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Review of the Roland arranger module BK-7m

The good

  •  Value: The BK-7m arranger module gives you an unbeaten value for the money! Even if you compare to older and less capable modules in the used market.
  • Visual impression: Elegant and distinguished look
  • Versatility: can be used as arranger module, karaoke, recording onboard, drum machine, playback, Mp3/WAV player, + Sonar LE
  • Size/weight: unbeaten size to performance relation
  • Support: Roland offers support help lines for free! Use them!
  • Modern interfaces: USB, USB-stick memory (no vulnerable hard disk drive, CD/DVD or floppy disk)
  • Set up: The wizard makes it almost like “plug&play” for all kinds of Midi instruments
  • User groups: In the different users groups online you will find a lot of support and inspiration
  • Accessories: all from foot controller, stand, amplifiers, volume/expression pedals to USB-stick available
  • Styles, tones (voices), rhythms, OTS (OneTouchSettings) and much more available in the factory set up
  • Usable factory settings (OTS, MFX,EQ, volumes)
  • Equalizer (EQ)and multi effects (MFX) on board and selectively adjustable for all tones!

 

The bad

  • Interface musician to module v/v: The versatility of the module demands for a clear interface which with the quite small display and relatively few analog buttons cannot be achieved for a spontaneous change of settings
  • The documentation: The user’s manual does not help a greenhorn to midi arranger modules in getting familiar with the performance, a “ HowTo” manual is definitely missing (but not only at the BK-7m) Any change to another module (if you do want to change the factory settings and make your own performance library) will cause a lot of rethinking and reprogramming before you get smoothly going.
  • Price/performance: sad to say the BK-7m module is offered at a too low price! How do I come to this "crazy" statement? The distributors which normally not only do sell Rolands BK-7m arranger module will of course rather sell YOU a much higher priced product at a larger margin than this relatively affordable and low provisioned item! YOU have to check the performance yourself before purchasing. Be aware that mostly all humans tend to like what they did purchase themselves, but YOUR personal preferences can be different to the favor of ANY module in the market.

 

The conclusion

  • You get a great performing ”box” for the money! The BK-7m is very versatile in many music environments. More than most musicians will ever need! IMHO we have reached a level of sound quality and performance where these are not anymore the limiting parameters. Your choice of equipment in total decides about the sound, and especially HOW you adjust to your personal taste and preferences. To do this the user interface is the major challenge for the producers of such equipment, to open for the creativity and performance of the musician, and not limiting this. The BK-7m at this time (August 2012) will offer you great options and a challenge as soon you will leave the factory settings behind. Now I am waiting for Roland to maybe react to my idea of making a more user friendly manual more minded for the “HowTo” to let musician play music and programmers build modules.


(11) Follow the discussion of this article in the User Club Forum

 

The full review

- The product

- The product - under the hood

- Accessories

- Sales support

- Conclusion

- About the review

- Review method

- About the reviewer

- Credits

- Disclaimer

 

In spring 2011 Roland released the new arranger module BK-7m. Roland Skandinavia a/s and www.roland-arranger.com agreed to review this new module, and after the latest update of the operating system to 1.06 we were ready to go. You will find a few other reviews online of the BK-7m already. In this review I will try to dig deeper into possibilities and limitations of the versatility, especially because the BK-7m at first sight seems to cover a broad spectrum of demands and options, offered to a very competitive price. I would be very pleased if at the end I will be able to confirm just some of the high expectations. More about this review , global considerations, the reader and the reviewer.

The product

At first view

The BK-7m is a beautifully designed piece of furniture, which in your living room beside your digital Piano in polished Mahogany will add not only decent style but as well the future to your kids practicing to become stars. I really like the clean style, the buttons feel stable, the select wheel seems a bit to fuzzy, but the BK-7m is an eye catcher, well designed. Black was always my favorite color. The buttons are well organized, well labeled, easy readable, seems I will have fun investigating more.

My first impression is that maybe there are few buttons for such a complex module The displays at first seem a little tiny, but let us verify this after turning the module on. The “band in a briefcase” seems correct, 1,7 Kg is really a lightweight, no other arranger module offers by such small housing and weight an adequate performance, will be interesting to get closer to the performances

The BK-7m arranger module can be connected to and operated by any MIDI equipped instrument, like keyboard, piano, guitar, accordion, sequencer, computer or karaoke. The setup wizard will make an easy and uncomplicated connection, making it possible without any MIDI knowledge to connect and use the module. For more advanced MIDI setups you can modify the settings to your needs, and save up to 7 users settings.

 

Connections

 Investigating the external connections it is obvious that the BK-7m is a modern product using USB and USB-stick for saving files. Intern no more rotating hard disk drives or CD drives are found.

The BK-7m use a Solid State Read Only Memory (ROM), and can be extended by 1 external USB stick/memory device with up to 2 TB for user settings, recorded files and styles/voices/performance lists. All connectors are on the backside of the unit, which is very fine for my esthetic taste placed near to the mahogany digital piano, but as a musician I would prefer headset and USB-Stick connections on the front The BK-7m offers a USB connection to a PC, which offers many possibilities starting with the supplied Sonar LE software, and many other sequencer/studio software where you can connect record, modify, control the BK-7m.

