ROLAND M-200i V-MIXER
Roland joins the iBrigade with a small console offering more than first meets the ‘i’.
Review: Brad Watts
It would seem every second electronic consumer good has either remote control from an iDevice or proudly exhibits an orifice you can slot one into for various additional features — useful or not. One could be forgiven for dismissing as a fad, audio products that spring from the box ready to absorb an iPad or iPhone. However, for the world of prosumer audio recording equipment, the iDevice assimilation makes a lot of sense. Why? The simplest explanation is the manufacturer has access to a large, touch-sensitive, colour screen to use as an input device. Two to three years ago, touchscreens a mere half the size of an iPad were rarely seen on audio products apart from mixing consoles, recorders and editors in the extreme upper professional market — the likes of Fairlight, Euphonix et al. Now manufacturers can vicariously offer a 9.7-inch, 1024×768 pixel colour display and touchscreen for absolutely zero cost, apart from the development and distribution costs of the application to link the product to the iDevice. It’s cheaper for the manufacturer, which inevitably makes the end product more affordable for the consumer — many of who already own the iDevice. There are other benefits for the end user such as: the ease of replacing a broken screen, simply replace the iPad; an operating system the user is already familiar with aiding speedy uptake of the product; and speed of deployment for upgrades to the iDevice application which could even include feature upgrades to the firmware for the host device.
Roland has taken precisely this path with its latest V-Mixer, the M-200i (note the ‘i’ suffix), nestled amongst its M-300/380/400/480 lineage released a few years back. The M-200i isn’t quite the same animal as its predecessors, initially for its use of the iPad as an input and display device, and secondly, because it offers a stack of I/O without requiring the user to resort to Roland’s ‘Digital Snake’ stage units for a healthy quotient of I/O. The M-200i features no less than 16 microphone inputs, a further eight line inputs (six as 1/4-inch jacks and two RCAs), and 10 assignable outputs (six as XLR and four TRS jacks) alongside the main left and right XLR outputs. This can be augmented with a Roland ‘Digital Snake’ stage box such as the S-1608, or even the S-4000S if you require, but as it stands the M-200i will easily cater to mixing a typical band, ensemble, choir, corporate event, or recurring variety hour when in close proximity to the stage. From the factory, the M-200i arrives with removable plastic side cheeks, which can be replaced quickly with an optional RA-10U rack-mount kit. Power is supplied by an external 24V transformer (don’t misplace that puppy).
LIGHT IT UP
My initial impressions of M-200i did indeed keep me impressed. For the venues this mixer will be frequenting I’m sure the steel plate surface will stand up to a reasonable degree of abuse such as leaning all over it for hours. All the buttons are of the rubberised membrane style and seem resilient enough to withstand millions of prods. Anything requiring backlighting is lit, with mute in red, solo in yellow, and channel select buttons lighting green. A global solo defeat button flashes yellow when any channel is soloed. I don’t believe you’d have difficulty driving the M-200i in a darkened atmosphere — even the somewhat minuscule built-in LCD pumps out enough lumens to be visible from most angles — including a fairly casual distance back from the board. Master output metering is via 14-segment LEDs, and each input channel level is displayed via five-segment meters across the 16-fader/channel strips.
Connections at the rear of the board are solidly bolted into the steel-plate chassis as would be required for any console (yet not all do). It’ll stand up to the push and pull expected of it. Equally reassuring is the distance the 1/4-inch jacks protrude — you’ll find them by feel if need be. All 16 mic inputs offer individual 48V phantom power and phase reverse switching. Mic pre gain is also under digital control so will be recalled with scenes and when powering up the console (should you have it set to recall the power-down state). Two USB ports are strategically placed on the rear, just near the LCD. One is used for a Wi-Fi dongle, the other can be used for USB memory for storing mix data, and you can playback WAV files. I’d assume you could also whack a gooseneck LED lamp in either of these if required. Recording of WAV files is also possible to USB, however only a stereo output can be recorded. These stereo sources include any of the auxiliary outputs, the main L/R outputs or main mono outs. Additionally restrictive is recorded files being only 16-bit (44.1 or 48k). You’d have thought recording more than two outputs to USB would be commonplace these days — but not with the M-200i. All’s not lost on the recording front however, as the unit will record multiple channels (up to 40 at 24-bit) to Sonar via the REAC Ethernet-style port. There are a number of methods for hitching the unit to Windows XP/7/8 and OS X-based computers, both via REAC and USB. Roland’s M-200i RCS software also provides remote control of the unit should you find yourself hitched to the host computer rather than in front of the desk.
