ROLAND R-88 Recorder Mixer
Hi everyone, my name is Christian and here are some of my overall opinions and tests, get some coffee or a few beers it goes for long.
My first impression was at NAB, I took my own SD card, barrowed a mic from Schoeps and did a few channel short recordings, played with the unit for about an hour and left.
I thought it looked ok, listened to the files, and they were quiet, but needed more input for my hungry mind and ears.
Well after many, many frustrating months of trying to find a decent review (that wasn’t a sales pitch) on the ROLAND R-88, I was very surprised that all of us being professionals of the sound business, we request all these technical tests and yet when you do buy the piece of equipment you post 3 lines of caca, sound good to me, very quiet when I tried it, the producer liked it, as I said caca.
That does not help, is like saying I bought a New BMW, it rides nice, and the windows go up and down every time. (can you do doughnuts without losing control, can you disengage the DCS, does navigation give you the wrong directions, ETC.)
Just a little on me: I have been around for a long time, I have done every possible kind of audio, music recording mix you can imagine, I started as a disco DJ when I was 12 years old and build my own gear, I tracked/mixed and worked with NEVE and Focusrite consoles, recorded on NAGRA from pilot sync resolver, to SMPTE time code, mixed on a Shure FP32 field mixer in the Salvadorian jungles, and we got shot at, in Desert Storm recording with a little PD150 DVCAM for CBS, and it all sounded great.
I have a very strong technical background, and have designed and build many pieces of equipment and facilities.
SO not being the most buss word or brand chaser Audio/Broadcast engineer in the world, I decided to buy my own unit, separate 2 weeks of time from my schedule and test the hell out of the unit, with everything I can imagine I would need in the field, cart, studio, or a crazy band that wants an 8 track record with mix of their crappy garage music in a Pasadena bar.
So let’s go to the ROLAND R-88 REVIEW.
First I checked the Roland Sound Systems site and the unit, found that I needed the firmware update so I did, from 1.10 to 1.11.
First off I enabled every channel, boosted the +8 in the input software the cranked the gain all the way to the max on the front pots, and added the +6 DB on the second gain page so to be clear this was VERY VERY loud. With nothing in the inputs I plugged my head set and can hear some slight rain, and hiss, amplification noise, well I thought - that’s no good, there is noise-, well after a plugged in the mics ( Sennheiser MHK416, MK67,MK8070) I realized that it would probably be impossible for me to ever need this much gain it was so amplified and loud that the dog across the street barked, and me from inside the house made the channels peak immediately and the level never went down, tremendously hi. So a took all the gains out (+8,+6,+ and brought everything to what would be normal use, and calibrated with tone. Very, very clean, lots of head room the Senn 67 and 66 needed a little more than the other but good, workable.
Then I plugged 8 different mikes from good to bad including some old hard SM57, measured Phantom power with and without load, it didn’t flinch, right on the nose (a lot of mixers are not efficient or provide good voltage, that also kills your levels and your sound quality, because phantom is not good enough, (just saying).
Then I plugged in 8 Wireless, 6 Lectrosonics (2 SRB, 1 CR187 at 182.500, and 1 CR 195 at 216.100), and 2 Sennheiser G3, G2. Sounded very good, normal I would say, good manageable levels, and nice ample breathy mic sound on all, including the Senn (toys) with MKE2 and some other crappy eBay mic made in china $18.00, 2 month shipping included). Passed
RF Spill: Did not find any, tried everything, with the transmitters and receivers mentioned, and nothing, put all my SMQV in 250 (HI) and danced around the mixer and nothing, I also put everything in the bag and wired and nothing, except from the CR 187 which is an old unit VHF, it could of picked up some RF on the cable, but only that one and barely.
