Roland Groovebox: A Trendsetter Rebooted
In 1983 Roland released the MC-202 Groovebox, changing the music production game indelibly. The first to utilise the Groovebox name it has stuck through the years, being applied to many an imitator thereafter. A hybrid of both monophonic analogue synthesizer and music sequencer the Groovebox was designed to give musicians an all in one solution for music creation. The invention of the pioneering Groovebox gave birth to both early electronic music styles such as House and Techno as well as being one of the main inspirations for the modern DAW. Roland’s first form of the Groovebox was a simple Analog Synthesizer/Sequencer called the MC-202, designed to fit in between the already staple SH-101 monosynth and the legendary TB-303 Bass Line.
An evolution of the Roland MC-4 and MC-8 MicroComposer the MC-202 featured a voltage-controlled oscillator with simultaneous saw, square/pulse-width and sub-octave square waveforms. Nearly identical to the legendary SH-101 in terms of circuitry it also features a sequencer that let you playback two separate sequences simultaneously. Like the MC-4 and 8 before it, you entered notes with pitch, length and gate length, adding an accent and slide similar to the TB-303 functionality. Unfortunately at the time of release it never quite hit the heights expected but when we look back at it through the modern lens it’s clear that that the MC-202 was way ahead of its time.
The MC-303, launched in 1996 received far greater plaudits from the music industry, resulting in many evolutions in the years following. The first in a line of inexpensive products it was targeted towards House and Trance DJs and home studio aficionado’s rather than pro-level producers, garnering respect for its versatility in a live situation, as well as it’s effective arpeggiator and sequencer sections. Roland wanted to assist people with no musical training but a keen musical sensibility to create easily and quickly. The wide variety of styles possible from the MC-303 meant that it was a huge success, shaping the face of techno and hip-hop as well as other genres and becoming the beginning of one of Roland’s most successful lines of product.
The Roland MC-101 gives you all of that Groovebox form and functionality, letting you take your production on the go. A compact and versatile four-track you can utilise the onboard sounds or create your own, crafting your sound by importing custom sounds and loops that are MIDI syncable. It’s perfect for live performance, allowing you to trigger clips and loops, shaping your sound on the go with hands-on control. The four-track sequencer is optimized for the modern musician, allowing the combination of loops and one-shots with melodic phrases. Whether that’s the carefully curated onboard sounds or your own that you’ve imported from your DAW, the MC-101 has the ultimate in creative clout on the move.
Featuring the legendary sounds of the TR-808, TR-909, JUNO-106 and SH-101 you can replicate and recreate these classic sounds into an entirely new sonic soundscape, using a wide range of pro effects to ensure your music sounds polished and produced. The familiar interface ensures that creating is a breeze, immersive and intuitive, adaptable to a wide variety of styles whilst being easy to integrate into existing setups with a minimum of fuss. The MC-101 is a truly portable, all in one music production suite that you can take on the bus, plane or train, meaning you’ll always be ready when inspiration strikes.
The Roland MC-707 is the bigger and badder brother of the MC-101, doubling up on tracks to give your music depth and breadth. Everything you need to perform live or rock the studio you get eight-track recording, sequencing, sampling synthesizers and studio-grade effects. Knobs and faders give you palpable production, letting you assign or automate to your heart’s content. The 8×2 pad array is awesome for laying down beats, but also works equally well when entering melodies and chords with velocity, as well as letting you trigger audio and MIDI clips on top.
The MC-707 features the latest Roland sound engine, fusing virtual and analogue with modern PCM. Flexible and powerful the depth of synthesis on offer here is simply stunning. Like it’s little brother the MC-101 you get TR-808, TR-909, JUNO-106 and SH-101 sounds, but there are also a plethora of modern digital and hybrid sounds on offer, making it perfect for creating forward-thinking electronic music. A powerful sampler lets you record on the fly, in sync with your project tempo then sequence or trigger phrases, one-shots and loops. Truncate or reverse using the hands-on controls, giving you the precision that matches your inspiration.
The MC-707 is loaded with a studio-grade effects palette, ensuring your production matches your creative output. Independent processors on each track have a tonne of variation with lush chorus, depth of delay, spacious reverb as well as drive and distortion for saturating your synths. Master effects like filters and bit-crushers are present, as well as a master bus compressor to glue the mix together with plenty of punch and crystal clear clarity.
Roland is forever pushing the boat out and innovating. With the latest iteration of the MC series, they’re giving more creative power than ever before, marrying classic sounds with modern versatility and portability. Now a new generation of musicians can discover the joy of the Groovebox and join their predecessors in becoming musical purveyors. The marrying of the landmark Groovebox concept with modern DAW and instrument connectivity gives you a unit that is truly all-in-one, letting you compose your musical phrases just about anywhere.
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Matt is a multi-instrumentalist, music geek and current Content Creator at Dawsons Music. He composes, records and produces out of his home studio in Manchester as well as playing in two bands, China Moon and Sawbones.