Roland has been producing the V-Mixing system for some time, incorporating unique features that let you do things like link audio and video systems (via Roland’s V-Link) for flawless synchronized audio and video fades. The heart of the system is REAC (Roland Ethernet Audio Communication), which can carry 40 channels of uncompressed 24-bit audio both ways down a standard Cat-5 cable.
In turn, the Roland M-480 console is at the heart of a number of components that can make up an extensive REAC system. This console features a newly designed mix engine, which can handle up to 60 audio channels with a fixed bus architecture including main (LCR), 16 aux busses, and eight matrices. If you want more inputs, why not take advantage of the new cascade function? Then you can mix up to 96 inputs and up to 90 outputs using two consoles and one simple Cat-5e/-6 cable.
The main features of the console are 48 mixing channels plus six stereo returns for a total of 60 channels; main (LCR) outputs, 16 aux busses, eight matrices; four-band advanced parametric EQ, and delays on all inputs and outputs; compressors and gates on all mixing channels; six built-in stereo (dual-mono) multi-effects and 12 graphic EQs (switchable to eightband PEQs).
The review model arrived in a flight case with wheels; if you were feeling like it you could get the desk into a smaller lighter case and carry it about. The M-480 reminds me of a PM5D in a few ways: the user interface is basically cursor keys and a data wheel; when you call up one of the graphic EQ modules for editing, an RTA pops up showing the frequency plot for the adjusted signal. Like the PM5D, the M-480 has a central display and buttons, but where it differs are the function keys, which are more like an ATM screen with buttons. This is the part of the interface that speeds up the whole process of working with channels, as each button changes its function depending on the selection.
The desk boots up quickly and (without even referencing the manual) I was listening to audio in minutes. Patching an input to a fader strip is super easy and quite intuitive, thanks to some ergonomic design ideas utilizing the function buttons. Memory slots for desk settings are stored the usual way, on a USB stick; Roland recommends that a dedicated USB device be used exclusively for the M-480 mixer. As far as snapshots go, there is an extensive 300-scene memory with global scope, recall filter and lock functions. Almost everything on the desk is recallable — exclusions being the talkback section, USB recorder playback state and user settings.
Bronzehead is an 11-piece Afro-beat band, and I thought I could try out the desk to mix a small gig for them, at the terrible mercy of the house PA system, acoustics and monitors. I set the desk up for dual FOH and monitors, using the same channel for FOH and monitors. Usually, I would run a second “layer of channels” with different EQ and compression settings for monitors. This technique gives you more to do however, and as I didn’t know the desk at all, I went for the simple option this time. Running two layers is perfectly possible with this board; in fact, the first two user layers default to mirror the input layers, making this a default desk state — very handy, as this setup can take a long time on other consoles.
Setting up the desk was easy enough, running the thin Cat-5 cable over doorways is easy thanks to its light weight. I don’t like more power on stage than absolutely necessary — self-powered wedges and rock ’n’ roll antics really don’t mix well. The REAC stage boxes each require power via a standard IEC connector, and there is a convenient cable clasp for the power cable to be anchored to the unit to ensure a reliable connection. The whole Roland system works in a true plug-and-play fashion, so as long as you get green lights for each REAC device connected, it would seem you are in business. I didn’t get any red lights, but I did get an intermittent connection and thus audio dropouts during the prep. This turned out to be the supplied Cat-5 cable drums with mutilated Neutrik connectors. Happily, I figured the problem out before the gig, and Mr. PVC whopped it. Usually when mixing a show, DCAs (digitally controlled amplifiers) or the old analog equivalent VCAs (voltage-controlled amplifiers) are a useful way to control a whole group of inputs and get a general balance from eight faders. The DCA function on the desk works as expected. The DCAs are available via the screen interface; the DCAs are not by default on any surface, but I found it quicker to set up a user layer with my DCA masters, which can then be navigated to with one button push.
Using graphic EQs on the output busses is easy, you can insert external devices if you prefer to use other processing equipment, although this will use up physical I/O on your REAC system and increase the latency of the signal path. Patching the console is quite quick, once you realize there are a couple of ways to do it — one of the tricks this board does very well.
Within two button pushes, you can view the current REAC input patched to any channel. Select a channel and choose “patch” from the onscreen menu, you are then taken to the patch editor with the crosshairs targeting the selected channel. This can save a lot of time when re-patching the console.
Adjusting the head amp channel gain, phantom power and polarity settings are via a dedicated section and are very clear and easy to use. I found it hard to get confused while using the desk, which is surprising, given the complex capabilities of the console and operator errors. The flow of operation is quite smooth, you never have to go into complex menu structures to do anything, and it seems to operate in a predictable, intuitive way.
The onboard dynamics processors all work quite well and are fast to access. Once I figured out how to make the display button enable or bypass the processor, it became easy to insert gates and comps on any channel. Each gate has a key input (complete with filter), which can be soloed to fine-tune the response of the gate. The dynamics processors worked well, and it’s easy to adjust the thresholds via a dedicated encoder. EQ-wise, the four-band parametric results can be very dramatic. The digital processing yields results that sounded OK, though it wasn’t an entirely smooth experience.
For the price point, this is a seriously useful piece of kit, although building a large REAC setup would cost a fair amount. If it proved to be reliable, it could be a cost-effective way of building an integrated mixing, recording and audio distribution system. If you need to work with video, then there are many boxes being ticked by this console, even more so if you use Roland’s V-link enabled vision mixers. Taking into account the capability, footprint, ease of use, apparent stability and price point, this desk is probably quite hard to beat.
Price: $11,795 (console only, snake configuration is an additional cost)
Contact: Roland Systems Group | rolandsystemsgroup.com
Ben Burns, contributor to PAR sister publication, Audio Media, is a London-based live/studio engineer for artists such as Blur and Dido.