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Roland MBD1

Bass & Drums Sound Expansion Module By Paul White
Published June 1997

Paul White tries out Roland's MBD1 Bass and Drums Sound Expansion module and discovers a wealth of really useable off‑the‑peg sounds.

If you recall our review of Roland's Sound Expansion series of modules (see SOS October '95), you'll recognise a similar theme in the MBD1 Bass and Drums module, and that's probably because these modules are all direct spin‑offs from the JV‑series soundcard expansion sets. The MBD1 combines simple operation with very high‑quality sounds and is presented as a straightforward mains‑powered 1U rack module. It has the usual MIDI connections and stereo audio out jacks, but there are also two audio inputs, allowing any other stereo module to be cascaded in situations where mixer inputs are scarce. There's no permanent user patch memory and only the most superficial editing can be carried out without the aid of a JV software editor, but any user setting that's made by whatever means can be saved as a SysEx dump.

The MBD1 is 28‑note polyphonic and 8‑part multitimbral, with MIDI channel 10 dedicated to providing drum/percussion sounds. There are actually 17 different programs, the first 11 of which are different drum kits (though some of the percussion sounds are common to each kit). Kits 12 to 15 are similar kits but with missing kick, snare, hi‑hat or tom parts, enabling you to use these kits in conjunction with the more specialised drum sounds found among the regular synth voices.

A JV‑style MIDI bank change command (controller 0, values 80 and 81), enables the user to flip between two banks of 128 patch locations, though the actual number of patches seems to be 255. In fact, the MBD1 module can operate in either of two modes: Performance or Patch. A Performance is a collection of patches on different MIDI channels plus a choice of drum kit, and is recommended for use with sequencers. In this mode, program changes may be sent on the individual channels to select new patches. Patch mode is designed for live performance, where only one sound at a time is required. Switching between the two modes involves powering up the machine with the appropriate button held down — the selected mode is retained when the unit is switched off again.

One of the reasons that this module is so easy to use is that the sounds are effectively presets; though they can be edited via suitable software, effects levels (reverb and chorus), level and pan can be accessed via the front panel, as can transposition and detuning. Most sequencers also make it a simple matter to create a mixer map for these functions — I tried this using Logic and had no problems. The unit also has two patch tables: the one shown in the manual, and a second one for when a GM System On or GS reset message is received. When the power is switched off and then back on, the system reverts to the original patch table.

The limited number of parameters accessible from the front panel are navigated using a matrix of four Part buttons, one Select button and four LEDs. The four LEDs also double as a kind of MIDI‑velocity VU meter. Patches are shown by number only, so you'll need to keep a patch chart close at hand.

Bass And Drums

The sounds for this module were created by five well‑known session players, with Marcus Miller, Abraham Laboriel and John Patitucci providing the bass input and Abe Laboriel Jnr plus Bob Wilson contributing the drums. Most of the bass sounds are presented as single‑note samples, and include slap, fingered, picked, fretless, harmonic and acoustic bass examples, in addition to a few synthetic basses. However, there are also a few trick settings with double notes, notes followed by harmonics, harmonic runs and so on, some of which are very atmospheric.

There's a lot to be said for the convenience of being able to run through a whole list of bass sound options without having to load up individual samples.

The last few patches of bank 1 are drums, as are all the examples in the second bank, the highest patch number being 197. Many of these bank 2 sounds are single drums or groups of drums, though you also get 14 complete kits. However, these are fairly basic in the number of instruments they contain, unlike the dedicated 'full keyboard' channel 10 kits, which stretch from C2 to C7 and have all the bells and whistles you could want — plus many of the coveted TR‑series drum sounds. By combining drum hits from different parts, you can create some interesting, non‑standard kits, and whichever way you look at it, the choice is immense. Channel 10 kits 16 and 17 contain useful drum loops (tempos are marked in the manual listing), and there are a few useable 'drums‑plus‑bass' loops tucked away around the place.

The Sounds

The overall sound quality is generally good, with very little background noise and no nasty quantisation distortion to spoil what are actually very good samples. The lack of editing facilities isn't really a problem with bass and drum sounds, especially when there are so many to choose from. Where looping has been used, it is exceptionally good. The key splits are generally smooth, although as in any natural sound, there's always a slight difference at the changeover point. However, I've always felt that a slight degree of variation is a good thing, as it makes the sounds appear more real when they're used in context.

There are some very nice 'straight ahead' bass guitars, the usual slaps, and some particularly good acoustic bass examples. There are also several fretless samples, which sound quite authentic. The repertoire includes a few of the more electronic, filtered bass sounds and a whole section of bass synth patches, and my only adverse comment is that there's sometimes quite a level difference between different patches. Some of the sounds are also a little too polished — nothing quite convinces me that I'm hearing a miked bass guitar amp.

The channel 10 drum kits are excellent, and comprise both regular kits and those containing classic Roland electronic sounds. Roland users will find many familiar drum sounds in here. Indeed, the selection is so good that you probably won't need a separate drum machine unless you desperately need to be able to treat the drum sounds separately. There's only one stereo output, so everything comes out of the module mixed, but the ability to add different amounts of effects to the different parts mitigates this to some extent.


There's little the MBD1 can offer that a sampler can't, but there's a lot to be said for the convenience of being able to run through a whole list of bass sound options without having to load up individual samples. The same is true of the drum kits which, considering their size, would take up a significant amount of sample memory. I still feel that front‑panel editing for basic functions such as attack, release and brightness would have helped sell the idea to those who like more control, but the vast majority of the sounds are perfect right out of the box, and once you have a good sample of a bass guitar, what else would you want to do with it?

If you want a good selection of really nice bass and drum sounds for little more than the cost of buying a similar set of sounds on a CD‑ROM, then you need look no further than the Bass and Drums expansion module.


  • Simple to use.
  • Very good quality sounds.


  • Only stereo outputs.
  • No on‑board sound editing facilities.


A practical and useful module, supplying a whole range of bass‑guitar and drum‑kit sounds — with just a few oddball noises and loops thrown in for good measure.