VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING?

Roland VS2480 Digital Studio Workstation

Published in SOS September 2001
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Reviews : Multitrack Recorder

ROLAND VS2480 DIGITAL STUDIO WORKSTATION

Roland's eagerly awaited new flagship VS workstation builds on the success of the VS1680 and VS1880, offering a massive range of features including 24-track, 24-bit and 96kHz recording, a 64-channel digital mixer, up to eight stereo effects processors, 24-voice phrase sampling, and an enhanced graphical output for a VGA monitor. Hugh Robjohns investigates the VS2480 in depth.

Roland's VS recorders have attained a reputation over recent years for being solid, reliable machines which perform their allotted tasks well. The VS2480 is the newest member of the family, and builds upon the pedigree to provide an even more comprehensive range of facilities at a surprisingly affordable price. In developing the new machine, Roland have improved on many technical, ergonomic and operational aspects of the previous models, and have also incorporated much of the technology of the VM-series mixers along the way. It is extremely well-equipped, comprising a fully specified split input/monitor digital mixer, an internal hard disk recorder, a comprehensive digital effects section (which can be expanded), and a basic phrase sampler with 24-voice polyphony.

Get Yourself Connected

Sixteen analogue line input sockets are provided, eight XLRs with phantom power, and a high-impedance guitar input. Any physical input can be allocated to any of the 24 mixer input channels through the fam

ROLAND VS2480
pros
Good sound quality, with pragmatic disk space-saving options.
Compact but uncluttered control surface.
Ample analogue and digital I/O.
Capable of growing with a novice user's abilities.
Attractive price.
cons
Intimidating ergonomics and some functionality not intuitive.
Disparity between VGA and LCD display layout.
Maximum 16-track simultaneous recording.
24-track playback only available using RDAC audio data compression.
Every sampler voice used reduces the recorder's track count by one.
summary
A comprehensive multitrack workstation with expandable on-board effects, built-in phrase sampling, snapshot and dynamic automation, basic editing facilities, and 24-bit/96kHz capability. Add to this the flexible surround sound facilities, and it is clear that this new Roland machine redefines the VS range.

iliar EZ routing patchbay. From here signals may be freely routed to tracks on the hard drive, and a 24-channel monitor mixer balances the playback tracks. Linear 24 and 16-bit recording formats are available along with a variety of data-reduced options at sampling rates of 32, 44.1, 48, 64, 88.2 or 96kHz.

Aside from the balanced analogue inputs already mentioned, there are eight configurable balanced analogue outputs plus a pair of headphone sockets -- the latter a particularly welcome facility. By default, the analogue outputs provide the main stereo bus, two stereo auxes, and a stereo monitoring signal. Digital audio is catered for via pairs of S/PDIF phonos and Toslink optical connectors, providing stereo in and out. There is also a pair of eight-channel R-Bus connectors, allowing bi-directional connectivity with a range of useful V-Mixing system accessories (see 'Options & Pricing' box for a list of these). However, even if you buy the required interfacing to make all of the 16 extra R-Bus inputs available, the maximum number of inputs which can feed your final mixdown directly (if you want to use lots of external effects processors and MIDI sound sources, for example) will still be limited to 24 because of the number of channels available in the input mixer -- you can't assign more than one physical input to each input mixer channel.

The sampling rate of the VS2480 can be synchronised to an external word clock via a standard BNC socket, although there is no dedicated word clock output. Time synchronisation is facilitated by a phono socket which accepts an unbalanced SMPTE/EBU timecode input, and MIDI Time Code can be accepted as well -- a pair of MIDI sockets provides In and Out/Thru functionality. These MIDI ports are also used for connecting an optional external MB24 meter-bridge unit or the VE7000 Channel Edit Controller, which provides a dedicated knob-per-function channel strip control surface, complete with joystick for the VS2480's new surround panning facilities. Neither of these were available, though, for this review. Another quarter-inch socket on the rear panel accepts a footswitch pedal which can be assigned to a range of control functions, including toggling between play and stop, and dropping into record.

