Roland VS-840 SD Card Zip Drive Replacement

Roland VS-840 SD card drive replcement
Roland VS-840 SD card drive replcement

Installing an IDE to SD Card Media Adapter in a Roland VS-840 Multitrack Recorder

Today I received a couple of new Secure Digital SD SDHC MMC to IDE 3.5 40 Pin Male Adapter Converter cards for my Roland VS-840 Multitrack Recorder. I installed the device and was able to successfully partition and initialize a 2GB Sandisk SD Memory card in the Roland VS-840. Partitions are 1GB. The VS-840 is now totally silent and I no longer get any “drive busy” errors when using the VS-640 in MT1/MT2 Song format. The installation was flawless and although there may be some future SD card compatibility issues, I have so far found most SD cards to work with the device. The person I bought the SD adapter converter card from on Ebay is http://myworld.ebay.com/leewaieshop2010/ . I attached a photo to this article of what the device looks like. Previously in another article I wrote I had purchased a couple of similar converters from an online shop called DealExtreme which had horrible service. I eventually got my money back and promised I would never do business with them again. The product I purchased above came from Hong Kong and it arrived actually in exactly one week from purchase. The service was great and I would definitely order again from this one individual.

Replacing the Zip drive with an SD Card in the Roland VS-840 works beautifully and really cleans up some of the issues I had with the unit. I’ll probably try the same SD card converter with the Roland VS-1680 and Roland SP-808. It’s likely the SP-808 won’t work as I’ve yet to hear any success stories with SD cards working in an SP-808. SD Cards do however work very well with the Roland VS-840. I use my Roland VS-840 extensively to import WAV files into my Roland VS-1680. I export WAV files into the VS-840 format using the BR WAV converter software and then import that into the VS-1680. It works great.

UPDATE #1 – The replacement of the Roland VS-840 250MB zip drive with an SD Card adapter is really working well. I am using a SandDisk Extreme III 2GB card that has a 1GB Fat16 partition. I did this on the computer using the free version of MiniTool Partition Wizard. I tested with the BR To WAV converter software and was successfully able to convert Wav files to and from the SD card. I was then able to drag and drop all tracks into Sonar which all played back perfectly and in sync. I swapped out the short IDE cable in the Roland VS-840 for a longer one. I had to use a needle to create a 40th hole in the cable as there are 40 pins on the connector side of the Roland VS-480. My cable only had 39 holes but it’s easy to puncture a hole to make it 40. I also had to wrap the SD card converter to ensure nothing touched the metal casing of the VS-840. These SD card converters MUST be shielded from the metal case properly to work 100%. I used plastic to wrap the SD card converter and it works beautifully. Finally I did some recordings in MT1 format that required some heavy reading from the SD card. I have yet to get a single “drive busy” error. Everything works perfectly and it’s all a 100% silent. I forget the unit is on sometimes…laugh. An SD Card Adapter is a definite “must” upgrade for the Roland VS-840. Highly recommended.

UPDATE #2 – I installed this SD Card Adapter into the Roland SP-808EX and it unfortunately didn’t work. I was able to turn on the SP-808 and it gave me a message that the SD card needed to be formatted. I performed “Quick Format” but after that I couldn’t create a song or do any sampling. Instead I got a no disk space error. I got really close, but I don’t think it’s going to work with this particular SD card adapter.

Zoom HD-16 Multitrack Recorder makes recording easy!

Zoom HD-16 Multitrack Recorder
Zoom HD-16 Multitrack Recorder

Lately I’ve been tackling used Multitrack recorders that people have been practically giving away to used music shops here in Nagano-city, Japan. One such recorder that I really found is the Zoom HD-16 Multitrack recorder. It’s a very cool little unit that does just about everything I want with a multitrack recorder. One catch though and that is the Zoom HD-16 depends on a factory recovery CD to restore the Hard Drive should it go bad and need replacement. Luckily with the unit I picked up, the recovery CD was included along with the case and manual for the Zoom HD-16. I know Zoom doesn’t offer the HD-16 recovery CD for download on it’s website, nor do I know if it’s still available via mail. When doing research on the Zoom HD-16, I found the recovery CD impossible to find unless someone offered to create an ISO. I actually just did that after acquiring the Zoom HD-16 and have a backup of the Recovery CD in ISO format.

The Zoom HD-16 is a fabulous Multitrack recorder that comes with full midi specs that syncs perfectly with other devices like a drum machine. The Zoom HD-16 MUST be the master, but that works out pretty well for me. The HD-16 also has a built in drum and bass machine. The bass sounds can be changed when using a special software editor which is available somewhere on the internet but I can’t remember where. ( I’ll update shortly with the location ). The drum machine can also load up custom samples that you import via USB connection. You can then use the pads to create patterns for playback guidance and recording. In addition, you can use recorded tracks to create seamless phrase loops which can then be exported into your DAW of choice. You can also import WAV files and sequence them on the Zoom HD-16 as well.

