Roland VS2400CD Mixer/Recorder

I'll admit it; I'm a little bit spoiled when it comes to recording equipment. My first exposure to recording technology was back in 1985 when I was an intern at the now closed Sorcerer Sound in NYC, which had a gaggle of Studers and a custom 72-channel Neve console. At that time, a 24-track analog recorder cost as much as a Mercedes convertible!
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I'll admit it; I'm a little bit spoiled when it comes to recording equipment. My first exposure to recording technology was back in 1985 when I was an intern at the now closed Sorcerer Sound in NYC, which had a gaggle of Studers and a custom 72-channel Neve console. At that time, a 24-track analog recorder cost as much as a Mercedes convertible!
Product PointsApplications: Project studio, location, recording studio

Key Features: 24-track digital audio workstation; up to 16 simultaneous record tracks; 384 virtual tracks; dynamics processing; 52 channel digital mixer; four-band parametric EQ on all channels; two multi-effects (expandable to four with VS8F-2 or VS8F-3 cards with support third party plug-ins); mastering effects; controllable with mouse; VGA monitor hook-up; built-in 40GB hard disk; built-in CD-RW

Price: $3,295

Contact: Roland at 323-890-3700, Web Site.

Plus

+ Sounds great

+ Compatible with previous Roland VS studios

+ 16 tracks at once recording capability

+ Extensive EQ, dynamics and effects

+ Guitar level input

+ 24-bit 96kHz recording option

+ Built-in CD-RW drive

Minus

- Display is a little on the small side

- Takes a while to learn to navigate the menu system

- Additional hardware required for 16 tracks at once recording

The Score: Self-contained 24-track studio for less than what an ADAT used to cost!
In my own studio, I still enjoy my analog 24-track 2-inch machine and large format analog console, but let's face it, today it's a digital world! That said, those looking for a way to produce great sounding demos (and field recordings) have many options available to them. In my mind, the most important attribute to a recording tool is that it not impede the workflow, whether through poor design or a tendency to crash!

Features

The VS2400CD ($3,295) is Roland's answer to the serious personal studio owner that is looking for an all-in-one solution. It includes a 52-channel mixer, 24-track multitrack recorder, patchbay/router, motorized fader control surface, VGA monitor output, CD burner, 40 GB hard drive, support for third party plug-ins and more. All of this for less than the price of the original cost of one eight-channel Alesis ADAT!

The VS-2400CD is easily transportable measuring approximately 18 inches x18 inches and 5 inches deep at its widest point. A 3.5-inch x 4-inch display provides multiple views of the VS-2400CD's operation, including metering, EQ and effect settings, as well as waveform views.

The digital mixer section features eight analog inputs with both XLR and balanced TRS options (a Hi-Z instrument level input is wired in tandem with input 8, eight auxes, and eight user configurable TRS 1/4-inch outputs. There are two included multi-effects processors, an additional two processors can be installed with the optional VS8F-2 card. Guitar and bass players will be happy to see the inclusion of parallel Hi-Z input on Channel 8 of the mixer for direct recording of passive instrument outputs.

In general I found the microphone preamps to have a fairly neutral sound, certainly better than one would expect to find on a unit of this price. For most projects, I would be quite happy using the onboard preamps for everything except for the very most critical tracks.

Input channels include a four-band fully parametric EQ that offers an easy to understand graphical display showing boost and cut, along with the width of the EQ change. I found the EQ to sound similar to other well implemented digital designs in that it was more surgical than euphonic.

Dynamic processing includes compression, expansion, and gating (with adjustable key sources). While you won't be throwing your 1176 and 160VU out anytime soon, the onboard dynamics are good sounding, and intelligently laid out. Channels are linkable, which further enhances their usefulness. In a similar manner as the equalizers, dynamics processing is shown graphically which can really help illustrate what's going on with your signal.

The recorder section of the unit allows for individual track recording for up to 16 tracks at once. As supplied, the VS-2400CD will handle up to eight inputs at once. In order to get the full 16 tracks at once, you must avail yourself of the units RBUS I/O connector and another Roland A/D device such as another VS-2400CD, a VS-2480CD, ADA-7000 or Edirol DA-2496 A/D to D/A converter or the RPC-1 computer interface. Speaking of computers, the VS-2400 can operate as a MIDI control surface, though it's up to you to define what parameters are affected by control changes as no preset devices are included.

Keeping with the VS-2400CD's high degree of versatility, there are many options when it comes to sample and/or bit rates. The VS-2400CD allows recording at six sampling rates ranging from 32 kHz to 96 kHz. Bit depth is also selectable between eight recording modes, ranging from an economical "speech" mode, to full linear 24-bit. The amount of track recording minutes available ranges from 11,864 at the lowest sampling rate/bit depth to 658 at 96 kHz linear 24 bit. This number is based upon a 10 GB partition (the largest that the unit allows) so these numbers really should be quadrupled given the supplied 40 GB drive.