A pair of PS2 connectors allow a mouse and keyboard to be used with the VS2480. A mouse is provided with the machine and allows faster navigation around screens and adjustment of parameters than is possible with cursor keys and shuttle/data dial. A keyboard can be used to enter text when naming tracks, and some handy operational shortcuts are also available through the keyboard -- hitting the space bar toggles between play and stop, for example.

Below these sockets are a 25-way D-Sub SCSI connector which can be used to connect an optional external CD-RW drive for direct mastering of audio, as well as for backup operations, although additional

  A Bigger, Better VS Mixer  
  Each of the 48 main mixer channels have extensive facilities. These include all those offered by the VS1680 and VS1880, but with a number of significant improvements and additions. For a start, the higher 56-bit processing resolution within the mixer is much more suitable for 24-bit audio recording than that of any of the previous VS mixers. As regards extra features, the VS2480's equalisers are four-band fully parametric designs, with ±15dB of gain per band, and an additional multimode resonant filter. There are also now 48 fully tweakable dynamics processors, which can be switched to act as compressors, expanders or companders -- however, using any of them in compander mode halves the number of dynamics processors available, because of the extra DSP horsepower required, and you must then choose whether to use them on either the input mixer or the track mixer in this case.

Another new feature is the provision of a range of surround facilities for working in quadraphonic, Dolby Surround, or 5.1 formats. In the case of the 5.1 surround mode, the default arrangement is for six of the auxiliary busses to provide the surround mix busses -- this means that only the first two auxiliary busses remain available for effects. Quadraphonic and Dolby Surround modes, on the other hand, only require four auxiliary sends to be used, so four still remain available for effects use. Each channel's surround panner section provides left/right and front/back panning controls, along with front divergence and subwoofer level.

 
hard drives can also be connected to extend recording capacity. A compatible CD-RW drive wasn't available for the review, but a glance at the manual confirms that the CD-burning process and facilities are very similar to those of the earlier VS1680 and VS1880 machines. A VGA port provides enhanced colour display options with monitors of at least 640 x 480-pixel resolution. Roland say that both older VGA and newer SVGA monitors are suitable.

The machine's own internal drive is a 3.5-inch IDE unit installed at the front of the console directly below the transport controls -- a 40Gb unit being fitted as standard. Up to eight drives can be hung off the machine via SCSI, providing a maximum storage capacity of 1024Gb -- a Terabyte! The maximum partition size on any drive is 10Gb and up to 13 partitions can be created on a single drive.

I'm afraid the internal IDE hard disk makes the usual drive whine which, when combined with the fan noise from the rear of the machine, conspires to make acoustic recording in the same room challenging. It's not so much the total ambient noise that is the problem -- a quick measurement with my trusty Terrasonde Audio Toolbox suggested that the running machine only raised the ambient noise floor of my work room by around 6dB (measured from a metre in front, with slow response and A weighting). It is more a case that the drive whine has a distinct pitch with an almost 'angry' sound quality, which is captured virtually regardless of the microphone type and positioning. The VS2480 is not unique in this problem of course, and it is a very difficult one to solve with current computer peripherals, but that doesn't mean it should be acceptable to either manufacturers or end-users.

24, Or Not 24?

The machine is badged as a 24 track, 24-bit, 96kHz digital studio workstation and it is, indeed, all of those things... but not necessarily at the same time! Like virtually all current digital workstations, compromises have to be made when deciding on a recording format, and if you want to make nice recording

  Built-in Oscillator & Spectrum Analyser  
  Another feature new to the VS series is the VS2480's built-in test signal generator and spectrum analyser. The generator can provide a sine tone, or white or pink noise, and can be routed to any of the auxiliary busses and the main mix with independent level control. It can also feed any of the direct output busses.

