ROLI Seaboard RISE 25 review: In the world of music, ‘the next big thing’ is usually a hot new artist or band, but in this instance, it’s an instrument that’s making serious waves – the Seaboard RISE.
You might have come across ROLI, the people behind the Seaboard, at some point or another since they launched the Grand back in 2013. The DNA that ran through their debut product is still clearly present in their latest line of creations – the RISE family, but the form and function have both evolved for a new, broader purpose.
Seaboards look like keyboards at a distance but get up close and you’ll realise that the keys are in fact a single continuous surface, with peaks and troughs of malleable silicon forming what ROLI calls “keywaves.” Even if you have a background as a pianist, you won’t ever have played anything that looks, and more importantly, feels like the RISE.
You won’t ever have played anything that feels like the RISE.
Like the Grand before it, the RISE can be had in a range of sizes. We tested the smallest, most portable (and most affordable) of the lineup; the RISE 25 (denoting its 25 keywaves), but at present there’s also a larger 49-keywave model, called the RISE 49 (go figure), which came about as a direct result of feedback from ROLI’s fast-growing community of musicians and producers.
It’s hewn from a black, milled metal body with all the connections, including USB Type A and B ports on its left face. The matt finish of the keywaves serves as a nice contrast to the metal surrounding them, and to the side of those keywaves are a number of capacitive pads, sliders and buttons, essential for giving the user/player control over the RISE’s “five dimensions of touch”.
These dimensions: Strike, Glide, Slide, Press and Lift are the five pillars that set the RISE apart from conventional MIDI keyboards and pad controllers, leveraging the new MPE (Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression) specification. In real world use, this means that the RISE gives you an unprecedented level of control over how you play, rather than simply what you play.
With Strike, the RISE measures the velocity and force at which you press on a keywave, Glide tracks your fingers as they moves horizontally along the Seaboard’s surface, modulating the sound or letting you add vibrato to individual notes, Slide relates to your finger’s vertical position on the keys transforming the sound as you slide up or down, Press logs the continued pressure applied to a keywave after the initial strike and Lift, as its name suggests, tracks the velocity at which you lift your finger off a keywave. Collectively these settings can be tweaked and fine-tuned to help achieve a specific sound and as they can be manipulated on the fly, the RISE lends itself to live performance as well as studio work.
ROLI has also paired the RISE with a full software suite; NOISE for iOS, which also works as a standalone music creation app, the ROLI Dashboard and Equator – the company’s own custom synthesizer and sound engine. Equator offers live playback from a host of preset sounds and full control over how they respond to the user’s playing, not to mention simple integration with a number of third-party software, including Bitwig (Bitwig 8-Track comes bundled with the RISE), Cubase and Ableton.
The experience is split into a number of panels, which display information on every aspect of input as well as output being generated by the RISE. Grab handles and sliders let you reconfigure how the instrument behaves and sculpt the resultant sound.
We tested our RISE 25 with Bitwig 8-Track and once paired to the computer, the software was able to connect to it as if it were any other controller. On the matter of pairing, connecting the RISE to your computer can take place via USB (a gold-plated USB cable comes bundled in the box), but you can also choose to use MIDI over Bluetooth if you prefer. It adds another string to the RISE’s bow with regards to live performance or serves a purpose if you simply want to keep your desk looking tidy. The non-removable battery should keep it powered up for a respectable ten hours too.
The ROLI Seaboard RISE is a truly unique offering in the musical space right now and appears to be one of the most complete products amongst the small collective of MPE-capable MIDI controllers out there.
As we said earlier, the smallest RISE, the 25 is also the most affordable of ROLI’s offerings, but at £600, it’s still not cheap. If you already have at least one foot entrenched in the world of music production, the RISE will unquestionably help you develop new sounds and through the unique playing style it requires, help create bold new music.