Roland 404 Day – How the SP-404 Shaped Modern Music


The SP-404 changed the soundscape of music, becoming a foundation for lo-fi and hip-hop to grow. So, to mark Roland’s 404 Day, we’re taking a deep dive into the sampler, investigating the impact it’s made. We’ve also had a chat with hip-hop producer NonJuror about how he uses the sampler to create his music.

In celebration of 404 Day, Roland have released a free update (Version 4.04, see what they did there?) for existing users of the SP-404MKII.

This update adds a whole load of new functionality requested by the 404 community, including Loop Capture (inspired by the SP-555 Looper), Multipad Export, and integration with the Koala app plus many more enhancements to make the MK-II an even more powerful tool for live performers, DJs, and producers.

Existing users can find this free update on Roland’s website.

To start making your mark on the legendary 404 sampler community, grab an SP-404 MKII or the limited-edition Stones Throw SP-404 MKII now!

Roland 404 day – the history and impact of the iconic sampler

The original Roland SP-404 Sampler first went on sale in 2005 and was embraced by the sampling community who loved its simple design, intuitive workflow, sophisticated but straightforward sampling, and most importantly, the character of its sound and effects.

It made it easy for artists to sample quickly from vinyl and other sources to its 12 performance pads, then add beats and effects, before sequencing these together to create brand new music.

Since then, throughout four separate models (SP-404, SP-404SX, SP-404A, and the latest SP-404MKII), the SP-404 has established itself as an incredibly important instrument within contemporary music styles like hip-hop and lo-fi.

Roland SP-404 Sampler

The SP-404’s extensive collection of effects, ranging from vinyl simulation to reverb and delay, has become an integral part of the sound of many artists within these genres, who make easy use of the SP-404’s hardware effect controls for real-time sound manipulation, adding a distinctive flair to their performances.

One aspect of the SP-404 that often sets it apart from other samplers is its portability. Light and compact, and with optional AA battery power, the SP-404 has always slotted easily into a producer’s backpack, allowing them to take everything they need to create their music wherever they go.

The SP-404MK2 model represents a significant evolution of the product lineup from its predecessors (SP-404, SP-404SX, SP-404A).

By increasing the number of sample pads from 12 to 16, as well as the in-built memory up to an impressive 16GB, the SP-404MK2 removed many limitations users experienced with previous models. But importantly, the SP-404MK2 still retains the traditional workflow and charm of the previous products they had become accustomed to.

In designing the SP-404MK2, Roland listened carefully to the creative wants and needs of the SP-404 global community of users and incorporated many enhanced features in direct response to user feedback.

This approach showcases Roland’s dedication to refining its instruments in alignment with the community’s needs, and in the case of the SP-404MK2, this has been further demonstrated by the continued release of updates to introduce new features and functionalities, adding even more creative value to the unit.

The Roland SP-404 sampler has transcended its original function as a mere sampling tool to become a pivotal element of the modern musical landscape. The iconic sound of the music created on it, combined with a user-centric design philosophy and a steadfast commitment to continuous improvement, makes it an indispensable asset for beat makers globally.

Roland 404 day - a girl using the Roland SP-404 outside

The influence of the SP-404 can be heard in the works of a diverse array of artists. For instance, Madlib, a prolific producer known for his eclectic sampling and beat-making techniques, has frequently utilised the SP-404, most notably in his collaboration with MF DOOM on the album Madvillainy. This album is celebrated for its innovative use of samples and has become a cornerstone of underground hip-hop.

Another artist who has harnessed the power of the SP-404 is Flying Lotus, a central figure in the Los Angeles beat scene. His album Cosmogramma showcases the SP-404’s capabilities in creating intricate, layered compositions that blend electronic music with jazz, hip-hop, and experimental sounds.

Flying Lotus’ work exemplifies how the SP-404 can be used as an instrument in its own right, pushing the boundaries of music production.

NonJuror – pioneering new soundscapes with the Roland SP-404

Sam Jones, known artistically as NonJuror, is an exemplary figure in the world of electronic and experimental music, particularly for his innovative use of the Roland SP-404. His approach to the SP-404 is not just as a tool for beat-making, but as an instrument for live performance, sound design, and composition, which sets him apart in the electronic music scene.

He skilfully manipulates samples, layering sounds and applying effects in real-time to create immersive, atmospheric soundscapes. By utilising the SP-404, he demonstrates the possibilities of live electronic music, inspiring other artists to explore the boundaries of their own creativity with the sampler.

We had a chat with NonJuor about how he uses the Roland SP-404 and what impact it has made on his music and the wider electronic/experimental scene.

What made you choose the SP-404MKII over other samplers?

Artist NonJurorFor a while, I’d been chaining the SP-202, SP-303, and SP-404A together as my standard rig. Of the three, the 202 has the pitch shift I preferred – but it only goes about three notes down and two up, so I’d be doing a lot of bouncing back and forth to pitch things enough to be in tune.

When I heard that the MKII had a smooth, clean chromatic pitch shift, that was all I needed to hear.

It’s great how much of the functionality that the legacy SP units brought to the table has been included in the MKII, but there’s a tonne of new stuff like pattern chaining, TR-REC mode, and new MFX that made me want to get it under my fingers.

Can you tell us some special tricks you like to use in your SP workflow?

Everyone has their own favourite Bus 3 & 4 effect combinations, here’s one of mine:

Bus 3: Cassette Sim (0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0)
Bus 4: Compressor (0, 0, 0)

I know it’s funny to read but everything set to zero on those does something; for an old-school boom-bap type bump, it glues it all together and makes it slap harder while remaining fairly transparent. It’s just a starting point, I’d probably experiment with C Sim’s hiss/age/wow flutter and Comp’s sustain/ratio depending on the sound I’m chasing.

