Roland MC-909

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Roland MC-909 sampling groovebox
Roland MC-909 DJFLEX-mk2 8O8 PlanetFunkStudio Studio Sampling DrumMachine DEC 13 2014SAT1236PM.jpg
OS: v1.23 (Final Version)
Price£1156 UK, $1795 US
Technical specifications
Synthesis typesampler (rompler)
Storage memory16 MB; expandable to 272 MB
ROM: 800 patches, 72 rhythm sets,
RAM: 256 patches, 128 rhythm sets, Smartmedia cards
Effectsreverbdelay, chorusflanger
External controlMIDI in/out, USB

The discontinued Roland MC-909 Sampling Groovebox combines the features of a synthesizer, sequencer, and sampler, with extensive hands-on control of both the sound engine and the sequencing flow. It was intended primarily for live performance of pre-programmed patterns consisting of up to 16 tracks of MIDI data. It was released by Roland Corporation on October 8, 2002. This product was announced at the AES Fall Convention in 2002. It is the direct successor to the Roland MC-505 and is the predecessor to the Roland MC-808. Which eventually ended the "Groovebox by year 2010" line of products by Roland which began in the year 1996 with the Original Roland MC-303 groovebox. The Roland Groovebox began again resurgence in the year 2019 with a two new modern & redesign Roland MC-707 GROOVEBOX/Roland MC-101 GROOVEBOX. The Roland MC-909 was developed from the blueprint of Roland's own "Roland Fantom-S Workstation & Roland Fantom-X Workstation" and uses the same structure and operating system, with some differences regarding the Patterns section, not implemented in the Roland Fantom S/X6/X7/X8 Workstation.

Sound generation[edit]

The MC-909 has a ROM-based sound generator (sometimes referred to as a rompler.) Its patches are built from up to four tones. The tones are based on waves stored in the machine. Patches can also utilize user-created samples. Roland's literature states that the MC-909 has "new-generation XV synthesis", the synth in the MC-909 is a very similar sound engine to that of the XV-5050 64-Voice Synthesizer Module. The number of PCM waveforms is 693, ranging from vintage synths to strings, drums, guitars and pianos. It can be expanded by adding one SRX card* from 12 different cards available.

  • *Note: [If you choose the Roland SRX-05 "Supreme Dance" expansion card, you'll get special Patches that can only be accessed on the MC-909.]

The MC-909 is always in sequencer mode, as opposed to other workstations that have also a simple Voice or Combination mode for straight playing. Straight playing via an external keyboard is however possible directly from the sequencer mode by simply selecting one of the 16 tracks (parts) where a patch (voice, sound) is stored. In this case the MC-909 performs as a regular, 16-part multitimbral sound module, that happens to have a sequencer, too. In essence, the MC-909 can be used as a very capable sound module without ever needing to fire up its sequencer.

The MC-909 is the first Roland groovebox to feature a sampler. It can record audio from any of the external audio inputs, SPDIF connectors, or import wav and aiff files from a computer using a USB port. The sampler can be upgraded up to a total of 272 MB RAM (16 MB User + 256 MB PC-100 or PC-133 168-Pin DIMM Module), and the samples can also be stored on a 128 MB 3.3 volt Smartmedia card. The unit is also able to store on two 128 MB Smartmedia cards if there is more than 256 MB DATA in its user memory. There are tricks from user forum sites that have found ways to go beyond this limitation using xD-Picture Cards as other means for storage.


The MC-909's sequencer is based on pattern composition. Each pattern has 16 tracks (parts) and can have up to 999 measures (bars). The "pattern" in the groovebox concept as developed by Roland (and thence adopted by other manufacturers) is intended to be a 4-to-16 bars-long small musical phrase made up of 8 to 16 tracks. The chaining of several patterns together (with seamless passage between one another) will create a full song, or the patterns can be looped as wanted and messed with using the on-board real-time controls.