HANDS ON THE WHEEL
Getting back to the operational side of the console, the 100mm faders are motorised, with each channel strip offering dedicated mute, solo, and select buttons. The master fader also sports mute and solo buttons, and takes the fader count to 17. The faders feel quite fluid, without the ‘stepped’ feel often experienced with some motorised fader systems. To the top right of the surface are north, south, east, west navigation buttons, enter and exit buttons, and an indented value knob. It’s pretty standard fare for navigating around a Roland operating system, and in conjunction with the 800×480 screen the system is perfectly adequate. Down to the right of the master fader are five ‘layer’ buttons to scroll the bank of faders through the 32 input channels and auxiliary sends. There are also eight DCAs. And while you can name channels with up to six characters, there’s no facility for displaying channel names on the actual channel-strip. The name will, however, appear in the iPad application. For a faster, and more mechanical method, I’d recommend the nifty magnetic channel name tags available from mixtagz.com — a great idea for these style of consoles (and, no, I don’t own shares).
There’s no shortage of onboard processing, with each channel sporting dynamics processing along with four-band EQ. Dynamics processing includes gating and compression on channels 1-32, with the eight auxiliaries having compression only. Key signals can also be taken from any signal coming into the console. Equalisation follows the familiar high and low shelf with two full parametric mid EQs. There’s also a high-pass filter which can be instigated separately from the EQ. Effects-wise there are four internal effect processors. These can be inserted into a channel or set up as send/return-style processors. The effects cover all your bread and butter reverb and delay duties, along with chorus/flanging/phasing, and there’s also a ‘channel-strip’ style processor which includes four-band EQ, an enhancement processor and de-esser. There’s also a rudimentary pitch shifter, which didn’t get me that hot under the collar. What did get me salivating was the vintage style Roland processors. These include models of the SBF/325 Flanger, SPH-323 Phase Shifter, and the SDD-320 — the good ol’ Dimension D unit. It’s a V-Mixer; there’s got to be some modelling going on in it somewhere! For troublesome situations there’s also four 31-band graphic EQs which you can, of course, strap over the master outputs. Effects processor destinations/returns do have to use one of the 32 channels if not used as inserts, and, they can be used as eight mono effects.
Heading in cold with the M-200i isn’t a hardship. If you know what you’re doing with a digital board I don’t believe you’d take long to orient yourself. However, navigation throughout the mixer’s operating system gains a huge increase in accessibility and ease of use when you hook it up with an iPad. In fact, once you’ve used the console with an iPad I don’t believe you’d ever go back to using the board sans iPad.
ENTER THE iMIXER
Firstly, there are a multitude of ways to get the M-200i speaking with an iPad. Straight out of the box you can use the supplied 32-pin iPad ‘dock’ cable — which is fine if your iPad is the older variety with the 32-pin connector — otherwise you’ll need a Lightening to 32-pin conversion cable. Get the real-deal Apple cable as sounds from the iPad are transmitted to the M-200i (this can be defeated) and the U-200i will charge the iPad also. Those $5 adaptors from eBay won’t cut it.This is the most stable method, however, it is handy to be able to move the iPad away from the console as you could operate the console from anywhere in the room. Hell, you could stay at the bar — pending the wireless signal strength of course. Connection wirelessly requires a USB Wi-Fi key — which Roland supplies with the console. You can either set up an ad-hoc network exclusive to the iPad and console, or have both devices join an existing wireless network.
I can’t decide what’s best about the iPad app; either the fact you get a full display of metering across the top section of the iPad screen, or the excellent EQ and compression editing — both are excellent features. Access to a full view of input and output metering is a feature you’d not have without the iPad integration, and editing the EQ and dynamics is superb with a touch-screen interface — much like editing a DAW plug-in. I’ll point out Roland isn’t the only crew integrating the iPad into smaller consoles, but I do think Roland has kept the interface as simple as possible, without resorting to on-screen pyrotechnics like some iPad mixing apps. Overall it’s very stable, and fast in operation (wirelessly), and provides access to all console functions. What more could you ask?
I’d proffer the main contenders in this market at the moment would be Behringer’s X32 console range, and perhaps the Presonus StudioLive boards, although these don’t offer motorised faders like the Behringer and V-Mixer units. All these units do however provide remote operation using Apple iPads, further cementing the concept into small mixer operation for the current generation of digital boards. In terms of operation I can vouch for the simple operation of both the M-200i and StudioLive, and I’d suspect the Behringer units are equally as easy to drive. With this in mind, I’m pleased to suggest that your choice of small digital console may come down to sound quality and preamp character. That said, I can certainly recommend the M-200i, both for its preamps and the overall sound of the board. Admittedly it’s ‘only’ a 48k digital signal path, but it does sound very good — and that appraisal includes the EQ and effects processors (especially the vintage ones). If you’re in the market for a small footprint console with more routing possibilities than you can shake a stick at, and the propensity to expand as needs dictate, the M-200i may be just the ticket.