Overall, the Zoom HD-16 sounds great and is very easy to use. I really like the effects and the ability to transfer WAVs to and from the Zoom HD-16 with ease. I’ve read you can replace the Hard Drive with an SSD drive which I may do eventually. As it is now, there is practically no noise with the existing hard drive. The only achilles heel with the Zoom HD-16 is the fact that a factory made recovery CD is required to restore any storage device installed in the Zoom HD-16. You could of course swap out a working drive and create an image file, but you’d better do that before the Hard Drive crashes of course. I have also heard Zoom is pretty good about sending a replacement recovery CD, but as time goes by, it may become harder to acquire. I’ve made several ISO backups of the Recovery CD just in case anything happens.

One of my main uses for the Zoom HD-16 is to record tracks such as guitar, vocals, and bass guitar using a guide track recorded from a synth or keyboard. I then sync the recording to a sequencer and then play over that with a lead synth. All of that can then be recorded live and burned using the built in CD from a master track. The overall sound is really good. Thus the Zoom HD-16 is a great way to add guitar, vocal, and percussion tracks to your synth setup. Midi sync is rock solid at least with my unit.

The Zoom HD-16 can be found at a great price on the second hand market. The newer Zoom R24, R16, and R8 models have been released of which I also recently acquired the Zoom R8 for keyboard recording. I’ll talk about the Zoom R8 in a future article.

Here is a great video showing the Zoom HD-16 in action with keyboards. My setup is very similar.

Korg SOS SR-1 Loop Recorder Review

Korg SOS SR-1
Korg SOS SR-1

Last weekend, Shimamura Music store in Nagano-city, Japan was offloading their remaining stock of Korg SOS SR-1 recorders at a rock bottom price, so I decided to pick one up. I have had my eye on one for a while and I didn’t think I would likely come across one on the used market so I bought one. I’m very glad I did, because this little device is a total homerun purchase for me for a number of reasons. First I MUST say that I have a “specific” need or use for the Korg SOS SR-1. That requirement is that I needed to be able to record a keyboard like the Yamaha DX-7 into the Korg SR-1 and seamless loops between two A and B points. From there I want to have all loops recorded into separate WAV files for easy export into either a DAW or a multi-track hardware recorder. In this regard, the Korg SR-1 works absolutely perfect and to my knowledge is the ONLY recorder that does this particular task. I’ll elaborate further below.

1. I plug the Yamaha DX-7 ( example synth ) into a Mackie Mixer and then the mixer into the 1/8 line in jack of the Korg SOS SR-1.

2. As a guide, I then browse through the many on board Drum patterns of the Korg SR-1 for recording a 8 to 16 bar loop. No problem there.

3. I set the Korg SR-1 to record the drum pattern for 16 bars as an example. On playback, the SR-1 sounds great and the drums are recorded “seamlessly” at the initial volume level.

4. Then I practice and record loops, overdubbing as much as I please ( unlimited overdub tracks ) over 16 bars with the Yamaha DX-7. ( Or with any other synth plugged into the mixer ).

5. When finished, I finalize my 16 bar pattern in mere seconds and pop out the microSD card for transfer to the computer. In Sonar for example, I am able to drag and drop all overdubs separated into individual tracks. Simply brilliant!!! I can also put the WAV files into the Boss RC-300, Roland VS-1680, Zoom R8 etc.

6. From there, I can mix and add anything I like to enhance the audio tracks “individually”! I can now delete tracks and do further editing if so desire as well.

IMPORTANT!! Yes, I have to push the play or record button to overdub so the Korg SR-1 would likely NOT work well in a live situation. My purpose was to find the fastest way for me to overdub and record synthesizer or keyboard patterns and have them recorded into individual WAV files. I didn’t want to use the computer because I prefer to play my parts live on hardware synths and wanted to keep my hands on the keys as much as possible instead of a mouse. That’s just how I operate so I know others will prefer other methods. The Korg SOS SR-1 works very well at getting overdub loops between two A & B points into separate and “seamless” WAV files. It’s simply works fantastic.

Are there any issues with the Korg SOS SR-1 that I’ve encountered so far? Well not really, BUT these are likely problems for many.

1. You cannot connect the Korg SOS SR-1 directly via USB to the computer. – This isn’t a problem for me and don’t mind using just the microSD.