However, if this was more properly true in the older MC-303 and MC-505, in the MC-909 the massive capacity of the sequencer makes the patterns capable of storing almost 1000 bars, and 16 tracks, thus capable of storing complete songs with arrangements and drum styles.

Each of the 16 parts (tracks) is set to a specific patch, with its own mixer settings (pan, volume, key, effect, routing, and so on). There are a variety of editing modes: The main modes allow real-time recording, step recording and TR-REC recording. In step recording, notes or chords can be added one at a time. In TR-REC mode, each of the 16 pads represents a point along a musical measure. This speeds up the entry of percussion tracks. Patterns can be strung together into "songs", which, in fact, are mislabelled, merely being chains of patterns played in a specific order. In fact, there is no recording or sequencing capability in Song mode besides pattern chaining and some playback settings.

The sequencer can load Standard MIDI Files (albeit with some workarounds to avoid loading bugs that have never been fixed) and play them back. Additionally, the sequencer will also include samples stored into its memory in the pattern tracks.


The MC-909 includes a number of features for real-time performance. These include:

  • Muting/unmuting parts
  • Adjusting the level of parts
  • Turning on and off effects
  • Adjusting the tempo
  • Playing notes
  • Adjusting various parameters such as filter cutoff
  • Playing phrases on the fly (RPS mode)
  • Using Arpeggiator on the fly (with editable ARP presets)
  • Twin D-Beam with 4 modes (incl. assignable mode)


  • Sound generator with 64 note - voice polyphony
  • 16-track sequencer+Tempo/Mute Ctrl Track
  • 16MB sample memory (expandable to 272 MB max.)
  • SmartMedia card handling (8-128 MB) to store audio and midi files and backup (16MB)
  • Effects generator (24-bit reverb, two multi-effects processors, compression/EQ and mastering effects)
  • Large LCD screen
  • Expandable with SRX-series wave expansion boards, SmartMedia cards (smf, wav)
  • USB port for MIDI and transfer of data (full duplex) and for remote editing (groovemanager)
  • S/PDIF input and output plus coaxial I/O (digital)
  • Line In with selectable sources (line in, mic) for sampling, re-sampling
  • Dual D-Beam controllers (solosynth, cut+reso, turntable, assignable)
  • Turntable emulation (pitch control, BPM control, hold, push)
  • Velocity sensitive pads
  • V-LINK connecting audio & video in performance

Comparison to the MC-505[edit]

The following features are not available on the MC-505 synth:

  1. Sampling ability.
  2. A very large editing LCD screen.
  3. A second D-Beam controller.
  4. Two extra filter modes.
  5. Stereo waveforms for your patches.
  6. Matrix Control, Random Modify and Fat controls.
  7. A mastering stage that features three-band compression and equalization.
  8. Turntable emulation.
  9. Morphing LFO waveforms.
  10. Sample machine gun feature.
  11. Velocity sensitive pads.
  12. Fully editable arpeggios.
  13. Chord memory.
  14. SMF loading

The following features are available on the MC-505 but not on the MC-909:

  1. The MEGAMix function.
  2. The Portamento knob.
  3. The Groove knob. However, the groove/quantize functions are preserved under an editing menu.
  4. The ability to control the individual amount of delay assigned to each part.
  5. The Ad-Lib function from the D-Beam.

Most MC-909 users agree that both machines are different enough to justify keeping both of them and integrate them using a MIDI cable.


The Roland MC-909 was used by the hip hop producer RZA while working on the movies Blade: Trinity and Kill Bill. RZA uses many Roland products including the Roland Fantom, MV-8000 & Roland MV-8800. Another artist that uses the Roland MC-909 is Switchfoot keyboardist Jerome Fontamillas for live setups.