Important to mention is that the MIDI-IN and USB-IN cannot be operated simultaneously! And there is no warning if you try to do so! The use of MIDI-IN from external device and USB-OUT to your computer and record with the supplied Sonar LE is though possible. The manual does not mention this option. On the German Roland Homepage you will find Software to modify styles and settings, but no software which will allow you to interactively use remote controls. Trials are offered, be sure about the products performance before you purchase, and if you are not an experienced PC user, the installations can cause you some trouble.

2 6.35mm Jack connectors only are the analog output for the amplifier. This makes the module easy to operate with your stereo at home with a double 6,35mm Jack to RCA connector cable. Saves space and money. For the more professional use certainly outputs split into drums/organs/solos/backing would give a more easy mix and add of effects externally. This lack of connections demands the musician to mix levels inside the BK-7m which will be programmable/savable, but not accessible spontaneously.

 

Power supply

The power supply is an external transformer type as you will find on many notebooks, the quality of the selected cable seems low and little flexible which imply a higher risk of a broken cable. I would prefer an internal power supply with exchangeable cable. It would be more stable, less cables, less vulnerable, easier to repair/exchange.

The Roland BK-LB01 USB stick with more than 500 Rhythms from earlier model.

The USB connection for the USB stick is on the backside of the module, and in use with the BK-LB01 (118MB capacity) the length of the Roland BK-LB01 makes it vulnerable to applied forces and you will need to remove it for safe transportation. My advice: use a simple mini housing USB stick and copy the BK-LB01 content into a directory and keep the original as backup. You will always need a USB Stick as you can only save OTS (OneTouchSettings), styles or other files to USB stick, so it is a must. Roland Skandinavias pricing includes the BK-LB01styles on a Roland branded USB-Stick. I did use a 4 GB mini USB stick, it cost a few Euros only, and fitted neatly into the housing and at no risk of damage. (see picture) (link) You will only need to remove the USB if/when you want to add new content like styles or files or you will modify/use files saved with the BK7-M.

Furthermore you will find MIDI IN/OUT connections, connection for FC-7 foot controller, a connection for single foot controller or expression foot pedal ( 6.35mm Jack type), 2 x 6.35mm Jack analog in, RCA video out and the ON/OFF button.

 

Accessories

The tested BK-7M was supplied with the stand PDS-10 … that’s a style I like. You find very similar stands used in drum kits, and it give the impression to be very sturdy, and gives you the ability to get the module close to your keyboards right hand, right where you need it for fast actions. The maximum height allows you to be standing up while playing the accordion/guitar, and still stable for the normal operation. A great tool!

The FC-7 foot controller is simple to connect and gives you prompt good access to essential variations. See later for further options The supported expression pedal EV-5, connect to the 6.35 mm jack, and at first you adjust the overall volume, which for the beginning will be an adequate selection.

 

Power ON / Setup

I did connect my Midi Accordion to the module, turned all on… and followed the instructions in the display from the connection wizard and without any further I could play the active parts (MBS/LWR/UP1/UP2)…. I easily found a Rhythm which invited me to play, I used at first the preprogrammed tones, tried the OTSs, and … it worked… this setup was so easy. I tried to select other tones for the active parts using the selection wheel. Yes within a few attempts I was able to find several rhythms and styles/tones which I spontaneously would say… YES… I like! I did this end 2011 before this review was agreed upon, visiting specialized shops in Germany and Denmark.

I did try other modules as well, and the connection wizard included in the BK-7m makes it easy for the first use and you need no knowledge about MIDI setups. You can save up to 8 individual set-ups, in case you want to operate the module in different environments.

For accordionists playing acoustic instruments with build in MIDI system, be aware to tune the module to the tuning of your accordion, the module is in the factory setting tuned to 440Hz, and most accordions are tuned between 442-444Hz, and it simply sounds better when tuned to the same frequency ;-)

You can easily connect to Roland Keyboards, V-Accordions, MIDI guitars and any other brand of MIDI controlling unit. Thanks to the General MIDI, and almost standardized interfaces. See here http://www.midi.org/ for further information

 

Understanding the BK-7m modules use of USB-Stick to save performance lists and OTS/MyStyle setting.

As this is a very modern product with modern non moving memories, it is very smart only to be able to save settings on the external USB-Stick as this easily can be backed-up on your computer, and you can keep a safe copy while you experiment with further settings. This allows you to configure any BK-7m module to your needs with in minutes by inserting your USB-Stick and you need only to configure the midi and the global setting to have a copy of your own module. This high flexibility of the module demands the user to understand these possibilities.

 

Display/menu

At these my first attempts to use the module, I had mixed feelings about the offered information on the display. I did quite easily and intuitively manage to select other tones/voices/rhythms, but at the same time I easily found myself on a menu level where I could only press the EXIT button several times „Press and hold the [EXIT] button to return to the BK-7m’s main page” to return to ”daylight”. Later I tried to consult the manual to find a menu overview. Sad to say: it is not published!

 

First OTS use and styles/voices

The operating system 1.06 offers the option to modify the OTS (OneTouchSetting) of which you have 4 available for every style/performance plus the style setting itself. At first you will able to play very variated music and styles by just using the preprogrammed settings, as soon you will start modifying, you will need the USB Stick to save your settings.

