Roland SP-808 & the Magic CF-Drive
In this galaxy just some decades ago a new musical machine was released by the Roland Corporation. They launched the SP-808 Groove Sampler, a multifunctional unit with the possibility to sample, to sequence and to do multitrack recording. Loaded with cool COSM effects, a virtual synthesizer, a 10-band vocoder and a step modulator this beauty was introduced in many studios. It was developed for producers, remix DJ’s and live performers like rappers and MCs.
At that time it used a very sophisticated medium, the Zip Disk. Those disks were mainly used by graphical artists because you could save and load up to 100/250MB of archives, which was a huge difference in comparison with the 1.44MB floppy. With the iOmega Zip Disk you showed that you were totally into it.
The SP-808 needed the Zip Disk for active saving and loading samples and recordings. Active, yes, active. The Zip Disk was used in an active, all-the-time-working way, which means that the SP-808 was accessing the disk continuously. This movement produced a whining kind of sound, all the time and it influenced the silence moments in studios.
Besides the sound it appeared that the Zip Disk wasn’t fast enough for the users which led to the annoying message “DRIVE TOO BUSY”.
The modern media turned into the achilles heel of the SP-808 because users lost work due to the ‘click-of-death’ of unreliable Zip Drives. The result was that musicians left the SP-808 and went to other machines which were not depending on Zip Drives. The unit became largely available on the second hand market for an extremely low price. The SP-808 was nice but not. It had so much to offer but the idea of loosing all your creative work was more then enough to say goodbye to it.
E-Mix Studio Firmware
Roland released the SP-808e-mix studio firmware where you were able to at least use the SP without the Zip Disk. Well, you could use in standalone mode the effects, the synth, the D-Beam, the Step modulator and eh…what am I missing? Ah…the Sampler and the Multi-track recorder.
The most important parts of the GrooveSampler could not be used in standalone mode. Of course not, because you needed access to the Zip Disk.
So, the SP-808 became more and more a failure due to this Zip Horror.
MPC 2000XL Blue MCD
In 2004 AKAI released the MPC 2000XL Blue MCD. A Midi Production Center with a CF-Reader instead of a floppy or Zip Drive. This particular CF-Reader became the most important CF-Reader of all time because this one was able to work for the Roland SP-808.
This weekend (we’re talking about July 2020) I received this special MPC with the original MCD and I installed it into my SP-808.
After all those years my SP-808 saw the light. Finally it could breath normally without having a ‘Drive too busy’ drop out!
The Master Plan
Okay, here’s the deal. The plan is to recreate/reproduce this CF-Reader. I’m working for/with a manufacturer of computer products (Gembird Europe) and we have a dedicated R&D-team. This team of professionals have developed a lot of products the past 25 years. Some examples: e-Printer (rewarded in 2012 on CES), SilverShield Surge Protectors (remote controlled Surge Protectors over LAN/WiFi), e-Mic (Voice message mails, way before WhatsApp!) and the Flexi-Drive (using Hard Drives as floppies – Hot Swap)
Their experience made us decide to invest time in developing a replacement of the Zip Drive for the Roland SP-808/SP-808e-mix.
In this blog I will keep you updated on how the process is developing.
If the markers are right, I will launch a CrowdFunding campaign to make sure we can actually produce these replacements.
So, stay up to date and subscribe to my website.
Friday 24 July 2020
Akai MPC 2000XL Blue version received from Japan. Unit contains original MCD
Sunday 26 July 2020
Video launched with replacement of the Zip Drive of the SP-808 with the MCD of the AKAI.
Result is that the drive is working.
Monday 27 July 2020
Pictures of PCB are sent out to R&D team in Netherlands/Russia.
Tuesday 28 July 2020
First feedback received from R&D team.
– Chip is not commercially available (anymore)
– Possible programming of controller PLDS. Will be expensive due to reverse engineering. Calculation will follow
– Ordered an FC-Chip which could be programmed. Will arrive within 3 weeks.
Wednesday 29 July 2020
Just received feedback that Chipset FC1307A is not produced anymore and that its Taiwanese Factory KTC is not existing anymore.
So my order of the FC-Chip has no use anymore.
– Mail sent out to Roland Corporation to ask if they can provide info about firmware or if they can allows to create a replacement for the Zip Drive to prevent copyright strikes.
Thursday 30 July 2020
Just discovered that the WAV-Converter for the SP-808 works with CF-cards. The cards are recognised as Zip Disks and thus possible to put samples on by just dragging and dropping.
I used my Macbook, which worked but suddenly gave a strange error. Had to reboot and then it worked again.
And old XP works flawless.
Received answer from Roland. Firmware is (of course) not available for the public domain. On the other hand there is no copyright infringement as the drive is developed for AKAI and not for Roland. They asked me to provide more info about the AKAI MCD to put me in contact who can give me advise on this development.
Hi very good news i currently have 2 sp808’s upgraded to ex …….I would definately put down for 2 on your kickstart………….i am very very grateful for your efforts………i also really enjoy your videos( i too am a roland fan as well as sp808 have a vs2480, vp9000 and a vsynth xt
That’s awesome!! Almost the same units. I regret that I sold my VP though…
Buuuuut….last week I found the Alpha Juno 1 + PG-300, and Roland A-80 MIDI Master Keyboard and this week the JD-990 enters the studio.
I also had contact with Roland about the Zip Disk process and I received positive feedback.
I hope that we can move on this week.
Thanks and we stay in touch!
Hi Roger, thanks for all your amazing work on the card reader for the Sp808ex. Any update on this ? cheers.
Hi Roger. Fc1307A are available on some ide2sd converters like https://m.aliexpress.ru/item/33004696515.html and i have one but it not working with my roland sp808ex, may be chip need another initialisation method.
May be first version you make based on this converters with some hardware addon?
thanks for your reaction. The R&D-team informed me that the FC1307A is not produced anymore and that the producing Taiwanese company KTC is closed.
So, we asked Roland if they can provide us technical information about the protocol of the SP-808.
Can you send me firmware dump from MCD to email@example.com? Thanks
We’re not on the stage yet of creating a firmware dump.
What I mean, I personally don’t have the knowledge to create a FW-dump.
First we need an approval from Roland Corp to continue before we get an copyright infringement strike.
The first contact with Roland is positive so that’s good.
Meanwhile, what do I need to create this FW-Dump?
Always love watching your channel.
I’ m also proud owner of a red SP 808 EX.
And yeah, really excited to hear about your
efforts to make a replacement for the 250MB ZIP-drive.
As you can tell, I’m very interested in a cardreader that is working with this
I Hope someone in the Netherlands, like me, can eventually also get his hands on the Roger- reader!!!
Thanx for all your info.
You already helped me out a lot mate!!
Now I’m tempted to write in Dutch but to make sure that other readers our conversation can follow, I will keep it in English.
Wacht! Super dankjewel voor je bericht hahaha!
Thanks for dropping your comment on my site and channel. Great that you have the red one! I had one some weeks at home to sell it for someone.
I used the moment to grab a video. I would love to have a red one too, but I guess my videos have driven the prices up because now I see them for around 300€.
Can you imagine…When I bought mine 2 ½ years ago, I bought it for 100€. Then a second with the OP1 for 150€. Then the A6 with the OP2 for another 150€.
Those days are over…Although my personal opinion is that you shouldn’t pay more than 250€ for it.
Anyway, I do hope indeed that we can manage something.
A few weeks ago I received a reader with a programmable chip but also that one is not produced anymore.
Programming a new chip is very expensive. We (R&D-team) have to think outside the box to find more applications which can need this drive.
I tried the AKAI MCD in my VS-2480 and it didn’t work. Now I’m tempted to buy a Boss BR-8 to try it in that one too.
