To celebrate 404 Day, we’re looking back at how the story of the Roland SP-404 began and its evolution over the years. From a somewhat experimental toy, the idea grew into the creative performance-orientated sampler we know and love.
Scarcity can be a catalyst behind many creative endeavours, and in the mid-90s, affordable sample triggering was something of a rarity. At the time, we didn’t have access to tactile DAWs like Ableton Live and a wealth of controllers like we do today.
404 Day: The History of the Roland SP-404
The story begins in 1995 with the release of the Roland MS-1. This limited phrase-sampling beatbox couldn’t pitch samples chromatically, but it provided the basic blueprint with eight pads and a simple sequencer.
Three years later we saw the introduction of the first true SP, the Boss SP-202 Dr. Sample. With the rise of DJing, there wasn’t much need for a sequencer. So instead, the design aimed to provide DJs with a creative sampling and effects unit that you could use while performing.
From here the design expanded even further in 2001 with the SP-303. With additional effects and 3 dedicated effects controls, the SP-303 quickly became a favourite among Hip-Hop DJs and producers.
It took a while to get there, but after the workstation-style SP-505 (2002) and SP-606 (2004) samplers came onto the market, the SP-404 was finally introduced in 2005. While it maintained the same design hallmarks as the SP-303, there were several improvements.
There were now 12 trigger pads and 29 effects including the DJ looper which was a major selling point. The removable top casing also meant that users could customize the look of their 404, a practice that still continues today.
In 2008, Roland released the monster SP-555 which was a far more complete music production station. The SP-404 SX followed shortly after this in 2009, with 16-bit linear sampling and an improved DSP effects engine.
The outstanding sonic quality attracted an even wider base of users than before and features like SD card storage meant you could easily backup and archive your projects or recall sample layouts for your next gig.
Many years later, we would see yet another iteration in the form of the SP-404A (2017). This brought all the features from the SX and was designed to be integrated into the Roland AIRA series of electronic music instruments.
This addition meant you could sequence the SP-404A from the AIRA TR-8, which added a completely new dimension to the workflow. Although this certainly moved things in a more dance music direction, it widened the appeal of the 404 even further.
The SP-404 MKII release in 2021 was highly anticipated by fans and Roland did not disappoint. With 16 pads, 32-voice polyphony, and 16 GB of internal storage it took the original design and put it on steroids.
Features like a pattern sequencer, sample slicing, and 37 effects provided workstation-like control, but they were all implemented in a way that didn’t lose the immediacy and fun factor of the original – a truly iconic design.
Which is your favourite 404? Please let us know in the comments below!
More about the Roland SP-404:
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- Roland MS-1: Roland
- Boss SP-202: Boss
- SP-404SX: Roland
- SP-404 MKII: Roland