Hands-On Review:Digital Workstation Bliss
By Leo Bagamout
Roland has always been on the cutting edge of the digital revolution. They helped develop the original MIDI spec, were first out of the gate with modeling technology, and set the standard for digital workstations, being first to include a VGA output with mouse-based control (included on the VS-2400CD). When Musician's Friend called on me to review the new VS-2400CD, I was eager to examine the current state of Roland art.
The VS-2400CD is a sleek silver and black affair with a compact, roadworthy form - it's sized to fit standard racks and would be right at home in a mobile rig. The main surface of the unit hosts 12 motorized channel faders (that serve multiple functions), a master fader, a transport section, eight XLR mic inputs with switchable phantom power, and a Hi-Z guitar input. Plus, the VS-2400CD provides a well designed user interface with dozens of dedicated and assignable buttons, and a high-resolution LCD screen.
The rear of the unit includes eight balanced TRS analog outputs - fully user-definable for mastering, aux sends, stereo monitoring, and a headphones output. Optical and coaxial S/PDIF I/O connectors let you easily connect digital equipment, and a 25-pin R-BUS connector lets you connect to other R-BUS equipped gear, other digital recorders, or to a PC or Mac using Roland's RPC-1 Interface Card. What's most impressive are the keyboard, mouse, and VGA monitor outputs! With the addition of an inexpensive VGA monitor, a whole new world of recording ease, formerly reserved for computer-based recordists, is at your command.
To put the VS-2400CD through its paces, I hooked up a VGA monitor, computer keyboard, and a mouse (included with the VS-2400CD). I also connected a Roland Fantom keyboard workstation, an electric guitar, a bass, and a condenser mic. I powered up and began my investigation.
The VS-2400CD dedicated VGA output and mouse-based control makes it a breeze to operate and sets it apart from anything else. I went to the EZ-Routing Menu and called up the "Patchbay", a beautifully designed screen that gives you anything-to-anywhere routing. Using my mouse, I dragged a pair of virtual cables from Input 1 and Input 2 (where the Fantom was plugged in) to Track 1 and Track 2. Similarly, I routed the microphone from Input 3 to Track 3, and the guitar from the Guitar/Hi-Z input into Track 4. For the bass, I plugged into a separate DI box and routed it to track 5.
With my favorite patch on the Fantom, I set levels and laid down about four minutes of a pop-style tune. This gave me a nice bed to layer on the rest of the instruments. Next up was the bass. I dug into the VS-2400CD's built-in COSM effects presets and found one named CompBass that had the tone I was looking for. I then "rewound" the song (instantly, unlike the old tape days!), record-enabled Track 5, and put down the bass track.
The VS-2400CD comes with two built-in stereo effects processors. These include Roland's COSM mic modeling, guitar amp modeling, Mastering Tool Kit and a host of other effects including voice transformers and a 19-band Vocoder. Each processor contains hundreds of different effects. You can add an additional VS8F-2 Expansion Board for two more stereo effect processors.
With the rhythm section nailed down, it was time to add a couple of guitar tracks. The first pass consisted of some nice open chords to accentuate the harmonic structure. When that was done I routed the guitar into Track 6; dialed up a COSM Guitar Amp model with a heavy, sustaining distortion tone; and put down a lead line. It took a couple of takes, but the VS-2400CD made it easy to punch in and out.
Last on the input list was the mic. Since vocals are not my forte, I grabbed an acoustic guitar. Not only would the song be better for it, I would also be able to hear the quality of the mic preamps - a key feature in my book! I connected a condenser microphone to one of the VS-2400CD's eight XLR mic preamps and switched on its phantom power. I played another version of the chords I used for the first guitar part to add a little depth to the mix. The sound was warm and lush with great saturation.
After all the tracks were laid down, I set up a mix. By pressing the Pan Button, the faders became pan controls. I panned the Fantom tracks hard left and right, the bass and lead tracks up the middle, and the rhythm guitar tracks at about three o'clock
The channel strip on the VS-2400CD has some of the best-sounding DSP I've ever heard, including a compressor/gate and four bands of EQ. Using my mouse in the VGA, I tweaked the EQ on each channel so each instrument had its own sonic space. I also used the dedicated compressor in the channel strip to add some dynamics to my lead line. Next, I dipped into the effects section to add a little audio sweetening, - a bit of 'verb on the rhythm guitars and some delay on the lead guitar.
Before I mixed down my song, I used the VS-2400CD's Automix mode to record some changes to my track levels using the VS-2400CD's motorized faders. You can also use the mouse to record Automix changes, so I automated some changes to the EQ curve of my Fantom during the guitar solo. This was really cool. You can also graphically edit your automation in the VGA, just like you can your track or audio phrases.
When everything was set the way I liked it, I entered the virtual Mastering Room. Roland has made it easy to mix your song down to two tracks for instant burning to CD. From the mastering room, the VS-2400CD automatically bounces all your inputs, tracks, and effects to a stereo mix. It couldn't get easier then this.
Before I mixed the song down, I chose one of the Mastering Tool Kits to spice up my final mix. The Mastering Tools are different multi-effects that provide that big, loud, robust sound that we are used to hearing on a commercial CD. If you are new to mastering, there are different templates set-up for your style of music so you can get the same results as the big studios. These include "Dance", "Rock Band", "Pop Song", "Acoustic" "Low Boost", "Brighten" and more. I chose "Rock Band" and what a difference it made. It really expanded the dynamics range of my mix, making the low end clear and punchy, the mids more defined and the highs crisp and sparkling.
Now I was ready to mixdown, so I engaged the CD-R Rec Mode, and recorded the mix onto two "V-Tracks." This created a disk image that I could then burn onto a CD-R. The Mastering Room provides sixteen dedicated stereo mixdown tracks. This gives you a lot of options to create different version of your song as well as experiment with different Mastering Tool Kits.
To complete the process, I selected "CD-R Write" from the CD-RW Mastering menu. (Included in this menu are also functions for importing .WAV files, AIFF files or CD audio into your song, as well as exporting either tracks or phrases as .WAV files.) The CD-Write dialog popped up, the drive bay opened, and a blank CD-R was requested. After inserting a blank CD, I burned the disk. A few moments later, out popped my CD, fully baked.
This review barely scratches the surface of the VS-2400CD's capabilities. It's loaded with features-from the easy interface, beautiful VGA output and great effects to the crystal-clear sound and CD-mastering capabilities. For the personal project studio or live recording rig, the VS-2400CD is sure to please. You can go from concept to completion quickly, easily, and with no compromise in quality. The owner's manual is logically laid out and any enlightenment I needed was easy to find and understand. Bottom line, the VS-2400CD is a well-crafted workstation of surprising power and is wonderful to use. I highly recommend it!
Features and Specs
- 24-bit/96kHz digital recording
- Onboard effects and CD-mastering capabilities
- 24-track playback; 16-track recording with 384 V-Tracks
- 48-channel automated digital mixer with dynamics and 4-band EQ on every channel
- Drag-and-drop editing using included mouse
- Accepts ASCII keyboard and VGA monitor (optional)
- Excellent interface makes access to functions easy and intuitive
- 13 motorized faders with full automation capabilities
- RSS surround panning for 3-D sound on stereo systems
- Pro-quality connections including 8 XLR and 8 balanced TRS inputs
- 2 stereo effects processors (expandable to 4 stereo) including COSM Mic, Speaker and Guitar Amp Modeling, plus Mastering Tool Kit
- Import WAV/AIFF files directly from CD-ROM
- R-BUS port for expandable I/O in a variety of analog and digital formats; optical and coaxial S/PDIF I/O