Roland M-5000 First Impressions Pt. 1

Last fall at LDI, I was given a sneak peak at the new Roland M-5000 audio console. We shot a pretty long video on it, which covered most of the big picture highlights of the desk. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend more time on the desk, this time with current software and audio tracks. Over the course of two days, I probably spent about six hours digging into menus and settings, mixing and generally learning my way around. 

For those looking for the executive summary right away, I’ll tell you up front that I really like the desk. It’s fast to get around on, has a ton of features and sounds good. Most of you know that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool DiGiCo guy, having mixed on an SD8 for four years, loving every minute of it. I’ve also mixed on plenty of Yamaha, Soundcraft, A&H, SSL and other desks. While I have my favorites, I’m always on the lookout for something new, something disruptive. The M-5000 is both new and disruptive. 

What’s In a Name?

Roland has taken some flak for the name of the platform—OHRCA. Cue the Free Willy jokes here. But aside from a funny name, I like what they’re doing. OHRCA stands for Open, High-Resolution, Configurable Architecture. While the M-5000’s main I/O is based on REAC, Roland’s proprietary audio transport protocol, there are two card slots on the back that will accept Dante, MADI and Waves Soundgrid. With those cards, you can connect to pretty much any system. 

The M-5000 will run all 128 processing paths at 96KHz, 24 bits (with 72 bit fixed point internal processing). Many people don’t know this but REAC was always designed to run at 96KHz, so any stage box out there will connect right up to the M-5000 and run at 96KHz. 

It’s also highly configurable. One thing I loved about my DiGiCo was the ability to place faders anywhere I liked on the surface. The M-5000 takes a unique approach to that. Instead of banks and layers, there are scroll buttons that will basically slide the channels left and right on the faders. If you’re set up for say, 80 input channels, that could get tedious so they created “anchor” channels. An anchor lets you define a point of quick access—the lead guitar for example—and scroll to that point in the channel list with one click. 

You also have three completely assignable user layers that you can lay out however you want. Each of the three banks of eight faders can be linked together in the scrolling process or isolated. There are an additional four faders all the way to the right that can be assigned to whatever you need ready access to often. This is a different metaphor for working with lots of inputs and outputs on a small surface, but once I got used to it (it took about an hour), I found it very fast and intuitive. 

The Best from the Best

There are some great consoles out there, and the ones that I get most excited about have a few features in common. First is a flexible architecture. DiGiCo has done a great job with that over the years, giving users the ability to decide how to allocate both mono and stereo groups and auxes. SSL took it a step further and gave us processing paths that can be assigned anyway you like. Midas did something similar with the ProX. 

Roland took that same idea of processing paths and incorporated it into the M-5000. There are 128 processing paths that can be freely assignable between input channels (mono or stereo, selected on a per-channel basis), matrix mixes, groups, auxes and outputs. Groups and auxes can be mono or stereo, and the main out can be LR, LCR, Mono or 5.1 surround (with built-in down mixing) Re-allocating the processing is very simple and every time I did it, audio continued to pass. That’s right, no re-booting or dropping audio to add another few groups or auxes. 

They clearly understand that in today’s large venues, one needs access to a large number of inputs and outputs. You may not need to mix them all, all the time, but you need access to them. To that end, the M-5000 can access up to 300 inputs and 296 outputs at 96KHz. Any input can be patched to any output (or multiple outputs) through separate patch bays, including control of gain and phantom power without having to go through a channel. Gain sharing is slated for the next software release (this summer I believe) so multiple consoles can share the same input racks seamlessly. 

There are so many features on a board of this size, it’s almost impossible to cover them all. So I’ll stop here and pick it up again on Friday with some of my favorite features.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.