2. The microSD is more difficult to use than a regular SD. – Perhaps, but again it’s a minor issue for the work that I do.

3. It’s difficult to read the screen and the batteries don’t last long. – Again double true. To combat this I bought an adapter and have memorized the menus I need to get my projects done. It’s an inconvenience, but not a major problem. I definitely would not use this as an “out in the field” recorder. I think at this time there are better options and the same or similar price point. For looping though it’s awesome!!

4. Is the Korg SOS SR-1 a good live looper? – I don’t think so. The Boss RC-50 and RC-300 are much better suited for that purpose AND they have midi. Where the Korg SSO excels at is recording individual loops and saving them into individual WAV files all in sync. You “could” use the SR-1 as a live looper, but frankly there are better options for “LIVE” use.

5. Is there anything else like the Korg SR-1 on the market today? – No! I haven’t seen anything that can record unlimited seamless loops, all in sync, and with only the push of a button which can then be all saved into individual WAV files. There’s nothing out there quite like the Korg SR-1. It’s really fun to be able to loop record keyboards like the Yamaha DX-7. This give you the ability to layer different sounds, patterns, and build up 80’s and 90’s sytle songs without the use of a sequencer or any programming. You can also pipe in effects or tryout the Korg SOS effects which aren’t too bad as well. Your audio data is then saved and you can import them into likely any DAW for later editing or song creating.

The Korg SR-1 is simply brilliant as a loop sratch pad for ideas and song creation. It is quickly becoming my favorite piece of gear to record music. With the WAV files you can then insert right back into a Roland VS recorder, Zoom recorder, etc for later playback or in sync via midi. The two main keys are that the Korg SOS records into separate WAV files AND it allows you to record seamless AB loops VERY quickly with almost no setup in between takes. Ideas don’t stay long in my head. They need to get out quickly and the Korg SOS SR-1 allows me to record fast into a usable data format that can later be reused or modified for another piece of gear. For my specific purposes, Korg hit a huge homerun with the Korg SOS SR-1 recorder.

Roland Juno-60 – What a wonderful synth!

Roland Juno-60
Roland Juno-60

I finally found a Roland Juno-60 at a used music shop this afternoon for $300. I drove out to this particular shop that I frequent every Sunday morning at around 10:00 Am when they open. I walked in and the sales manager that I usually deal with had a grin when he saw me enter. I knew something was “new” and sure enough sitting on the table was a hard shell Roland case opened up with a fresh new vintage synth. This was the same sales gentleman and store where I first bought the Roland Juno 106, Juno 6, and then later the Juno 106-S version. For a moment I thought it was going to simply be another Juno 106, but to my astonishment it was a Roland Juno-60!! I asked if I could give it a test run and he already had the headphones ready to go as he knew I’d be interested.

Cosmetically, the Roland Juno-60 was about an 8 or 9. I then turned it on and ran through my drill of checking all the keys, knobs, sliders, and of course sounds. Perfect!! The Juno-60 absolutely played beautifully in all areas and I couldn’t have asked it to perform any better. As I mentioned above, I have three Junos already with the Juno-6 being my personal favorite. With the Juno-60 I now have the save to memory ability which really is a great thing to have. I am pretty proficient at dialing in my own sounds on the Juno-6, BUT, having that memory really is a bit more convenient. Does the Juno-60 sound any better than the others I have? Well, I think they all sound great and each have their own character, but if I had to buy them all over again, I would choose this order… ( Juno 60, Juno 6, Juno 106, and then the Juno 106-S ). I love the arp, patch memory, and a teeny tiny bit “cooler” sound with the Juno-60. The Juno 106 synths are definitely a little thinner to my ears but not by much. My one Juno 106 refurbished from The Synth Spa is actually much better than a stock 106, so I’d say that makes it hard to choose which is the best. It’s a “one of a kind” in my book for Juno 106 synths.

I love the Roland Juno synth sound and I’m extremely happy to have finally scored a Roland Juno-60. I know I’ll never be letting that go. Just this evening I had it hooked up to my Roland TR-626 which was then midi’d up to another drum sampler. Everything play in sync perfectly. It’s just a tremendous amount of fun. I likely won’t add any upgrade kits to the Juno-60 just yet as I’m not sure if I need anything additional, but we’ll see. For now I’m just having a lot of fun jamming on these Roland Junos!!

Here’s a cool video of a Roland Juno-60 in action playing some aarly ’80s Electro Funk by Synthmania. Check it out!

