We’ve talked in this space before about the need for “note-taking” apps and how to use them. These are the kind of things that are more flexible than powerful, apps that let you tinker around with music when you are on the road, away from your laptop, stuck at work or just don’t want to open up Ableton or create new project files just to jot down some quick musical sketches.
Roland has gone one step further than a note-taking app and designed an entire hardware module dedicated to it.
The Roland R-07 is what they call their new mobile recording device. It fits in the palm of your hand and is actually comparable in size and heft to an old phone pager or a closed flip phone. Like a flip phone it has an economized faceplate of buttons and pads that bear resemblance to the controls of an early generation iPod with a small, 128×64 dot white backlit LCD screen.
A few years ago, a blogger posted a few pages from a 1991 Radio Shack catalog and noted that a single iPhone replicated the function of nearly every single product on display. Most musicians were probably using a mobile phone for simple recording and note-taking on the go as well. Why then the need for a whole new device?
Obviously there’s the onboard microphone (as well as a jack for your own), and records high resolution audio, though I think the secret is that Roland packed too much intelligence into the R-07 to fit in a single app. This is on display in the R-07’s most impressive feature: so called “Rehearsal.” With the press of a button, the R-07 will begin a countdown and “listen” to ambient noise in the area. Theoretically this would be you playing music. The R-07 will then adjust the levels on your recording before it begins recording for real – almost like an automated soundcheck. Rehearsal is an incredibly useful feature (the countdown is a bit of genius, in that it anticipates the recorder will be working alone and will need both hands and to spatially arrange themselves before they begin to play an instrument) and the demos seen at CES 2018 where the R-07 was unveiled show it working pretty well.
Beyond the innovation, the R-07 is also bluetooth enabled, which enables realtime monitoring of sound via wireless speakers or headphones. The R-07 can also be used as a passive device: an iOS app can trigger the R-07 for activating it wirelessly if you’re across the room or have your hands full. The app is clean and well-designed, though it makes the R-07’s clunky LCD screen look rather shabby in comparison. It has to be said that no modern, new, straight-out-of-production device should have a display that looks this clunky. If there are lots of these going around, I’m not aware of them. The cheapest Fitbit has a display that looks like fucking IMAX compared to the R-07.
The main question with a product like this isn’t “Do I want it?” It’s “How much?” With their marketing (featuring a commercial with high school age kids humming and playing while skateboarding to school or taking the bus), Roland is clearly aiming this at very broad audience. Which is surprising considering the price. Nobody would turn this down if they were handed it for free and most would probably use it, but their interest is predicated upon how much more than a standard app price this will put them out. In the case of the R-07: it’s a lot more. The R-07 is listed at $230 to start, which is quite a lot for a high-tech but still very single-purpose device. You can find an app that can do some of what this can for less than 5% the price. It may not be high resolution audio, but you can make phone calls with that one, too.