Boss of SP Samplers and Roland Line (especially SP-303 And SP-404) Some important instruments in hip hop history. There with MPC and Techniques SL-1200. They have used MF Doom, Madlib and the like Jay Dilla, And a favorite among low-fi hip hop artists everywhere. They have also been used by Panda Bear, Four Tate, Wanotrix Point Never and even other musicians. Radiohead. However, the original SP-404 was released in 2005. The new SP-404MKII, though, finally updates the classic model for the modern era which makes the OG so enticing.
Physically, the 404MKII is similar to previous versions of the 404. There are four knots at the top; Beneath them is a round window, surrounded by six impact buttons; And the bottom pad to trigger the sample. MKII looks better than at least A. The 404A was designed to match the rest of Roland AIRA Line – means black accent with red and green. It’s a look. But not everyone (including me) can back down. The new version is much more degraded in gray and black with white and nuted sound orange accents.
Beyond pure aesthetics, though, there are some huge upgrades to the MKII. The two most obvious differences are the detailed OLED screens that have replaced the old-school seven-segment LEDs, and moved from a 12-pad layout to a 16-pad one.
The screen represents the biggest change in the SP experience. Editing a sample on an OG 404 can be painful. The three-digit LEDs gave you only generic start and end points and the range was too small due to the high resolution to create the perfect loop. It is necessary to crop a sample more than once to close all the extras. OLED in SP-404MKII is high enough resolution that it is being edited to show the actual waveform. You can zoom in and out as needed to crop as little or as much as you want. As far as I’m concerned, recording and editing samples at MKII is not only easy, it’s actually a bit fun.
The 16 pads give you access to more samples and patterns so your bits can be created. Also, four by four grid has become something of a standard. This is the layout used by Akai MPC, On Pioneer DJ Gear, In native instruments Machine, Of Ableton Drum racks and even some large members of the SP family such as the 808 and 606.
There are many more subtle changes. For one, the front 16 pads are all speed sensitive, the first for the SP line. That said, it is almost impossible to get full velocity from them without just turning on certain velocities. Some finger drummers may prefer to turn at a steady pace to keep the melodic and percussion elements consistently mixed, but it can also make things feel a bit robotic and unnatural. Just something to remember.
Roland has added MIDI to the back of the SP-404MKII. Previous versions had only MIDI IN. Now the 404 can be used in the order of external gear, or connected to a PC via USB-C to control your DAW. This makes the 16-pad layout even more important, as it will map better to what you’re probably attaching. Oops. And that USB port can also be used to stream audio to your PC.
It also marks the first time that Roland has dropped the RCA in favor of a CA-inch jack for audio ins and outs in an SP. Now, this is a net positive but it has a downside. Often an SP is used to sample directly from vinyl and most turntables use RCA. This means there will be an intermediary move to get a 404 loop from the record. Syntheses, drum machines, guitars and bass all typically use 8-inch plugs. And, since MKII’s ins and outs are balanced, it should be less sensitive to noise and interference.