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Roland VS880 S2

CD-writing Upgrade By Paul Nagle
Published January 1998

Roland VS880 S2

If you own a VS880, you can already record, edit and produce a stereo mix of your masterworks, all without leaving the 880's tape‑like hard disk recording environment, but now Roland have added the ability to make a CD master in the same way. Paul Nagle goes for the burn.

Is it my imagination, or does most gear have a shorter shelf life these days? It seems to be only a matter of months before a new model appears and the manufacturers begin their quest to persuade us to sell up and make the change. And computers? Obsolete as soon as you buy 'em mate! With this in mind, I was heartened to see Roland continuing to cram new functionality into their VS880 hard disk recorder with their second major update, providing the facilities to record, mix, master, and now create CDs in a single self‑contained environment. The S2 upgrade (as it is known) is a hardware and software package consisting of a SCSI CD writer, Zip disk, manual, cable, and a CD containing software for PC and Mac — a thoughtful addition for those who wish to connect the CD drive to their computer.

Performing The Upgrade

Roland state that the S2 upgrade must be preceded by the S1 (V‑Expanded) update, although I did not personally verify whether this was actually the case. The update needs the VS880 to have an internal IDE drive, and if you intend to burn entire CDs in one pass this should be at least 1.2Gb in capacity, preferably greater. The supplied CD writer looks substantial enough (I'm told it's JVC‑manufactured) and has an internal power supply, two SCSI connectors (a terminator is supplied) and SCSI ID selector. It's 2x write, 6x read multi‑session capable.

Since I don't own a Zip drive, one was loaned to me for the purposes of this review. Upgrading was then a matter of powering up with the system upgrade disk in the Zip drive and replying 'Yes' to the prompt.

Cutting A CD

If you want to create a CD, the VS880 songs in question must be recorded at 44.1kHz, and the copy operation requires you to mix your finished master down to two tracks first. This may involve some track bouncing, or even mastering to DAT if you have no spare tracks free. The manual provides some helpful hints in this direction. None of the VS880's effects or auto‑mixing can be applied during CD writing. The manual warns that this version of the software overwrites all user effects patches, although they are re‑loaded as and when any songs requiring them are called up.

I dug out one of my many 'not‑good‑enough‑for‑release' DATs and copied it to the VS880. Following the simple instructions, I then set the CD track start points using a modified version of the VS880's markers. From the song menu, I took the option to Write+Finalize. In this mode the data is written to the CD, then a final Table Of Contents (TOC) is automatically created. I then told the machine which two tracks contained my masterpiece and the display switched to indicate the size of the recording in Mb, the amount of free space on the internal IDE drive, and the amount of free space on the CD. Having prepared the master, the CD recording process requires a second copy of this data to be created (also on the internal drive). This is the Image file, and to make space for it I first archived a large‑ish song I'd been working on to my external SCSI hard disk.

The next stage required me to confirm that I wanted to write the CD, and this was followed by a reminder to set my CD track numbers. Finally, I was asked if I wanted to Obey Copyrights? Naturally, I answered yes. Now began the creation of the Image file, which would later be transferred over the SCSI link to the CD writer. I say "later", but "much later" would be closer to the mark. After an hour, the conversion process was only halfway through. I took this opportunity to read the documentation more thoroughly and discovered that the conversion process takes roughly double the time of the recorded data. I settled down for a wait. After just over two hours, the Image file had been created and the write phase began. Fortunately, writing takes place at double speed, so I only had another half an hour to go. At the end of this process there is an option to use the Image file to make further copies, but if you decline, the file is deleted. This means that if you wish to make a second copy at a later date, you must endure the lengthy conversion process again. If you choose to, you can write tracks to CD one at a time — useful if hard disk space is at a premium or if you prefer to master to CD rather than DAT. When the CD is finished, a Finalise operation must be done before you can hear the results on a normal CD player, although you can listen to pre‑finalised tracks via the VS880 at any time. After finalisation, no further tracks can be added.

I hope Roland can find a way to speed up the data‑conversion process.

The Results

My internal 1.3Gb IDE drive was able to cope with about 73 minutes of song data, plus the Image file, with a few Meg to spare, and I achieved good results using the cheapest (unbranded) blank CD‑Rs I could find (less than £1 each). Since this is a hard disk system, you have all the usual cut, copy, insert and erase tools at your disposal to help with setting out the order and duration of your finished CD perfectly. The Roland CD‑R drive burns CDs with the PQ subcodes that are required for CDs intended for use as masters by a CD duplication factory.

I'm sure nobody enjoys backing up their VS880 to DAT, but with blank CDs so cheap, I'd love to see an option to archive and restore raw song data implemented in a future upgrade.


The CD‑writing procedure added in the S2 upgrade works smoothly and produces excellent results, but while writing CDs the VS880 is tied up, unable to perform its normal duties. It seems unbelievably short‑sighted to spend so long creating an Image file and then have no means of backing it up, and I can only ask that this is changed as soon as possible in the next (minor) upgrade. However, by continuing to support the VS880, Roland show that there can be plenty of mileage left in existing equipment, providing it's designed properly in the first place. This CD‑writing system gives you the means to avoid both computer and DAT recorder, and despite my reservations over the time my VS880 would be occupied, the quality of the results, even with the cheapest recordable CDs, was everything I'd hoped for. With only a few tweaks in the software, this system would take some beating.

Yo Ho Ho And A Bottle Of Copy Protection Measures...

Roland treat the SCMS virus with the respect it deserves — they ignore it! Quoting from the manual: "The VS880 does not implement SCMS. This design decision was made with the intent that SCMS should not restrict the creation of original compositions which do not violate copyright law." This attitude should be applauded — and I, for one, can live with the slightly clumsy "Obey Copyright?" dialogue which is Roland's way of asking you not to be a filthy pirate.


  • Can use cheaper CD‑R media.
  • CD writer can be connected to PC or Mac for data backup or can function as a normal CD‑ROM drive.
  • No SCMS (whoopee!).
  • Self‑contained production system.


  • Conversion process very slow.
  • Ties up the VS880.
  • Currently no means of saving the Image file.


It does what it says on the tin — eventually! This upgrade extends the considerable power of the VS880 still further, but I hope Roland can find a way to speed up the data‑conversion process, or at least provide the facility to secure that oh‑so‑important Image file.