Roland Integra-7 Synth Module

April 17, 2013
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PROS

All the Jupiter-80 sounds, 50 new SuperNatural sounds, plus a deep vault of Roland legacy patches. Multiple outputs and surround panning of multitimbral parts. Part effects stay the same when in a Studio Set (multitimbral setup). Can act as a USB audio interface. Pristine sound quality. Great iPad app makes navigation and some editing tasks easy.

CONS

Polyphony of 128 voices seems low for this kind of module. Limit of 64 Studio Sets. Not all SRX sounds available at once. Limited SuperNatural editing. Can’t load samples.

Bottom Line

Everything Roland—current and legacy—in two rack spaces.

$2,399 list | $1,999 street 

rolandus.com


 


Rackmount sound modules have been a sleepy category for the past several years—either your synth has a keyboard, or it’s an analog desktop wedge, or it’s software. The Integra-7 aims to reverse that trend and offer a premium composer’s tool in the bargain. It boasts the latest SuperNatural sounds plus a near-complete history of Roland patches in one box. It also adds surround, enough hardware outputs to support this, and lots of tweaking and navigation via an elegant iPad app. Is this enough to send you digging for that plastic bag of rack screws? Read on . . . 

CLICK HERE for our video first look at Roland HQ

Overview

Practically all of Roland’s current and legacy sounds are in the Integra-7. In addition to its internal sounds, built-in are all six current SuperNatural expansion titles (ExSN), all 12 SRX expansions (remember the XV-5080?) and a high-quality General MIDI 2 sound set. Impressive.

USB lets MIDI and audio pass between your computer and the Integra-7. Front and back-panel aux line inputs allows a source to either pass through to the unit’s audio outs, like backing tracks from an iPod, or be processed internally through effects and panning. Though you can edit all the parameters from the front panel, the free iPad-based editor (more on this later) really is a must-have.


Sounds

“SuperNatural” is Roland’s term for their proprietary behavior modeling, which combines multisampling, physical modeling, and programming into detailed acoustic, synthetic, and drum instruments—including a three-layer virtual analog synth reminiscent of Roland’s Gaia and a drawbar organ mode derived from their VK family. Beyond including every sound from the Jupiter-80, the Integra-7 introduces 50 new SuperNatural sounds.

SuperNatural sounds come in three categories: acoustic, synth, and drums. Standouts on the acoustic side are the grand pianos, mallets, strings, woodwinds and brass. The acoustic pianos are almost worth the price of the entire box, as they’re immensely responsive and playable and would hold up on recording dates better than most workstation pianos I’ve heard. There are realistic Rhodes and Wurlies, but I’d like to see more of them. Tonewheel organs are the VK type, with drawbar-based voicing, but there’s no easy way to play the drawbars, as even the Integra’s iPad editor currently lacks the drawbar screen you’ll find on the Jupiter-80.

The brass and woodwinds intelligently switch articulations (including mono versus poly), letting you play trills and realistic legato lines as well as chords. Between controlled dynamics, fingering, the modulation wheel, and an expression pedal, it’s very easy to play extremely musical lines. The solo strings are quite good, and if you need to cover guitar parts from a keyboard, many of the acoustic and electric guitar sounds are exceptional.

On the SuperNatural synth side, there are a ton of patches that cover pads, strings, brass, FM, and much more, and they almost all sound great, especially with a little controller tweaking. Here, the iPad editor helps tremendously, but a full editor/librarian for a desktop or laptop computer would be welcome. Roland says it’s in the works.

The “legacy” aspect is the inclusion of all the waveforms and patches of the stock XV-5080. Also built in are all 12 of the SRX expansions, originally sold as cards for the XV. Not all of these sounds are available at once, which is an odd limitation by today’s standards since they’re already built in. Although a number of SuperNatural, PCM, and GM sounds are burned into internal memory, many sounds reside in “virtual” expansion slots—which are technically internal, but separate from the internal internal memory where the new sounds reside. This is likely necessitated by new and old sounds having such different architectures.

You load an expansion into one of four slots, which takes only a few seconds. If you save a setup that uses an expansion patch, it won’t play unless the parent title is loaded, so even if you only want one sound from an expansion, you need to load the whole pack. You can mix and match ExSN and SRX expansions within the four slots, but if the GM2 set is loaded, it uses all four slots at once. Otherwise, expansion sounds can be mixed freely with internal sounds to form Studio Sets.

The Integra-7 uses different names than Roland modules of the past. A Studio Set (formerly Performance) contains up to 16 parts, each consisting of a Tone (formerly Patch). On the legacy PCM and SuperNatural synth side, a Tone is made up of Partials while an “Inst” is the unit of sound in a SuperNatural acoustic Tone that contains all the behavior modeling parameters.

 

Fig. 1. In the Integra-7 Editor app for iPad, you can quickly touch-select Studio Sets and individual patches (Tones) within them. (Click for larger image.)

