A Roland SPD-S Sampling Primer
Headphones As A Microphone?
To take you through the process of sampling using the SPD-S, instead of using an mp3 player or a microphone, I’m going to use a pair of over-the-ear headphones as the microphone. Yes, it seems odd at first, but microphones and headphones work on the same principle.
Start by plugging the headphones into the left (L) audio input and setting the input switch to MIC. Next, select an empty patch. Empty patches start around 48. We’re now ready to sample, really! Press the SAMPLE button – a light show should ensue. The display will prompt you to select a destination pad. The red lights to the left of the display show whether a pad has a sound assigned to it or not. If it’s solid red, there’s a sound already assigned. If it’s flashing red, there isn’t a sound assigned. Hit a pad that has a flashing red light, that’s where the new sample will be assigned.
Once the destination pad is selected, you’ll be in standby mode and ready to sample. At this point the audio inputs become active. If you are monitoring through speakers, make sure that that they are turned way down. Better yet, turn them off completely and monitor through headphones. This will avoid the dreaded feedback loop. Look out, there’s a potential ouch lurking here!
The START/ STOP button should be flashing and the screen should read “Stby.” (Fig. 3) At this point you might even see some activity on the standby page, as this is your input-level metering page. On the left-hand side of the screen there’s a small vertical line; this is the recording start threshold. Once you press the START/STOP button again, sampling will begin when the audio level reaches this threshold. Of course, this threshold is probably set too low to be of practical use. It needs to be raised so that sampling isn’t triggered from mere ambient room noise. You can raise the threshold by pressing the right PAGE button one time, then pressing the “+” button a few times to raise the recording start threshold (Fig. 4).
Before we actually record a sample, press the right PAGE button one more time, this is where you set the Mode of the sample, either mono or stereo. Press the right page button one more time and this is where you set the Grade of the sample; it should be set to STANDARD. If you press the right PAGE button yet again, you’ll be at where you set the type of sample you want to create, either SINGLE or PHRASE. If you want to create a sound that just plays one time when you hit the pad, select SINGLE. When creating a loop, a sound that will repeatedly play until it’s stopped, select PHRASE.
Before you initiate sampling, talk into each side of the headphones, only one side will pickup sound, use this side as your mike. Continue talking into the active side of the headphones and use the input-level knob to adjust the audio input so that there is a good strong level. As with all recording, you want the input level to be pretty hot, so that you get a good signal-to-noise ratio.
Okay, press the flashing START/STOP button and make some noise! When you want to stop recording press the START/STOP button again. You will then be prompted to write the sample to memory. The memory slot where the sample will be stored is represented by a three-digit number, preceded either the letters “I” or “C.” “I” stands for “internal” memory slots, and “C” denotes memory slots on the CF card. If you want to keep the sample, press the flashing ENTER button. That’s it. Sample created and saved. Pretty simple, huh?
The Computer’s In The Loop
Being a self-professed geek, I use my computer to edit samples before I transfer them to the SPD-S. Quite frankly, making loops repeat perfectly, and evening-out sample volumes with gain change or normalizing is much easier when you use sound-editing software on a computer. Fig. 5 shows a single hi-hat strike as it appears in the sound-editing software Peak, from Bias, Inc. Because I’m editing on screen, I can see that there is extra space at the beginning of the sample, shown in dark grey. If this space is not deleted, the sample will sound late, no matter how well you play in time. When editing samples inside the SPD-S, you have to primarily rely on your ears to edit the sample, including listening for any extra space or noise at the top of a sample. When editing in the blind like this, it’s a lot of work to accurately trim a sample. Although editing exclusively inside the SPD-S works, it’s not as accurate as editing sound in software.
Once all the editing is done on the computer, copy the file – AIF or WAV format – over to the root directory of the CF card (Fig. 6). The SPD-S will import WAV and AIF files with a sample rate of 44.1kHz, and a bit rate of either 8- or 16-bit. Beware of a sample’s bit rate; 24-bit samples will not load. Take the card out of the computer, insert it into the card slot on the SPD-S and use the card utilities to import the sample into the SPD-S. After that, you’ll have to manually assign the sound to a pad within a patch.
During the import process the SPD-S converts samples into a Roland proprietary format, with the suffix of SPD. This SPD-S specific format has its benefits. Most notably, during the format conversion a lot of number crunching and sample analysis is done and stored with the sample. Because of this, it’s very quick and easy to do things such as change the tempo of every loop in a patch to a master tempo, with just a few button pushes, change its pitch without changing its tempo; change its tempo without changing its pitch; and easily add effects.
The SPD-S is a great way to ease you into the world of sampling and looping. Just as you easily loaded sounds from the computer into the SPD-S, it’s even easier to export them as an AIF or WAV files to CF and load them back into the computer for use in digital recording and/or simply share them with friends and colleagues. (After importing samples into the SPD-S, you can delete any original files from the root directory of the CF card.) (Fig. 6)