 

The Music Assistant

The music assistant offers you a long list of different songs, preprogrammed for the most famous songs. Try them.. like or dislike them, but you have an option here very quickly to get going without any programming needed. You find lists of these on the yahoo groups page.

 

The sound

 First connecting the BK-7m to the amplifier of choice, be aware that no chain is stronger than the weakest part, meaning the sound will depend on the quality of your amplifier, speakers, cables and the room you play in. For practicing a good stereo amplifier with good linear speakers will do better than most PA equipment, and probably already is available in your home. You just need the connecting cables and connect to the “line in”,”CD” or “tape in”, never the PHONO input which has different sensitivity. The “in use” amplifier and speakers will influence the sound substantially, and use the equalizer to adjust the tone to your taste.

The tones/voices are in the factory setting added substantial effects like hall and reverb, but for the first, and to practice in a dampened room suitable, you will later develop the need to adjust to your taste.

The tones are digitally generated midi sounds, without effect you will feel the sound artificially hard, and you can go and compare to other modules and find your personal taste and need depending on your style. IMHO the audience will not be able to distinguish if you play a Roland module or another brand, the biggest variation in the sound will depend on how you modify the performance to your taste, and you setup the sound.

 

User manual

I did start reading the manual before I got the BK-7m for the 40 days period of trial. At first reading all the options and settings are overwhelming. This small box can handle so many different formats and file types, it will fit in the karaoke bar, will play most common file types in playback or styles, will record analog signals combined with the modules tone generating… and so on… very versatile little box. Simple see the specifications in the manual for a complete overview. Do not underestimate the huge array of usability. I missed an overview and more details about how to change and save modifications, I got a lot of information about what is possible and specifications, but the methods how to do are mostly missing. I did not easily build an overview of the menu, or how to save which settings on which medium valid for which area. I was impressed and confused. During my initial learning phase confronting me with the BK-7m, I found that 2 major points are missing. First the menu structure or menu overview shown graphically or described clearly in menu point and sub/subsub/menupoints and second how to save different modified settings, and which setting are saved in the OTS-MyStyle/performance lists and which are saved globally and not influenced by the loading of other OTS/performance list. The module of course reacts as it is programmed, and essential to changes in “OTS HOLD” and “Performance HOLD” settings. These are not explained thoroughly, but the understanding of this is essential to how the module reacts to your savings and input. I had many surprises in my process of trial and error to learn understand this. Please Roland make a detailed manual to these settings, as for a greenhorn to arranger modules you will have a much easier approach to understand and overview the immense amount of possibilities you have with the module.

You will find the manual in major languages, but for example not in Skandinavian languages, only here you find a quick reference for the most essential points of interest. Many musicians are not multilingual and do not easily handle manuals in a foreign language.

At first if you are not familiar with other Roland products or if you aren’t familiar with MIDI terminologies at all, you will not find explanations helping educate you. I totally miss the explanations of the very important terms as, SMF, One Touch, STL, tones.

 

The product - under the hood

I basically see the BK-7m as a musical instrument and module which will support the solo-musician with a backing and a MIDI tone generator in one. The biggest challenge is to limit the use of backing, variate it and select the tones to be most realistic. The overwhelming possibilities will, especially if you are new to backing modules, challenge your selection and limitation. Do not let the module decide about your style, be selective and control… like playing any music instrument from PPP to FFF, cord blocks to solo voices. You are the boss!

The spontaneous tweaking of sound will IMHO not be possible, use the rhythms “as are” or prepare your setups for different rhythms with unique names saved on the USB Stick as performance lists or as One Touch changes under MyStyles. This means you will need to use time to setup before you use the module professionally, and do not expect the ability even to make smaller adjustments on the fly. The consequence of this is like for other and most professional use, program the module to your personal preferences. And there is a lot to program/save.

The BK-7m is a fully MIDI controllable unit, which can be controlled by external devices like the V-accordions or midi control interfaces. The supported MIDI-imp settings will allow the advanced user to setup the module in complex midi environments, and the BK-7m will perform as programmed. The details you find in the published MIDI_imp file LINK.

 

Voices/tones

The voices/tones are digitally generated, and you can change effects but not the voice itself. You can change synthesizer like attach/decay/and so on, but the voice is basic the same. You can modify aftertouch, touch sensitivity and more. You will not find a drawbar organ or tabs for each pipe, but you will find an organ1, organ2, organ3 or even more describing names where you will miss the pipe setting in a listing. You cannot change the pipe or percussion spontaneous without selecting another tone/voice. The tones are as is with all the options with effects and more, but organ3 is organ3! The effects can be modified and saved for all tones within a performance list, and be aware not for the module as general! You will modify a tone/voice and save it in a performance list, and the modification will only be active in this performance , meaning that if you want to change the effect “rotary” on organ3 you will have to change and save for all performances where the organ3 is active, and be aware the rhythm family settings are only kept until next turn off if not saved in the performance lists/MyStyle lists on the USB stick.

