Review: Roli Seaboard 5D

A fun and useful introduction to the Roli multi-touch controller concept
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The Roli Seaboard 5D is a cool freeware app that provides the five expressive parameters available on the Seaboard Rise to owners of the iPhone 6s and 7—Strike, Glide, Slide, Press, and Lift. Moreover, the app is compatible with USB and Bluetooth MIDI, so you can play it from a wireless MIDI controller (and it’s particularly well-suited to those offering Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression). However, Seaboard 5D does not support AudioBus, Inter-app or the AudioUnit format.

Choose one of the three controller modes when playing—keywaves only (Roli’s term for its keyboard), keywave plus parameter control, and the latter with an x-y pad. You have eight customizable knobs or faders at your disposal, and the span of the keyboard can be resized, if needed.

Strike, Lift, and Press govern velocity, release velocity, and pressure, respectively. (Owners of the iPad and the iPhone 5C, the earliest supported iPhone, won’t have access to the Press parameter or some of the knob/fader controllers.) Glide determines how much pitch-bend is applied when you hit a note and move a finger horizontally. It’s an intuitive and musical way to alter pitch, but a little goes a long way in the iOS world: The lack of tactile keys makes it easy to slide around too much.

Lastly, the Slide dimension tracks the vertical position of your finger, which is used to control synthesis parameters. For example, you can play a triad and slide a single finger up to change the character of that particular note. Because iOS uses four-finger upward swipes to activate the app switcher, you’ll need to deactivate the default behavior in your iOS preferences if you plan to play 4-note chords and independently move each note with Seaboard 5D.

For sound generation, the app comes with the Fundamentals Soundpack, providing instruments that are programmed to show off the five dimensions of control. These include keyboards, percussion, winds, and loops that can change significantly as you utilize the full capacity of the virtual keywaves. Three patch-specific macros give you additional control over aspects such as modulation, filter cutoff, and so on. These are handy for customizing the patches, but they cannot be saved as part of a new preset. I found this to be disappointing after making adjustments to several patches, including rescaling the Glide and Slide behavior to fit my playing style.

Three additional sound banks are available as in-app purchases—Hybrid Acoustic ($4.99), Expressive Electronic ($3.99) and Synthetic Leads ($3.99). Of the three, Hybrid Acoustic was my favorite, as the Seaboard format lends itself to acoustic emulations. For instance, the String and Horns patch lets you smoothly crossfade between the two sounds using Slide. Worlds Apart Pluck has a lovely dulcimer-like quality with a hard sawtooth-like buzz that can be introduced using vertical finger motion. Harp and Pad is another standout.

The Expressive Electronic and Synthetic Leads packs tread in more familiar territory. Because they’re obviously electronic, there is a bit more range to Seaboard 5D’s expressive possibilities. However, I found the material to be a bit too dance-focused and the sound a bit dated.

Nonetheless, Seaboard 5D is unique, sounds great and is a lot of fun to use. I hope Roli will eventually add patch saving capabilities and compatibility with the rest of the iOS ecosystem. Until then, Seaboard 5D is a fine example of Roli’s controller technology and worthy of a spot on your iOS device.

Snap Judgment

Pros Multi-dimensional control over its synth engine. Pressure- and velocity-sensitive on an iPhone 6s or 7. Bluetooth and MIDI control.

Cons No Inter-app, Audiobus or Audio Unit support. Four-note chords can sometimes activate iOS app switching. Patch edits can’t be saved.

Bottom Line

A fun and useful introduction to the Roli multi-touch controller concept.