For the last few years, Roli has been redefining the use of portable midi controllers. Starting with the release of their Seaboard Midi Keyboard, the company has been reaching for new heights. One thing that they have begun doing is putting together their controllers in different kits.
In this edition of TEST DRIVE, we take a look at the Roli Songmaker kit. This kit consist of Roli's Seaboard Block, Lightpad Block and Loop Block. We'll give you our first impression of the kit and then an individual breakdown of its components.
Within minutes of opening the box, music was being made. The simplest way to use the Songmaker Kit is to connect it with Roli's Noise App (free download). When you enter the app, you create a new project and connect your kit to the app via Bluetooth. Once you're connected, the fun will begin.
As you can imagine, the Seaboard Block is initially set up to be used with the keyboard presets as the Lightpad Block is connected to a drum pad. If you would like to change their assigned presets, you can do so on the tab where you connected the kit.
Each instrument will have a dropdown bar that allows you to change its assigned preset. This feature makes the Lightpad Block a very powerful piece of gear.
With the push of a button, the Lightpad Block can be used for anything from playing melodies to acting as a mixer for the entire setup. This kind of versatility is a game changer for music makers on the go. Inspiration is seconds away with the tandem of the Lightpad and Noise app.
If you want to take your project a step further, you can export what you created in the Noise App to whatever DAW you're using.
Roli has another app, called Roli Play, which is tailored to those who want to further explore the kit's capabilities in app form. Both of their apps provide the users with an intuitive, fun music making process.
Now that we've had a minute to test out the kit with its native music making app, let's take a deeper look at each piece of gear.
With its 5 Dimensions of Touch (strike, glide, slide, press and lift), Roli advertises the Seaboard Block as a keyboard with infinite playing possibilities. The keyboard allows the player to play with an amount of expression that few instruments have allowed before. It's a great idea in theory, but when put into practice, problems can arise.
Depending on the player and their style, the Seaboard Block could provide either a creative spark... or a pounding headache. The Seabord's greatest strength may double as a potential crutch to some users.
Sometimes, you just want to play the note as you usually would on a typical keyboard. The feel of the keyboard is too spongy for some players' taste. For that reason, it feels limited in serving its true purpose.
With that said, the Seaboard Block is a fun instrument to play and can be used as a create tool to spark creativity in an unconventional way.
The Lightpad Block packs a punch for a variety of reasons. For its size, the Lightpad Block can handle any function you throw at it within a music software. The piece of gear can toggle between clip launching, playing melodies and creating beats in real time. When paired with the Loop Block, the Lightpad Block becomes an "all in one" song making device. The Lightpad Block appears limitless in terms of its flexiblity .
The feel of the Lightpad Block is soft, yet sturdy. Unlike the Seaboard Block, the Lightpad Block surface provides the user with the right balance of solid yet delicate touch.
Overall, the Lightpad Block provides the best value in the entire kit. The size and versatility of the unit makes it a powerful piece of gear for any producer.
Tying in the Seaboard and Lightpad together is the Loop Block. This piece of gear has buttons designed to handle a variety of functions. These functions include play, loop, setting a tempo and quantizing beats. Simply put, the Loop Block is the glue that brings the kit together.
While making music within the Noise app is convenient, a great selling point for the Roli Songmaker Kit is its ability to integrate with a bunch of different DAW's. This can all be done in conjunction with Roli's Dashboard software. Once the kit is connected to your computer, launch Dashboard and choose which software you will be using the kit in. Depending on the software, the kit can be used for a variety of different purposes.
For example, you could set up the Lightpad Block to control clip launching in Ableton Live. At the same time, you could assign the Seaboard to handle an instrument track. For further control of the software from the kit, you can use the Loop Block to handle tasks like play/pause, loop, etc.
Roli has also designed its own software synth that perfectly integrates with the Songmaker Kit. The Synth (named Equator) is designed to handle polyphonic expression in MIDI format. That means the synth is a perfect accessory for any user that likes experimenting with the Songmaker's free form feel and style of play.
Verdict: The Roli Songmaker Kit offers a fantastic balance of portability, versatility and fun for any music maker. The Seaboard will not be everybody's favorite keyboard but it provides the user with a playing experience that few keyboards have allowed before.
On the flip side, the Lightpad is a fantastic piece of gear that can be tailored to fit practically any of the users needs. Add in the Loop Block and you're well on your way to making music in an instant.
For more info on the Roli Songmaker Kit, visit the product page on their website.