If You have the option to send voice change MIDI messages from your midi instrument (as I have with my modified Elkavox83 accordion) you will find that after sending the change message “vibraphone” to the active part UP1 after having the “organ3” selected, you will still have the effect ROTARY on the FC-7 foot controller, which indeed is a very unusual combination ;-) Accept that the module is a computer, and the computer do stupidly only what it is told to do, like a soldier, so you need to be aware of all possibilities and limitations, and use these actively in the way you use the module. As soon you start modifying the module, it will do exactly what it is told to do, no more or less!

From Roland Skandinavia I learned that there is a solution to this "rotary on vibraphone" problem, as I can use the midi accordion to change performances instead. I did not at the time writing have the option to verify this, as at this time I have no BK-7m module here.

 

Modify – save – CHECK IT

 Here an example from the yahoo groups BK7-m, where the confusion is described well:

Hi Everyone, I created a performance list that is a combination of styles and midi files in a sequential order to use on a gig. I want to edit some style parts, basically making the drums louder. I enter the Makeup Tools then go to the instrument part and increase the drum volume. My problem is when I press write to save it appears to be saving but when I re play the style, the volume is at the original level. Is there another method of saving adjusted volumes? I've used this method to adjust the tempo and that seems to work OK? any suggestions welcome.

Hi, you are saving a version of the style to the default user memory location on your usb drive. You then have to make sure your desired performance list is loaded and then save that modified style to the performance list using the write button.

Yes, I am doing that. I make the modifications to volume of the instrument etc in the Make Up Tools section of the menu. Then I make sure my performance list is loaded. I press write and it asks if I want to overwrite the performance style and I press the dial for "Yes". If I change to a different style then change back to the style I just saved with the modifications, the adjustments are Void. Everything returns to the original settings....this is very frustrating. I must be doing something wrong but can't figure it out yet.

The save function under makeup tools does not write to the loaded performance list. After saving and exiting makeup tools do a write to save it to the list.

 

Factory settings

In the factory settings you find that rhythms are differently setup on makeup/tones/volume/effects/equalizer/speed/intro/ending/var/arranger/startcync etc. and You will have to be sure that all settings when saved are to your preferences or you will suffer maybe some less positive surprises while playing and e.g. changing from OTS1 to OTS2, or selecting a new rhythm. Modify- save- Check it! This will be your method of working with the module! You can do this individually for every song you will play, or make groups of songs where you use the same basic setting saved in a performance.

 

Volume adjustment on stage

The lack of several selected outputs of the different parts will force you to adjust volumes and effects inside the module, and you will not be able to adjust spontaneously. When you setup the BK-7m song by song and save the settings in the performance list, you can build up a library of settings (in performance lists and MyStyles), which will allow you to work flexible even on stage. I did find the following setup as useable for some flexible dynamics in the volumes between the following parts: backing - MBS/LWR - UP1/UP2 - analog input

The volume button will adjust the overall output volume to your amplifier master volume. the volume button for analog input, the analog input sensitivity relative to overall volume the volume button for the parts/backing will adjust the relative mix between active parts and backing Select in the parts setup the expression pedal to ON for UP1/UP2 only. This allows you to adjust the volume of the UP1/UP2 while playing by the expression pedal EV-5 by foot, and in case of the need the balance between the other mostly less dynamic parts by hand using the volume buttons. I did for my taste select UP1/UP2 parts volume 127(adjustable to less by the expression pedal), MBS parts volume 80 and LWR (accordion chords) volume 35.

During my solo performances on stage during the review period it was a useable workaround to the need for adjust volumes on the fly.

 

Display on stage

While playing the active parts, I did select the “octave” menu, in this way I could instantly see which tone/voice is selected on which active part, and in which octave the part is played. Combining different octaves of the same or different voices gives a more diversified sound. And the octave will give you needed information when playing active parts without backing, and if you have the option of program changes from your midi instrument, you will have an overview of which voices are selected. Especially when using the OTS1 to OTS4 you will not need to memorize the settings.

 

Menu, display and navigation within

In the manual you will not find a menu/submenu overview, you will find it in writing distributed on many pages and partly viewable only. IMHO no normal human being can during reading/studying the manual keep an overview about how menus and submenus relate to each other, and the user manual should not contain only a listing of what is possible, but as well how to specifically use the module.

The manual provided with the BK-7m is another example of low or no communication between the engineering department, the people writing the manual and the users. I miss a practical “how to” part of the manual enabling the user to easily and fast get the most out of the product. The user manual is of little or no use for a person who is new to an arranger module, just the use of Roland specifics vocabulary without any deeper explanation is confusing. The total lack of menu overview in combination with missing overview of which parameters are saved in user One Touch and rhythms and which are globally or MIDI user savings and where are these saved will force you to do trial and error testing.

The impressive performance of the BK-7m demands for detailed descriptions, which you will not find in the manual. A positive example of a “how to” manual is the quick start in the Sonar LE, which detailed will guide you through the first set-up. The development department will have used these menu overviews during the product devellopment and software design. Why not provide these essential informations to the users? As menu and submenu overviews, with specifications which settings are saved how and under which filename on the USB stick With updates of the operating system an amendment to the user manual is released for print out and to be added into the hardcopy original user manual. Why not provide a user manual in pdf format with respect to all changes for download? Many users read the manual on phone or PC, this would be a lot easier. An overview orientated manual could have compensated for the next subject which I will call a design flaw.