The spectrum analyser (amusingly referred to in the manual as the Analiser) provides a 31-band third-octave display, with a choice of averaging types and speeds for different audio signals. You can feed it from any of the 64 mixer channels, from the mix buss, or directly from the signal generator. The one drawback about using it, though, is that you need to use one entire effects board to run the algorithm, because of the processing power required. Nonetheless, it's a handy facility to have access to, especially if you're working in a studio with limited-bandwidth monitoring.

 
s for your pet bat using the elevated sampling rates, then you'll have to do it with limited replay tracks. Fair enough, you say, but even at more practical sampling rates such as 44.1kHz -- when 24-track playback is possible -- you can only record 16 tracks simultaneously.

The VS2480 offers the user a bewildering choice of recording modes designed to extend recording times through the use of data-reduction strategies -- the more lossy the data reduction algorithms, the greater the available recording time. The highest-quality recording mode is M24 (Mastering 24), effectively a 24-bit version of the MAS mode available on the smaller VS recorders, which stores standard 24-bit linear PCM samples and gobbles up disk capacity like it's going out of fashion! Below 64kHz sampling rates the machine can record 16 tracks simultaneously in this mode, and play back 16 -- at higher sampling rates, both recording and playback figures are halved.

The next option is MTP (Multitrack Pro), the default condition which employs Roland's proprietary RDAC coding technology. This invokes a 3:1 data-reduction strategy on the 24-bit inputs, correspondingly increasing the storage capacity of the disk threefold. It also has the advantage that, by reducing the amount of data needing to be transferred per recorded track, the machine suddenly becomes capable of 16 record and 24 replay tracks below 64kHz sample rates, with eight and 12, respectively, above.

Since the data reduction used in this situation is typically being applied to individual instruments on individual tracks, where there will inherently be a considerable amount of redundancy in the 24-bit source samples, audible side effects tend to be negligible, even with relatively high compression ratios. The

  Phrase Sampling  
  Any of the VS2480's recorder tracks can be used as a one-voice phrase sampler, by simply enabling the relevant Phrase Pad. This means that you can have a maximum of 24 voices of sampling polyphony. However, you don't get something for nothing here, as every Phrase Pad enabled reduces the number of normal playback tracks by one -- eight-voice sampling will only leave you with 16 tracks of MTP-mode recorder playback, for example.

Once a track's Phrase Pad has been activated, the first continuous section of audio at the head of that track can be triggered from the top row of channel buttons whenever Phrase Pad Play mode is engaged. Three trigger modes are available for sample playback. Gate mode plays the sample for as long as you have your finger on the button, while Trigger requires one press to start playback and one press to stop it. Finally, One-shot mode triggers the whole sample from a single button press.

Though the button legends indicate that Roland plan to implement some sequencing of the Phrase Pads, the sequencing mode was unavailable in the review unit's software version.

 
critical listening tests I conducted on recordings made in this mode showed that the RDAC system is pretty benign on solo instruments, and I'd have no qualms about using it for recording most things on the VS2480.

Other recording options include the M16 mode -- 16-bit linear PCM recording with the same track number limitations as M24 -- followed by four progressively more severe data-reduction strategies. These are called MT1, MT2, LV1 and LV2 (Multitrack and Live modes, respectively) and the reduction ratios are 3:1, 4:1, 4.8:1 and 6:1 respectively. The Owner's Manual suggests restricting use of the last of these options to speech-only recordings under desperate circumstances, with which my listening tests concur! In terms of the number of recording and playback tracks allowed in these modes, all four options match the abilities of the MTP format.

The final recording mode option is labelled CDR, and is intended for creating an image file of a stereo master track for subsequent burning to CD-R. It obviously employs 16-bit stereo linear files and tracks are linked in stereo pairs, with tracks 17-24 disabled completely.

Flying In 'V' Formation

This VS2480 mixer provides 64 channels with 34 mix busses. There are 17 motorised faders, organised in four selectable pages of 16 with a dedicated master fader. The four fader pages are logically grouped and accessed through illuminated buttons: Inputs 1-16; Inputs 17-24 plus the eight Aux Masters; Track 1-16 replay; and Track 17-14 replay plus Effects Returns 1-8.

