Everything is on the "cloud" these days and Roland's treasure trove of synths and drum machines are up there too. The Roland Cloud has a wealth of quality plug-in instruments available, but we'll be focusing on Drum Studio - Acoustic One, Roland's cloud-based acoustic drum sample plug-in, the flagship drum program on the Roland Cloud subscription service. We'll cover what Acoustic One has to offer and then briefly discuss some of the other sample-based instruments and software emulations of the company's classic synths later. System requirements are Mac OS X 10.10 (Intel Core i3 or greater) or Windows 7 SP1, and a 64-bit DAW or host that supports VST, AU, or AAX instrument plug-ins.
Once you sign up at rolandcloud.com, you will need to download the Roland Cloud Manager app. The Manager is where you will find all the various downloadable instruments and updates. In order to use Drum Studio, you will need to first download Concerto, Roland's sample-based software host. Once Concerto is installed and opened as a plug-in in your DAW, you can download the Drum Studio software from the Concerto window. You need to be online to install, but after that authentication only happens once every seven days. So, an online connection after initial install isn't mandatory. It's also worth noting that up to five devices can be authorized at the same time. With that in mind, subscribing to the service makes a lot of sense for a studio or post-production house.
Drum Studio's main window is cleanly laid out as a group of 12 mix channel strips. There are ten kits onboard to choose from at the top of the window. They range from straight ahead rock to jazz and vintage kits, with sticks, rods, and brushes available for each. There are also knobs for Sample Randomization, Key Sensitivity, Pan (global), Limiter (on/off), and Volume (global).
Each channel has four viewable options: Info, Mix, Comp, and Reverb. Info is the default setting with controls for Tune (-1200 cents to +1200 cents), Decay (100 ms to 3500 ms), Pan, Level, Mute and Solo buttons, plus an icon of the drum assigned to that channel. You can audition the drum sound by clicking on the icon. At the base of each channel is the name of the drum on that strip. If you click on the name, you are able to substitute any of the kit pieces in that category. So, on the kick fader you can select any of the ten kicks on board.
While we're on the topic of drum kit pieces, there are five kicks which range in size from 26 by 16 inches to 18 by 16 inches, with soft and hard beater options. The snares sizes run from 14 by 8-inch to 14 by 2-inch with options for sticks and rods and one for brushes. Three toms are in this kit: Low (16 and 18-inch), Mid (12 and 13-inch), and high (9, 10, and 12-inch). There is one 14-inch set of hi-hats, as well as one 22-inch ride. Both have options for stick, rod, or brush hits. Rounding out the kit are two 16-inch crashes (left and right), one 18-inch China cymbal, and a 10-inch splash. All cymbals have options for stick, rod, or brush hits. The kit selections can be a little limiting (depending on the style of music you compose), and I miss the identifiable names associated with each drum that are found in other virtual drum plug-ins.
The Mix tab setting gives you control over the blend of four mics (dynamic, condenser, mid room, and far room) as well as which set of outputs you're sending the channel signal to. When you select Comp at the channel top you are given an On/Off switch and controls for Thresh, Gain, Ratio, Attack, Knee, and Release – all standard but effective. The Reverb layout has an On/Off switch plus controls for Decay, Mix, Pre-delay, high-pass filter, Density, and low-pass filter. There are four selectable reverbs including a room, two halls, and a plate setting. Always present at the bottom of the plug-in window is an effects chain that includes Flanger, Chorus, Distortion, Doubler, and Stereo Delay. These are all nice to have, but unfortunately only apply to the entire kit globally. Would have been nice to be able to control the amount sent to each channel.
So how does it sound? I thought that sound quality was top notch. The drums are very well recorded. They're realistic and easy to get up and going in a mix. While "playing" the kit, I was taken by the detail in the touch velocity sensitivity. Apparently during the sampling process many additional samples were captured for the fractions between velocity levels for a much more dynamic instrument... and it shows. There are also multiple samples for the same velocity – like an amped up round robin – which adds to the realism. If you want to get something going quickly with minimum fuss, this works very well. Having said that, if you like to dig deeper with tweaking, then other drum plug-ins might work better for you.
As a composer who doesn't play drums, I find programming realistic drums challenging without a jumping off point. With that in mind, I wish that Roland had supplied MIDI files along with Drum Studio to take advantage of the awesome dynamics on display here. For most mainstream applications Acoustic One excels. The kits sound great and were recorded in a top-notch studio with incredibly playable dynamics.
In addition to drums, I also had a chance to audition many of the other synths and drum machines the Roland Cloud has to offer. And I have to say the content here is outstanding. The software modeling does take a toll on your CPU, more so than some other emulators on the market. That said, Roland's Jupiter-8 and Juno-106 emulations were spot on, sounding damn near identical to their hardware counterparts. The venerable TB-303 bass synth and TR-808/909 drum machines were equally impressive. Bottom line: all the samples here sound great! As someone who has owned various Roland synths over the years, I found the Roland Cloud to be a literal living museum of all Roland's greatest gear. If your musical passion is based in synthesizer land, then you know the ridiculous cost associated with acquiring all of the gear available. For a synth nerd, the Roland Cloud is pretty much heaven.