 

The display size

 We got Windows, mouse, touch screen, voice controlling, QR-codes and many more great interfaces between man and machine, to make the machines a tool for the humans to perform better. The BK-7m development team seems to live in another century! You will find a minimum sized display, no mouse, no touch screen, few analog buttons, a minimum of output connections and a selection wheel where the feel resistance/bumps doesn’t correspond to 1 line change in the display, and the bumps are so soft that while pressing to confirm the line selected it easily changes.

The small display gives you the feeling approximate to the feeling I imagine maneuvering a submarine in the harbour by means of the periscope only… You easily loose the overview and end up scrolling too much. I miss a much bigger touch screen and a mouse for easy navigation, selection and modification

 

Surface in use

The beautiful black surface “glass like” surface soon turns out to be very sensitive. I did once only whip it carefully with a soft cloth, and I did cause small fine scratches on the surface. (picture) Not the durability you could expect from a module aimed for the professional use. And the surface is meant to be touched as it is the major interface to the settings.

 

The selection wheel

The selection wheel was on the review module not mounted in a centered position, and the overall impression doesn’t seem very stable. After 40 days of intensive use though I did not register any wear.

 

Sound modifications

The BK-7m module offers a broad and detailed array of sound adjustments. You will find for every tone in every rhythm highly adjustable effects, equalizer, and mastering effects globally effective. You will like to change the sound, and you will be searching for the active setting causing the effect you want to modify. Again you are up to search for global or tone/rhythm settings.

The basic digital sound is dry with no effects and you have the option to change all effects added by default. The impressive amount of effects will for a beginner be a challenge to overview, do your experiments with 1 active part selected and try the effects on this and soon after you are not an absolute greenhorn anymore ;-) In the support market you will find several software which offer different possibilities of adjustment of settings/files, copying and renaming of files, but there is no software offering the interface to directly adjust the BK-7m in all settings with an overview of the setting on external display or PC. Due to the huge overwhelming options of adjustments, these are naturally best done on the module directly.

 

Accessories

Footcontroller FC-7

The FC-7 is the tool you need to control the BK-7m directly and interactively. The FC-7 is not a midi controller, and the programmability is done in the BK-7m setup menu with an array of options selectable. The FC-7 is a simple row of contacts shortcutting 1 ground cable to selected 1 of 7 other connecting cables. The cable out of the housing is mounted without any protection against excessive bending, expect a broken cable or modify by yourself, and the connection to the BK-7m would have been much more stable if the connector would have been a 90° type instead of a straight type connector.

The markings on the FC-7 show the factory setting in the BK-m, and as soon you start modifying you will have to remember or make new markings yourself. A rewriteable surface would make adequate marking easy. In my setup as accordion player ergonomically I need the expression/volume pedal most to the right. Left next to the volume pedal I will need the start/stop and further left from left VAR1-2-3-4, Rotary and track mute. Seem to be just opposite the idea behind the FC-7/BK-7m factory markings and settings in the menu.

 

Stand PDS-10

 This is a great tool, especially for accordion players this is a MUST! I have no complaints; it is sturdy, well adjustable and brings the BK-7m module just where you need it, adjustable in height and angle… close to your right hand keys. The stability is even at maximum height sufficient to change settings.

Be careful adjusting the height with the BK-7M mounted, the upper part of the stand can be pulled out without any protection! Leave the attachment plate mounted, and for transportation the BK-7M module with the plate mounted will fit into the original box with shock absorbers.

 

Expression pedal EV-5

The overall impression is a bit too much plastic, but it works well, the minimum volume adjustment is great to protect you from unintended low volumes on stage by heavy legwork. I did select the expression Pedal to be active on UP1/UP2 only. Alternatively you can purchase the FV-500L which is build for the road.

 

Cables

A broken cable is the worst you can experience on stage. 3 parameters are essential to avoid broken cables. First the used material, second the way it is mounted to connectors/equipment with force protections and how carefully the cables are handled. In case you will have to exchange cables and add force protection if not adequate to your demands out of stock. For my taste I would modify the FC-7 Cable with force protectors and a 90° connector, and wish to have a more flexible power supply cable.

 

BK-LB01 USB stick with styles

The BK-LB01 gives you a neatly designed Roland branded USB-stick (on my PC 118MB, but I see on the German RolandHP that is has 1GB capacity) with styles from other Roland products. You will find these offer a great add to the already installed rhythms, as always depending on your personal taste and preferences. The housing of the Roland branded stick is simply too long for safe transportation while mounted, better buy a mini housing stick, and keep the fashionable designed BLK-01 as backup in a chain around your neck ;-) Link to Roland accessories HP.

