ROLI’s sleek, futuristic 49-key MPE (MIDI polyphonic expression) instrument turned a lot of heads upon its launch, and marked the stylish return of the Seaboard series.
The sleek, futuristic Seaboard Rise 2 graced the cover of MusicTech in October. It’s the keyboard that’s got everyone talking, not just because of its groundbreaking design and usability, but because of its story. In 2021, eight years after the launch of the first Seaboard, ROLI filed for bankruptcy and relaunched as Luminary to focus on the LUMI educational keyboard and app.
That’s why, in March, when ROLI re-entered the hardware world with the Rise 2, it came as a surprise to many and a delight to all. ROLI returned with a seriously solid piece of kit that delivered in abundance and corrected past design mistakes. The Seaboard Rise 2 has an elegant black-and-grey finish, and its flat dashboard and lack of buttons and text helps the unit fit right into the heavyweight spaceship cockpit you’ve amassed in your studio.
Lightweight and wireless, the soft-touch instrument has a Keywave 2 keybed with “precision frets” to provide tactile feedback, and broadened surfaces and articulated edges to help users with finger positioning on the keys. It’s “similar to a string on a guitar fretboard,” says the London-based company. You can use five different gestures on each key – touted by ROLI as 5D Touch – to give you five levels of expression on MPE-enabled synths and virtual instruments, which include the superb Seaboard Rise 2 companion synth, the Equator 2.
In our glowing review of the Seaboard Rise 2, we awarded it 9/10 and said: “ROLI has taken steps to improve playability and to streamline the user experience, but to get real musical value out of the Rise 2 still requires a significant commitment to learning and mastering a new playing style. The Seaboard is not a replacement for a standard MIDI keyboard; it’s something else entirely, and you’ll want to make sure it’s right for you before investing.
“The Seaboard Rise 2 may never be mainstream in the way a keyboard or a guitar is, but this instrument occupies a glorious niche. If you’ve previously been tempted, now is the time to make the leap.”
Fireball, Lemondrop and Razzmatazz are bursting with flavour – nope, not the cocktails, but 1010music’s Nanobox range. These three compact instruments boast a nicely-sized touchscreen, two knobs and four buttons to navigate the interface and to MIDI map parameters, and ample connectivity to integrate them into your set-up.
The Lemondrop – which was recently found to be one of Reverb.com’s most sought-after products in 2022 – is a dinky granular synthesizer, while the Fireball takes on wavetable duties and Razzmatazz is on-hand for making juicy drum beats. 1010music’s petite but powerful machines are just waiting to be collected and displayed in your setup.
We’ve come to expect striking designs from Polyend, given its reputation for the Tracker and Medusa. But its work on the Play is our favourite yet. This groovebox looks bonkers at first and makes you wonder how you’ll ever figure out what all its 128 grid buttons do – and what are these matte black knobs at the top? Fret not. When you get stuck into this sample-based powerhouse, you’ll find it hard to tear yourself away.
In our review, we said: “Polyend’s Play is a fantastically fun groovebox that lets you sequence, shuffle and slice up your sounds. It’s certainly not limited to stage performances – it’s a creative goldmine for building musical ideas and can communicate with up to eight MIDI-equipped external instruments to act as a studio centrepiece…Most striking is the layout of the Play, [which] invites a unique way of navigating your ideas.”
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