Timecode: Timecode is been an issue in the industry since everybody went nuts and decided that 78 different types of timecode make a better movie or show, well it doesn’t, and everything can be matched and framed whatever way you want later or in-between. You buy an expensive TCXO super god control timecode unit (with an atomic depleted uranium fusion core in it), but they use a red camera or a Canon (highly inaccurate) and then Pluraleyes, or some other crap afterward anyway), so why worry? Because I do, and I want it to fall on somebody else, be able to sit down and show them that my files are right on time, and sync with the Big Ben in London, and the gong of the monks in the Himalayas every sunset, every time.
So I setup the TC clock in RTC in the R-88, the jammed 1- Panasonic Broadcast Camera, a JVC Broadcast, a Leitch Studio master control clock, a Denecke Time code Display, and a Denecke TS3 Slate. I let it run for exactly 4 hours. I did not see a drift at all, then went for 8 hours more, total 12. The R88 was 2 frames short, but the slate was 7, the Leitch was 1 ahead and the display, was 5, The bench was cold overnight and the variation of temperature over all was between 20 and 30 degrees, so to me it’s very acceptable (by the way, I don’t go more than 2 or 3 hours without re-clocking all equipment on set, Jam slate and camera, etc., so I don’t see a problem). Then I turned the R88 off and left it off for 4 days, no batteries (AA), no backup, nothing, also a temperature swing from about 65 degrees in the day, to 25 degrees at night, on a shelf, out of the bag, in the garage. Plugged in the IDX to the 4 pin and low and behold, the clock was on time minus 2 seconds, to me very accurate, better than the slate does sitting next to the craft table with Lithium Ultimate batteries. Also locked all the pieces of equipment to a Horita generator, and they all kept up to the frame for about 8 hours test.
Limiters: The individual one on every channel responded very good and smooth, I was really surprised, because the reacted and sounded almost exactly, to all the others, Sound Devices (bla bla software magic) or Zaxcom (bla bla limiter world) and any other crap advertising scheme they sell us, over all I don’t use limiters, because it always sounded unnatural, (Eg. Shure mixers), but I was pleasantly surprised, I gained up the boom to very high and screamed at it and the peak light came on once, then I listened to the recording, and no pumping or shelving of the audio, you do notice its going down and trying to level it, but it’s very subtle, definitely will use it in yelling or loud explosion situations without a doubt. Using it on normal speech did not notice anything. All the same with the master output limiter, just like SD, ZX, AE, or any other.
Frequency response: I fed a generator to the input at mic and line level, and swept through with noticeable level deflection on the display itself and the direct outputs on a scope from 16HZ to 24KHZ, which its pretty good, since most people can’t hear bubcus over 20K and most wireless don’t do very well over 16K, but if you will do music, or instruments, it becomes somewhat important, especially at higher sample rates.
Bit rates and Samples: I tried them all, and passed with flying colors even the 24 bit was accurate, I put the files in the computer and did a Salomon Reed bit rate test and it was there (so I don’t know what people are saying that 24 bit was not good, and that their not all created equal, 24 bit is 24 bit, and I think Roland is using a 32 bit floating point accuracy comparator, which makes it much better (probably selectable in some future update). I did a wind recording at my backyard pine tree, with a Sanken, a Schoeps and a AT boundary mic at 192K it really sounded sweet !!!.
Physical unit: Yes the buttons feel plasticky, because they are, and the pots are not attached to the face like other units so they waver a bit, and gives it that home stereo feel, of course not a NAGRA tank, but they are reliable, no noise, no sweep problems, no dead spots, they are shielded and sealed, so it works. The overall of the unit seems solid, the battery case is plastic, but the thumb screws are metal and tight, the whole assembly comes out so there might be some rechargeable battery in the works for it.
All the connectors feel solid and click right, the XLRs all lock and release perfectly. The headphone jack is a ¼” and in the front, it locks, but if you use a 90 degree right angle adapter as you move it to the side it sort of ramps up the edge and disconnects.
The connectors in the back are also good and a welcome idea to have all inputs to direct selectable outputs, can be used for many things, multiple backup records, broadcast feed mix to Sat truck, track minus talent, talent minus track, effects minus talent, Air minus talent, IFB mix, RTS mix, Secondary language mix and so on, other sub mixes, if doing stage a sub mix to monitoring, or talent, etc.) I would say useful, does not hurt to have.
