Roland M-5000 First Impressions Pt. 2

Last time we started talking about the new Roland M-5000 audio console. I spent several hours mixing on it a while back and came away with some very good impressions. We like to joke about marketing firms using the words “game-changer” all the time, but this one kind of is. So let’s dig into what I like about it.

Big, Bright Touchscreen

The centerpiece of the console is a bright, responsive 12” touch screen. The interface is very fast, and very intuitive. It’s a very attractive interface with enough color differentiation to make it easy to know where you are all the time. Controls get mapped to two rows of encoders and buttons below the screen, and there is also a touch and turn function. 

Features for Days

Roland clearly listened to actual audio engineers when designing this console because so much of it is laid out the way we’d want it. Each input can have up to three input sources; a main, alternate and track return. The alternate makes a great backup and track return makes it easy to combine live sources with tracked ones. 

The EQ and Dynamics sections can be re-ordered on a per-channel basis. Every input and output has dual dynamics sections—selectable between compressor, limiter, ducker, gate and expander—a four band parametric plus signal delay. Insertion points for external effects can be selected before and after the dynamics and eq blocks.

You can build mix-minus feeds, which are great for recording. There are 24 DCA’s and 8 mute groups available and 8 stereo multi-effects. Each of the effects engines can be mono to stereo or broken into dual mono as needed. There are a ton of built-in effects, most of which you’ll never use. However, I found some plates, halls and delays that were quite good. And if you want it, a Waves Soundgrid card will give you access to the whole Waves universe.

There are two selectable solo systems (useful for soloing both mains and monitors or mains and record), three talkback destinations, and 32 graphic EQs. They even threw in a two 31 band RTA’s for good measure. I didn’t notice this at the time, but there is also a built-in ASIO 16x16 USB audio interface on the console for easy recording of your services.

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The Rest of the Family

Of course since it’s Roland, you have access to the M-48 personal mixers—which remain my ultimate favorite in this category. Coming this summer, you’ll be able to configure and control them right from the console. The R-1000 recorders play right along well with the M-5000 as well, and transport control will be available in the next software update. Of course there is iPad control, both wired and wireless, just like the M-200i. And using the soon to be released RCS (Remote Control Software), you’ll be able to lay out and control almost all elements of the console from an attached computer. The window layouts will be fully customizable. 

The Brains of the Organization

The M-5000 is, like all good modern consoles, built around a big ole FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array). FPGAs are superior to DSP in may ways because they can be re-configured with a software upgrade. We saw this all the time with our DiGiCo SD8. One software update added an additional eight multi band compressors and dynamic EQs while another added four more effects engines. They are not using nearly the full capacity of the FPGA chip yet, so I expect many more features to come in the coming years as user feedback really ramps up.

But Wait! There’s More!

Of course there are a ton more features on this desk and it would take days to go through them all. I recommend you go spend some time on their excellent M-5000 website to learn all this thing can do. As we wrap this up, I want to give some impressions on how it sounds. When trying a new desk, I like to go for the EQ and compressors first. This gives me an idea of how much I can rely on internal processing and how much I’ll need to do outside the box. We had some pretty dynamic tracks to work with so I started digging into the comps pretty hard right way. 

Just like with my DiGiCo, I could get plenty of dynamics control without hearing ugly side effects. The EQ was just as musical. Small changes were subtle and large ones made a big difference, just as one would hope. Both the dynamics and EQ were easy to use and get dialed the way I wanted them. 

The effects were good, though I didn’t spend a ton of time on them. Once I found a hall and plate I liked, I moved on. But I could live with them for sure. The scene system is also quite robust. In the software version I used, I saw all the possibilities but will withhold final judgement until I see the next rev of software. Like my DiGiCo, virtually every parameter can be recalled, and I’m simply waiting for individual fade times to give it my final blessing. I’m told it’s coming this summer, however. 

I Like It

In the first article, I told you I liked this desk. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I actually do like it. A lot. It’s a solid mixer that sounds great, is easy to use, is highly configurable and has a ton of features. But at what cost? This is where “game-changer” comes into play. 

Because the system is so modular it’s hard to say how much it costs—it’s simply very configurable. But to give you some ideas, Roland has put together a few packages. First, you can get an M-5000 surface plus two S-4000 stage racks (32x8 or 8x32, you pick) for under $30,000. So that’s the console, with 64 inputs and 16 outputs for under $30K! Or for just under $40K, you can get the desk, two stage racks plus (9) M-48 mixers, the S-4000D distro and (2) R-1000 player/recorders! The landscape just moved again. 

I’m sure we’ll be doing more with the M-5000 as it develops, but it is shipping now, and it’s only going to get better. If you’re in the market for a mid-sized console, you need to look at this.

Roland

Same Gear, Different Results

A few months back, my daughter asked me to mix for her worship leading final. Of course, I said yes immediately. Then I discovered the venue. It was not ideal. That’s being polite. It was a big, hard box with lots of parallel walls, a poorly implemented PA and a mix position outside the coverage are of the speakers. Oh, and FOH was only accessed by a tight spiral staircase. Cool. 

The mixer was a little A&H analog deal, the speakers were forgettable and someone decided to mount the projector in a rack right next to the mixing position so the hot air exhaust blew on the engineer the entire time. I fixed that by flipping the door on the rack around to direct the air away from me. But that’s not the point. 

I ended up mixing not only my daughter’s set, but three others as well. When the class was over, four or five people came up and thanked me for being there and every one of them said they had never heard that room sound so good. 

Now, I say that not to blow my own horn, but to make the point that the gear is not necessarily what makes something sound good or not. I have heard terrible mixes on great PA’s and great mixes on less than ideal ones. 

You Have to Get Better at Mixing

I talk to some guys, especially at small churches with small or no budgets and they continually tell me that they could do a better job if they just had better gear. Now, that may be true to some extent. But the reality is, you can get better at mixing no matter what you have to work on. Every time I mix a gig on some really crappy gear, people come up and tell me how much better it sounded than they expected. Again, not to tell you how great I am, but to say that I have spent the last 20 years learning how to wring the most performance out of whatever gear I’m given. 

Sure, I’d rather mix on an SD5 with an L’Acoustics PA, but if what I have to work with is some old JBL cabs and an MG32, I’m going to do my best to make it amazing. It’s what we do.

Complaining and Blaming Equipment Won’t Get You New Gear

If I were writing a book, this would be a chapter. It’s easy to constantly complain that you don’t have the right mixer, the right mic’s, the right speakers, the right lights, the right whatever. But no one likes a complainer. You know what church leaders do like? Someone who knocks it out of the park every week despite the crappy equipment their given. Learn to do that, and you will eventually get what you want.

New Equipment Won’t Magically Make You Better

You have to get better. I’ve walked into churches with fancy new digital boards and listened the result and cringed. When I look at how they have it set up, it’s often a mess. If you don’t understand the fundamentals of gain structure, EQ and basic mixing, it doesn’t really matter how many on-board compressors you have or how many plugins you can rack up. In fact, those usually do more harm than good in inexperienced hands. Learn to mix on crappy gear, then move up the food chain. 

Remember, these are all just tools. It’s up to us to learn how to use them to their fullest capacity. Learn to do that and it won’t matter what you find yourself mixing on.

Roland

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