Roland SP-808 converted to Edirol A6 with Hard Disk

Roland SP-808 Groove Sampler

Roland SP-808 Groove Sampler

Currently I have three ( yes three ) Roland SP-808 Groove Samplers with the crappy Zip Drives in them. I don’t use them much simply because the noise caused by the Zips are sometimes unbearable when using these devices. I have tried many times to install CF/SD and HDs to the SP-808/EX Samplers but none have worked. Thus today, I decided to take one of the SP-808 Samplers and convert it to an Edirol A6 Audio Workstation. The conversion, upgrade, or downgrade depending on your point of view went super smooth. The conversion process was done via midi using eight files and along with an IDE 3.5 to 2.5 adapter I was able to install successfully a laptop hard disk. My Roland SP-808 is now a fully functional Edirol A6 and the Zip noise is now GONE! My goodness, the silence is awesome and the SP808/A6 is now a joy to use.

There are some major differences between the SP-808 and the A6. I’ll write a few below that I’ve encountered. There may be some workarounds, but you will lose some functionality by converting the SP-808 to the A6.

1. If you have the OP-1 expansion board installed which I do, you will NOT be able to use the SP-808 WAV converter software anymore with the A6 external zip drive. The Format/Backup/Recovery of zip disks when attached externally to the OP-1 expansion board is radically different. You can kiss the WAV converter goodbye as all compatibility is out the window.

2. In addition, the SP-808 WAV converter will not work with the Edirol A6 hard disk when connected to the PC. The way to import WAV files it seems is to use a separate zip disk drive connected to your PC with an SP-808 zip disk inside. Using that SP-808 zip disk you can import you WAV files using the SP-808 converter software. Once you disk is complete, you then open up the disk contents in explorer and drag/drop the files into the Edirol A6 hard disk partition of your choice. When you re-attach the hard disk to the Edirol A6, it will now read the samples you imported. There’s just no escaping that zip disk or drive…laugh. I have all the SP-808 converters from 1.0 up to 2.2 and they all don’t allow me to directly import WAV files onto an Edirol A6 formatted Hard Disk.

3. You LOSE the SP-808 pad event sequencer, mono synth, D-Beam, BPM functions, and Midi sync abilities. It’s all gone folks and there is no workaround period.

4. You lose six sampling pads. Thus you now have 10 pads rather than 16 for sample playback, however you DO get 4 sample pads back as favorites. These 4 pads though apply to all sample banks so you do not get 4 favorites for each bank. In addition, the remaining two lost sample pads are used for sequential playback of sample pads which is a unique feature to the A6. Pad Favorites and Pad Sequential playback are cool features and may allow you to apply them in creative ways to your mixes.

5. You also will have differences in the number and type of effects. I can’t detail them right now, so you’ll have to check the manual but so far the changes aren’t that critical. If you are heavily into effects and if you have a few favorites, I strongly suggest you consult the manual beforehand to ensure you can either replicate or create the needed effect.

6. I can’t verify this, but some have indicated the sample pad response is a tad slower on the A6. Thus if you press the sample pads you they may not react as snappy as you like. They seem fine to me, but I’m not a hardcore beat sample user. My initial feeling is that complaints are a bit on the picky side, but I could be wrong.

Roland Edirol A6 Audio Workstation

Roland Edirol A6 Audio Workstation

So with all these “missing” or “crippled” functions on the A6, why on earth would one want to convert their SP-808 Sampler box to an Edirol A6? The following reasons my not be the ideal reasons for everyone, but for me they work great and so far I’m happy with the conversion.

1. The Zip drive noise and unreliability is gone gone gone!!! I can now sample in silence and enjoy the SP-808/A6 in a quiet atmosphere. That zip whine gives me a headache after a while so I’m happy to say the A6 box runs silent. For me that adds to my creative whim.

2. I can substitute lack of MIDI clock sync with MTC Time code linked with a Roland XP-80, VS-840, or few other devices I have. Synchronization is excellent and I don’t think about the midi issue at all. Most people only have Midi clock experience and little with MTC so I understand the apprehension, but if you have the hardware it’s a non issue.

3. By using the 2.5 HD, you can easily remove the drive and plug it into your computer with an easy to find USB/HD cable. The HD will appear on the PC and you can access it via the SP-808 wav converter. You can also access the data folders and build your banks for later transfer to the HD as well. Getting LOTS of wav samples onto the HD is not a problem UNLIKE the external zip if formatted with the A6 and the OP-1. You will also have to adhere to the 10 only pads that allow sample triggering. Any other samples allocated to the remaining 6 pads will go undetected. Also note that all partitions will show up on the computer. So you can import WAV banks to all partitions which is cool. Then insert the HD back into the A6 and jam away.

4. If you have a 2nd or 3rd SP-808 like I do, you can utilize the D-Beam, Mono Synth, Sequencer, etc. on that machine. Then you can use the A6 to record if you like.

5. Triggering the A6 sample pads via midi is simple and very flexible. You can even trigger the sequential pads and pad favorites 1-4. Thus you could use the second SP-808 to trigger the A6 pads if you like while at the same time triggering the SP-808 pads. It’s like using the A6 as a sound module. I have a Roland VS-840 converted to SD card reader which operates really well. Using this with the A6 is a great combo. In fact, the Edirol A6, SP-808EX and VS840 would make a nice triple threat.

