Converting zip drives to CF or SD Card Drives for Roland Gear

Roland SP-808
Roland SP-808

Recently I picked up a few used Roland musical items that I rather like but use the zip drive format. I found a Roland VS-840EX in mint condition along with two Roland SP-808 samplers at rock bottom prices. The Roland VS-840 already was an EX version and I upgraded the two SP-808 samplers to the EX software version using OS midi files found online. Both the Roland SP-808EX and VS-840EX are excellent for triggering samples. I use the SP-808 WWAC converter program on my computer to import WAV files. I then use the BR WAV converter to import WAV files into the VS-840. Both machines sound fantastic, especially the SP-808EX. All in all, these are two very capable machines and are both a joy to use even though they are older devices. The SP-808 in particular sounds really good.

Roland VS-840EX
Roland VS-840EX

It’s important to note that my main uses for both machines is to simply trigger samples and apply effects. In other words, I like to use them as back track machines that I can use to play along with using my keyboards or guitars. For this the SP-808 and the VS-840EX work very well. Of course one can expand on the SP-808 and create sampled grooves plus one can record tracks onto the VS-840EX no problem. Both however are older machines so you have to expect limitations at times if you want to really use them for their intended purposes. I like to buy used gear and think outside the box a little bit. The SP-808 is a great groove box for backtracks and for the prices they are going in Japan now it’s crazy not to pick up a couple. The VS-840 are also a dime a dozen here too which is great on the wallet.

This week I was researching on some forums that the Roland VS-840EX could successfully be fitted with a Compact Flash Card to IDE converter in place of the zip drive. This allows you to use 1GB flash cards and to operate the Roland VS-840EX in silent fashion. A place where these CF to IDE cards are purchased is from an online vendor called Deal Extreme (An Absolute HORRIBLE company. Read comments about Dealextreme experience! Buyer Beware!) which are based in China if correct. These have been confirmed to work and once my order has arrived I’ll update this article with whether indeed it does. It’s apparently quite simple to swap the zip drive out and attach the CF to IDE adapter. In addition I picked up the SD to IDE adapter as well because both the CF and SD apparently work. These are very cheap from Deal Extreme although the company is very slow to ship I must say.

In addition, I will be installing both CF and SD card adapters into the Roland SP-808EX for testing and hopefully they will work. There are reports of CF card drives that work in the Roland SP-808 but no confirmed reports of exactly which drives or adapters. This is a huge thing if a CF or SD card adapter can be found for the Roland SP-808 Sampler. I’m not expecting it work really as so many adapters have been tried on the SP-808 and it’s been reported the OS firmware is the reason behind all the failed attempts. However, some do work and it is my hope that what I’ve recently purchased will be successful.

Currently I have a ton of zip disks and both 100 and 250 zip drives around the place. So it isn’t an issue of finding zip disks or working zip drives. I also have never really had any “drive too busy errors” because I mainly used the SP-808 and VS-840EX for sample track playback. However, the noise of these zip drives can get to you after a while especially in a quiet studio environment. So it would be really wonderful to get the zip drives out of these boxes.

I’ll update this post after I get the CF and SD card adapters into the Roland SP-808EX and Roland VS-840EX. With any luck I’ll have extra storage and a nice quiet place to work. Although the zip drives and disks work great with these machines and the with the computer, the CF and SD card versions should make the work flow a bit smoother. There are a ton of used Roland SP-808 and VS-840EX boxes in Japan. They are all super cheap too so if this works I pick up some more for the kids and the whole family….laugh. Stay tuned!

85 thoughts on “Converting zip drives to CF or SD Card Drives for Roland Gear

  1. I’ve researched on compatibility with SP-808 and CF card reader before, but I could not find a single user who were able to use it without problems. SP-808 is very unique sampler, it uses Zip drive like RAM (!) I think Roland made a big mistake on using Zip drive as a data storage. To make things worse, SP-808 works only with Zip disks, and it cannot sample anything without Zip disk inserted.
    I hope your trial will be successful, but I know many SP-808 users have attempted to do the same thing.
    If some one find a way to do it, I am sure that SP-808’s selling value will skyrocket on online auctions!

