letting you load it up in your DAW. Record something cool in your DAW, then drop the audio file right into the app and on your sampler. Additionally, Roland say that import/export between the SP-404MKII and the desktop app is now faster.

What next?

Well, in my biased-via-experience opinion, the first next step is to get your hands on an SP-404MKII. It’s incredible fun and now packs an even more incredible amount of features into a portable and affordable box. For all the different button commands, it still feels nimble – I feel like I’m working directly with a hands-on instrument with the SP-404MKII, not like I’m using a smaller computer with a clunky interface (ahem). 

It’s been less than two years since Roland released the SP-404MKII, and in that time we’ve now seen two massive leaps forward via the 2.0 and now 3.0 updates. It stands to reason that there may be a 4.0 update 8-16 months away, so what’s left to want there? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments – here’s my personal wishlist:

  • Probability/conditional sequencing for TR-REC mode.
  • Button command to quickly print an effect to a sample.
  • Ability to “End Snap” a sample to a manual BPM without needing to resample.
  • Auto-Pitch, Vocoder, and Guitar Sim effects added to MFX – too much fun to just keep those as input effects.

Really though, I’ll say again that I’m impressed with where Roland has gone with the SP-404MKII. I’m excited to dive in, and to see what everyone else is doing with it! 

Thanks, David! To round things out, here’s our contributing editor-at-large doing some really incredible things with this unit, plus a certain “vintage” synth from our own past: