Roland Cloud Review – A Potential Game-Changer

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Roland’s Cloud has classic Roland gear in software and plenty of libraries to download, for whatever genre you produce. Andy Jones gets misty-eyed…

Roland Cloud

Price £18.95 per month
Contact Roland

Roland Cloud key features:

  • Instrument and library subscription service
  • Features 12 Legendary Roland synths and drum machines
  • Five sound collections from 1985, ’86, ’87, ’90 and ’93 plus Orchestra and E. Piano
  • Tera Vintage Steel and Piano
  • Six Flavr genre-based sample libraries
  • R-Mix audio processor for Windows
  • Requires Roland Cloud Concerto Player (supplied)
  • Requires internet access for download and authentication (and then every 7 days)
  • If you cancel you lose access

The ’cloud’ has been descending on the world of music making for some years now, and there are currently a huge variety of online services available to producers. Websites like BandLab (www.bandlab.com) offer complete virtual studio environments for you to create music – and, importantly, a social network to play it to.

Other sites like Splice offer plug-ins and samples and also have a social network with which you can share files, collaborate and remix. The more traditional music production companies are getting in on the action too, with Avid offering Cloud Collaboration as part of Pro Tools, and now Roland has pretty much transported its hardware world – both classic and new – up into its own virtual world with its own cloud.

When you subscribe to the Roland Cloud you get access to all of these software instruments and libraries which are recreations of famous and modern Roland hardware or completely new instruments, all produced by Roland in tandem with Seattle-based company Virtual Sonics.

Subscribe. it’s the new ’buy’

Subscription is the new ’thing’ in music production (actually life) it seems. So many companies are offering their wares through monthly or yearly fees, the thinking being that it’s a gentler purchase for the consumer who stays completely up to date with the software that they’re subscribing to, and for a relatively low regular fee, rather than one big one.

I remain unconvinced, but I’m of an age where I’m used to keeping something after a transaction has taken place rather than effectively renting it and losing it when you stop paying. If I’m to be convinced then the service has to be damn good. Luckily, Roland’s Cloud does seem to be crammed to the rafters full of goodies, so let’s have a look and see what exactly there is on offer.


Three more from the Flavr collection


Roland Cloud - RESIN

1. RESIN

Here are three varied titles from the Flavr collection. RESIN is for hip hop and Neo-Soul and includes 77 very good patches.

Roland Cloud - Midnight

2. Midnight

A collection of (just) 21 patches that covers Synthwave, Retrowave and Retro Future. Good sounds but we could certainly do with more of them.

Roland Cloud - Electrode

3. Electrode

This one is inspired by complextro, a sub-genre of electro house (who knew?!) so is quite specific and has 47 patches – some fantastic, some limited.


A collection of collections

Roland’s Cloud instruments cover pretty much every sound the company has ever produced (and probably more besides). These are played either by standalone software instrument emulations of the original hardware, or by sample libraries that load into Roland Cloud Concerto software, a Kontakt-like shell that operates just like a normal plug-in DAW instrument.

Starting with the Legendary collection of instruments, you’ll find software replications of both the 808 and 909 drum machines, but surprisingly not the 303 – it’s surely on the way though. Other analogue classics include the Juno-106, Jupiter-8 and SH-101. Also within this folder are recreations of some of Roland’s classic digital synths including my personal favourite, the JV-1080, plus the Sound Canvas and ubiquitous Roland D-50.

Within the AIRA folder, you’ll find the AIRA System-1 and System-8 emulations. Now there might be some confusion here as the original hardware versions of these are at least partly used to run software plug-outs, those emulations of the classic analogue gear I’ve just mentioned.

So are they software emulations of hardware emulating software emulating classic hardware?! Actually System-1 and 8 are also synths in their own right so these are simply emulations of those.

Next up within the Cloud are suites of sample-based instruments that play via Concerto. These are not necessarily based on instruments but collections of tones, often taken from Roland instruments, but laid out as new library collections.

The first is the Anthology Series, a set of titles that take a trip through the mid-80s to 90s, plus Anthology-Orchestra and the EP-14 electric piano. Each is arranged as downloadable chunks of between 1.5 and 2.5GB.

Next up it’s the Tera series which only has a couple of libraries in it so far, and more of an acoustic category with a virtual guitar (168MB) and a piano (973MB). The Flavr section contains a more eclectic set of instruments, everything from Blip Hop – a retro-gaming collection – to Grit which contains textured sounds to add to dance music. These are essentially genre-based titles and weigh in at anything from 149MB to 2.69GB.

All told, you have a large, and varied array of plug-ins and libraries which looks great, but does it sound good enough to warrant that subscription?


Do I really need this?

It’s clear that this is not an *essential* subscription, but it is a relatively small outlay to get access to a huge collection of instruments and libraries that represents very much a ’best of’ of one of the most important companies in the history of music making.

Roland Cloud - System-100

The chances are you will probably have many of the sounds already. Other instruments might just be a little rose-tinted in nature too – they were great at the time, but that time is not necessarily now. But there is such a lot on offer here that it is almost giving it a go for that free month at least to see what the Roland Cloud can offer you.

One person’s JV-1080 may not be another’s RESIN soul and hip hop library, but there will be something here that will delight you. Probably quite a lot, in fact. So give it a try and see if there is enough to warrant 19 sheets a month.


Take off

You’ll need to register and download the Roland Cloud Manager software which gives you an overview of what is available and the tools to download it. The aforementioned Concerto software comes in this Essential Pack download too which is free, as is the subscription for the first month. Thereafter it will cost you £18.95 per month or £185 a year – a quite significant saving.

You then download whatever you want to use. I began with the smaller and more exciting (to me anyway) downloads. All the synths bar the JV-1080 (272MB) weigh in at less than 100MB a download and once you install them, your DAW will pick them up as Roland Cloud plug-ins and they should open up as any normal instrument or effect.

The library collections are larger so you might want to pick and choose from these. The Roland Cloud Manager software is pretty basic – you don’t even get an indication of how much each title has downloaded, nor can you resize.

It’s just to tell you which titles are available and whether they’re installed. Concerto, though, is much better and seemed pretty solid in my tests, running as it does as the shell for the sample-based collections. So how do all of these synths and libraries sound?


Roland Cloud: Introducing Concerto


Roland Cloud Overview

1. Output and midi channel

These are selected within the rack on each library and as you can see, it’s easy to stack libraries up on the same MIDI channel to play huge sounds.

2. Browser/rack

Concerto is the free player that loads in as a plug-in within your DAW. You then select which of the Roland Libraries to play by loading them into the browser/rack here.

3. System resources

The RAM and CPU levels are shown here (rather like in Kontakt) but you’ll need to select the System slider in the Main Controls section to see them (see Point 5).

4. Presets

Every library you load will have a varying number of presets. Simply click on the main window for a drop down menu to select each one.

5. Main controls

The main controls for Concerto sit here including Volume, Pan and several tuning options. There’s a more general Options button and System Slider reveals CPU and RAM usage.

6. Effects

At the moment the Effects Chain section of Concerto is coming soon, but that’s not really a problem as over at Point 7 you can see that most libraries come with effects.

7. Effects part 2

Most the libraries we tried come with their own effects but there is an overall Effects Chain in Concerto too (coming soon – see Point 6!).

8. Synth controls

Most of the libraries feature synthesis controls so you can really change the sound a lot, although these vary from library to library.


Cloud city

I would need far more pages to cover everything in detail so I’ll refer you to some of our previous Roland reviews to save some time when talking about the analogue classics.

In summary we said: the Jupiter-8 is as lush and deep as its legendary equivalent; the SH-101 is also an accurate version of its bleepy-bassy original; the Promars sounds fantastic and full of quirky wobble; the System-100 is as modular and ’Sheffield’ as you might expect – a bloody classic – and the SH-2 is another accurate version containing all the gravel of the 1979 original. That leaves the Juno-106: one of my favourites. It sports beautiful arpeggiations, basses and leads and all the character of the hardware.

New are two drum machines and the TR-808 and 909 surely need no introduction, having between them provided the backbone to so much music over the last four decades. As you might expect, these are also faithful to the originals.

Now to the digital synths in the Legendary collection. I was never a Sound Canvas fan so admit to not downloading that one so I’ll focus on the D-50, a bona fide legend that will either have you crying tears of joy or pain, depending on your preset tolerances.

I still like some – the strings, voices, pads and so on – but the brass, sax and ’real’ ones are as irritating as they were back in ’87. Still, it does a great job of recreating the synth, which is the point of it, after all.

The JV-1080 was my favourite rack synth for many years, one that I truly got to know and love, so is obviously a personal highlight for me. It’s a kind of ’best of Roland up to 1994’ and just stepping through the many and varied presets on its virtual version had me blubbing. What has happened to those 24 years?!

Within the AIRA section you get both System-1 and 8 and these are actually fantastic and contemporary synths in their own right and simply demand that you get hands on with them. Among all the classics they get a bit lost but really sound superb.

Next, and turning my attention to the Anthology collection, I was drawn to the 1985 one first which Roland says celebrates rave music, and certainly comes packed with enough leads, basses, cheesy organs, electric pianos and other bleeps and blasts to put together a hands-in-the-air anthem of the late 80s.

The 1986 collection is more about funk, rock and the slicker side of the 80s. Not really my bag, but it does what it sets out to do well over the 64 presets. 1987 gives you more sounds from the D-50 which we’ve already seen you get with the Legendary synths.

Into the 90s and 1990 offers another classic synth although the Cloud website seems coy about revealing which so we can assume it is 1990’s D-70, a kind of pimped-up D-50 with lush sounds, both real and imaginary.

The last Anthology collection is 1993, which again recreates a nameless PCM synth which I’m assuming is the mighty JD-990, Whatever, it is the pick of the bunch with some absolutely belting presets that will have you transported back to early 90s dance, soul and funk.

I’ll enter the Flavr collection now and have covered three already in a separate box, leaving these. BlipBlop is a chiptune instrument. It’s bleepy and 8-bit but you can muster a lot of interest with the hands-on synthesis controls.

Funky Fever is what you’d expect: loads of guitar, funk bass, beats and keys over 56 presets; but pick of the bunch is Grit, a huge sounding collection of 29 presets for EDM and Bass Music. On to Tera and you get Tera Guitar and Tera Piano, two lines of instruments that are clearly going to be added to as there is only one of each currently available, a great steel guitar and very usable acoustic piano.


Three synth highlights from Roland Cloud


Roland Cloud - JV-1080

1. JV-1080

It’s not as complicated as it looks, honest. The original rack synth is the top part, and you then open up edit options to fill the screen. Brilliant synth.

Roland Cloud - System-8

2. System-8

When all the classics get the attention, System-8 could have just sulked and run away, but it’s actually a fantastic sounding synth.

Roland Cloud - System-100

3. System-100

Confusingly much older than System-8, System-100 was a piece of hardware used by boffins and synth pioneers that can still sound incredible.


Conclusion

My initial cynicism has, at least partly, diminished as the Roland Cloud certainly allows you to celebrate the company’s historical impact on music production, with some great emulations of some iconic instruments, plus some very well put together new libraries. What you do have to remember though is that, as big a collection as it already is, this is just the start, with lots more updates and add-ons promised. That £18.95 a month is starting to look like a bargain.

However, I can’t help thinking there could be more in terms of the Roland Cloud experience. You don’t get your own dashboard area as such – just a formal My Account page. There’s also no chatting to other Cloud users in any kind of social network type environment – But I guess this could be coming in the future though.

I would also worry that I’d suddenly lose access to my Roland instruments if I was either cashless or ’internetless’, but that might just be paranoid old me. (You can also get away for seven days using your instruments sans internet, before you are asked to log on.) Roland Cloud has almost won me over to the subscription idea though.

There’s a hell of a lot of content up there to cherry pick from and you get a free month to see if it’s for you. Even if you make a few tunes in that first month, and then decide the Cloud is not for you, you could always render your plug-ins output to audio so you don’t lose their sound.

In that ’try before you buy’ sense you really have nothing to lose, and with Roland’s promises of more updates (and the incentive of a free instrument every 12 months), you might just stay for a while.
The whole subject of using the cloud for music production is an exciting area, and Roland seems to have its own little part of the sky without much ’cloudpetition’, so it might be time to get some wings and pay them a visit.


Alternatives


Best Gear for Ambient Music - IK Syntronik

IK Multimedia
Syntronik €300

With IK’s collection of 17 instruments from 38 classics, you don’t get all of the lovely new instruments that Roland’s Cloud offers but you do get a whole bunch of classic synths from a large range of companies with no subscription fee in sight.

Best Gear for Ambient Music - Arturia V Collection 6

Arturia
V Collection From £209

You don’t get all of the lovely new instruments that Roland’s Cloud offers but you do get a whole bunch of classic synths from a large range of companies with no subscription fee in sight. [Did you just lazily copy that? – Ed]

8 Very Good

+ Most of the Roland classics you’ll want, as software plug-ins
+ And they sound damn good too
+ A JV-1080 in software! I say again…
+ Great range of other software libraries and instruments (for a lot of genres too)
+ Very easy and logical to use
+ Good value up to a point

– Cloud Manager software is limited
– Could have done with more patches on some libraries
– No 303 (yet)
– No social network angle (yet)

I love the instruments old and new and I love the concept. I also have loads of ideas and future routes which it could travel and I just hope Roland has too, and continues to support the early adopters. Potentially it’s amazing.

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  • User Ratings (1 Votes) 9
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About Author

Andy Jones

Andy Jones has an MA in Music Technology and has been writing about it for 25 years. He has launched and edited several magazines on the subject and was editor of MusicTech for the last four years. Naturally, he has far too many synthesisers...

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