This is my Gtr Amp Sim setting you can hear in the SP-404MKII Loop Capture tutorial (this varies slightly depending on the guitar):
Amp Type: TWIN
Drive: 48
Level: 100
Bass: 27
Mids: 10
Treble: 13
(Note: I have the input gain knob at the front just past 9 o’clock)

One thing which I use all the time on almost everything which no one really talks about is the Equalizer. The upgrade it has been given with being able to change the frequency on its second page of parameters is invaluable.

I prefer to mix “in-the-box” where possible. While the beat is playing, being able to turn the EQ on a layer, crank up, say, the mid’s gain and sweep up and down the frequencies until you find the problematic area to then take out makes so much difference to how well that element sits in the beat.

What are some SP FX or functions that are especially essential to you?

As a guitarist, I have to s/o the amp sim – that “twin” model with a “hall 1” reverb is my jam! When I perform beat sets live, it’s usually with a guitar. Playing a gig in a venue used to housing bands is one thing but [if you’re] rocking up to a club with an amp, it [isn’t] likely the engineer was expecting to have to accommodate that – not to mention amps are heavy to lug around.

I started to then use an iRig with an iPad but that came with its own set of complications. With the MKII’s amp sim, the guitar’s tone and level [are] consistent and the mix is completely under my control. Plus it works with wah and overdrive pedals, so I can still do all that stuff.

How do you think the SP has affected the sound of your music as a whole?

NonJuror recording with a guitar and samplersTo me, samplers are much like guitars in the sense that touch and sound guide my approach to making music.

In the same way that my Les Paul might inspire me to play differently than my Stratocaster, the layout and feel of the SP pads (be it the classic clickity clackity 404og/sx/a or the reinvented MKII ones) and the tonal quality (MKII’s Cassette Sim, Vinyl Sims, Crusher etc or SP-202/303’s different sample rates) really inform the direction a beat might take.

The way they designed how to chop a sample I think has had a big influence, too. One of my favourite things to do on the SP-404MKII is put something on TV like the UFC or BKFC and, while watching, sample a drum break and chop it into a bank’s worth of kicks, snares, and hats.

I try to learn how to play the original break, practising my finger drumming to the metronome and then practising recording that in the pattern sequencer. Years of that on the SP have shaped my musical style (for better or worse) to lean towards more unquantized drunken drum grooves.

Something the older SP models, especially the SP-303, taught me about myself is that limitations really can fuel creativity. It triggers that problem-solving part of my brain as I attempt to MacGyver my way around the machine, squeezing all I can from the available functionality.

I find with DAWs I too often suffer from analysis paralysis, staring into the infinite void of a blank canvas, overthinking what else I can add to a joint. For this reason, I try to bring that mindset to the SP-404MKII, imposing restrictions on myself like limiting my final beat to using only one or two Banks as opposed to stretching out and filling a whole project with micro-chops I have to then sift through for gold.

Who are some of your favourite fellow beat-makers or other artists that inspire you, and why?

I’m a Stretch & Bobbito Show junkie, whenever I’m feeling in a rut I put on one of their shows, something that someone 30 years ago stayed up all night recording on a cassette tape, and that usually puts my head back in the right space.

As for something more recent, DIBIA$E’s Bonus Levels will rearrange your DNA. The beats Cookin Soul made for Bakin Soul, the album he and Raz Fresco just dropped last week, kicked my arse up and down the block… it’s so damn good.

I really dig jumping in on beat-making challenges when I can, when you participate in something like what the Flipabeatclub community regularly put together it’s wild… you cook something up, you’re feeling good about yourself… then you hear how all the other beatsmiths approached the same sample, what part of the animal they used and what style of joint they molded it into. There’s no substitute for that type of education.

Where do you get your samples from? Crate-digging, online, sampling yourself, other sources?

I definitely have an affinity for vinyl. The sound and the physicality of the process – from digging to sampling – for me, kind of eventizes the experience. I like to listen to the whole album before I sample, try to imagine what the studio session was like… the engineers who sat chain-smoking for three days trying to arrive at that snare sound.

I’m a big fan of film scores; whenever I’m watching something, I’m always listening out for little gems. Sometimes that sends me down a rabbit hole… like I’ll be watching Predator (1987) and look up who the composer was and what else they scored.

It’s Alan Silvestri – he’s a heavy hitter who has done everything from Back To The Future to Avengers: Endgame… now what’s something obscure I could explore…OK, he wrote music for an episode of T.J. Hooker in 1983, that’s some fun William Shatner viewing. 110% there’s something dope to sample in that.


When did the SP-404 come out?

The Roland SP-404 was released in 2005. It was the successor to the SP-505 sampler and made it incredibly easy for artists to quickly sample vinyl and other sources. The latest version of the SP-404 is the SP-404MKII.

Which producers use the SP-404?

Many renowned producers use the Roland SP-404 sampler, including Madlib, Diabia$e, Flying Lotus, and, of course, NonJuror. The sampler has significantly impacted the hip-hop and electronic music scene, and it’s become a go-to piece of gear for many producers.

What is the SP-404 good for?

The SP-404 is great for contemporary music genres like hip-hop and lo-fi. It can be used for a diverse array of sampling, beat-making, and layering of various sounds from different styles of music.

Find out more

Check out the revolutionary sampler for yourself! Or if you already own one, be sure to download the free update this 404 Day!




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