ROLI Seaboard BLOCK M, photo by Luminary ROLI

Everything you need to know about the ROLI Seaboard BLOCK M

Following the release of the Seaboard RISE 2, ROLI has updated and enhanced its popular Seaboard BLOCK MPE MIDI controller. But it’s not just the hardware that’s been supercharged…

ROLI Seaboard BLOCK M. Image: Luminary ROLI

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ROLI’s Seaboard BLOCK caused quite a stir when it was first released in 2017 – a portable and versatile MIDI performance device that combined elements of the company’s Blocks modular system and its flagship Seaboard MIDI controller keyboards.

But the company has undergone changes in recent years. Renamed as Luminary ROLI, it released the LUMI Keys system for beginners and, in 2022, the Seaboard RISE 2 for more advanced players. Now, its latest creation – the Seaboard BLOCK M – is an evolution of the original Seaboard BLOCK that incorporates the very latest technology and refinements to make it more creative than ever before.

For fans and new users alike, it’s an exciting return of a much-loved product that underlines ROLI’s commitment to pushing technological boundaries. As the company explains, “ROLI is now democratizing access to its groundbreaking music creation tools with the launch of the Seaboard BLOCK M, offering unparalleled expressive capabilities, at an accessible price point. These innovations reaffirm ROLI’s commitment to shaping the future of musical expression.”

Its founder Roland Lamb goes on to expand on the thinking behind the upgrade – “The reintroduction of the Seaboard BLOCK M marks a monumental step in making the revolutionary MPE and 5D Touch technology accessible to more music makers around the world. We believe that this tool will not only foster creativity but also redefine the landscape of music production. It’s more than an instrument; it’s a gateway to infinite musical possibilities.”

It’s a bold statement – so what exactly is new?

Evolution of a classic

Retaining broadly the same iconic design as its predecessor, the M has been modified to better withstand the rigours of touring and long studio sessions. Its compact size means it’s easy to take with you anywhere, and now it’s more robust than ever.

To enable you to be a truly mobile music-maker, it has ten hours of battery life, charging over USB-C and using its USB port to connect to your computer. Here, you can send MIDI to control instruments or link with the ROLI Studio software for advanced device management.

Welcome, MIDI hardware

There’s still class-compliant MIDI over Bluetooth too, of course, but now the M also features a hardware MIDI output in the form of a 2.5mm jack, with a cable supplied in the package to let you hook up your gear.

With a resurgence in the popularity of MIDI-triggered hardware such as synths and other modular equipment, this opens up a whole new world of possibilities for using Seaboard BLOCK M in a standalone way, creatively triggering and controlling hardware with no computer required.

Plus, thanks to its DNA connectors, the Seaboard BLOCK M can be connected to a second unit to give you a total of 48 Keywaves (that’s 24 per unit) as well as pairing to the company’s LUMI Keys Studio Edition for an even bigger setup. It’s plenty powerful on its own as well though, with the unit covering two octaves with an octave shift control giving you expanded access to seven octaves of playback.

Next Generation MPE

You can switch the Seaboard BLOCK M between single channel and MPE modes. Anyone who has used ROLI’s controllers will know that MPE – MIDI Polyphonic Expression – is a revolutionary system that goes beyond the limits of conventional MIDI to offer unparalleled control to the player. MPE is supported by many of the big names in the music tech world – Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Cubase, Bitwig Studio, Reaktor and UVI Falcon to name just a few, plus all of ROLI’s own applications, of course.

MPE is a powerful evolution in musical control and expression. As we ask more and more of our music tools, the ability to go beyond conventional MIDI parameters is more important than ever and MPE helps us not only be more creative but also streamline workflows, for example being able to record multiple dynamic changes and modulations as automation all at once. For more about how MPE works, check out ROLI’s guide.

Ride The Keywave

The M’s advanced multi-touch control works via its unique 24-keywave playing surface which incorporates ROLI’s 5D Touch system, offering intuitive sound shaping through gestures such as Strike, Press, Glide, Slide, and Lift.

While the classic gestures are all still present and correct, there have been improvements over the original too. ROLI explains that “the upgraded Seaboard BLOCK M offers enhanced consistency and expressive control through the latest firmware, enabling users to personalize their velocity curve via the ROLI Dashboard.”

Extolling the virtues of this new tech, they continue, “5D Touch technology lets you play intuitively on a tactile keyboard surface where you can easily manipulate pitch, modulate sounds and explore unique sonic landscapes with gestures that go far beyond conventional keyboard playing.”

The Software Side

It’s not just cool hardware that you get when you enter into ROLI’s universe. The ROLI Dashboard and Studio applications are also integral to how you use Seaboard BLOCK M, enabling not just management and configuration of your devices but also hosting sounds, instruments and effects.

The company describes ROLI Studio as “a comprehensive platform for creative potential, offering inspirational features such as Smart Chords, Multi-Layered Arpeggio and Macros, all specifically tailored to enhance musical output and production.” You also get custom ROLI soundpacks, which have been designed to work with MPE controllers, and the unit can naturally be used with any MIDI-capable software including your DAW and plugin software instruments too.

The future of MPE-based MIDI control has never looked brighter and, with the Seaboard BLOCK M, ROLI is making access to a new world of creative performance and control more affordable than ever. The Seaboard BLOCK M is available for preorder now for £299.95 / 349.95 EUR / $349.95 and the first batch is expected to ship in March 2024.

Find out more about the ROLI Seaboard BLOCK M here

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