Roland SP-404MKII vs SP-404A/SX

While by no means without its flaws and limitations, Roland’s venerable SP-404 creative samplers still have a dedicated user base and cult like following, especially amongst lo-fi beat aficionados, and now, as of October 2021, there’s a more modern and powerful version of the SP-404 in the form of the SP-404MK11.

By my reckoning it’s been over 12 years since the launch of the last SP-404 (the SP-404SX) – to somewhat middling reviews – and music technology certainly doesn’t stand still so will the SP-404 MKII be able to make its mark in this era of stand alone MPCs and all-conquering Maschines?

Roland’s boffins must be hoping their latest SP-404 has enough about it to tempt an entire new generation of sample based beat makers and producers into adopting their sampler.

Key to understanding if the SP-404MK11 has the chops to compete with well established rival products from the likes of Akai, Native Instruments, Elektron (and even other Roland sampling capable drum machines themselves to some extent) is seeing just what improvements and enhancements the MKII brings to the table.

Let’s take a deep dive into the SP-404MKII’s feature set.

Roland SP-404MKII number of Voices:

For starters, Roland have boosted the MKII’s polyphony to 32 voices (the SP-404A/SX has 12 Voices). This means you can trigger an impressive 32 different samples at once (although I can’t for the life of me imagine under what circumstances anyone would want to do that!).

Roland SP-404MKII Sample Memory & Storage:

This is one area in which the SP-404MKII really outshines the SP-404A and SX. While the original SP-404 offered space for a relatively paltry 120 samples the SP-404MKII offers a much more respectable 2,560 samples (16 samples x 10 banks x 16 projects).

The number of patterns you can store has also increased from 120 to 2,560.

Roland SP-404MKII Internal Storage:

The SP-404MKII comes with 16GB of internal storage.

SP-404MKII Maximum Sample Time:

You can record samples for up to 16 minutes with the SP-404MKII.

Skip Back Sampling and new sampling features:

With the new Skip Back Sampling feature you can work with audio recorded up 25 seconds previously. The SP-404 MKII also offers new realtime sample chopping, auto chopping, pitch shifting and more.

SP-404MKII Sample Import Formats:

The SP404 could always handle WAV/AIFF formats but now users of the MKII can also import MP3 files. The included Roland SP404MKII App can also handle FLAC and M4A formats.

What is the SP-404MKII Sample Rate?

Improving on the original’s 44.1 kHz, the MKII works boasts a 48 kHz sample rate.

SP-404MKII Pattern Sequencer improvements:

An improved pattern sequencer in the 404MKII opens up new creative possibilities. As well as a new pattern chain feature there’s the ability to resample a pattern and new pattern edit features (loop, duplicate and crop). In addition the MKII offers the ability to import MIDI data created in DAWs with Roland’s SP-404MKII App.

SP-404MKII Effects:

The 404’s are famous for their high quality DJ style effects and the MKII ups the number of effects from 29 types to 37 types. Up to four effects can now be used simultaneously. New input effects include a Vocoder and a Guitar Amp simulator. You can expect to hear the new cassette simulator effect on a million lofi tracks!

How many pads does the SP-404MKII have?

The SP-404MKII features 17 RGB velocity sensitive pads. (The original SP404 features 12 pads.)

Improved display screen:

The original SP-404s are “blessed” with a distinctive 3 digit LED display but the SP-404MKII boasts a much more impressive Graphic OLED display, fit for the 21st century. The OLED display provides useful visualization of individual waveforms as well as parameter settings and more.

Roland SP-404MKII vs SP-404SX battery life:

The increase in features you get with the MKII does mean there’s a slight dip in battery life compared to the original SP-404s. Roland claim you can expect to get approx. 2.5 hours of use when using x 6 Alkaline batteries (as opposed to the SP-404SX’s approximately 4 hours) while using x 6 Ni-MH batteries can push that up to approx. 3.5 hours use (as opposed to 5 hours with the SP-404A/SX models).

The SP-404 MK11 can also be powered by an AC adaptor.

Does the Roland SP-404MKII have USB?

Back in 2009 Roland really missed a trick when neglecting to include any USB ports on the SP-404SX but good things come to those who wait so it’s great to see we finally get USB (Type-CR) on the latest MKII model.

Further improving the potential of the MKII are more connections including new PPHONES jacks (1/4-inch phone type), and Stereo miniature phone type, 1/8-inch TRS MIDI in/out and more.

SP-404MKII DJ Mode:

Switch the 404MKII to DJ Mode and you can play live performances with two on-screen ‘decks’. Use the pads to change the BPM for either ‘deck’ and blend two different tracks together.

SP-404MKII Customization:

Four screws on the 404-MKII let you easily switch out the main faceplate and it’s easy to remove knobs, customize the RGB pads and even create your own unique startup and screensaver graphics to be displayed on the OLED display in all their glory.

Is the SP-404MKII worth it in 2022?

The Roland SP-404MKII certainly brings some much needed updates and improvements to the SP-404 range making this creative sampler more tempting than ever before. If you’ve not tried an SP-404 before then there’s never been a better time to get onboard.

If you already own an SP-404SX you’ll need to weigh up just how much you really need the new features the newer model brings to the table. In my opinion it’s a case of out with the old and in with the new: it’s time to ditch the 404A/SX mode in favor of the more powerful and versatile 404MKII.

Watch the official Roland SP-404MKII video overview below for a comprehensive introduction into the SP-404MKII’s features and workflow.

SP-404MKII Creative Sampler and Effector

3 High End Alternatives to the Roland SP-404MKII:

If you’re looking for an alternative to the SP-404MKII then you might like to consider these 3 “best in class” devices:

  1. Akai MPC One – Standalone MPC (no computer required) with 16 Velocity Sensitive RGB Pads and 7” Multi-Touch Display plus comprehensive software suite.
  2. Elektron Digitakt – Eight voice digital drum computer & sampler. Read my Elektron Digitakt overview.
  3. Native Instruments Maschine+ – 16 Dynamic multicolour pads with aftertouch, 2 High-resolution RGB colour displays. Can be used stand-alone or in conjunction with a computer.

Note that the SP-404MKII is less expensive than all of the above and is somewhat easier to learn/use due to having less features overall.

3 budget Alternatives to the SP-404MKII

If you’re on a tight budget but really want to get into making lofi beats you could consider the Pocket Operator PO-33 K.O! Slightly more expensive – and more capable – is the Korg Volca Sample while the Elektron Model:Samples is a 6-track sample player with powerful sequencer (it can import samples but can not actually sample). I’ve written a handy guide to 5 of the best drum machines you can get for under $250.

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