 

Sales support

To the first impression about the BK-7m I highly count the level of pre sales information you get from shops and support hotlines. Alternatively you can educate yourself on various homepages like here at www.roland-arranger.com, by participating in yahoo groups http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BK-7m/ or at the RolandKeyboardClub http://shop.rolandkeyboardclub.com/music_shop.asp?fInstrumentId=19&fProductGroupId=7&Instrument=BK-7m&ProductGroup=Styles My experiences with shops, which of course are very limited and cannot be seen as globally valid I hope, are quite disappointing. I got the impression that sellers I contacted in Denmark and Germany in general prefer selling more expensive modules, but they lack the arguments when it comes to explaining why, except that the modules are “more professional” “better styles and sounds” “what can you expect from a EUR 900,-- module“

When confrontated with the demand for more detailed differences and quantitative facts, the arguments are very thin and could not be verified as empirical findings, but more as a way to achieve the biggest turnover and profit. The comparatively low price of the BK-7m module seems to be a challenge for the distributing channels which prefer higher margins and sales prices. You will in this review miss the direct comparison to other modules, it is not possible for me to judge scientifically about taste and preferences, the setup of this review doesn’t give me the capacity, this remains to be your challenge before you exchange or upgrade to another module. Do not buy only based on the technical specifications, your personal preferences will be most deciding in selecting for you the right backing band.

 

New to Arranger modules

 The first time backing module owner will have a lot of fun and challenge starting to use the BK-7m arranger module. You will at first have to learn to follow the rhythm, and select the right rhythm/setting/tone/voices. You will have no problems getting started; the setup wizard will assist you.

The BK-7m will probably offer you much more than you will ever need, and as long you use the module as is, you will be proud of how great your “band” is playing and your family will soon start to like your artistic performance.

You will in the BK-7m find a module easy to use at first sight, the setup wizard make you play within minutes, and you find many rhythms and arranging you can use just like they are preprogrammed in the module. When you want to change tones you will quite easily do this, and you will need an USB to save your modifications. At this level you will with your midi instrument have a lot of good experiences at first, you can progress a lot learning to handle a module.

As a little more experienced user, even at the very beginning of using an arranger module I would advise you to equip your module with volume pedal, foot controller FC-7 and the PDS-10 Stand, especially if you are an accordion player this is a must. Ask your dealer for a package price!

Pro: competitive low price, well designed, easy to connect, logical intuitive analog buttons, easily readable display, good sounds, good default effects and presets, preprogrammed One Touch, metronome, low weight/small housing, support with user hotline/groups/homepages

Contra: small display, the manual offers a great list of specifications, but little help to modify and use the module, missing menu overview, missing explanation to essential terms and settings, no explanation of vocabulary.

 

The experienced user

The more experienced user, the musician upgrading from older module, looking for more individual settings, you will be confrontated with a lot of possibilities and options, but you will have a hard time and need a step learning curve to get familiar to how to modify and save your settings.

Without a deeper understanding about how to use performance lists and OTS/MyStyles lists the module will not offer an interface to you, where you can easily and fast change settings. Interactive spontaneous changes will IMHO not be possible on stage! The BK-7m arranger module will offer you a broad array of possibilities and options; you will get a very transportable module, with a good sound, lots of effects and sound adjustments, make-up and mastering tolls for your personal taste, selectable instruments and muting in the arranging.

The sound of the module is digital generated, and you will find many effects to adjust the sound to your preference. You have to compare to your need, and select module and setting to your taste.

The BK-7m offer a highly simplified user interface, and for professional use on stage I did not find any other option than to modify and save Rhythms and One Touchs to the USB stick in “performance lists” and “My Styles” in advance and use thesethis actively on stage for selecting your presets. During performance you can hardly adjust any effects and settings in the BK-7m, to adjust to changes in acoustics and preferences use external effects and equalizer. See here for my setup(link)

You will online find many other users who share their performance lists. As well you will find many rhythms transported from other modules and continents, very motivating and inspiring testing, but overwhelming and really too much overview. You will find software to modify and change setting in the saved styles. You find a link and explanation on the german Roland Homepage (link)

Pro: very low price for the performance and options offered, good tones/voices, rhythms are modern and adjustable, many further rhythms for download from other users, easy to transport and connect, a broad array of effects which are adjustable to your preferences, mastering tolls, make-up tools, all setting can be saved in performances or MyStyles.

Contra: Manual offer very little help for essential understanding of the menu and savings, scratch sensitive surface, Wheel a bit “fuzzy”, display size very tiny, no drawbars, no direct modifiable voices/tones, vocabulary for non Roland experienced users missing, 2 only analog output connections.

Conclusion

The BK-7m is a gem for the money by specifications and by first impression, easy setup, and a quite intuitive user interface at first, and the sounds are great. The lack of basic and more detailed information about how to modify the module will be the major challenge to overcome and to become familiar with all the options.

The first impression of the very few buttons and direct accesses in combination with a tiny display imply simplicity, which will soon show to be the major challenge to overcome as soon we dig deeper into the possibilities. I like the module, the sound is good, easy setup, and great performance for a relative low price. Very early in the process of learning I search for better documentation, but Roland did not provide it. After 30 days I did bring the module on stage, and it worked well.