Features: I think it has great features, very easy access to everything, I would say you can do a variety of changes with 2 button pushes and display, everything is right there, simple interface, fast access, and easy way back with one button push (for quick changes).
File structure is good and customizable, it does not have pre build templates like SD or others, but I like the hands on approach, I easily created a Movie Title Project, a sub with the scene number and take and then 7 users prebuilt for other scenes, so 2 quick pushes I had this.
|Scene22A_T0001—8 Channels + Mix
|Scene22A_T0002---8 Channels + Mix
|Scene22B_T0001---4 Channels + Mix
Etc., etc., etc…, you can create yet another sub under scenes, for Room tone, weird noises, farting, spiritual encounters, or some other unknown reason, as far as i tested you can have as many subs dirs. as you want, with in the FAT32 file system. Writing with the display is very easy, has all letters, caps, symbols, numbers etc., complete. I would like the Display a bit bigger, color and better definition, but as is, works perfect, accurately. I think the touch screen and the choices on it are good and a pleasure to use.
Controls placement: Everything you need in a flash is there, including a hold, slate and tone, easy to switch headphone monitoring to any source or combination you like, gain right away, phantom individually controlled and a physical switch on each input (not some cumbersome, file, menus tree, and system 7 knob selections).
Record and play 1 icon on top of display, all important information on main screen, a Spectrum analyzer (pretty accurate too) Display, very visible during daylight. A good delay adjustment (if needed) on all channels. A 3 band sweepable EQ, (no other production mixer has it) the ability to gang (link) multiple things together (inputs, outs, eq, arm, levels, individual sets or sets of 4 and 4).
Ins and Outs: All the 8 inputs are XLR, all the direct also, 2 XLR for main mix, plus a 3.5mm mix (for Comtek, or second head set), Time code in and out on BNC (instead of Hirose, or Lemo $200.00 cables needed). Pretty solid USB connectors, (not your crappy Chinese type that fall apart). Solid springy SD card port, solid in and out. Digital in and Out, very good and noticed NO (Unusual) delays or lag in AES. (I embedded and de embedded to HDSDI and back to analog, and it was solid, with a couple of AJAS, a NANO Flash, Broadcast camera and JVC & Panasonic Broadcast/Film monitors with Audio de embedder to analog audio.
Audio interface: Runs great, test it with Sonar X2-3, Reason, Protools, Sound Forge, Vegas and a few more, perfect, no noticeable delay, and it sounded good and does simultaneous no problem, with a Mac Pro and a PC.
I ordered the UM one midi interface to test a couple of fader units see how that goes (that would be the final complement to this unit, because nobody else does that either, except, Tascam and that one looks basic too, with no options to use anything else). There is an Icon Pro (looks a little clownish in colors and under developed/basic) The J Cooper, looks like an industrial project box, and its expensive for what it is and does, there’s a Beringer, (chepo depo), basic- basic.
My goal would be the Mackie Pro Universal Midi/USB, has 8 channels plus master, none of the others do, and according to the Roland Midi assignments sheet of the unit, I could have almost everything programmed to the control surface including, EQ, gains, sends, arm/disarm, soloing, etc., etc.
I SMELL FEAR from the other manufacturers and there is a reason, IT’S A GOOD UNIT, not as pretty as an SD aluminum billet, or NAGRA acid washed aluminum frame, but it will definitely give everybody in the industry a run for their money.
