Ron Losby New Steinway CEO
...both the date and the company’s iconic 909 rhythm machine, the festivities commenced with an event in Auckland, New Zealand, and then proceeded west through the time zones with events in Tokyo, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, Toronto and New York City, culminating in an extravaganza in Los Angeles. Held at Six01 Studio, the site of scores of platinum recordings, the L.A. event featured 28 live acts on three stages, putting the new Roland gear through its paces. Highlights of the product launch, which was attended by retailers and top West Coast musicians, included refined versions of Roland’s top-selling TD electronic drumkits, the company’s first DJ controllers, a groundbreaking Bluetooth equipped digital piano, the new Katana line of amplifiers, and a host of new synths and effects.
The prolific product launch is the result of Roland CEO Jun-ichi Miki’s professed goal of “unleashing” the talent of Roland’s global engineering team and “accelerating” the company’s response to an evolving market. Speaking at the Auckland 909 event, he said, “Why do we research and develop new musical instruments and new ways to enjoy them? Because we want all of you to unleash your unlimited creativity and potential with unique Roland products. Your passion is our passion.” Jay Wanamaker, CEO and president of Roland US, said of the new portfolio of product, “It’s great to be able to offer our dealer partners exciting new products that they can present to their customers as the all-important fourth quarter begins.”
With its top-selling rhythm machines, Roland has been a prominent fixture in the electronic music scene for decades. Building on that foundation, Roland introduced its first DJ controller, the new DJ-808. Developed in conjunction with Serato, the unit features a stand-alone professional five-channel mixer, two spin platters, external instrument connectivity, and Serato DJ software, and AIRA Link, all housed in a sleek roadworthy package. What distinguishes the unit is a fully integrated rhythm machine that offers the drum sounds of the classic 606, 707, 808, and 909 drum machines. Drum sounds can be triggered with either the TR-REC sequencer or velocity-sensitive color pads, and automatically beat-matched with any other tracks. The DJ-808 is the first and only controller that can sequence the samples inside Serato DJ. The DJ-808 is also outfitted with Roland’s VT Voice Transformer, which provides voice-transforming effects and can match the pitch of serato tracks.
Serato CEO Young Ly said of the DJ-808, “Serato’s collaboration with Roland opens the door to an exciting new wave of DJ hardware that brings production, live performance, and DJing even closer. The DJ-808 combines Serato DJ with the iconic Roland TR-808, and is the first controller from the new partnership.”
To celebrate Roland’s launch into the DJ market, the TT-99 turntable and the DJ-99 mixer are also being offered, paying homage to Roland’s electronic music tradition with graphics that evoke the TR-909 rhythm machine. The TT-99 three-Speed Turntable features a direct drive system for stable torque and built-in phono equalizer. The DJ-99 two-channel analog DJ Mixer features a pro-grade mini innoFADER crossfader, dedicated DVS inputs/outputs, and a three-band equalizer for each input.
Roland further refined its market leading line of electronic drums with the new TD-50KV and TD-50K flagship drumkits. Sounds for the new kits are generated with upgraded Prismatic Sound modeling, a proprietary technology that captures percussion sounds with exceptional detail and accuracy. To enhance the player experience, the new kits boast significant refinements in the playing surfaces. Multi-sensors on the snare pad and digital ride cymbal more precisely locate the position of each drumstick hit, creating added realism. “From striking the edge to the bell, and everywhere in between, it really feels like a ride cymbal,” said Drew Armentrout, product manager of Roland percussion, describing the CY-18DR Digital Ride. The snare drum pads also now feature a newly patented three-layer mesh head that provides a more natural rebound feel. Armentrout added, “all the drummers we’ve showed it to say it provides a much more expressive playing surface.”