Is a positive verdict, I did have a hard time to understand the module and its menu at the beginning, but using the performance lists as advised by many users in the answering of the questionnaire, it was possible to work around the limitations in the BK-7m interface. In combination with my Elkavox83 w special MIDI modification it is a tool I can work with. Did I buy a module? Not yet at the time writing. The overall impression of the module is that for the price you will hardly find more value for your investment in an arranger module at the time of writing. You will realize that this positive relationship between price and performance comes at comes at a certain cost. I would define the product idea as follows: “produce a software operated highly versatile module in a relatively cheap housing with modern but cheaper connections, price target below EUR 1000.-, good specifications and modern attractive design. Materials and documentation is kept low key to keep productions costs limited”

Other modules better?? Sad to say, many of the complaints I do bring here you find in competing modules with a much higher price tag as well, especially it seems that the producers of keyboards and modules haven’t realized that a module is only as good as its documentation, and that positive costumers response and easiness of use will be a major selling point… not just the specifications and optical design. That users need to use weeks of trial and error processing to find out how the module can be modified to personal tastes is a basic flaw in the final product design. I talked to many users and sellers/advisors of such modules… and I was chocked to hear that most modules NEVER left the factory setting behind, and only few users really demanded the performance.

The winner in this market will be the company who finally realize that the costumer is king, and the more you spoil your costumer the more they will love you. In the BK-7m arranger module you find a highly versatile arranger module, and it will fulfill the demand of most users. The BK-7m is very flexible and offers much more than just an arranger module. It handles karaoke, recording and playback, arranging, tone generation, live parts play back and much more. The BK-7m is not only a music instrument.


About the review

 Any music instrument itself is IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) only a tool to play music. The instrument itself is so far not interesting, but the music which can be created with it. Any music instrument demands for practice, confrontation and knowledge and the main part of the performance will always be the musician and how she/he is able to create music with it. The interface man to machine becomes of certain importance, and the flexibility of this is essential to support and motivate the musical creativity. It is becoming popular to program music, let computers play and perform it, you experience that a lot where concerts are supported by “play-back” or midi files, artist go on stage and “act”/simulate singing to their own recorded songs. Karaoke entertainment is very popular in many parts of the world; it lets every person perform as “the star” with a backing band. It is not my taste, I prefer real humans playing with all the lack in precision, but I did myself already in the early 1980s perform live with digital rhythm backing to substitute a drummer. The cost of human labor in combination with the reliability of machines and their performance level makes arranger modules a suitable tool to perform music.

The BK-7m arranger module is able to perform in many of these environments, as it handles the karaoke, WAV, MP3 and many more file types and can be remotely controlled by sequencers, computers with midi-interface and all midi equipped instruments. It plays very advanced rhythms/backings, programmable backing and uses advanced tone generation for most realistic voices. Roland argues that the BK-7m module can be used by musicians with almost no computer- or midi-experience, and as well be used in highly complex MIDI setups with a multiple of options. Since 1970 I play the accordion and have spend thousands of hours performing with different acoustic/analog accordions live on stage, playing many different styles from Danish folk to more rocky and disco fox. I did basically avoid using the arranger parts of different instruments, only using the rhythm section if any at all.

For the major review I did use my ELKAVOX 83 with a small midi conversion interface which substituted the old analog generator box completely, and as well did supply power to the build in microphones. See picture This conversion give me alike the V-accordions the possibility to send midi program changes to the module on specified midi channels, and all the analog buttons can be programmed to any General Midi tone. The Elkavox83 midi box has the option to select the UP2 to silent mode which, when the MIDI setup has different channels for UP1 and UP2, allowed me to modify my voices without touching the BK-7m. So great! For mixing I used the GEM Powercase12 / peavey unity 1000 with high end HiFi amplifiers. Speakers I did use my Peavey HiSys4 (each 2 x 15” BlackWidows + horn) or HiSys3 speakers, alternatively with the GEM Peavey Impulse 200 speakers with an active 15” GEM BlackSub 250. One live performance was in a tent for 250 people, which acoustically can be a quite demanding job, but the GEM Powermixer12 with impulse200 and GEM BlackSub created a pleasant and detailed audible sound, of course based on the output from the BK-7m, the build in microphones and my singing.

As always the equalizer and effects on the mixer is a vital part of adjusting the sound to the room you perform in. You will IMHO not have any chance to adjust the settings in the BK-7m module while on the job. This means set the hall/echo effect to the minimum required, and you can add more if the room has no own hall, or when more audience dampens the room. For training and jobs where no special sound pressure is demanded I use the Unity1000 w HiFi Pioneer reference master II 717 amplifier with smaller full range boxes. (dantax SX300) Generally in those cases I did adjust my own sound there were no complaints, on a festival where I had a very low key tone technician there were complaints, but I do not blame the BK-7m for that In general you will be able to adjust and modify the sound to your taste with adequate equipment. Be demanding, and be aware “expensive” does not always imply a better sound. 40 days of love and hate!!! From the very beginning as already described it was quite easy to get the setup running and just play with the arranger modules active parts. Almost too easy ;-) that was a good and nice experience. As I soon after started to setup my repertoire in a performance list with modified One Touch, filenames, effects, rotary on organ tones with FC-7, new tones in One Touch, new effects, modified effects, equalization, mastering, master EQ, special MIDI setup for my ELKAVOX83 ( UP1/UP2 on different MIDI channels, and to accept the program changes from the module) things got quite complicated. I did make a factory reset 3 times to clean up my methods, and to avoid that I had modified and saved settings I wasn’t aware of.