SD rushed the NEW 633 so much that the already have 2 updates to fix it, it’s a carbon fiber body, and it’s a few dollars more than Roland, it only does 6 channels but they advertise 10, two of them you cant use for anything more than recording another stereo mix, or the conversations about women on set with the boom guy. In practice you have 6 channels, which only can be 3 mics, and 3 line unless you use line amps or the other way around. The menus are complicated and cumbersome. The display looks gorgeous, but so does the dash in my M5, neither record 10 usable channels, phantoms are only 3 and software driven, the headphone outputs are not as easy to get to, and that’s why they made favorites menu for it. It definitely doesn’t sound 700 dollar better, and you have to buy a sleuth of new cables and unusual hookups, eats batteries like crazy, at best you get 1.5 hours. Your second output on a 3.5mm (X3X4)is a duplicate of headphone out, so any selection you make goes out to Comtek (L+R,L &R,L,R, mono)-(I can hear the producer yelling, something is wrong with audio!!!). No direct outs of any input. No expansion possible (or link to other unit).
Zaxcom too, has another unit out with another array of short comings and needed extras to work properly.
Tascam, HPS 82 has become a dinosaur, and really was never a good contender.
SD 788 same thing.
I wish we had other USA made units, and better choices, a Lectrosonics of mixer/recorders ( Lectrosonics because they are well made, logically designed, normally priced, and great support), but since we don’t, we do what we can.
Overall: I personally think it’s a great unit, it has a lot of features none other has, the only one that can be sitting in a cart fully loaded, with control surface and computer simultaneous back up, and disconnect one USB and run to the field to do a pickup, wild sound or a hero car run, comeback plug in one USB and up and running from your favorite chair chewing on a Twizzler.
Wish List: A better definition color display, changeable frequency of tones, 440, 1k, 10k (or anything in between), a side headphone jack, another stereo mix output, selectable assignment cross channels (e.g. Audio in 1 to 8 only with or without slate or arming track). A square footprint, instead of that triangular trapezoidal waist of space. All controls attached to front face. Separate cover for USB and SD card. Simultaneous record to SD and USB storage (SSD Drive), EXFat and/or NTSF file system choices, plastic framing to a anodized aluminum. More space or no frame, on bottom input XLR to accommodate right angle connectors.
I think that’s it for now, let’s see what Roland or Santa can do.
Reality check!!!, How many times are you really recording 8 full track plus a mix; is pretty aluminum worth 10 grand out of your pocket, or is having the overly expensive tool make the mechanic???.
A good sound guy with decent gear can do a lot, I think the manufacturers of high end gear, still think that everybody in the film and television business make 2 or 3 million a year,… I DON’T… I wish, but I still would buy the piece of equipment that gives me the best use, features and reliability. I don’t want to carry 40 pieces of gear anymore. Editing and shooting on the road in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I carried 42 cases, 2 BetaCam SP, 2 ¾ inch, a VHS, a grass valley switcher, a Sony BV900 editor, a Chyron, BVW 400 Camera, all the cables, batteries and power supplies, with transformers for all the voltages in the world. I can do all of that with one software, one laptop, one camera, today.
NOTE: Guys, you talk about the quiet pre’s and bla bla, but yet the producers have us recording an important dialog at the end of the runway at MIA or LAX,(that a plane leaves every 32 seconds), or they let the talent wear the noisiest shoes or fabric that has ever been made, also, we bust our humps to record the best on location sound, and then they have a 2 year old music mixer, that uses mp3 sound effects files for the show.
Let’s be realistic, the wheel was invented a long time ago, we do our best, and try to keep as much of the little money they want to pay for us. Even do we get paid better than McDonalds, Sound is not like the hey days, and over all we have a tremendous amount of overhead and maintenance that other departments don’t have (DP gets rentals, lighting gets rentals, electrical gets rentals, director puts nothing, producer puts less, but us we usually own our gear, yet the talent forgets to take the mic off/or IFB going to the bathroom and we lose a mic or a TX/RX in the toilet and the producer plays dumb for days, or has a high deductible and cries like a baby.)
Remember this: Everybody is HD and 2K, 4K, 8K allK, digital HDSDI, 1.5G, 3G, 6G, but WE humans are all analog, and not the best Actor, Singer or performer in the world can do Digital out the throat, we still have to record analog sound and reproduce to analog ears, so sound is (almost) forever, and you don’t need a lens filter or a scrim for that.