Roli’s Blocks are one of the most compelling products I’ve seen out of a hardware startup in the past year. The modular system is a unique take on music making by the company that gave the world the rubbery-keyed Seaboard keyboard. The system is a lot more user friendly than the company’s original offering both in terms of price and flexibility, with modules that swap in and out.
Less than a year after launching the first system, Roli’s offering an update to the Lightpad, the square input device that serves as the core of the system. The Lightpad Block M is mostly a refinement over its predecessor. Chief among the changes is a new wave surface on top of the block inspired by the Seaboard that brings a little tactile guidance to the formerly flat surface.
The silicone itself has been changed as well. It’s softer this time out, making it easier to manipulate. That was a request I had with the last version. After playing around with the easily bendable Seaboard, the Lightpad’s top felt pretty rigid. The surface lights have also been improved, and should be brighter and offer up more contrast than their predecessor.
The Lightpad M runs $200 — $20 more than the original, which is sticking around at the same price point. And like early Blocks, the M is available through Apple retail channels. The company’s been pretty bullish about the product line, with in-store displays and performances from the likes of the Wu Tang’s RZA, who’s one of a number of musicians who have designed custom sound packs for the system.
Blocks is a fun offering, but Roli might be overselling the user friendliness of the system. As with any other musical instrument, there's a bit of a learning curve, so prepare to be a bit frustrated as you learn the ropes.
That said, the company has also been doing a lot of the work on the software side. Today’s news arrives along with a number of new offerings, including new acoustic instrument sound packs and plug-ins for GarageBand and Ableton, for those who want to produce their music on more robust software.