The Roli Seaboard Rise 49 is a fresh take on the Midi Keyboard opening up more performance possibilities than ever before. But is it worth the hefty price tag?
Today we take a look at a midi keyboard that brings us a big step forward from the conventional controllers of old. While from the outside it may look like an expensive toy (and yes it is expensive) that will probably end up having no practical use in the real world, I can assure you, this is not the case (apart from the expensive part). As we will discover in this review of the Roli Seaboard RISE 49 is a whole new take on the midi keyboard, and in particular a shift in how one uses it.
Let’s not forget however that it is still essentially just a midi controller but, with the redesigned key bed Roli has added more functionality to the keys allowing you, to perform a piece, rather than just playing the notes, making the midi keyboard an instrument capable character and expression. Check out the below video for a live performance by Jordan Rudess with the Roli Seaboard RISE 49 to get an idea of what I mean.
So if you,’re still interested to learn more read on and we will dive deeper into what this new piece of hardware is all about.
What makes it special?
So as you, can see from the video above, the Seaboard RISE 49 is capable of providing an amazing performance surface allowing the performer to add character and expression to their performance. But how does it do it?
The secret here is the Seaboard’s 5 Dimensions of touch key bed or as Roli calls it, the `Keywave surface`. This allows more midi data information to be sent and therefore more parameters of a software instrument can be controlled. The 5 dimensions according to Roli are as follows:
Strike or Velocity is what almost all modern midi keyboard have these days i.e. when you, hit a key hard the sound is loud and when you, hit the key lightly the sound is soft.
This is a measure of how hard you, press the key once it has been struck i.e. you, may strike the key softly but then slowly press harder and harder on the key, thus changing the sound. Or the other way around where you, strike the key hard and then slowly release the pressure on the key.
Slide can be thought of as a mod wheel controller, but for each individual key. So if you, strike a key at the bottom, then slowly move your finger vertically up the key the sound will change.
You can think of this as the release velocity or how fast you, pull your finger from the key. If you, release slowly then you, will get a different release sound than you, would if you, were to release it quickly.
Above and below the keys are two strips running horizontally along the length of the keyboard. These strips can be used to glide the pitch of a note up or down. So if you, play a chord you, can move your fingers onto one of these strips and glide up to a new cord. You don’t have to use the strips, so if you, prefer you, can just move your fingers left or right and the same effect will happen. If you, hold you, finger on a note and then wiggle it side-to-side this will trigger the pitch bend giving a vibrato effect to the sound.
So what Roli have been able to do here is created a control surface able to completely exploit all possibilities that midi message data can offer and put it in a user-friendly and playable package. To achieve this the Seaboard RISE 49 does use a lot of midi channels and commands making controlling a single software instrument over midi with this and another controller impractical. But it is completely compatible with you, DAW (see here for full list of supported DAWs) and software instruments. HOWEVER, you, can only take full advantage of the Seaboard’s functionality with instruments that are 5 Dimension/MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) enabled. Luckily Roli includes software with the hardware to get you, going (discussed later in this review).
The unit is made of solid anodized aluminum weighing in at only 4.2 kg making it easy to take on the road with you, while feeling solid and sturdy. It measures only 83.4 x 21.0 x 2.3 cm so it will happily slide into a longer bag or you, can get the RISE 49 soft carry case to protect your investment. The built in battery powering the Bluetooth connectivity will get you, around 8 hours of playtime from a 3-hour charge.
On the Top
On the left side of the device we have 2 left & right browser buttons used to control the included software library of compatible instruments. Below this we have 3 touch sensitive faders with LED lighting to show you, what value the fader is at. You can switch between controlling settings of parameters like the strike and press curves or, sending midi CC messages. Moving down there is an X/Y pad allowing you, send midi data to control Effects etc. And at the bottom a power/Bluetooth paring button and Octave transpose buttons. To the right of all this you, have the Keywave surface representing 49 keyboard keys with two glide strips directly above and below the keys.