The fly in the ointment comes with the dual-functionality allocated to the fader page buttons, which are additionally used to select Solo, Mute, Master Edit and V-Fader modes -- the last enabling MIDI data to be sent by the faders to external equipment. These additional functions are accessed by pressing the Shift button with the relevant fader page key. Dual-colour LED illumination in the buttons, which also flash in the shifted modes, helps to promote the current status, but the ergonomics can be intimidating at first.

The multiple control functionality continues with the two rows of illuminated buttons above each fader. The upper row is used to provide four different functions depending on the current console mode: Channel Edit (for access to channel mixing parameters), Select (for routing and editing purposes), Phrase Sequence Status (for sequencing the internal sampler), and Automix Status. The lower row of buttons provide Track Status switching (record, monitoring and replay) or act as Phrase Pad triggers for the sampler. Again, coloured and steady/flashing button illumination is used to distinguish the operation, but you do need to have your wits about you at first to avoid operational embarrassment and utter confusion!

I think it is fair to suggest that the ergonomics here are inherently a little clumsy, largely because the number of physical controls has been kept to the absolute minimum -- presumably to keep the cost of the product as low as possible. However, I must say that after a few days of familiarisation and reasonably intensive use I actually found I was able to fly around the desk pretty quickly and with reasonable confidence.

The mixer channels are even more impressively specified than were those of the VS1680 and VS1880, with the main additions being multi-mode dynamics processing and surround panning -- see 'A Bigger, Better VS Mixer' box for more details. Another improvement is the row of shaft encoders arranged across the top of the fader strips. These set individual channel pan positions by default, but can also be switched by a button to their immediate right to operate the dynamics and EQ controls of the virtual channel strip for the currently selected channel. In this mode the first five knobs are assigned to control the channel's dynamics section parameters, and the rest control the four-band equaliser and high-pass filter parameters. The knobs (and also the data dial) offer more precise control of many parameters if the Shift key is held while tweaking them. Again, with familiarity this arrangement works well and allows near-instant access to each channel's key parameters.

These knobs also have a third operating mode: by pressing a button alongside the numeric keypad, near the transport controls, the rotary encoders are reassigned to adjust each channel's auxiliary send level -- the relevant send being determined by pressing its associated numeric button. The number button remains illuminated in this mode to remind the user which Aux is being controlled. There is also a further User mode for the rotary encoders, which allows a wide range of other less commonly used parameters to be assigned to them. Finally, in the V-Fader mode, MIDI Continuous Controllers can be sent by the encoders as well as by the faders.

Moving to the top of the console surface, above the channel faders and associated controls, standard facilities are provided for the analogue inputs -- none of which come under the auspices of the automation facilities. Rotary input Sensitivity controls and 20dB Pad switches are located beneath the balanced TRS i

  Previous VS Workstation Reviews In SOS  
  VS880 & VS8F1 EFFECTS: MARCH 1996
www.soundonsound.com/sos/1996_articles/mar96/rolandvs880.html

VS880 VXPANDED: MAY 1997
www.soundonsound.com/sos/1997_articles/may97/rolandvs880.html

VS880 S2 CD-R UPGRADE: JANUARY 1998
www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan98/articles/rolandvs880.htm

VS840: MAY 1998
www.soundonsound.com/sos/may98/articles/RolandVS840.html

VS1680: JUNE 1998
www.soundonsound.com/sos/jun98/articles/vs1680.html

VS1880: JULY 2000
www.soundonsound.com/sos/jul00/articles/rolandvs1880.htm

 
nput sockets. The quoted input signal range spans -64 to -6dBu, or -44 to +14dBu with the pad switched in. Although the mic amps are not the quietest ever devised, there shouldn't be any noise problems assuming that you're using normal close-miking techniques.

