I’ve been interested in the Roli Blocks for a while. I liked the concept of a small, portable MPE controller, but was sceptical of their apparent dependence on a computer or iOS device. When I tried finding info on whether they would make sense in a more hardware oriented setup my searches only revealed other people having the same questions I had, but no answers to them.
When Roli announced the Seaboard Block a while back I took a leap of faith and ordered one. It arrived the other day. So far I like it and am happy with my purchase. But the point of this blog post is not to review it, but to provide some technical info. I’ll try to be short and to the point.
- Dashboard (the software for configuring the device) is nicely featured. CCs can be remapped, MPE mode toggled on/off, midi channels and sensor curves set etc. and saved as presets.
- Dashboard settings are saved to the device and will be remembered even after a power-down.
- A scripting language called LittleFoot in Dashboard allows you to write scripts with a simple C/C++ style syntax that you can save in flash memory on the unit itself.
- It uses both bluetooth and USB simultaneously. So you can load up Dashboard to change settings even when it is currently connected to something else.
- It can connect to the USB Host port of Axoloti (which is excellent for MPE patches).
- It connects to my Midi USB – DIN Midi Converter.
- I could not get it to work with the USB Host port of my iConnect Midi4+.
- I could not get it to work with the Camera Connection Kit on neither iphone nor ipad (iOS complains the device draws too much power). However…
- The Camera Connection Kit works when using a powered USB hub.
- It connects to CME Widi Bud (a small bluetooth USB dongle that acts like a class-compliant USB Midi device).
With these little experiments out of the way, integrating the Seaboard Block into my setup was straight forward. I turned off MPE Mode in Dashboard and set it to the midi channel I want to use. Then I connected the Widi Bud to the Midi USB – DIN Midi Converter, and then that to a midi input on my iConnect Midi4+. I also wrote a couple of lines of LittleFoot code to make the Seaboard toggle between MPE mode and regular one-channel midi when I press the mode key on the left of the unit. That was all there was to it, really. When I power on the Block, it just works, wirelessly, with the rest of my gear. No computer or iOS device needed. I just played a patch on my modular while relaxing on the couch. Once set up it really appears to be as hassle free as any traditional keyboard controller, just more expressive.
I don’t notice the bluetooth latency when using Noise. Which is good news considering I would have to use a powered USB hub to connect via USB. But I still wanted to do some measurements, so I recorded midi from the Seaboard simultaneously with USB and bluetooth to Cubasis on my ipad. The results showed bluetooth midi to lag 10ms behind USB most of the time. However, on some notes there were hardly no difference at all, and on others around 20ms difference. This means one cannot rely on bluetooth midi to be recorded exactly as played, even if compensating for the delay.
The CME Widi Bud claims to reduce latency compared to a normal bluetooth connection. And sure enough, I did a similar experiment with the Widi Bud and found latency and jitter to be reduced to aprox. 30% of using the built-in ipad bluetooth. Large amounts of midi data makes the Wide Bud choke, however. More than three notes with full expression at once tend to result in hanging notes.