Is the ROLAND STUDIO PACK for you?

Is the ROLAND STUDIO PACK for you?

Is the ROLAND STUDIO PACK for you?

Is the ROLAND STUDIO PACK for you?

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The Roland Studio Pack

originally printed November 2001

This review will be updated periodically as I learn more about the Studio Pack. This is a VAST package and requires much time to fully utilize AND MASTER

VM-3100 PRO

What if I told you that you could buy an 8 input, 96 KHZ 24 bit digital mixer combined with a PCI card and a great piece of software to tie it all together (YOUR OWN DIGITAL RECORDING STUDIO!!)......for only $650 U.S.? The Roland Studio Pack advertises just that...but can it deliver? This is a un-biased review based on my experience with the Studio Pack. I neither work for Roland, nor do I sell the Studio Pack.

The "Studio Pack" is actually a bundle of 3 major components, the Roland VM-3100 PRO mixer, emagic LOGIC-RPC software and the PCI R-BUS interface RPC-1. If you would have bought the 3 individually ,less than a year ago, you would have paid at least TWICE THE PRICE. For those that already own a 400MHZ(minimal) INTEL, AMD or MAC computer, the Studio Pack is BY FAR the most economical choice for DIGITAL MIXER/ recording audio/midi SOFTWARE combo, BUT IS IT RIGHT FOR YOU? I know that it is for me and I would buy it again knowing what I know now, so keep this in mind as you read my very CRITICAL REVIEW below.

Yes this box has more features than I could SHAKE A STICK AT but there is always a flip side to a device laden with MULTIPLE FEATURES and as you will find, COMPLEXITY is the paradox here. Maybe I'm wrong and maybe the average kid out of high school will be able to run this thing, but the MENUS and SUB-MENUS tell me that anyone short of an ENGINEER will need to spend LONG HOURS AND PERHAPS MONTHS to become aquainted with this device.

THE VM-3100 PRO MIXER

When I got the Studio Pack home I was overjoyed to find 2 features that weren't advertised.

1) The VM-3100 PRO mixer could perhaps be used as a 12 Channel mixer instead of just having 8 channels, but I haven't been able to route 9-10 and 11-12 to the R-BUS for recording YET.

2) This mixer has more than just a few onboard effects and includes PARAMETRIC EQ, CHORUS, FLANGING and Reverbs of every type and color.LOGIC also has a bunch of DIRECTX effects, but with my processor speed, I will use those sparingly. A WARNING FROM THE WISE. When I first got the VM3100 in my hands I indiscriminently pushed buttons trying out effects and just generally "playing with it". I must have shut off the SEND from channel 3 to the MASTER OUTPUT. Weeks later I pulled my hair out trying to figure out why the meters were showing channel 3 normal levels but NO SOUND WAS COMING OUT. Now I know it was because I had disabled SEND to the MASTER. So my advice is PLAY, but try to RESTORE SETTINGS AFTERWARDS. The other major stumbling block I had was NOT REALIZING THAT DEFAULT PLAYBACK WOULD BE ON CHANNELS 13-20 WHILE recording was on CHANNELS 1-8. I WOULD KEEP TOGGLING CHANNEL 1 (FOR AN EXAMPLE) BETWEEN "IN01" AND "TR01" to switch from recording to playback but couldn't understand why I was getting LIMITED CONTROL of VOLUME AND PAN on CHANNEL 1. This was because the SOUND WAS BEING PLAYED OUT FROM CHANNEL 1 AND CHANNEL 13 AT THE SAME TIME. This will also account for the reason why DISTORTION may have occured. Distortion occured because both CHANNEL 1 and CHANNEL 13 WERE SUMMED OR ADDED TOGETHER. You can easily TOGGLE from RECORD to PLAYBACK by hitting the AUDIO CHANNEL BUTTON which will change from RED TO GREEN telling you that you are now at channels 13-20

The VM-3100 has 8 (EIGHT) 1/4 inch PHONE JACKS for INPUT of 8 simultaneous channels, FOUR RCA JACKS for LINE LEVEL CHANNELS 9-10-11-12, TWO RCA JACKS for STEREO BUSS OUT, TWO 1/4 inch PHONE JACKS for Stereo MASTER OUT , TWO MORE FOR AUX SEND and ONE STEREO HEADPHONE JACK for monitor. There is also an ADDITIONAL SPECIAL 1/4 inch PHONE PLUG for channel 4 , designed with special characteristics, to plug a GUITAR directly into the VM-3100. There are also 2 ADDITIONAL XLR MIC inputs WITH PHANTOM POWER if necessary. There are also 8 PHYSICAL KNOBS to control the INPUT LEVEL of channel 1-8. They can be adjusted from MIC to LINE levels and everything in between. Channels 9-10-11-12 line levels are to be adjusted from the source. There are 4 MULTI-USE KNOBS and 1 large GENERAL PURPOSE CONTROLLER that can be mapped to change everything from REVERB LEVEL to EQ SETTINGS. There are 8 OUTPUT SLIDERS for channels 1-8 PLUS 1 (ONE) FOR 9-10 AND 1 (ONE) FOR 11-12. There is also a single MASTER OUTPUT FADER. There is a knob for MONITOR LEVEL, 3 for EQ and one for EFFECT LEVEL. There are more than 40 pushbuttons and some can even be used FOR TRANSPORT CONTROLS. Many of the buttons light up.