I did experience a heavy trial and error learning curve. I did tried to use the manual as my first guide, but You will find more listings of performance than you find “how to’s” in the manual, the www.roland-arranger.com the Yahoo-groups BK-7m did help a lot in my way through the jungle. If I had had years of experience with Roland products or other MIDI instruments of course I could have saved many errors, but the idea of this review is to show and document how well the BK-7m performs for musicians with less experience in this area. My technical experiences paired with my persistence and possibility to invest time in this project made my learning curves faster and steeper than what in general can be expected from a normal user.

Expect to use plenty of time “tweaking” before you go on stage first time, do not give up.

 

Review method

You will not find a listing of specifications here, you will find experiences in how the module can be setup for use, and especially about complications in use, and I will share some of the workarounds I did find for several issues. You will of course be free and kindly asked to comment and discuss this review on the www.roland-arranger.com and share your opinions and experiences as well. In the 40 days of reviewing I did not manage to cover all, and I did not become a specialist on the BK-7m. I will advise you to verify the findings by your own, and build your own opinion. Musicians have very different preferences, taste and qualifications, and therefore you should test any module thoroughly to comply with your personally requirements.

I did have a BK-7m with several optional accessories to my disposition in a 40 days review period in April to May 2012; I did mainly operate it with my Acoustic Accordion with a MIDI interface.

This review is based not solely on my experiences, but based on the reply from BK-7m users answering the questionnaire I did publish in February 2012 as well. Thanks to all for your participation and efforts. During the test period I did bring the module on stage in live performances, I did seriously use the module as a major part of the tone generation, and based on these “confrontations” I will share my experiences.

The Roland BK-7m is marketed as a “band in a briefcase” and is at a list price around EUR 1000,--/7000Dkr/ 1200USD a hard competition in the lower price segment (expanders and used market), and as well competitive with good performance and sounds for the more advanced and demanding user where performance is the major criteria. This has motivated me to review the module from 3 different angles of view:

  • The private musician, for the first time with an arranger module, little experience in MIDI-configurations/computers and playing for fun and practicing, developing skills, no need for the most advanced equipment by now, but sooner maybe?. Simple to use, simple to setup, is this a realistic goal setting?
  • The professional musician, who use a MIDI arranger for performing on stage/studio, in need of high quality sounds/styles, and as well in need of the maximum of flexibility and interaction with the module while playing. Flexibility, variations, dynamics, interfaces … complex possibilities. Does the BL-7m bring the programmability and sound quality to be used as a professional tool on stage/in studio?
  • IMHO … “in my humble opinion”…. My personal findings… I agree all here is my personal, but still I will allow to bring in my absolute personal view, where I do not need to be objective, where I will allow myself to criticize and describe ideas for new functionalities
Have fun reading, always developing YOUR styles and creativity, and do not forget to comment on this review and the BK-7m on the www.roland-arranger.com, as this review is totally NON-commercial, I am NOT supported by Roland or competitors, I do at the time of writing NOT own a BK-7m, my motivation to invest this time and energy is for myself to even go deeper into MIDI-arranger-modules as I do in many cases enjoy reading and use the reviews of others when I purchase new equipment. I did have technical support from Roland Skandinavia a/s, and this review has been technically overviewed by a Roland Technician to eliminate false statements to a minimum. Have fun reading, and I hope this prolonged review will help one or another to progress to make better music!! NO pain = NO gain … yes we need to practice more! Happy to share!
 

About the reviewer

Kurt Markussen, 52, Danish citizen, playing the accordion since 1970, performing traditional accordion music, and as well a mix of dance, pop, rock, classical and entertainment Always playing as a solo musician I do play acoustic and acoustic accordion with a midi conversion, rhythm/arranger and expander modules.

I am not special experienced or qualified to perform this review, it could have been you. I have undergone a steep learning curve during this, and I did have the possibility to invest time in this review. My findings are intentionally close to how a normal user can be expected to value about the BK-7m module. You find a few simple examples of me and my acoustic Hohner Morino X D on the pinwall of www.facebook.com/kurtmarkussen.

Credits

  • Thanks to all users of the Roland BK-7m who responded to my questionaire to make this review build on broader experinces
  • Thanks to the many shops I did visit before and during the review period for always answering my inquiring questions about the technical possibilities and as well the economical parameters behind the product.
  • Thanks to the suppliers of software which have given me the opportunity to verify the performance of these
  • Thanks to Roland Skandinavia A/S for supplying the module with accessories for the 40 days period of review, and supporting in correcting false statements in this review
  • Thanks to Sören Weiss the webmaster of www.roland-arranger.com for his patience and support setting up the final review
  • Thanks to YOU for showing interest in this review!

Disclaimer

This review has been performed under non scientific environmental conditions, and the statements and conclusions here are based on the reviewers personal experiences based on the limited qualifications and conditions. This is not a claim of final statements, but meant as inspiration and guide for users and purchasers of the module Roland BK-7m. Any claims towards the www.roland-arranger.com, Kurt Markussen or Roland Skandinavia A/S based on any statements in this review will be null and void as every statement here before used for any other purpose than entertainment has to be verified and in case adjusted by the reader! The Webmaster of the www.roland-arranger.com disclaims any responsibility resulting of links used in this review!
 

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