    I have question on Roland VS-840EX. It has really a lot of built-in effects! Can it be used as a effect box?

  2. Buyer Beware with They are accepting orders while indicating the product in stock but it is not. Their style of business appears to be take accept the order, take the money, and then get the product from a supplier. This can take weeks and can also result in not being able to fulfill the order entirely. My order stated above in my article has been sitting in the queue waiting to be processed with a “waiting for supplier” message. The items were indicated as being in stock but then they turn around and now indicate it’s not in stock. There has been no communication from Dealextreme and now after initiating a complaint with Paypal they have paused order processing. Unbelievable.

    At this point I will no longer be doing any sort of business with Dealextreme again no matter what their product is or at what price. These guys are not professional in my book. Thus buyer beware and congratulations to those who’ve had a successful transaction with Dealextreme. There also seems to be quite a few problem stories on their forums too. I probably should have looked at that before my order.

    I’ll post an update about the result. Right now I’m going for a refund. Dealextreme sucks!

  3. I canceled my order with and have escalated a claim with Paypal. Dealextreme is a crap company in my book and they have zero communication. They sell items not in stock, avoid communication, and just want your money. Indeed you get what you pay for, but I absolutely would have payed more for the items I was looking for anyway for better service and quality. I only bought from Dealextreme because I couldn’t find the product elsewhere, but I’m sure there are other options available if necessary. I’ll just look harder.

    Again, buyer beware with Dealextreme!! If I could give negative stars to these people I would.

    Now back to enjoying music.

  4. Paypal refunded my money and all is well. I will not be purchasing anything from Dealextreme or again. You get what you pay for with this company. Again, buyer beware.

    1. Juan Andrés Celasco

      Hia Jim:

      I get a SP-808EX some days ago and I was wondering, what about replacing the 250MB zip drive for a 2GB Jazz drive? I did it on an old Akai S5000 sampler (same time as SP-808EX) and it works fine, the connectors are the same and you can find them easy on eBay. I will try it and tell you.

      Greets from Buenos Aires!

      Juan Andrés.

      1. Thanks Juan! I look forward to hearing about your progress. I had a bad dealing with “Deal Extreme” so my original project didn’t work out. I’ve just been using zips for now. – Jim

  5. Nice post. SImilar issue here: SP-808 was in deep storage for a little while (um…six years to be exact). Hooked the optical to my system and the ZIP loaded all banks and played the samples! Wow. Problem is the drive would not read anything after. Like nothing. Zip=crap. Wasted a day trying to make any of my antique zip drives work on macs and PCs and so forth. No luck. Now I am curious about ditching zip altogether. Problem is that everybody talks about this or that solution while nobody reports success.
    It can’t be so hard to find an IDE 40 pin medium that will work with the OS. Please let me know (anybody) if you can find a working solution. I ordered yet another internal 250MB zip (ebay), but who knows.
    Contact: studionyc at hotmail dot com. Thanks in advance. Always LOVED the 808, also have the ‘Groove-synth” to go along with it, another blast from the (Roland) past. Keep groovin’


    1. Francois Benoit

      I read your article regarding the conversion of your Roland VS-840 very closely. I am to do the same thing on a Roland BR-8 multi tracks recorder (dead zip drive). Can you please tell me which SD Card Converter you used for the conversion and where I can find it? Thanks!

  6. Blaine

    I think the issue of CF modding the SP-808 is that it MUST be an ATAPI compliant IDE interface’d CF adapter unit. ATAPI is the same as CD/DVD/Tape and of course ZIP drives.. they all have one thing in common, they can eject their media.
    When you get a standard IDE to CF adapter, it wont work.. especially on the SP 808.
    Have you seen this list for the VS840?
    I wonder if all of them would work in the SP808 too…

    I’ll be getting an 808 here in a few days, got one really cheap on ebay today and am excited to start working with it.. not excited to listen and deal with a ZIP drive though.. I hope I can find a CF solution for it. -Blaine

    1. Fab

      Hi everyone,

      As far as I found informations about sp808 compatible mediums, Blaine is right:
      the only way to replace the zip drive is to find another ATAPI (not only ATA) medium.
      I remember to be told that ATAPI had 2 more things than ATA, and these were concerning removable media.

