Alright, here are my initial impressions of the unit. First, as compared to my XV - it holds up quite well. I was anticipating a huge step back in sound quality and timbre quality, and instead was greeted to a remarkably similar sound signature. The size of the sample ROM is a mystery to me, but I believe that it's either the same (I remember Alistair saying 64mb (bits or bytes?)) or very close in size to the XV. But, assuming it is the same size, that's still 64MB spread out over 1600 patches; whereas the XV-2020 has 64MB dedicated to 768 patches. But so far, the SC-8850 sounds very good, and I actually would recommend it for composers for a few reasons:
1. The sound palette is still very good, despite its age. Strong points are good flutes, string pads, brass, horns, and percussive instruments (pianos and other keyboards). All of the standard pop fare is represented very well with this guy. Drum kits are pretty good, and I LOVE the fact that the unit has all of the classic Roland kits available in one box. I was playing around with some techno stuff, and the drums sound great. With the XV-2020, I'd have to expand it to get the variety of drum kits that this thing has. Sound quality is really good too - it even holds up to some of the electronic SRX boards.
As for a direct comparison with my XV-2020 (purely stock), I'd say that the SC-8850 suits my tastes better than the XV. The XV is very pop/funk/fusion oriented with a smattering of some orchestral stuff and some excellent synth instruments. It's more "modern" in style than the 8850. But the problem with the XV is that while it's FANTASTIC in some areas (synth stuff, strings, orchestra stuff), it SUCKS in other areas. Flutes, for example, are not at all realistic compared to the SC-8850. Pianos are also better on the SC-8850, because their sample cross-over points aren't as noticeable as the XV-2020. However - the XV-2020 has better fidelity. Sounds have more impact and sparkle, where as the Sound Canvas seems recessed somewhat.
2. This thing is a WORKHORSE! 128 voice polyphony coupled with a 64 MIDI channel capability means this thing is ready to cook - with nitrous. And the best thing is that the most complicated patch will only consume 4 voices of polyphony, whereas the Studio Canvas modules can have up to 8 voices of polyphony consumed in a single patch. I should note too, that the XV-2020 simply cannot compete with the SC-8850 in this regard. It only has 64 voices of polyphony, and most patches consume 3 - 6 voices (some up to
of polyphony. Why is this a huge problem? Well, if I'm trying to flesh out some musical ideas (just music here, not timbre things), it's very frustrating to not be able to hear the interactions of different instruments because the module can't keep up. The SC-8850 is probably the ultimate "sketch" module.
3. Compared to my XV-2020, the SC-8850 is stupid easy to use. With the XV-2020, you have to dial it into multi-timbre mode, as opposed to the SC - which is always ready to receive whatever you send it.
4. It's a true GS synth. This is as good as GS will ever get, and the SC-8850 is pretty much compatible with almost every MIDI file out there. The only time you'll see a "No Instrument" is if you play a file that doesn't send a reset command.
1. Considering its sound quality (compared to the professional XV series and JV series), it's a bit expensive. Any JV-series synth will be cheaper, and an XV-5050 and XV-2020 are about the same(ish) price.
2. It's not a "real" synth. There's no patch creation, no expansion - only what you get in the box. Sure, you could modify some parameters of a timbre (attack, sustain, release, decay), and pump a patch with effects, but you can't go down into the waveform bank and create your own stuff (which is a real shame). The XV CAN do this, and I've made some cool-sounding stuff just by messing around with all the different things it can do.
3. Not REALLY a con, but I can't seem to find a Cubase Patchscript for this guy. I'll have to probably use an SC-88pro map and modify it to support the new sounds.
If anyone has any questions or comments - or recording requests, don't hesitate. It really is a sweet module.