Similar to how the Jupiter-80 works and unlike older Roland synths, the Integra-7 is always in multitimbral mode, so Studio Sets are what you call up from the front panel. Oddly, there’s no quick way to scroll through Studio Sets as you could with Performances on older modules; you must hit Menu, make sure “Studio Set Select” is highlighted, hit Enter, scroll to the desired Studio Set, and hit Enter again. This process is much easier on the iPad app, which lets you touch-select Studio Sets and individual Tones within them instantly (see Figure 1). MIDI program messages can also select Studio Sets.

Currently, you get only 64 Studio Sets in memory. On a live gig, I could see going through three or four Studio Sets in a single song for complex splits and layers, so I’d like to see this at least doubled.

Each of the 16 parts in a Studio Set now has its own multi-effects (MFX) and EQ upstream of the Studio Set’s chorus and reverb, which is great. Even better, a Tone’s preset MFX stay with it when you put it in a Studio Set—no more importing a Patch into a Performance and wondering why it doesn’t sound the same!

In essence, a V-Drums module is built in. Although drum kits can be loaded into more than one part of a Studio Set, a single designated Drum Part now gets six compressors and EQs for more detailed routing and processing. Finally, the master EQ is great for tweaking the overall output.

I’m a longtime XV-5080 user, having employed it for many years in Burt Bacharach’s band, as well as in my rock band, AM/FM. Before you kick your XV-5080 to the curb, though, there are a few changes to consider. The Integra-7’s polyphony is 128 voices. (The XV-5080 had 256 voices, as does the Jupiter-80.) Considering that the Integra-7 is primarily designed for studio use, this could be an issue in a dense layer or sequenced orchestration, as some of the SuperNatural sounds eat up polyphony.

Most sorely missing on the Integra-7 is the ability to add sample RAM and import Roland or Akai samples, which I could do on the XV-5080. Roland has a tendency towards the polished and the pristine in their sounds, so I’ve always found this great for getting more grit and attitude out of one machine. 


Editing

Getting around on the front panel is easy enough, but nothing beats a great software editor. Enter the free Integra-7 Editor app for iPad. You’ll need an Apple Camera Kit adapter for USB connection to the Integra-7. You can also use WiFi via Roland’s optional WNA1100-RL wireless adapter.

 

Fig. 2. Here’s the SuperNatural synth editing screen. Think of a Roland Gaia, or maybe three polyphonic SH-101 synths stacked up. (Click for larger image.)

Although it doesn’t currently edit every function, this is one of the best software editors I’ve seen, thanks in part to Roland’s extensive implementation of the iPad’s multi-touch screen. Separate windows for the mixer, Studio Set, surround positioning of MIDI parts, and Tone editing give you intuitive screens that are a joy to tweak. SRX expansions are loaded via drag-and-drop. Editing a SuperNatural synth Tone works just like on the touchscreen of a Jupiter-80 (see Figure 2). 


Motional Surround

Roland’s Motional Surround is a new feature of the Integra-7 that operates in two modes: 5.1 or stereo. When off, the unit operates as normal with four assignable stereo output pairs: Mix/A, B, C, and D. When surround is turned on, the B, C and D output pairs become dedicated 5.1 outs. When connected to a surround speaker system, you can pan each Tone (i.e., single sound on its own MIDI channel) via either the front panel or a circular soundstage screen in the editor app, and that aspect works great (see Figure 3). Motional Surround automatically disengages the Studio Set’s reverb and chorus. The aforementioned external input can be controlled as a 17th part, and MIDI CC messages can automate the trajectory of any Tone through 5.1 space.

If you’re monitoring in stereo, the main Mix (and headphone) outs can produce simulated surround. You can hear the illusion of different instruments being in different spatial locations, but in practice, I never got the effect to sit right with other sounds in a sequenced environment. Motional Surround is better if you have the monitoring system to support it, in which case it can be quite powerfully applied. 


Conclusions

 

Fig. 3. Motional Surround lets you position every multitimbral part in a Studio Set in 5.1 space—and pan the parts around using MIDI CC messages.

Roland has a tentative hit with the Integra-7. On one hand, there’s so much: all the past JV and XV sounds; a complete Jupiter-80; great drum sounds from the V-Drums; killer SuperNatural acoustic pianos; surround; clean, versatile outputs; powerful effects; and iPad control. Then, there’s stability: Hardware modules won’t stop working as of some future OS on our computers.

The newer SuperNatural sounds really let you play like a keyboardist but sound like the acoustic instrument that’s called up; however, it’s not always easy to emulate as precise a behavior of that instrument as a seasoned composer may be shooting for. I hope to see continued refinement in this area. My other main concern is that the polyphony of 128 voices, while plenty for a stage keyboard, seems a bit tight for composers who want to maximize the Integra’s formidable multitimbral capabilities in the studio. 

The Integra-7 is a powerful hardware module, especially for someone who wants a Jupiter-80 plus the Roland library of the past in two rack spaces. Now that I’m done writing, I’m going back to playing that acoustic piano sound. . . .

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