      But looking further for infos, no one has been able to tell me if ATA/ATAPI hard drives (as they are described on Ebay or anywhere I saw them) had a chance to work in a SP808/SP808EX.

  7. (Roland SP-808EX) I read somewhere that I could exchange the IOMEGA 250 ZIP DRIVE for the multi-card reader that people use for the MPC2000XL. Whatever the ATAPI of that MPC2000XL is, I believe would work. All I need now is a working zip drive to temporarily install to get the OS to be compatible with the new multi-card drive.

  8. Dean

    Hello ,my name is Dean from Macedonia.I m using Roland VA-76,and I have very big problems with Zip drive,and I want to ask what to do to swap zip drive with something new storage like usb or sd.Thanks

  9. Hi everyone! Any luck?
    I have never really used this machine because of the zip noise…
    I have tried with every HDD I could find, but none works….
    I am waitin for news about the cf reader…
    Thank you all!

  10. Peter White

    Has anyone converted a VA-7 to CF? I have just ordered a drive and am going to give it a go. I will let you know how I get on.

  11. 9BITZ

    Thanks jim. I am having the same issue with my roland sp808. The zip drive is too noisy. I hope someone finds a solution. Thanks to all you guys sharing your experience! greeting from austria 9BITZ

    1. pioshin

      Hi Bitz! Next week I will try to install an Iomega rev on my sp808… I’ll let you know!
      I think it’s the only device that can support all the specifics needed.
      IDE-ata-atapi like the Iomega zip.
      Let’hope it’s less noisy.

    2. pioshin

      Hi Bitz,
      Next week I’m gonna install an Iomega rev on my sp808, hope it stands all the specifics needed without that noise.
      I’ll let you know!

      1. Sorry for late answer…. i have several numbers under the unit.
        The model name is REV-ATAPI
        the serial is 3KTG4500LV and there’s a P/N (part number?) 31234408 R.
        What does it mean? Is there a correct model ?

        thank you.

      2. niko

        Hey poishin,

        Thanks for your answers. As I dig around the internet, I’m finding many different model numbers of what looks like the same atapi iomega rev drive. I was just curious as to which drive you tried out.

        From my findings, there is only one cf reader that works, but you have to either buy a stock blue akai mpc2000xl to get one, or pay $225 to these guys:

        But that’s the one that works with the sp-808/ex.

        I just purchased 5 new 250mb zip drives off of ebay for $40:

        and 8 new zip disks for $25. I figure this will last me awhile and I won’t have to worry about it as long as I back up my data.

        Regarding the zip drive noise, I wear headphones or just turn up the volume and I eject the bitch when I take a break.

        If someone could figure out how to manually put the zip drive into sleep mode, that would be cool…

      3. niko

        Re: sp-808

        Yea… I think this shit has about run it’s course.

        Solution… Buy a bunch of zip disks and drives and back up often.

        This is a great machine and despite our best efforts, the zip lives on… deal with it and have fun with this thing.


      4. niko

        “Niko, i don’t think that unit will work, it seems to be a SCSI . We need IDE /atapi”

        Well clearly I can’t shove this down your throat, but this is in fact the drive you seek.

        If you were smart, you would do a little homework before discrediting data.

        So for all the people who would actually like the answer to the sp-808 cf reader mystery, I’ll say it again:

        You either have to buy an old stock blue MPC 2000xl with the reader in it, or go here and buy one for the extortionist price of $225:

        Have fun

  12. Zip

    I think the solution lies in the zip drive itsself. I watched a kipkay video on YouTube where he takes a zip drive apart and puts a usb hard drive inside it. I a m betting we can do something similar with the compact card readers