STICKY SOLO BUTTONS

I have also recently found that it is VERY EASY to turn SOLO on but not as easy to turn it off. I somehow turned SOLO ON one time while in LOGIC. WHEN SOLO IS ON, ALL AUDIBLE SOLO CHANNELS PLAY IN MONO. I found that hitting SHIFT/SOLO (ON THE VM-3100) is a quick escape! This has happened more than once and can also be triggered from the VM-3100 SOLO button.

The VM-3100 has DIGITAL IN AND OUT in both OPTICAL AND COAX TYPES. However....THE DIGITAL PDIF I/O WOULD ONLY ALLOW THE 44.1 KHZ CLOCK SPEEDS. I HAVE A 10 YEAR OLD DAT MACHINE AND EVEN MY $60 Sound Blaster LIVE can send PDIF digital at the STANDARD RATE of 48khz directly to my DAT RECORDER, but the Roland bundle can't?

On the BOX 96 khz is listed under specifications and so it almost seems insane that a bundle advertised to record at 96 khz couldn't even record at 1/2 the sampling rate! (with the bundled software) THE MIXER/RBUS WILL SEND AND RECEIVE 8 CHANNELS OF DIGITAL DATA AT 96 KHZ. THE PACKAGE AS A WHOLE WILL RECORD AT 44.1KHZ I have tested the hardware to confirm that it would record at 96 KHZ using COOL EDIT to record and playback the 96 / 24 .WAV file.

Even though the CARTON for the bundle shows a MIDI IN, OUT, AND THRU ,in the specifications, I later learned that this meant MIDI IN OUT OR THRU ! There are only 2 MIDI PORTS on the back of the VM-3100 and one DOUBLES FOR OUT/THRU. This can be a headache when you try to work with an external sequencer VIA MIDI but won't bother most simple setups.

The EMAGIC Logic software seems to have JUST the right things missing so that the package falls short of the PRO rating that the mixer hardware could get alone. Emagic also taunts you with advertising (built into the software) telling you that they have a better recording package available with 96 KHZ sampling rate. So what other surprises might we find?

emagic LOGIC-RPC

I WAS UNPLEASANTLY SURPRISED TO FIND OUT THAT THE CRIPPLED EMAGIC SOFTWARE THAT WAS BUNDLED WITH THE MIXER WOULD ONLY ALLOW THE 44.1 SAMPLING RATE

There are menus within menus of preferences.

Emagic INSTRUCTION MANUAL

THERE ISN'T ONE (NOT A HARDCOPY) only a .PDF file. NOT EVERY PRINTER CAN PRINT THE .PDF file. My Okidata OL400E DIDN'T HAVE ENOUGH MEMORY TO EVEN PRINT THE FIRST 3 PAGES. IT CHOKED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FIRST PAGE. This is in part because the .pdf file for Emagic uses several fonts and graphics. HOWEVER once the manual is finally printed (with a Xerox XD100 or similar)it is clear AND MAKES NO ASSUMPTIONS about the level of the user. The first chapter deals in length with using a mouse and other well known mechanics of navigating in Windows. Other chapters address the use of MENUS, DRAG AND DROP etc. This manual is 594 pages long and should be read COMPLETELY because that is the only way that the whole thing comes together. I received a "TURBO START" VHS TAPE, because the MANUAL ALONE WON'T SUFFICE for "Instant Gratification". The turbostart tape, however, only addresses a particular type of setup and won't cover every user setup. The .PDF file is compressed and you won't find it on the CD. Only after you install LOGIC-RPC on your computer, will you find the help file at C:\Program Files\emagic\Logic RPC\Logic RPC Manual.pdf The manual for EMAGIC IS SEPARATE from the MIXER MANUAL and the "STUDIO PACKAGE" manual doesn't tie the whole thing together either! The Emagic INSTRUCTION MANUAL has some major errors. Features listed in the manual DO NOT EXIST! This may be because LOGIC SILVER .PDF way have been used. An example of one of the many errors can be found on page 7-27. The manual states that an option called "Force record & convert interleaved into split stereo files" can be found under AUDIO/AUDIO PREFERENCES. IT DOEN'T EXIST. IT ISN'T IN THE MENU! THIS IS JUST ONE OF MANY PROBLEM WITH THE LOGIC USER MANUAL .PDF. Also, there in nothing in the LOGIC-RPC manual regarding "ASIO buffer delay" setting. Of course we can play with it, but what confuses me is the MINUS settings?????

The Emagic CD

If you plan on putting a copy of this CD in you bank safety deposit box, FORGET IT! It is impossible to BACKUP. (Might be possible on a MAC) Furthermore an EMAGIC REQUESTER will demand that you insert the CD in your system every few WEEKS. This whole copy protection scheme makes a tricky system even more tricky to operate! It is stupid and and unnecessary because the SOFTWARE WON'T WORK WITHOUT THE INTERFACE CARD AND VM-3100 pro MIXER in place! I have also learned recently that THE CD IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO VALIDATE WITH OLDER CD rom PLAYERS OR OLDER CDR UNITS. It appears that the VALIDATE process looks at sub code and my older Sony CDR can't send the validation info necessary. After being attacked by another virus, I re-formatted my C: drive and started my system "from scratch". Keeping in mind that the LOGIC CD must BE A KEY DISK, I chose to use my older CDR to install because it uses a DISK CADDY, which will keep my fingers from destroying the CD every week or so DURING VALIDATION but to my surprise, I wasn't able to validate until I placed the CD in the newer CD rom!

CLICK HERE FOR A WORK-AROUND IF YOU ARE HAVING TROUBLE WITH YOUR CD-ROM

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