Roland Sonic Cell Review:†
From the Point of View of a Gigging Musician.

Long Term Review

Introduction

I usually write reviews after a few weeks of use on most of most pieces of equipment I purchase or test. However the complexity of the SonicCell is such that until recently I havenít really used the device enough to comment on all itís aspects.

Having purchased the device in December 2007, the initial plan was to make use of the Sonic Cell as an SMF (Midi Backing Tracks) for my band to replace our Korg Trinity. As the bonus the Sonic Cell also serves as a USB Recording interface, and a sound module as well as an SMF player.

As with most workstations the Sonic Cell has in my view a steep learning curve to maximize its use, and only after much work and help from online forums and Roland support was I able to get my SMF files sounding correctly. It is true that the device has a huge number of functions that dedicated SMF players do not, but still a dedicated SMF section or template would have been useful and saved a lot of time and effort.

Once overcome however the SonicCell is worth its weight in gold, during our first function it was apparent that it sounded as well or better than our previous Korg and that load times for SMFs from the USB memory stick are near instant as compared to lengthy load times from our previous Zip or Floppy Disks. This allowed us to minimize time between song changes and keep the dance floor moving.

Also useful is the play list editor supplied with the device. This allows you to prepare predetermined set lists in any order you wish and also adjust parameters such as relative volume, EQ, pitch etc.

Furthermore having to carry one desktop module in a small case relieves the load previously burdened by our full size workstation in a hard shell case.

Usability

Roland have really thought out this little device, the 128 x 64 screen allows for a clear display, while the jog wheel and front panel buttons are easy to find and use. The only minor gripe is the tiny volume wheel set at the front of the unit, this can be impossible to adjust on a dark stage.

Specifications

The full specification of this device could fill pages, but as a summary, itís a desktop synthesizer, USB audio interface and media player. I expand on these three sections below.

Desktop Synthesizer.

The SonicCell carries a sound module comparable to a full blown Roland synthesizer; in fact many users have suggested the sounds are based on Rolandís Fantom range. 128 voice polyphony is offered either in single mode or 16 part multi-mode. Nearly 900 presets are provided plus a full General Midi 2 soundset. The unit can also be expanded with two of Rolandís range of SRX cards.

USB Audio Interface.

I rarely use the audio interface, but have tested it on occasion and find it adequate.† A combination 1/4Ē /XLR jack allows the connection of line level devices, hi-z (guitars), or microphones with phantom power also available for condenser microphones.

Media Player.

This is the main purpose for which we have purchased this device. It provides compatibility with the following formats: SMF 0-1/MP3/WAV/AIFF. These can be loaded on a compatible USB memory stick and set up via the bundled play list editor or chosen directly from the on screen menu. As mentioned before SMF load time is near instant. With the latest BIOS update a total of 399 files are allowed. (Previously only 99 files were allowed). These have to be in a predetermined directory.

Summary.

In retrospect the SonicCell has completed the tasked for which we had purchased it. A portable, lightweight and professional sounding, SMF player with quick load times. It has proved itself now over many gigs and I am sure we will be making further use of its other features soon.

By Ernest H Slade

Download: Sonic Cell SMF Guide

For more information please visit: http://www.roland.com/products/en/SonicCell/