  13. Zip

    So I am thinking that I will use the zip drive chassis, when KipKay removed the actual zip drive out of its enclosure it was a simple ribbon cable that was attached. So we just need to figure out what the ribbon does, ya know what each wire was for so when we add the cf reader we can match the cable wiring. Now there is a circuit board inside the zip drive that still remains and we would be using that. SO hopefully we can fool the sp808 OS that it still has a zip drive in it. I am researching compact flash card readers as we speak, I might get the cheapest one to test it out first. Like someone mentioned it has to be an ejectable card reader, I think the OS needs that part to work correctly

  14. Zip

    Ok someone explained it on another forum somewhere. You have to use atapi compact flash and it has to be one that can eject( no smart cards). 512 meg is the max, so there are a few on Ebay but now that I am sure it will work now I am wondering about the sp808 wav converter program is it still going to work with compact flash?

    The wav converter program is a must in my book, if it won’t work with the compact flash then I can live with the whine

    1. pioshin

      I am trying with an old IDE to cf reader.
      At this point I can use the sp808 because it can READ from this CF but it cannot write. I can’t sample otherwise the SP will freeze.
      but I think the cause is the media. I am using a 1GB card.
      I am looking for an older one ,128 MB.
      I will post my results

  15. WMN

    This thread has really taken off recently, good to know people are still working on it. I have been researching this for years and still haven’t heard any good results. Even though I have a few Zip250 Disks kicking around, I don’t have a Zip250 reader for my computer. So I have to transfer samples analog, which is just extra noise I don’t want. I’m on the cusp of selling mine, but I think I’ll hold out till I hear some good news:)

    1. 9BITZ

      absolutly right, people are working on this problem. Thanks to all good guys out there smashing their brains for our lovely roland sp 808. keep up the good work. i am still watching thread and i am hoping for good news.
      thanks jim and all the other smoking heads.

  16. Saumyadip Pramanik

    hi guys i am saumyadip from india, i also tried using a cd rom, 40 gb hdd… bt none of them works… as mentioned earlier. This device turns on only with the ide hdd but cant write on it… neither it can be loaded from pc then plugged to sp808… as at that point it requests a format. i decided to buy ide to ff converter then i noticed this group… bt everyone here says it doesn’t works as well. i dont hav a zip drive or disk. is there any solution… what i can try… ?

    Saumyadip Pramanik

  17. Andreas Breitenreiter

    Hi, i am from germany, got a SP 808 and looking also for a way to replace the zip drive with another medium. Is there somebody having a working card reader or something else ? Would be so nice. Oh and i don’t want to change the 808 to an Edirol A6! Thanks a thousand times for a working solution.

    1. Hi,

      Just stumbled upon this and read your reply.

      Just wanted to ask…

      Is the drive swap fairly easy upon getting this or does it need some new cable replacement inside still? Meaning, do I need to buy anything additional other than the drive or do I just pull out the Zip drive and replace it with this?

  18. highly interested in this drive swap, specifically the possibility of sd card capability. mp, im gonna be checking every day to see how this turns out for u! in my own research, Ive found two candidates that look promising.

    first is ;

    second, if we have confirmation from niko that the old 2000xl drives are strait drop-ins for the 808, how about this kit here? should work as well no?

    1. Niko

      “second, if we have confirmation from niko that the old 2000xl drives are strait drop-ins for the 808, how about this kit here? should work as well no?”

      There are many drives that will work for an mpc 2000xl, but only the stock drive for the blue 2000xl will work for the sp-808. It is this drive here:

      I’ve been using one of these drives or over six months with zero problems. The only thing is that it is not hot swappable, so you need to turn off the sp-808 before pulling your card out. This drive works with SD and CF cards equally well.

      Now if only the sp-808 had foot controllable sampling and four more tracks…

      1. thats awesome you got sd capability. do you know what the relevant difference is between that 2000xl drive you linked to and all the others youre saying are incompatible? I just feel like if we knew the exact specs necessary, we could probably find a suitable drive from some supplier somewhere. that drive can’t have been some proprietary, akai one-off deal right?

      1. word, yea their 741 atapi multicard reader looked very promising. the best reasonably priced candidate ive been able to find. ill guess ill just have to wait until i have the money to shell out for it

      2. Niko

        Yea, I wish I had the answer to the difference of this drive vs all the others.