Roland has a long and illustrious history in guitar amplification: its Jazz Chorus, continuously in production for over four decades, has well deserved classic status, the Cube series has consistently been a top seller, and its COSM technology represented one of the first credible efforts at digital modeling. The new BOSS Katana series, which includes three combos and a 100-watt head, draws on that heritage and straddles the most popular price points ($199-$499). Named after the legendary sword carried by Samurai warriors, the amps use advanced modeling technology as the building blocks for five unique amp tones. Fifty-five popular BOSS effects are also included, and as many as three can run simultaneously in different sequences. What distinguishes the amps, aside from a lengthy feature list, according to Jeff Slingluff, product manager, is their ability to “cut through.” He explained, “Most modeling amps can’t match the output of tube amps of similar wattage and get lost in a band setting. Katanas have a completely redesigned power section and can really hold their own.”
Acknowledging that most guitarists prize simplicity, Roland engineers outfitted the Katana series with a user interface that relies on simple knobs, not endless menus. “Music is supposed to be fun,” added Slingluff. “And these amps are a straight line to fun.”
Roland’s new GP607 Digital Grand Piano, a sleek mini grand piano for the home, combines the company’s proprietary SuperNATURAL modeling technology, PHA-50 hybrid wood and ivoery feel keyboard, and a 4.1 channel sound system to capture the sound and feel of a traditional grand piano. The instrument is further differentiated by onboard Bluetooth audio and MIDI capability, which makes it possible to stream music from a mobile device or access educational apps like Roland’s Piano Partner 2, or wirelessly turn pages with piano pedals on music scores from Sheet Music Direct. According to Antonio Ferranti, product manager, “It appeals to teachers, students and performers who appreciate the ability to access so many educational tools.”
With the new SYSTEM-8 “plug-out” synthesizer, and additions to its popular Boutique line, which re-creates the sounds and feel of classic Roland analog synths, the company addresses the resurgent interest in analog sound. Both the SYSTEM-8 and new Boutique models are based on the most advanced generation of Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) technology, more advanced than used in Roland’s Boutique line, which models oscillators, filters, and LFO’s to capture classic analog bass and lead synth tones.
The 49-note SYSTEM-8 comes equipped with Roland’s Jupiter-8 and Juno 106 PLUG-OUTS, providing access to some of Roland’s most popular analog synths. Optional “PLUG-OUTS,” available soon, capture the sonic qualities of Roland’s SH-2, SH-101, and Pro-Mars. The SYSTEM-8 offers eight-voice polyphony and the ability to layer or split sounds. The control panel is designed for performance, using knobs, buttons, and sliders instead of menus.
The TR-09 Rhythm Composer offers the power of Roland’s iconic TR-909 drum machine in a compact and affordable format, complete with the familiar 16-step TR-REC programming style and a choice of Step or Tap write modes. Inspired by Roland’s famous TB-303 Bass Line synth, the new TB-03 Bass Line fully captures the authentic sound and character of the original. A new four-digit LED display allows for enhanced programming, while rotary dials give hands-on control over tuning, cutoff, resonance, envelope mod, decay, and accent. The compact new VP-03 Vocoder takes cues from the legendary VP-330 Vocoder Plus, using ACB tech to emulate the original’s fusion of synthesized sound and the human voice. True to the VP-330, the VP-03 has vocoder, human voice, polyphonic step sequencer, and string sound sources on board.
Perhaps the most novel of the new Roland product introductions was the Aerophone AE-10, a digital wind instrument with a key layout that will be familiar to any sax player. Powered by Roland’s acclaimed SuperNATURAL engine, the Aerophone AE-10 provides a wide selection of saxophone sounds with authentic response and playability. Many other acoustic instrument sounds are included as well, plus synthesizer sounds optimized for breath control. Compact and lightweight, the Aerophone AE-10 can be powered with six AA-size batteries and comes equipped with onboard speakers for monitoring the sound. With the headphones jack, users can play at any time without disturbing others nearby. The Aerophone AE-10 also includes an input for connecting a smartphone or music player to jam along with backing music.
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