By every definition, samplers are slowly fading away into obscurity. Their application has been replaced by a whole array of other hardware, and more importantly, software.
These unique devices were all the rage back in the day when computers were still not capable of being used for audio recording and production in any meaningful way. Ever since that problem was solved, almost everything has shifted towards computers, and all the equipment as well.
Roland, however decided to produce a sampler despite all of the things we have mentioned above. Their SP404 was meant for a very niche market that still used this type of hardware, and they achieved limited success. There were some areas where SP404 dropped the ball.
>> Roland SP404SX <<
Realizing that, Roland quickly scrambled to release an upgraded version of this sample that would fix whatever major issues the original one suffered from. Now, before we go any further, we need to briefly talk about the SP404. That sampler was meant as a successor of the SP303, a very capable piece of hardware that users loved.
SP404 brought only a few new features, prompting a lot of their user base to wonder if it was even worth upgrading. Roland didn’t seem to have learned the lesson from that experience. The SP404SX suffers from the exact same issue. It brought some new features, but was it enough to justify an upgrade?
Enough to justify an upgrade ?
The answer to this question largely depends on the individual who wants to use it. In our humble opinion, there is nothing new and improved on the SP404SX that would prompt us to upgrade from SP404.
However, for someone who is looking to get their first sampler, SP404SX is a great option. Let’s take a look at what this upgraded version has to offer.
The overall appearance of the Roland SP404SX hasn’t really changed much compared to the mode it was intended to replace. The only thing that stands out immediately is the finish.
SP404SX features a darker, more grayish color compared to the bright metallic gray we are used to seeing on SP404. Even something this insignificant needs to come under scrutiny.
You see, the bright finish of the original SP404, although probably not intentional, made it easy to manipulate in darker environments. The contrast between the metallic surfaces and the buttons was good enough for you to clearly see where each pad is, and what the markings are next the buttons under low light conditions.
This new darker finish reduced this to a point where you might have to look in order to read the various descriptions on this sampler.
Aside from that, the layout has remained pretty much the same. There is still the cluster of decently sized pads, 15 of them in total that you use to call up different sample. Above those are you sampling controls that include all kinds of transfer buttons, bank controls and so on.
The pattern sequencer is still there as well. The whole device is dominated by a somewhat large LCD display surrounded by six buttons. On SP404SX, this display is a bit different. Now it changes colors. As trivial as that may sound, the change of colors actually indicates the state of your input levels. That is actually a neat upgrade.
Above the screen is the same old FX cluster that allows you to call up different effects and assign them to your samples. One of the largest improvements over the original is the function button. This single button alone adds a whole new dimension of versatility to this sampler. To use it, just press it and hold it down. As you are pressing it, you can use the pads to adjust different parameters like import new samples, adjust gain, copy patterns and similar. This feature is definitely worth the praise.
Another important improvement is the all new sound engine which definitely adds a whole new layer of quality to the sound this sampler is capable of delivering.
One of the biggest issues about the SP404 was the lack of USB port. That issue has not been resolved. You still have to use the SD card, although the limit is no longer 1 GB and can be expanded up to 32GB with SDHC. This is where Roland really dropped the ball. They even supply software for sample editing, but you still have to use the memory cards to transfer the samples from an to your computer.
In terms of performance, everything is pretty much the same. Aside from the function button which we definitely appreciate, the flexibility of the SP404SX offers nothing that SP404 hadn’t offered before. Samples are better quality now, but you still have to grapple with a whole bunch of necessary steps in order to import and export them.
There are three main ways you can sample stuff with Roland SP404SX. You can use the main input channels, which is the most common choice. You can use the integrated microphone that comes with the sampler Or you can connect your own microphone using the mic line input on the back panel of the device. The maximum length of the sample has been increased, and is now somewhere around three hours.
What we like
Despite all the missed opportunities that Roland could have jumped on, the SP404SX is definitely a capable sampler. For those who have a need for this kind of hardware, finding a model that is better than this Roland will be a hard thing to accomplish.
What we don’t like
There is nothing specifically wrong with the SP404SX. We are more mad at Roland for not using the opportunity to deliver a jaw dropping sample that would eat everything and anything on the market.
Instead they chose to give us a superficial upgrade compared to the SP404. The same model that failed to deliver a decent upgrade compared to its predecessor. So this is the second time Roland released something and the crowd went mild.
The lack of USB port is borderline outrageous in this day and age. Roland’s decision to include a piece of software that can’t be connected to the SP404SX due to the lack of USB is almost like they are laughing in our faces. They missed a great opportunity with this sampler. That is all that is left to be said.
At the end of the day the jury is still out on Roland SP404SX. On one hand, it is a very capable and practical sampler that offers the kind of performance we are rarely going to see in the future. It does what its meant to do, and it does it well.
>> Roland SP404SX <<
On the other hand, the lack of certain, in our opinion critical features is just a sad state of affairs. This sampler, just like the one that came before it, could have been a device in a completely different class only had Roland done thing a bit differently.
At the end of the day we can complain all we want. The truth of the matter is that Roland SP404SX does the job. Those who need a sampler will find this one to be the answer for all of their needs. For most, that is more than enough .