Keep in mind though that if you record at any sampling rate above 64 kHz, you may only record eight tracks at a time. There are similar restrictions upon playback limiting the available tracks at high sample rates and bit-depths. Another thing to be aware of is that above the 64 kHz sampling rate, some of the onboard effects are unavailable.

Higher bit depths and sampling rates did sound somewhat better, but "little" things like mic positioning, and quality of instruments/players will make a much larger difference in the overall quality of the project.

That said, I had no issues whatsoever with the audio quality of the VS-2400CD using the standard 44.1 kHz sampling rate and MTP (Roland's standard 24-bit proprietary format) bit depth.

One really great feature of the VS-2400CD is the ability to connect a VGA monitor and a mouse. With these two items in place (the mouse is included, the monitor optional) the VS-2400CD becomes much more like a DAW (digital audio workstation) than a portastudio type recorder. The interface looks very similar to other DAW environments with multiple elements including full metering of inputs and outputs, (and even spectrum analysis!) track information allowing cut and paste editing, and playlist editing which lets you easily organize those 384 virtual tracks!

The VS-2400CD includes a full suite of mastering tools that can call upon the internal effects processors of the unit to provide compression and effects as well as playlist compilation duties. Those working with other DAWS will be pleased to find out that the VS-2400CD can export tracks and phrases as WAV files, so that those demos with the great energy (as only the original demos seem to have) can be exported to any workstation for further embellishments and additions.

In Use

I used the VS-2400CD in conjunction with my normal range of studio equipment including an MCI/Sony JH-24 24 track 2-inch recorder and Neotek IIIc console. I found that the Roland unit was able to keep the essence of analog tracks that were imported into, and that's something that digital recorders don't always do that well. Unlike my large format analog setup however, the Roland offered full dynamic (and scene-based) automation, including moving faders!

The DI input on the Roland, which is tandemed to track eight seemed to provide optimum loading for both single-coil and humbucking pickups. I also achieved great results using a Warmoth Gecko bass loaded with Bartolini pickups and an EMG EQ module.

The onboard effects are uniformly good, and some of the amp simulators are nothing short of excellent. Of course, this shouldn't come as a surprise since Roland has been working on amp modeling technology for quite a while in its line of guitar synths. Interestingly the VS-2400CD includes speaker modeling when used with Roland's DS-90A or DS-50A studio monitors.

Along the same lines, however, was the included mic modeling which supports several mics, including the ubiquitous Shure SM-57. While it won't turn an SM-57 into a U 87, it is capable of bringing a different flavor to tracks without sounding obviously equalized or otherwise effected.

If you add the optional VS8F-3 FX board (up to two can be installed) you can then have access to a range of third party plug-ins. The VS8F-3 card uses the same Motorola DSP found in those expensive TDM systems. And the plug-ins currently available are some of the most popular in the business including Universal Audio's 1176LN and LA-2A, Antares Auto-Tune, reverbs from TC Electronic, McDSP's ChromeTone Amp and IK Multimedia's T-RackS mastering suite.

I really enjoyed the automation features of the Roland unit, there's something that's just so downright sexy about watching those faders move all by themselves. I'd be lying if I said that I was able to figure out the automation system without using the manual, but once I learned some of Roland's lingo and located the requisite buttons on the front panel I was able to make those faders fly!

The finished tracks that I burned to CD certainly compare favorably to the results that most people would be able to achieve with a mid-priced (read more expensive than the VS-2400CD) DAW setup.

Summary

I found the VS-2400CD to be much more stable and convenient to use than most computer-based solutions, and the inclusion of a nicely designed control surface sweetens the pot immeasurably. Plan on spending a little bit of quality time with the unit (and the manual), in order to get the most out of it. The same can be said of competitive units as well as virtually all DAWs on the market.

With some experience a VS-2400CD user will be able to fly through the menu system, and be able to work quickly enough to make sure that the VS-2400CD never gets in the way of the creative flow. As is the case with other Roland personal studio products I have sampled, the audio quality is without reproach. The ability to select the sampling rate and bit depth is a welcome addition that allows the user to configure the unit on a project-by-project basis. Add to those great sounding effects, a nicely laid out control surface, and the VGA display option, and it's not hard to see why the VS-2400 is a winner. Anyone looking for an all-in-one personal studio solution should put the VS-2400CD on their short list of units to consider.

Review Setup

Audix D6, Shure SM-57, Audio Technica 4040 microphones; Fostex NF-1, UREI 809 monitors; Yamaha P2201/Bryston 3B amplifiers.