Roland | S-0816 | Roland RSS S-1608/0816 Compact Digital Snake Issue 60

Roland RSS S-1608/0816 Compact Digital Snake Issue 60
ROLAND RSS S-1608/0816
Roland’s Digital Snake now comes
in a slimline alternative.
Text: Simon Allen
How many times have you been left packing up at the
end of a concert or a session – usually on your lonesome
– while everyone else is at home with a beer and their feet
up? Ever found yourself wondering: ‘there must be an
easier way’?
Digital mixing and audio processing is already reducing
the volume, size, and weight of audio equipment, and
Roland (well, strictly speaking, ‘RSS by Roland’) has
already weighed in with its S-4000 Digital Snake –
making Ethernet-based multi-channel digital audio
transmission more affordable than ever. It’s now released
the S-1608/0816 combo, which puts the technology in
reach of even more people. It’s a digital multicore – not a
digital mixing system that uses a digital multicore – so
the Compact Digital Snake can drop into just about any
existing setup.
The review rig consisted of the S-1608 and S-0816 rackmountable units and the S-4000R remote controller. The
S-1608 is situated on the stage (or at the point of input)
and the S-0816 is placed at the ‘mixing’ or ‘front of house’
position. These two units are then simply connected via a
single Ethernet Cat5e cable. This cable carries the audio
and control signals using Roland’s own protocol, REAC
(Roland Ethernet Audio Communication – at 24-bit/96k).
Meanwhile, the S-4000R remote control oversees the
channel gains and monitoring of the audio signals and can
be patched into the system at either the mixer or on-stage
ends of the chain. It features channel select and channel
gain knobs, recall/store and lock functions, channel pad
(-20dB) and phantom power options. It also gives you
a ‘signal’ LED and ‘clip’ LED for each channel, and a
standard input signal level meter for the selected channel.
The remote works on a standard RS-232C interface while
the S-1608 and the S-0816 run on mains power.
There are a total of 16 input channels and eight output/
return channels on the snake, and with the addition of any
number of S-0816 units, Cat5e cables, and an Ethernet
switching hub, you can split the 16 channels to multiple
AT 98
destinations such as a multitrack recorder or a monitor
desk. Between the Neutrik Ethercon devices the system
has a very low latency of approximately 375 microseconds
while any additional switching hub will add around 200
microseconds of latency. The technical restrictions of the
cable itself also limit individual runs to no more than 100
metres, though this should be more than enough for most
applications. Where further cable distance is required,
an in-line ethernet switching hub every 100 metres can
be used to carry and boost the signal up to a total of 500
metres. Of course, the beauty of this arrangement is that,
provided there are no digital errors or interference, there’s
no loss in signal quality over long distances – unlike
analogue snakes.
The new Roland system is easy to install, and for anyone
used to lugging analogue copper cables about, laying the
Cat5e cable is a breeze. At the first test venue I effortlessly
ran the cable down the side of the room, connected the
‘stage’ and ‘front of house’ boxes, powered up and was
ready to go. The two units sync themselves very quickly
without any manual input. The only ‘extras’ you need is a
short XLR loom to connect the mixing desk to the S-0816
‘front of house’ unit. Plug in the remote and you’re ready
for soundcheck.
I was pleased to see that Roland has included AC power
cord clamps on the side of both boxes to prevent the power
being accidentally cut to either unit – this would result
in complete loss of communication. The Ethernet cables
also sport a much more solid REAC connector rather than
the standard RJ45 plugs. This offers some consolation for
anyone switching from analogue to digital cables for the
first time, who might feel unnerved by the ‘lightweight’
nature of digital cables and connectors. Combine this with
the option of rack-mounting the units, and the result is a
very secure and robust-looking system that’s suitable for a
wide variety of gigging and concert environments.
Soundchecking the new system at my first test gig was
also a relatively painless affair. Selecting a channel,
setting the gain, adding a pad, or supplying phantom
power to a mic is all relatively simple (more on that in a
moment). The S-1608 and the S-0816 each have a ‘global’
mute button – great for when you’ve got limited time for
soundcheck. This allows you to quickly and easily mute
the entire system before plugging or unplugging mic cables
etc, preventing the need for the mandatory run back
The biggest advantage of the
Digital Snake is the fact that
the preamps are at the stage
end, closer to the microphones
to the desk to check on a channel’s status – more looms
should have this feature. As previously mentioned, the
system remote also connects at either end of the system.
So in a typical stage/FOH configuration, you can initially
monitor the channel levels at the stage (for instance) before
unplugging the remote and adjourning to front-of-house.