The eight XLRs have independent menu-controlled phantom power selection, and the high-impedance guitar input presents a 1M(omega) load. To the right of the input connectors are four rotary knobs, three of which determine the monitoring levels. A master control feeds the rear-panel monitor outputs as well as two headphone amplifiers, each having an independent level trim and plenty of volume available. A smaller, recessed knob above these level controls adjusts the LCD contrast.

Recorder Facilities

The right-hand side of the console is concerned with the hard disk recorder transport functions, system configuration and various editing facilities. These controls reside below a monochrome LCD screen which forms the operational heart of the machine. Everything revolves around the information presented here -- channel parameter overviews, EQ and dynamics set-up windows, waveform editing displays, multitrack recording details, configuration data, and so on.

Six soft keys (F1-F6) below the LCD activate context-sensitive functions on appropriate screens, and a Page button to their left cycles through any sub-menu pages. The most useful button on the whole panel is to the right, and labelled Home. Pressing this recalls the default display page, showing the master time display, level meters, recorded hard disk playlist (showing which tracks have been recorded, and where in the timeline), and the virtual track map. For every physical hard disk track, there are also 16 virtual tracks, allowing multiple takes to be stored and the best selected later. The virtual track map is a simple grid showing which have already been recorded and which are currently selected for record or replay. The Home screen can be reconfigured easily to omit the virtual track map, or to omit both the map and the meters. The metering can be switched, using the soft keys, to show physical input levels, mixer channel levels, replay track levels, aux busses or output busses -- all with globally selectable pre/post-fader options.

The main LCD menu and parameter screens are duplicated in colour -- and with far more attractive graphics -- on the external VGA monitor, if connected. However, this also employs completely different screen locations to the LCD for most controls and parameters, which I found to be a major source of confusion. Currently the mouse and keyboard can only access and modify parameters on the LCD screen, though Roland inform me that they are planning to enable their use on the VGA screen in a future software update. This would make operating the VS2480 a lot easier, as I'm sure most users would prefer to configure the console entirely from the external monitor if they could. At the moment, the VGA display is used merely for information purposes, and its display automatically follows that of the LCD screen where appropriate.

The recorder controls are all fairly self-explanatory. The four main transport keys provide Play, Stop, Record and Zero functions, along with Shifted options to Store the current Project or Shutdown the machine safely. The outer ring of the shuttle/data dial is spring loaded to return to its centre position, and turning in either direction causes the transport to shuttle appropriately at a range of speeds dependent on how far the ring is rotated: two, three, four, 10, 20, 30, or 40 times normal speed.

Navigating around a Project is quite easy thanks to a variety of locating aids, not least of which is the Zero transport key which relocates to the start of the Project. The numeric keys can enter transport times directly, as well as channel parameters. At the top left of the keypad is a button labelled Locator and pressing this allows the numeric keypad to be used to store or recall up to 10 banks of 10 locate memory positions. You can also store 1000 Marker points per Project, which can be navigated between using Previous and Next keys -- the Marker button brings up an editable list of these points. The Marker points are used for a variety of ta

  Using The VS2480's VS8F2 Effects  
  The VS2480's internal effects are provided courtesy of VS8F2 effects boards, the same as are used in the smaller VS1680 and VS1880 machines. One of these boards is provided as standard, but a further three can be installed to provide a total of eight simultaneous stereo effects. This extra effects power will seem doubly generous to anyone upgrading from other VS workstations, as there's little need to tie up any effects with compression or EQ duties, given the VS2480's more extensive channel facilities.

As with previous VS machines, any of the effects processors can be fed from one of the auxiliary sends (for reverb and delay programs, for example) or used in a number of channel insert configurations (for processes such as microphone or guitar-amp modelling). The flexibility of the insert assignment makes it possible to insert only one side of a processor into a mono track, or even to plumb the track through both sides of the same processor in series!

