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 16×16 USB audio interface on the console for easy recording of your services.


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 (32×8 or 8×32, 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.