6. The A6 is actually thought of more as a Hard Disk recorder than a Sampler now. You get additional V tracks for each track so that you can record multiple takes and toggle between them. This allows for some additional creative usage unavailable on the SP-808.

There are likely more positives and negatives for whatever side you take above, but for now these are the main ones I’ve encountered. If you have converted your SP-808 to the A6 or have made any modifications, please comment. I’m about 99% sure that NO hard disk can be used in the SP-808 and I only ever heard of one CF card reader out of hundreds that claims to work. That reader is no longer available and I don’t have any info on it unfortunately. Thus right now, the only option is to make due with the Roland SP-808 as is, sell it, or convert it to an A6.

I do know this though. Should anyone develop or find a way to get an HD or CF/SD card into the SP-808, the value will go up with these samplers. Despite the low polyphony of 4, I think the SP-808 could become a real classic provided that nasty zip drive gets dropped in the near future. We’ll see. Until then, I have three Roland SP-808s that I’m trying to find uses for. I’m sure quite a few other SP-808 owners are in the same boat.

Note: I originally bought one SP-808 when it first came out used. The second one was given to me broken but I repaired it. The final third I bought at a rock bottom price because it had the OP-1 expansion board installed. Just FYI for those wondering why I would have three units.

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6 thoughts on “Roland SP-808 converted to Edirol A6 with Hard Disk

  1. As I posted in another article of yours, I do believe the CF readers are still READILY available. And in massive quantities! They are the Addonics brand CF reader/writers.

    Here’s one on Addonics site-
    http://www.addonics.com/products/aeudmacf.php

    Here’s another at Tiger Direct-
    http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=1465491

    And another at ProVantage-
    http://www.provantage.com/addonics-adidecfb~7ADDO18R.htm

    The key here is they are HOT SWAPPABLE or, ATAPI compliant devices.. ATAPI is what a ZIP drive is.. an Iomega 100mb zip drive is known as model “Z100ATAPI”
    ATAPI is what CD/DVD drives are that use an IDE connection, but can hot eject their media.. try to hot eject a fixed IDE HD and you are asking for a world of trouble!

    It is easy to get confused and buy one of those IDE only CF drive adapters.. but you will notice that they will usually state that you cannot remove or insert the CF card while the OS is running.. IE you must shut down the PC before you remove/replace the CF card.
    These adapters are not ATAPI compliant and thus will never work in the 808′s.

    Since the SP 808 OS code only supports ATAPI IDE, that is why you can never get a fixed HD to work in one. You could get it to work if you custom altered the OS code itself.. or use the A6 OS code that has the IDE HD support code in it.

    Anyway.. I just got ahold of an 808 and in the near future I’ll go ahead and spend the $30USD to order one from any of the listed venders I linked to above.. I’ve ordered from TigerDirect and ProVantage before in the past.. they are both very upstanding Co’s.

    I saw one of these CF adapters sold with a VS-840 on ebay recently..
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roland-VS-840-GX-w-INTERNAL-CF-SD-CARD-READER-instead-of-Zip-SP-808-880-EX-/160900425491?pt=US_Live_Studio_Mixers&hash=item257669a713&nma=true&si=Yvhe6iSpW%2FkXyjIzEZxAayrQIpY%3D&orig_cvip=true&rt=nc&_trksid=p2047675.l2557

    Item#
    160900425491

    You can clearly see it is the Addonics CF reader. He also mentions in the listing that you can use an SD card in it via a SD>CF card adapter/shuttle you insert into the CF drive.

    The limitations of this setup is you can only use 512mb max.. anything larger is going to be either a waste of space or won’t work at all.. your safest bet is to use 512.
    Even though Addonics says it is a Hot Swappable drive, DO NOT remove the card while the 808 is on. The 808′s OS does not support it when using one of these drives. A relatively minor setback compared to the advantages of being able to use CF.

    This is the best info I’ve found so far on this mod.. I’m sure there are a few other things to get informed about, but if I manage to get one of the Addonics CF drives and get it to work, I’ll come back here to report my findings.

    -Blaine

    • Hey jim and Blaine thanks for the post! i just purchased an sp808ex in great condition but no zips so I ordered a few off Amazon, but decided to grab the addonics CF conversion kit and a Roland 512 CF card…hopefully it works, I’ll let you know soon!

  2. Jim Thank you for trying so hard to make this work with the SP-808 .. I think it is the most intuitive sampler I have come across i have made my best work with this machine. Im sure someone will come up with a way to make it work maybe instead of removable media it just needs a solid state drive of some sort . . . If I was a millionaire I would pay someone to come up with a solution I love this machine . Ok Im done ranting now

  3. Hey there,

    Thanks for the advice regarding the CF drives, when I first got my SP-808EX I knew that I was not going to be satisfied with the stock ZIP250 drive. Before I go buying random CF drives, I was wondering if anyone has had any luck with this yet? Finding a IISDMC is basically impossible, but if one of these models work than my machine is back in business.

    The drives listed do not appear to stat that they are ATAPI compliant, unless I’m missing something.

    Thanks,
    WMN

    • Will, if you read carefully you’ll see in the description : ” The IDE-CF Adapter PRO enables any CF media to be used as a removable storage media without the need to restart the system, just like using a regular floppy disc”
      That means ATAPI.

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