These recorder are now for sale for around 80-120 and are really interesting.
With a CF-drive it could gain more popularity.
We keep on searching.
Thanks and we stay in touch!
Just throwing this out there, but it seems like another valid approach would be to reverse the ATAPI Protocol used by the ZIP Drive if you couldn’t get any useful info from Roland/couldn’t decompile their OS/etc…
Since we know for sure that the 808 works with stock ATAPI ZIP drives, there’s no reason it wouldn’t work with something that was electrically equivalent — as long as the 808 “sees” something indistinguishable from one, it would never know the difference. Like the gentleman above, the first place my mind goes is to use some kind of existing drive like a Gotek but with new firmware.
A quick Google revealed that people are already writing all kinds of Gotek hacks to emulate vintage drives apparently:
(Fun fact, I was perhaps the first person outside of Roland to ever put the EX-OS on an original 808 back in the late 90’s).
ps – I watched your video but could not quite tell. Does the intermittent “audio squawk” at the beginning or end of short samples happen with the SD card? I always figured that squawk (as I recall, mostly on things like bass drums) was an anomaly related to the ZIP tracking, or something.
Sorry for the late reaction.
Thanks for your input regarding rethinking possibilities.
Great to receive a message from a pioneer regarding converting the SP-808 into an SP-808ex 😀
About the squawk I’m not sure what you mean. Perhaps it is because of the video because I don’t have that squawk.
I will take a deeper look into those links. Perhaps we should find a way with a programmable unit like a Raspberry/Arduino.
No sweat on the delay! Life gets busy… (:
We’ve been researching a lot in this thread in terms of adapting existing devices:
…but all that said and a few bucks later, I’m starting to think the best solution is one where an off-the-shelf item can be bought, and used with no mods or additional boards:
Hello rogers, particularly you are the best man !!!! a few months ago I bought my SP 808 ex. and I am studying and marveling at this machine, I love it.
Of course I want to be able to replace the zip drive, because of that annoying noise and I saw the replacement, so I am following you closely. I live in Argentina, here is very very difficult to get these devices, but fortunately I made my little universe roland, which is composed of:
Roland SP808ex // Roland R70 // Roland MC 307 // Roland DJ 2000 // Roland JX 305. all this added to a h4n zoom to capture everything.
Well, thanks for your knowledge !!!!
PS I’m still looking for the SP808 op1 – since the one I bought doesn’t have it.
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
Any updates on finding / creating a replacement for the card reader?
Finding this video / thread is the best news!
Hi, I just saw your video about the sp808 zip drive replacement. I do not own one but did I get it right that the card reader from the MPC was a replacement option for the MPC which also had a zip drive once?
Well, maybe there is even another option then: There seems to be a third party SDCard reader to replace the zip drive. They even mention some Roland Products, for which it works too. At least it’s cheaper than buying a MPC2000XL and ripping the card reader out of it 😉
Unfortunately, I have tried this product from this business and it did not work in my SP808 despite many attempts and technical support troubleshooting. (Also, I should mention, I returned the unit and was promised a full refund as they were advertising this as tested and working in the SP808 at the time, but I’m unfortunately still waiting for refund to arrive for more than a year now.)
Unfortunately it won’t work on ROLAND SP 808 , I already asked to the seller
hi guys! i saw rogers video, and i asked around on some gotek forums, the reply igot is that this problem can only be solved by modding the firmware, wich shouldnt be hard becouse the edirol firmware does support other storage devices.. so if we can acces rolands firmware compiler it should be as simple as copy pasting parts of the fw-code from one os to the other..
i have read that this one works but is not hot swappable. If i have to turn it off and back on who cares. i bought this sp808ex new in 2002 and have replaced the zip 4 time since then. i just want some piece of mind.
can anyone verify this. if i do not get an answer in a month i think i’m going to play guinea pig for $115.
Thanks for dropping a question here.