You can also opt for a second remote if you wish to
permanently locate one at either end. In this dual-remote
configuration, when one is being used the other will lock
to prevent two people ‘fighting’ over the controls. This is a
great concept.
The remote control also allows you to save presets of gain,
phantom power and pad settings. This is where any digital
audio equipment really comes into its own, of course.
Working at a concert involving several different acts or
wherever the stage setup changes, presets can be used to
save all your settings from the soundcheck. Being able to
recall these settings later during the show is extremely
useful and efficient.
One difficulty I had with the system, however, involved
altering the gains on individual channels. To do this you
must first select the channel you want to adjust using
the rotary Channel Select knob, which is quite fiddly.
I’d much prefer to see a gain control on each channel –
wouldn’t we all? Altering gain structures mid-gig became
particularly difficult in the dark, as the numbers on
the display of the remote aren’t visible, only the selected
channel number is illuminated. What this perhaps suggests
is that these Digital Snakes are ideally suited to situations
involving a digital desk, where the gain for each preamp is
integrated within the console itself. Alternatively, gains can
be selected and modified via the free software that displays
40 inputs on-screen, which I unfortunately didn’t have for
the review.
The stage box (S-1608) features LED indicators on all the
channels. There are three: signal level, clip indicators, and
+48V phantom power. This is a very useful feature as it
allows the stage crew (etc) to easily see what’s going on.
When changing sets during a concert, for example, they’re
able to see whether phantom has been powered off on the
right channels before switching input devices. If you had
another remote on the stage and FOH has either forgotten
or simply made the wrong changes, the stage crew could fix
the mistake themselves.
As far as the sound quality goes, I’m really pleased to report
The S-4000R optional remote – well worth the extra dosh.
that it’s superb. There wasn’t a great deal of difference
between the sound of the analogue multicore and the
Digital Snake; the signal from the Digital Snake had
slightly more clarity in the top end and there was no sign
of any analogue hum. The biggest advantage of the Digital
Snake is the fact that the preamps are at the stage end,
closer to the microphones. This means the signal is at its
optimum before it’s transferred to the desk.
I also wanted to hear how the system reacted to being
driven ‘into the red’ – let’s face it, you’ll always go into the
red at some point. Digital clipping is never going to sound
desirable, but some A/Ds can be particularly harsh in the
way they limit ‘Over’ signals. The RSS system sounds very
‘analogue’ in this respect, which was definitely a good
thing. If you do have a channel clipping, the remote will tell
you straight away via a red LED.
Before I conclude this review, I’d like to reiterate where this
product really comes into its own. For full-time in-house
installations, the Digital Snake will be particularly effective,
especially if you also use a digital console. It will also be
ideally suited to anywhere that you might need to transfer
audio signals over a long distance or your installation
doesn’t permit a large heavy cable. The digital signal
transfer of audio over large distances is a far better solution
to using analogue multicore as there’s no signal loss.
If you’re looking for a system to take on the road then the
Compact Digital Snake has a lot going for it. With only
three portable boxes and lightweight cable to lug, it’s a
low-profile, high-quality, robust solution. It would also suit
outside broadcast trucks, as the ‘FOH’ S-0816 unit can stay
mounted in the truck and the crew can lay out the Ethernet
cable and connect up the S-1608 in a matter of seconds.
With a bit of imagination you can split the Digital Snake’s
output to as many S-0816 units as you like (with additional
switching hubs), allowing you to run independent devices
such as multitrack recording, broadcasting, or a monitor
console, with each output being completely independent of
the rest and with no loss in the signal every time it’s split.
S-1608: $2795; S-0816: $2495;
$4995 for the S-1608/0816
bundle (cable optional extra);
S-4000R (optional remote):
Roland Corporation
(02) 9982 8266
Easy to configure.
Sounds great.
Low latency.
No induced noise/hums.
Excellent preamps.
Useful remote.
Gain control is fiddly, especially
in a dark venue.
The Digital Snake is an affordable option that’s well suited to
a wide variety of applications.
It’s a doddle to install and
a breeze to carry around. If
there’s one product the digital
age has replaced that surely
no-one would bemoan the loss
of, it’s the backbreaking heavy
analogue cables we all used to
lug around!
I think it’s safe to say that the Roland RSS Compact
Digital Snake is easier to set up than I first expected,
although, if you’re going to upgrade to a digital snake
you’d do well to consider upgrading to a digital desk at the
same time, to reap all the benefits the digital system offers.
This is a really great product; a well built, easy to use, and
reliable piece of kit.
AT 99
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