Roland VS-1680 imports and exports WAV files with ease

Roland VS-1680
Roland VS-1680

Last weekend I scored a Roland VS-1680 portable multitrack recorder from a used music shop here in Nagano-city, Japan. It was thrown into a large junk bin and had a price tag on it for $50 bucks! Incredible! I took it out and asked the clerk if I could start it up and give it a test run. Everything on it worked beautifully. The sales clerk said it was missing the manual and he said hardware multitrack recorders were very hard to sell, so he basically just wanted to get rid of it. So I bought it and have thoroughly enjoyed recording some music on it for the past couple of days.

One of the things that I wanted to do was to import and export WAV files using the Roland VS-1680. After some research and testing, I found a workflow that is extremely fast and quite easy. The method I use is to connect an external Zip drive to the back of the VS-1680. In my Windows 7 computer I also have an internal Zip drive. With all the gear I have, I have found it critical to have a few Zip drives as they seem to work with a lot of different gear, especially with early Roland products.

To export WAV files, I simply save the song I am working on to an external Epson ZIP drive using the Roland VS-1680. It’s fast and super easy to do using the SHIFT > F1 command to save the song. Then I take out the disk and walk into an adjacent room where I have my desktop computer and insert the Zip disk into an internal zip drive that I ripped from a spare Roland SP-808. After that, I fire up a program called VS WAVE Exporter that allowed me to select and export the song with all the tracks to WAV format. Then you can use your favorite DAW to load the WAV files and further mix or tweak the song. Everything lined up great. Later you can burn to CD which is probably faster than using the VS-1680.

If you want to import WAV files back into the VS-1680, that is super easy as well. What you need is a Roland VS-840 formatted zip disk. I actually have a Roland VS-840 so this was easy to create, but for those who don’t have a Roland VS-840, you just need to have a zip disk with the formatted files on it. If anyone needs these files to create a VS-840 disk, feel free to email me and I can send you my formatted files. It should work fine. Then, you simply have to insert the zip disk into the internal zip drive and fire up another program called the Roland BR8 to WAV Converter program. This program will recognize the VS-840 disk as a BR-8 compatible disk and allow you to convert WAV files into the Roland VS format. The BR-8 convert allows you to convert 64 WAV files per song as that is the number of tracks the VS-1680 can use. Each WAV file is converted an assigned to one track of your choosing. Then you take the Zip disk out and stick it into the Roland VS-1680. There you use the VS-840 import command to import the files to the VS-1680 song project. Presto! All of your WAV files or wAV tracks will be nicely imported and assigned to the proper tracks. Brilliant.

The key to importing and exporting WAV files easily is that you need a Zip drive connected to your Roland VS-1680 and your computer. One limitation is the fact that I’m using 100MB zip disks, but this actually is fine because I only work on one song at a time and I have found that one zip disk is enough for whatever WAV work I need to do. It’s also faster. As mentioned above, exporting WAV files or tracks to the computer allows you to burn CDs and make additional edits in the DAW of your choice. I also find the Zip disks to be quite fast and I can leave the VS-1680 in my studio while taking the disk to another location. I don’t have to carry the Roland VS-1680 around or USB it to a computer.

I actually use the Roland VS-1680 like an instrument along with my synths. I sync it to a sequencer and drum machine or sampler. Then I record vocal, guitar, and other non-midi instruments into the Roland VS-1680. Everything plays back in sync via midi. It’s fantastic. I also find the sound quality to be just fine as well. Overall, for the money I paid, I find the Roland VS-1680 to be a great multitrack recorder that is still plenty useful. The Roland VS-1840 is also great, but I find the extra tracks and the bigger screen to be more useful for obvious reasons. The Roland VS-1680 is really great and I highly recommend it should one be found used at a good price. Go for it!

UPDATE #1: Today I found a huge supply of 2.5 HD replacement drives that can be used in the Roland VS-1680 at a different used music and computer shop. The drives were 20GB in size, made by Fujitsu, and only cost $5.00 each. They also had 40GB 2.5 HD drives as well for $10 each but the Roland VS-1680 only allows for formatting up 16GB on 8 2GB partitions only. I simply swapped the hard disks and they worked fantastic after formatting them inside the Roland VS-1680. I bought 2 spare 20GB hard disks but will likely go back this weekend and buy a few more since they are so cheap. They work great so far and will help prolong the life of the VS-1680 and allow for more backups.

Zoom G3 Synthesizer Effect Box is Fantastic!

Zoom G3 Effects
Zoom G3 Effects

Today I ran across the Zoom G3 at the local used music shop in mint condition. I needed an effect unit to hook up with my Roland S-50 sampler and thought this would make a nice effect unit for practicing. WOW! The Zoom G3 absolutely BLEW ME AWAY in all areas. I must say that the Zoom G3 makes for an absolute awesome synthesizer and keyboard effect unit for several reasons which of course will be subjective a bit…laugh.