Too bad but this drive will not work. I had contact with them and they confirmed that it will not work.
But sit tight. If all goes well I hope I can announce a working solution. Some programming needs to be done.
I hope to receive a prototype within two weeks.
Agreed w/ Roger. I bought one about a year ago and tried it. No dice.
I took delivery today of an 808 off eBay w/ this magical drive on board … it works! It’s magical!
Swapped out my xlr expansion board into the new unit.
Super clean performance, no noise, no stutter!
I have to say that I’m very inspired by your videos. I have SP-808EX that I want to use as a sample player and effects unit in my all hardware based setup.
I wonder if this CF reader would work (the listing says it does): https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/284245130708?ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT&var=585735003426&_trksid=p2060353.m1438.l2649
I am considering it as a backup option when ZIP drive gives up on me.
Edit: just bought 1 unit to try it!!!
Thank you so much for your message. I immediately looked on eBay and sent a message to the seller because he/she is claiming that it works with the SP-808 too.
That would be amazing! And more for that price 😀
So fingers crossed and thanks for your compliments. Totally appreciated!
The EX is a great machine with all those extras. It would be awesome if we can continue without using the zip drive.
So, let’s wait for an answer of the seller.
We keep in touch!
They replied to me during the day that they have two customers with SP-808 and that this worked with older type one CF cards . How credible is that? Tempted to press Buy.
Thanks again and keep on doing your best,
I had also contact and the guy told me the same.
Also that he had more units available, so I bought one.
I expect it this coming week.
Yeah…I just have to try this. If it is true, then that would be mind blowing.
Any luck? Thanks!
I wish it is true but seems bit odd to me , this device is no even hot swappable, how it could work? Here the deal , We could ask to make a video as potential customers ..or ask to change the auction adding the line “refundable” at least you won’t loose your money just the delivery.
The CF reader is very special unitfor MPC-2000XL users as well (and very mysterious unit as well – there’s no detailed information can be found on Internet.) That’s the only IDE CF reader unit that supports hot swap (i.e. memory card can be removed or inserted when MPC is on.) So, it would be great if it is reissued with affordable price.
I see these are back in stock on eBay, and I have also seen no reply about functionality. Makes me think it did not work as expected.
Krunoslav: Did you buy one to try it out?
Help with sp 808 with mpc drive replacing old Zip drive
In to a Roland video easel
U seem to understand this possibility
And I don’t
And would be grateful to have your insights
I have an old BOSS BR-8 track recorder. I have other units now but always loved the ease of use and sound effects processors on boar, among other features. I have been researching the Zip drive replacement for years now and have mad a few attempts at replacing the old Zip drive with an SD card reader replacement board. I have not been successful yet. I have only updated the drive to a 250 mb Zip Drive. Ther were a few promising leads in some various discussion over the years , but I have not read of a successful upgrade on this particular unit as of yet. My 10 year old daughter has taken an interest in recording and I was hoping to breath new life into the machine and it hand down (with an upgrade) to her. I was wondering if you had heard of any successful upgrades with this particular unit. I saw one of your old comments, at one point you were contemplating on purchasing one of these as they are still very cheap on eBay , to try a successful upgrade of the hard drive system. Just wondering if you ever moved forward on that particular project.
Keep up the good work my brother! Love your music, Love your channel on You tube. This is a great subject matter for all the zip drive haters out there. Never give up on hope. God bless you and yours ! Keep doing what you do .
DAYTON, OHIO U.S.A.
Thanks for all the great work and videos. Wasn’t sure where to post A-6 specific stuff so dropping it here. Just wanted to let you know that when using a SD card in the A-6 and accessing and accessing-dropping samples with the SP-808 Wave Converter(WIN version), if you use V2.2 (from the Roland Japan site) you can access the card with no issues without a Zip drive. I use the Convertor on a Windows 10 Machine, running it as Admin and in Win98 Compatibility mode. Cheers, G.