Review: Roland M-5000C Compact Digital Mixer

By Simon Allen. When introduced to Roland M-5000 for the first time, you are greeted with the acronym OHRCA on its screen. Standing for Open High Resolution Configurable Architecture, it highlights a few principles that the console is built upon. “Open” alludes to the variety of input and output formats that it utilizes. Roland is known for its own REAC protocol that all of the brand’s consoles and digital stage boxes use; Roland was one of the first manufacturers to develop the digital snake concept. As well as this connectivity, however, there are two expansion card slots, which enable the use of other protocols such as Dante, MADI and even Waves SoundGrid.
Author:
Publish date:

When introduced to Roland M-5000 for the first time, you are greeted with the acronym OHRCA on its screen. Standing for Open High Resolution Configurable Architecture, it highlights a few principles that the console is built upon. “Open” alludes to the variety of input and output formats that it utilizes. Roland is known for its own REAC protocol that all of the brand’s consoles and digital stage boxes use; Roland was one of the first manufacturers to develop the digital snake concept. As well as this connectivity, however, there are two expansion card slots, which enable the use of other protocols such as Dante, MADI and even Waves SoundGrid.

Even without any option cards installed, the M-5000 is very powerful. There are two main REAC connections for stage boxes and a third for attaching a monitor console, other monitoring options or simply for redundancy. There’s also a 16x16 USB audio interface for laptop recording and playback. The desk has substantial local I/O, too.

The M-5000C, a compact model that I used for this review, has just eight outputs yet provides the same processing power as the rest of the range. This is quite surprising as the frame size of the full M-5000 is much larger, yet I managed to get the M-5000C, plus its very substantial flight case, into the trunk of my car.

Next up in the OHRCA acronym is “High Resolution,” referring to everything in the M-5000 system that runs at 24-bit/96 kHz, end to end. All of the Roland stage boxes have been capable of running at 96 kHz and the M-5000 defaults to this. All processing inside the mixer is carried out at 96 kHz with a summing mixer running at 72-bit. If you do the math, that’s a tremendous amount of headroom. Sure, many consoles are now running at 96 kHz, but the big news here is that there aren’t many offering that resolution, along with a large channel count, in this price range.

The final part of OHRCA acronym is “Configurable Architecture.” Both M-5000 systems offer a total of 128 freely assignable audio paths. From this pool, users can build the mixer, choosing any number of input channels, auxiliaries, groups, matrices and mains. There are also down-mix and mix-minus busses, which are features typically only found on dedicated broadcast consoles. Roland supplies a few templates to get users started, but the M-5000 shouldn’t really be considered just as a live sound console. Unfortunately, I think this is a message the industry has missed.

This “Configurable Architecture” doesn’t stop there, either. One of the M-5000’s key features is that its configuration can be changed mid-show. For example, if one needs to add channels—or swap some of system resources from auxiliaries to groups at a festival—they can be doing that during the previous act. There is no “drop in audio” and you only lose control of the mix for two seconds. Again, there are now consoles that can do this, too, but typically not in this price range and quite so flexibly.

In use, I took the M-5000C on tour for a week with a band that I work with regularly. This provided me with material that I knew well, so I could therefore concentrate on the desk and the sound. To add to the technicalities, the band was going to be fully on stereo in-ear mixes. This was partly because we’d decided to and partly because I was also road-testing the new KLANG:Fabrik 3D in-ear mixing system. We didn’t have the luxury of a monitor console and needed to arrive at each venue with six-way stereo IEM mixes ready to go.

This meant I could really put the M-5000C through its paces. What may have appeared to be a simple input channel list of around 20 channels soon ended up with around 64 signal patches. I’m not one to overcomplicate a setup, but once this was configured for the tour, it made everyone’s lives extremely easy. First, I soft-patched a Y-split of the input channels onto the desk so I could operate a FOH mix independently to the channel settings going to the band’s IEMs. We then ran direct outputs post channel processing to the KLANG system via Dante. The post-gain direct outputs of the FOH channels were then also routed via the Dante network for multichannel recording onto Pro Tools.

Why is all this relevant to reviewing the console? Well, there were a number of ways in which the M-5000C facilitated this in some surprisingly efficient ways. The M-5000 offers three inputs for each input channel. There’s obviously the main preamp, in this case the preamps on an S-2416 stage box and an alternative input, which could be used with spare wireless microphones. This saves copy-pasting settings to a different channel when the spare mic is needed, so all that’s required is just swapping the input source. The third input acts like a tape machine playback input, which in the modern live sound world, we refer to as the virtual soundcheck input. Virtual sound checking was really useful on this tour, not just for me but also for the band to make sure they were happy with their own IEM mixes, giving them a chance to work on their personal mixes with everyone playing. The M-5000C made this extremely easy compared to other similarly priced consoles that still require manual patching.

Another benefit the M-5000C brought to this configuration was virtual patching of inputs directly to outputs. The six stereo outputs from the KLANG were patched back to the console via Dante, where the console then routed these Dante ‘inputs’ to physical outputs on the stage box. This enabled me to retain the KLANG unit at the FOH position as there wasn’t a monitor desk, but the wireless transmitters could still be patched on the stage.

The M-5000C facilitated all this patching with ease, between what was soon becoming a notable Dante network and its own REAC connections. The KLANG’s Dante outputs that were routed to the REAC stage box didn’t add to the total of 128 assignable audio paths, therefore leaving the console with a huge amount of spare power. Finally, with a GB-per-second network switch, I could have all the Dante in and outs going to Pro Tools and KLANG then back to the stage box with zero complaints about latency. I was quite impressed by this because that’s quite a number of cross-platform digital patches with a lot of processing involved before even adding the latency of the digital wireless system itself. I should also add that the whole system was extremely reliable. Every night, the system was powered up and we were ready to go, without any crashes or loss in audio.

In terms of typical channel features and the general operation of the console, it’s really intuitive to use with pro features that sound great. Everything you would expect a serious mixer to offer is there and almost every feature is easily found. I have to confess, though, that I did have to read the manual once to learn where the matrix mixer was. This might seem silly, but to access this window, it is a separate item on the menu, which doesn’t follow how the rest of the console behaves. This is a small detail though and once I did find it, the matrix mixer was naturally comprehensive.

Sonically, the whole system was extremely clean and handled transient-rich content, such as drums, in a natural fashion. The 72-bit summing at 96 kHz sounds fantastic and the basic channel tools such as EQ and compression are very powerful. Perhaps it would be nice to see a selection of high-pass filter curves on the EQs in a future update, but otherwise it’s excellent. The console’s effects section is extremely well-loaded with many of Roland’s signature effects. Once I’d had time to play with the reverbs, I was happy with the results. The Dynamic EQ, which I used as inserts over the vocals, sounded great and was very useful.

In conclusion, this is a very powerful and reliable system that should keep even the most experienced engineer smiling. Its expansion cards and ‘Configurable Architecture’ should make useful and serviceable for many years to come. Altogether, the M-5000C is a clean and professional sounding system that felt very natural to use. Its feature set and some of its operational behaviors hark towards consoles that are several times more expensive. The M-5000 will facilitate a huge number of applications with enough power for some of the largest events where alternative solutions will mean a significant price increase.

If you do get the chance to use one of these new consoles, don’t hesitate as I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Roland
roland.com