For I/O we have an input power port, and USB type A port that only supplies power, and USB type b port for connecting to your computer and a standard pedal input jack for a continuous pedal. I nice thing about the input power port is that it will take a 9–12V DC 18W input meaning it is compatible with many power input plugs in case you, don’t have the Roli adapter on you.
The Keywave surface
Roli doesn’t have much information about it on their website but basically the Keywave surface it is a dark surface with white lines along the flat/sharp notes. This dark surface does not lend itself well to dark places making it hard to see where the notes are, that being said it is more of a feel instrument so this may not be a big deal to you,. The silicon material under your fingers is like a drum pad say on Native Instruments Maschine but softer, so much so that you, can put a visible impression in it when you, push down on a key.
The Seaboard RISE 49 comes with a bundle of software including instruments and two DAWs with the main piece of software being Equator housing a number of different software instruments all pre-mapped to the Seaboard.
Equator comes with over 400 preset sounds, 3 oscillators with over 40 wave forms, 6 effects and 1 FM module to name a few of the features. It comes in AU, VST and standalone modes which means unfortunately Pro Tools users will need to do some routing to get the sound into your session. All presets are tightly integrated with the Seaboard’s hardware making it plug and play. This is a 179 EUR piece of software on its own so good value when you, consider it is included with the Seaboard RISE 49. I am unsure who would purchase it on its own though since it is only compatible with Roli’s hardware and no other midi keyboards.
Roli have teamed up with Fxpansion to include their Strobe2 poly synthesizer a 119 EUR cost on its own. The best part about this added synth is its compatibility with a 5 Dimensional controller like the Seaboard Rise 49. See Strobe2 in action with the Seaboard RISE in the video below.
Tracktion Waveform, Bitwig 8-Track
Interestingly the Seaboard comes with two DAWs which are both not what you, might consider `big` players in the DAW industry, but are both interesting in particular since they both support Mac Windows and Linux, something many of the big players do not. Waveform even supports being run on a Raspberry Pi! So for someone who is new to music production these are great starter DAWs, however I would think that anyone buying this controller would likely already have a DAW. So Roli including these two different DAWs shows their support for Traktion and Bitwig.
Pros and Cons
Below are what I consider the pros and cons to be for the Seaboard RISE 49 and I would like to take a moment to point out the Three main points you, should consider before making this purchase.
This controller is expensive, and considering it is just a midi controller (albeit a very complex one) I cannot recommend this as something you, should buy. Your money would be better spent elsewhere. The build quality, and everything Roli has put into this unit is amazing and so for sure it is a premium product but the price is just too high for me.
There is nothing out on the market that is able to give you, this amount of control and performance from a midi controller. It is truly something special and if you, have a lot of money to spare, then it will be a good addition to your setup.
Roli are First – Who will follow?
Roli is the first to market and are enjoying the benefits of this however if this design takes off (and I think it will) then other manufacturers will be forced to follow. This will bring competition and innovation to the market and we should see some new and cheaper alternatives. Will they be better? Who is to know at this stage but before investing in a Seaboard RISE 49, I think I will be waiting to see what else comes out in the future.
- No layering, zones or splits
- Computer or iPad only – maybe in the future
- Learning curve
- No dedicated mod and pitch
- Equator is RISE only
- Hard to see in dim lighting
- Add expression to midi
- Light with no moving parts can take on the road
- Solid build anodized aluminum
- Will work with Kontakt
- Worth it if you, have the money
So to sum it up, this is an amazing and industry leading product that brings a whole new approach to how a midi keyboard can be played. The Roli Seaboard RISE 49 midi keyboard, is the first to market with 5 Dimensional control and has introduced compatible software instruments for 5D, so we should be seeing more of them in the future. I hope this will encourage other manufacturers to build their own versions of midi keyboards with 5 Dimensions of control.
For me however I will not be purchasing this any time in the near future due to the one main issue I have with it. The price. It is an amazing device, and if you, have the disposable income to spend on it, then you, won’t be disappointed. I think I will stick with an 88 key midi keyboard and some faders for now.
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Thanks for reading!