The Roland MC-909 received good reviews at tech magazines like Future Music and Sound on Sound. However, it faced serious competition from the equally powerful Yamaha RS7000. Many MC-909 users complained about several operating system bugs at the Yahoo! Groups forum and also Roland Clan Forums. In fact, even when the machine was released in 2002, it took Roland Corporation 5 years until some of the more complex bugs (like the inability to store RPS patterns) were fixed in the operating system upgrade v1.23 in early 2007. Another common complaint refers to the unit's size, which makes it less portable than a laptop with a midi controller. The unit has been designed with only a 2-prong power inlet, without a ground lift; hence, there have been complaints of light electrical discharges from its metallic body when handled with less-than-dry hands.

Further criticism pointed out the uneven volume ranges of its voices, waveforms and sounds. Additionally, critics noted that, for a machine aimed at the dance/techno/electronica market, the sound engine was excessively rich in sounds from ethnic, classical and band instruments.

The sampler, although powerful, has a very complex access-and-editing route and lacks the ability to set keyboard ranges for different samples, making it difficult to create realistic sounds from a set of multisamples. There is, however, a work-around for this via an external editor on the PC & Mac called: MC-909 Editor Update v3.1, that is freely available for download at this site.

The inputs, used for either sampling or sound processing of an external sound source, are routed through the effects engine and heard at the outputs during real-time. However, re-sampling is necessary in order for the sample to contain the effects as a part of the sample. Following any re-sampling, the sample playback can be further re-sampled or processed by more effects at the outputs during playback.

The Roland MC-909 is no longer in production by Roland Corporation. The Roland MC-909 is consequently called to become a cult item, as Mellotron or the TB-303. While no longer in production, the MC-909 can be bought these days second-hand at places like eBay, with a typical second-hand purchase price, as of 2021, around US$1000. The original MSRP price set by Roland in 2002 was US$1,795.99.[original research?]

Unsolved bugs[edit]

Several operating system bugs were gradually solved over time; the last operating system upgrade (Version 1.23) was introduced on March 30, 2007.

The current unsolved problems at the present moment are:

  • It is not possible to load a Standard Midi File or other sequence file from a card to internal memory onto an existing pattern without initializing all the existing pattern's settings back to basic format. In order to load a SMF onto a pattern and retain that pattern's settings, the SMF must be first loaded onto an unused or empty location within internal memory, then moved to the wanted location with the Copy function.
  • Many users complain that there is no sustain in Song Mode, resulting in a noticeable audio gapping between patterns. This is most noticeable at slower tempos. (Although different Machine, see also: MC-808 Roland MC-808#Unresolved issues)
  • Even when a part is set to EXT, the internal sound engine will continue to produce sounds. You can work this around by assigning a blank patch to that part; however, this is not the expected behaviour described in the manual.
  • Going into MENU (e.g. USB transfer) resets the 909 to Preset Pattern 1 when you come out of menu.
  • Tracks 6 and 13 will not mute/unmute when pressed at the same time (introduced in v1.22)

There are current unresolved issues with the implementation of effects when switching patterns, but the MC-909 was "designed by specification". Roland might refer to the end users' requests for effects that sustain past the point when the pattern switches as they "developing a future new product".

The last operating system upgrade (Version 1.23), corrected few issue with:

  • RPS Setting, RPS Mixer WRITE editor of the contents of operation does not save a fixed point.
  • Import BMP features and functionality Realtime Erase fixed.
  • Song editing function has been strengthened.
  • Sounds & Effects strengthened, Stable for tuning various countries. (Roland Corp. Japan Trans: MC-909 VER. History List [1])

Roland MC-909 SYSTEM PROGRAM OS (Ver.1.03 → Ver.1.23) - HISTORY LIST[edit]

How to find the version:

1. [MENU] button.

2. Display in the "System" is highlighted in the state, [ENTER] button.

3. [F6 (SystemInfo)] button, followed by, [F4 (Version)] button (*) to move the display in the "Ver .*.**" to see it.

(*) Ver.1.04 in the earlier version, [F4 (Version)] does not appear. Upgrade to please.