There are a couple of things to bear in mind, though, with the VS8F2 boards. Firstly, their internal processing only runs at 24-bit resolution, compared with the 56-bit resolution of the mixer, so they might not be suitable for working with demanding 24-bit recordings. The second thing to note is that their use is restricted if you're using elevated sampling rates -- some processor-hungry algorithms cease to be available, and the number of processors is halved.

 
sks other than navigation -- they carry automation data in Automix mode, they mark out track ID points when mastering to the optional CD-RW drive, and they can be used as the basis of a MIDI tempo map, allowing MIDI sequencers to be sync'ed to a performance recorded without a click track.

A button labelled Ext Sync determines the master/slave synchroniser operation for the VS2480, as well as allowing selection and configuration of the relevant timecode source. The Enter/Yes, Exit/No and Shift buttons are just below the shuttle/data dial, and the set of four cursor direction keys just above act as an alternative to using the mouse. These cursor buttons double up as horizontal and vertical track-display zoom keys when used with the Shift button -- if you zoom in far enough, you can see visual previews of the waveforms of recorded regions.

Between the numeric keys and the transport buttons is a section headed Preview, allowing the recorded tracks to be auditioned up to, across, and from a defined position or edit point. The Preview To and Preview From buttons also provide instant relocation to the Project Top and Project End when pressed with the Shift button.

A form of audio scrubbing is also possible, which is intended for locating track editing points, and this is similar to that provided in the previous VS-series recorders. Pressing the Preview Scrub button repeats a segment of audio (the length of which can be changed between 25 and 100mS in a configuration menu) from any one selected track. Whether this repeating segment of audio is before, after or centred around the current time position will depend on which of the other Preview buttons was pressed most recently.

The final group of buttons between the LCD and shuttle/data dial is concerned with track editing functions and the various configuration menus. A row of four buttons provide direct access to the Project, Track, Effect, and Utility menus, and to their left a column of three buttons call up the EZ Routing screen, toggle the Automix function on and off, and access the CD mastering menu. Above these you can select from a range o

  Software v1.21 Update  
  There are still plenty of operational and feature enhancements which Roland apparently plan to introduce to the VS2480 software over the coming months, and you'd do well to keep an eye on Roland's website for the latest information regarding these. Indeed, just as we were going to press, Roland informed us of the latest v1.21, and provided me with the 70-page update manual to add to the already formidable collection of VS literature!

Besides various minor bug-fixes, the new software will add a lot of extra functionality to the machine. Project data will be able to be exchanged with other Roland recorders including the VS880/890, VSR880, VS1680 and VS1880, although there are various caveats on compatible file formats -- the M16 or MAS format seems to represent a universal standard. However, imported or exported projects will not necessarily replay in exactly the same way as the original, since not all parameters are mutually compatible between the VS2480 and previous Roland machines.

Windows WAV files in linear PCM formats will be able to be imported to the VS2480, with sample-rate conversion if necessary, and files will be able to be exported in WAV format, named by default after the appropriate virtual track number or Phrase name. Another new addition is the implementation of remote control facilities over the R-Bus interfaces allowing, for example, remote control of the record/play status of an external ADAT or DTRS recorder, or adjustment of the input sensitivity and phantom powering on the Roland ADA7000 converter.

The sampling facility will be greatly improved, with the ability to record sequences to any of 24 virtual tracks in real-time or step modes. Editing facilities will be provided too, complete with a quantise function to synchronise phrases with measures or beats. Finally, the v1.21 VS2480 will respond to MIDI system exclusive messages, enabling remote control from external devices, including the Roland VE7000 Channel Edit Controller.

 
f Editing tools -- the familiar Copy, Move, Insert, Cut, Erase and so forth. Below are further buttons (labelled In, Out, From and To) which are used for defining edit points, as well as for setting up automatic drop-ins and looped playback. The Wave Display key shows the audio waveform of the selected track.

Editing & Automating

Anyone familiar with the more recent VS workstations will recognise the two different editing modes -- Phrase and Track -- in which the functions of the editing buttons are slightly different. The Track editing provides the sorts of facilities that most people would expect of a stand-alone hard disk recorder: areas to be edited are defined in terms of track number and position in the timeline. Phrase editing, on the other hand, allows you to define and name specified audio sections, which can then simply be called up wherever necessary. The difference is quite subtle, but the two different approaches help cater for different ways of working. The maximum editing resolution is still not down to single samples, remaining at a hundredth of a frame (16 samples).

While the editing seems to me fairly basic and clumsy compared to the tools available in a dedicated digital editing workstation, those musicians used to the VS-series approach should have no difficulties. Certainly the editing is sufficient to allow elements of tracks to be erased, copied, moved, duplicated and so on.

The automation includes both Scenes (mixer snapshots) and Automix (dynamic automation). Scenes store all the settings of the internal mixer, including virtual-track assignments, but a new Scene cannot be selected while a project is playing, so you can't implement dynamic automation in this way. Most mixer

  The Competition  
  Without considering sofware systems, there is little direct competition for the VS2480. Even the least expensive of the stand-alone hard disk 24-track recorders, the Fostex D2424, retails for only a couple of hundred pounds less than a basic VS2480 with hard drive, so the chances of being able to build a system of separate units to match the VS facilities is pretty unlikely.

The closest all-in-one competitor to the VS2480 is Yamaha's AW4416. With only eight analogue inputs as standard on this machine, you'd have to install the optional MY8AD mini YGDAI card to provide a similar input count, but the resulting price of this system would still be only £2848, compared to £2999 for the Roland with its hard drive. You could even argue that the Roland system would need its optional VGA monitor (you can pick one up from around £100) or MB24 meterbridge (an extra £499) for the comparison to fair, as the AW4416 has a separate metering display built in...

Choosing between the two machines will be a complex process for any potential purchaser. In the AW4416's favour, it offers operational similarity with O-series mixers, word-clock output, cheaper optional audio interfacing, an optional plug-in Y56K processing board available from Waves, and the option to have its CD-RW drive built in to its chassis. However, the strengths of the Roland machine, by contrast, are its operational similarity to previous VS-series workstations, SMPTE input, 24-track playback capability (though only in data-compressed modes), and the ability to connect a keyboard and VGA monitor.

 
parameters can also be stored and varied in real time using Automix: faders, pans, mutes, surround panners, aux sends, EQ, and effects send levels can all be automated, and can be selected or isolated as necessary. A notable exception is the dynamics processing -- although these settings are stored in Scene memories. New effects patches can be loaded under Automix control, as on previous VS machines, though there is still no direct parameter automation.

Individual tracks can be selected to read or write automation data, with automatic updating after a record pass. A manual mode is also available, allowing tracks to be isolated from the automation if required. After an automation pass, the settings will either be returned to their original value over a definable return time, or kept constant to the end of the project, depending on the system settings. Automation data can be edited from the LCD, if you wish, using the mouse to highlight and move sections with intuitive drag and drop actions. Specific data can also be erased, copied, smoothed (graduated), or shifted in value, either visually or through numeric interrogation.

Lasting Impressions

This is, without doubt, a very flexible and powerful machine. It is inherently complex, although the default factory settings are sufficient to get it up and running straight from the box. The only real difficulty I had when recording my first project was to do with linked channels. When tracking a stereo drum machine output it seemed logical to use the Channel Link facility on the relevant input mixer channels, just to make the stereo source easier to control. However, the EZ routing system allocated the link

  Options & Pricing  
  VS2480 -- £2699

The basic unit with no hard drive installed.

VS2480 with 40Gb hard drive -- £2999

The basic unit with an approved 3.5-inch IDE hard drive fitted. Bear in mind, though, that you may be able to get a cheaper or less audible drive from a computer supplies retailer.

VS8F2 Dual Stereo Effects Board -- £272

One of these boards is installed within the VS2480 as standard, but three more can be added to provide a total of eight internal stereo effects processors.

CDRS4 CD-RW drive -- £449

This is a Plextor Plexwriter 12432, which Roland are happy to supply for the price above. However, you may well get a significantly lower price for this unit from a computer supplies retailer, and Roland have stated that technical support for CD-writing is provided whether or not you buy your CD-RW drive from them. Bear in mind, though, that Roland provide a warranty on their CD-RW drives which may not be matched by a computer supplies retailer.

MB24 24-channel Meterbridge -- £499

The review of Roland's 7000-series modular mixing system (SOS January 2000) contains full details of this option.

VE7000 Channel Edit Controller -- £349

This unit is designed to allow hands-on hardware control of VS2480 mixer parameters, communicating over MIDI. It provides 29 rotary shaft encoders, 24 switches and a surround panner joystick. It is powered from a separate wall-wart adaptor, and the only rear-panel sockets are for MIDI In and Out, and for a feed from the PSU.

ADA7000 Analogue Interface -- £599

AE7000 AES-EBU Digital Interface -- £299

DIF-AT TDIF/ADAT Digital Interface-- £199

These three R-Bus-compatible interfaces have been reduced in price to make them more attractive to those who wish to upgrade the I/O capabilities of their VS2480 systems. They each add eight inputs and eight outputs to the VS2480's facilities. The ADA7000 provides both balanced and unbalanced analogue connectivity, with mic preamplification, phantom powering and Pad switch available on each input. The other two units provide digital connectivity, with the AE7000 sporting eight XLRs for 24-bit AES-EBU signals, and the DIF-AT offering both a 25-way D-Sub for TDIF (with 15-pin D-Sub connector for sync) and a pair of lightpipe connectors for ADAT (with nine-pin D-Sub connector for sync and control commands).

 
ed stereo signal to only a single recording track -- I could select whether I wanted it to go to the odd or even track of the pair, but could not route the two input channels to two tracks unless I disabled the channel linking. Several days later, I eventually discovered that the appropriate pair of Track mixer channels also needed to be linked as well. Once this was done the stereo signal was routed exactly as required -- logical enough when you know, but seriously frustrating when you don't!

While basic operations are largely intuitive or fairly easily discovered, much of the machine's configuration, and a lot of the operational shortcuts, can only be found by careful reading of the paperwork. However, this is no trivial task with more than 400 pages of manuals to read, even though the 40-page Basics Of Modern Recording beginner's guide is very useful and well-written. This adds up to a huge amount of bedtime reading, and a lot of translating from the 'Japanglish' too -- page 128 of the Owner's Manual, for example, contains the following gem: "The parameter that set up ti with the AUX mixer because the surround function has materialized by using the bus changes writeing for the use of surround." Unfortunately, even after ploughing through it all there still seems to be a lot of information missing. For example, I couldn't find any explanation of what the 'LR:C' control does in the surround screen (it actually controls divergence), or anything about the need to link recording tracks when routing from linked mixer inputs.

Despite these all-too-familiar niggles, the VS2480 remains a very impressive and comprehensive workstation, providing virtually everything you could need in a single box. Of course, it would have been nice to have incorporated a CD-RW drive for mastering and archive management, but that would have added to both the cost, and the machine's size and weight. As it is, moving the machine between locations is quite easy, allowing recordings to be made in a variety of locations with minimal set-up time.

I found that the VS2480 did everything I asked of it (disregarding the minor hiccough when trying to record stereo tracks), I suffered no system crashes or obvious bugs, and everything worked pretty much as expected. The recording and effects quality is good, and the 24-bit/96kHz converters seem to work well, providing a useful degree of future-proofing, as do the surround facilities. The MTP record mode strikes an ideal compromise between ultimate quality and extended recording times, and the automation and audio editing features allow recordings to be polished to perfection with relative ease.

If you liked the earlier VS workstations, you'll love the VS2480. If you are new to home recording, this is a good place to start, since it is easy enough for the novice to use, yet is flexible enough to accommodate more advanced use too. This is a very appealing, well-priced package with a sensible balance of features, and it's easy to use once you're familiar with its way of working. The integrated workstation short-list just became longer!

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