First, the Zoom G3 is light and small. It fits perfectly on top of my Roland S-50 and likely would sit nicely on any of my vintage synths or keyboards provided there is a clear space on top. The rubber feet on the bottom keep the effect unit snug and from sliding around. Yes, the buttons are the metal knobs that you stomp on, BUT I found them easily pushed with my thumb or index finger. You get three LCD displays that show what effect unit is on and you can use the three knobs under each of the three effect windows for tweaking individual parameters. All of this is a breeze for synth players and it’s almost like having a built in effect unit.

In addition, you get a drum machine built in that sounds very good and allows you to instantly play along with using the S-50. PLUS, you can call up the 40 second looper that can loop and overdub right in sync with the Zoom drum machine which is fantastic. With the S-50 I can flip through sample patches and then choose the appropriate effect patch on the zoom for very quick playback. Then I can loop and/or overdub using those new sounds. You can also undo a loop and even start/stop the loop while the drum machine continues to play which is cool. If you hit the rhythm button at the top of the Zoom G3 you can also stop the drum machine. I believe you can setup a pedal or have the drums and loops stop at the same time, but I haven’t checked that out yet. The point though is that looping is fantastic and you have a few dynamic options.

Can you save loops? Nope, and no doubt that would have been great of course, however, you can record your loops into another loop machine or recording device. I know that is crazy for some people, but for myself I already have a few loopers like the Boss RC-300 and RC-50, so I “could” record into them and then save out to WAV format. With the latest technology, I don’t think it’s that difficult to save loops from the Zoom G3 to a computer, multitrack recorder, or another loop device that saves loops. Sure it would have been easier inside the G3, but it’s not such a huge problem. The looper on the G3 is great for practice and generating new ideas. If you like the idea and want to save it, then I suggest a recorder of any kind would do and then rework the track on another more appropriate machine.

How does the Zoom G3 sound? I think it sounds SUPERB. As you know for keyboards, synths, and samplers, it’s about experimentation and creating your own sound. Unlike guitar, I’m not really trying to sound like Clapton, Hendrix, or The Edge, but rather just trying to find something that sounds good with the particular sample or patch I am using on the keys. The Zoom G3 has some wicked effects that really enhance the sound of just about any synth I throw at it. Also just about any effect you can imagine can be found in the G3.

As I mentioned it’s super easy to tweak the parameters of the effects aboard the G3 and you can even create detailed setups using the computer free editing software. The Zoom G3 connects to the computer to allow you to create patch setups which is perfect for keyboards because you can tailor patches for sounds or sample sets. You can even using the Zoom G3 as a portable recording device for the computer. In fact, the Zoom G3 plays on batteries so it’s great for using on the road if you like.

The Zoom G3 really reminds me of the Line 6 M9 that I had my eyes on a long time ago, but I just didn’t want to pay a lot of money for it here in Japan. I find the Zoom G3 to be just as good for using with synths and I’m really happy I didn’t get the M9. I’m not saying the Zoom G3 is better, but it’s just that I bought it for $75 bucks in excellent condition and I think for the money I paid, it’s a better choice than the M9…( for me ). The Zoom G3 has an excellent Looper and Effect User interface. It’s sits perfectly on my keyboards and I can tweak just about anything in it very easily with knobs. The Zoom G3 and the Roland S-50 are perfect together and that just translates to fun fun fun. The Zoom G3 is a great box that I highly recommend for synths and keyboards especially if you are into experimenting with effects and need a simple but insanely effective looper for getting ideas across. Other than not being able to save loops, I can’t think of anything bad to say about the Zoom G3. It’s a very musical and inspirational multi-effect box that will you get you playing and recording musical ideas.

Update: A few additional notes about the Looper.

1. When Undo is ON, the maximum loop recording time is limited to 20 seconds instead of the original 40 seconds.
2. Returning to the Home Screens will not erase the loop.
3. Turning the power OFF will erase the loop.
4. When Undo is ON, you can cancel the last overdubbing by pressing button for 1 second. After undoing, you can also redo by pressing for 1 second again, restoring the last overdubbing.
5. When using a rhythm, recording will start after the precount.
6. When using a rhythm, the loop timing will be quantized, so even if you stop the loop recording a little out of time, the loop end point will be adjusted to match the tempo correctly.
7. The loop volume “collectively” can be set with a range of 0-100.
8. The loop tempo setting is used by every effect, rhythms and the looper.
9. Changing the TIME setting will erase the currently recorded loop.
10. The setting range for loop tempo is 40-250.