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The Mighty Roland SP-404 | A Brief History

October 19, 2023

Roland has been leading the way in sampling technology since the 80s. They are responsible for a lot of how we hear and interact with music. From their early hardware samplers that were introduced in the 80’s to their latest grid patterned sampler, the SP-404MKII, Roland’s mark is undeniable! Continue reading to learn more of the early days of sampling with Roland.


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Roland S-50 + W-30

The S-Series:

In 1986, Roland’s sampling tech entered the market with the S-50 keyboard sampler. The S-50 opened the door to all kinds of musicians since it was an affordable option with pro grade features. It came packed with a 16-voice polyphony and four-part multitimbral capabilities, which was a huge hit for artists. The S-series introduced ground breaking features such as waveform editing, using an electronic stylus as well as support for CRT monitors. A total game changer!


The W-Series:

By 1989, sampling became essential and extremely popular, which is when Roland introduced a workstation concept. Now known as the W-30 keyboard sampler, this powerful machine offered improved tonal capacity and built-in ROM samples for drums, bass, pianos and more. Liam Howlett (from Prodigy) among many other artists embraced this instrument as their musical weapon of choice!


The SP-Series:

Fast forward to 2005, Roland released one of its most iconic samplers, the SP-404. A grid of numbered pads replaced the keyboard found in the S and W-series. This opened the way for sample triggering and onboard effect activation. The SP-404 rapidly became synonymous with lo-fi hip-hop and house genres. Performing live with a device like this became a natural way to manipulate sound in real-time, using its extensive effects section. Clearly an exciting time for the synth!

Now in the 2020s, Roland released an upgraded version of the SP-404, with SP-404MKII. And yes, Roland listened to all of the artist feedback and introduced many features that were highly sough after and requested. To name a few features: OLED screen, 16GB of internal memory, chromatic play, Skip Back Sampling mode. The MKII represented another new horizon in the world of sampling and included a path way to share creativity with a whole community of varied artists! If you’ve never heard of the SP-404, you can be confident that you’ve heard it in many tracks! The list of artists and genres that use this sample beast is virtually endless! 

Roland SP-404 Series

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