        All I know is this one works if you can find one at a decent price.

        I wouldn’t count on finding a new working sd drive to replace the sp-808 Zip drive, as this technology is outdated and the demand for such a drive is nearly zero.

        eBay is your best bet. I bought a blue mpc 2000xl with the drive in it for a good price, took the drive out and put a 250 Zip drive back in it, cleaned it up and sold it for as much as I bought it for. Granted I waited for around 6 months to find the magic eBay mpc deal to flip, but the deals are out there if you are patient.

  19. Cobalt60

    Hi guys, been following this discussions about zip being replaced with SD card readers… stumbled on to this in a discussion online, rather*

  20. angrysquirrel

    Hey all,

    Really glad to see this discussion happening. Does anyone happen to know if the same principles for swapping a drive in the aforementioned devices would also apply to the VP-9000. I would assume that Roland used the same architecture/protocols for connecting zip drives in all its devices of that vintage, but one never knows…

    1. Jeb

      Ok just got in to this site and want to ask a question. I have the boss be 8 and when I turn it on the track 1 3 5 and 6 light come on and the screen lights up but is blank does anyone know what that means

  21. Rogier Moes

    I came across this website and perhaps they have something what would work.

    In a few days I will receive my first SP-808 and I’m dying to hear the irritating noise from the Zip.
    A few months ago I decided to sell all my computer related hardware and software – (Maschine and Komplete) because I can’t get used to making music with my Macbook.
    All day working with the computer and then also making music with it…no…not for me.
    Back to old school machines like DX-100, MC-50, SP-808, EMU ESI-4000, CSx1 and a VS-1824 recorder. Bought also 15 Zip Disks and 2 extra drives just to make sure I can do something.
    Well….can be the age as I am now 43 years.

  22. ZipSnipe

    Well 3 years since my last post and no go. I was going to sell off my 808’s and move to smaller samplers but after much research discovered the newer samplers just don’t hold a candle to the 808.

    Now onto the conversion, I am not an engineer or programmer but I do like to research the hell out of something.

    So here are three rules to make a conversion work

    1) need 40 pins
    2) needs to eject
    3) needs 5v

    So I am focusing on rule #2, what if there is a way to make the 808 think that it is ejecting a disk. If we can figure this out then the $2 Ebay CF card ide adapter would work thus a cheap conversion.

    So I looked over the schematic for the 808 and I can see where the 40 pins come into the circuit board but no eject button, then it dawned on me that the eject button is on the drive not the 808.
    So after hours of research I found no schematics for a ide zip drive. I even tried to find pics of the inside of an ide zip drive, only usb and scsi.

    Upon further research I discovered a site about the n64 game system, and a device called the z64 which was used to load games via zip disks, the guy tried to convert to CF but couldn’t so he hacked the bios so that the drive would work. The code for n64 is in assembler language.

    So what we have now are two roads to approach to make this work.

    We can try to hack the 808.s bios BUT this can leave it totally in operable not really the road I wanna take.

    I am thinking maybe the zip drive itself could be modded to except the flash drive by removing the zip drive components(zip drive read head, etc). I am hitting some thrift stores and flea market this weekend in hopes of finding a zip drive for dirt cheap.

    1. Simon

      Forget trying to mod a Zip drive, it isn’t going to happen.

      You need an IDE card reader that also supports the ATAPI protocol.

      Cheap IDE-CF adapters do not have any additional circuitry to support the ATAPI protocol, they just connect the CF card directly to the IDE cable, so don’t have the circuitry to support the ATAPI commands, which include eject.

      Find an ATAPI card reader that works with the 808, or buy a newly developed solution that is made to be compatible.

    1. Rogier Moes

      Hi Chris,
      I don’t think it will work as the card is not hot swappable.
      The eject button is just a mechanic eject and not software-based like the zip drive has.
      But hey…give it a try. 🙂
      I tried several units including a HDD but still no luck.
      And to be honest….the zip is having it’s own unique sound. 😉
      If it really annoys, another solution is to order a 50 CM IDE cable to place the zip drive in a closed box with sound protection, not?

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