[→ Ver.1.23] RPS Setting, RPS Mixer WRITE editor of the contents of operation does not save a fixed point.

[→ Ver.1.22] Import BMP features and functionality Realtime Erase fixed. Stable for tuning various countries.

[→ Ver.1.20] -MC-909 new built-in preset patterns / patch / rhythm set has been added. 9 Patterns: 118, the number of patches: 117, sets the rhythm: 17, the number of samples Wave: 9

It SRX Series can be used only MC-909 special patches added. It SRX-01: set the rhythm: 7 It SRX-02: The patch: 10 It SRX-03: The patch: 43, set the rhythm: 11 It SRX-04: The patch: 30 It SRX-05: Patch: 72, set the rhythm: 10 (* MC-909 Ver.1.0 from mounted) It SRX-06: The patch: 24, set the rhythm: 4 It SRX-07: Patch: 47, set the rhythm: 18 It SRX-08: The patch: 22, set the rhythm: 38 It SRX-09: Patch: 82, set the rhythm: 23 It SRX-10: The patch: 24

-Song editing function has been strengthened. -Song mixer setup screen editing has been added. -As a result, each step of each level, bread and shift key, mute, the tempo makes it simple to change.

-Machine gun features have been added to the sample. -Matrix control knob to turn in the short-range high-speed loops and samples, which can be used as a machine gun can be pronounced.

-Loop Tune set a negative example to load and save the Loop Tune 0 to become fixed.

[→ Ver.1.13] -While playing MUTE / CONTROL PART button ON / OFF we can not improve on that. -When editing a patch LFO DEPTH Fixed incorrect width could change when the operation knob. -SYS-EX fixed points become unstable if the conduct and behavior patterns, including the editorial process.

[→ Ver.1.11] -Fixed points of the steps that turn sour and you play the selected song after song of the sky continuously. -About Reverb Type, Effects Routing has failed to fix the list of changes in the window screen. -TIE Arpeggio Edit screen fixed point could be left ringing sound as you type. PATTERN CALL during the performance of the selected pattern, a fixed return to the setup parameters have changed.

[→ Ver.1.10] -Added a screen to check the current version. -The selection of a pattern can be selected when the power first. -The output of the metronome sound, MIX/DIR1/DIR2 we can choose from. -RPS was able to modify the real-time. -The choice of recording real-time recording of [Replace] function is added. -Part Mute function [Default] was added. -The edit pattern, we can even choose what parts to select Edit. -The edit pattern [Extract a Rhythm Instrument] is add. -The edit pattern [ERASE], [COPY] in a CC # to allow selection. -Sample list and file utility, select the sample [LOAD], [ERASE] was possible. -Samples from the [Create Rhythm] has to be able to. -Editing arpeggio on [Step REC] is add. -Added a function parameter list of each patch in the edit. -V-LINK features Edirol V-4 was supported. -A maximum number of sounds per pattern memory, about 12,000 of about 30,000 has been extended to the sound from the sound. The maximum number of sounds in the entire memory is the sound change is 1300000. -We added a measure of the pattern shown here has been played on the screen mixer. -Sample was split in the chops, to be stored in a number of consecutive samples. -Save time running as a rhythm created, you can select the memory card area. -Added a status display area and memory card. -We change the memory usage of the screen display file utility. -Added a master level meter on the screen. -The sample list [SIZE] Sample from a number of conventions KB (kilobytes) has been changed to describe.

[→ Ver.1.04] -was added to adjust the controller parameters beam. -When copying a set of rhythmic tone, was modified to work correctly. -TR-REC at the particular scale, we fix the area where there can not be stamped.

[→ Ver.1.03 Bld. 0106] -DATE 11/01/2002 16:46 -ORIGINAL EARLER OS or PROTOTYPE OS !


  1. ^ "Roland MC909". Sound On Sound. March 2003. Archived from the original on 6 June 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

MC-909 PDF Manual Links:

Other links: