Roli says reinventing the keyboard isn’t over yet, announces Seaboard Rise 2

Music hardware startup Roli says it’s not abandoning the line of squishy Seaboard keyboards that launched its brand. In spite of reported last year As the company focuses on educational and subscription products, Roli today announced the Seaboard Rise 2 – an upgrade of the more compact model in its Seaboard range.

“It’s a lot of small improvements that make it a much, much better product,” said Roland Lamb, CEO of Roli The edge. “In a way, this is the product I’ve always wanted to bring to market. It’s very, very complete.”

Rise 2 upgrades include new internal construction, an updated connector structure, and a more durable platinum blue chassis. The big change, however, is the addition of frets to the keyboard’s playing surface — subtle ridges that run down the center of each key.

It has always been about offering users a keyboard with a smooth, uninterrupted gaming surface the Attractiveness of the Seaboard range. It is this feature (in combination with supporting software) that allows musicians to mix and bend notes on a seaboard like they would on a guitar. But Lamb says it also made the instrument difficult for some players, meaning they had to rely too much on sight to hit the right note rather than feeling their way from note to note. The new frets, he says, offer a physical map that solves this problem.

“It’s a relatively small change, but a hugely impactful change in terms of the way people play, the precision and the entry,” says Lamb.

However, the bigger story for Roli isn’t Rise 2, it’s the long-term development of the company. Since inception in 2009, Roli has launched a range of products, starting with the Seaboard range of keyboards before expanding with the modular beat-making blocks and the guitar herofor piano keyboard Lumi. But the company has struggled to grow in line with VC’s expectations, and has done so over the past year went into administration (similar to US bankruptcy), relaunched as “Luminary” to focus on education and Lumi. Why? Because Lumi is a cheap keyboard with a subscription model that makes it easier to generate revenue growth.

Now, however, Lamb says the company — technically called the Luminary Roli — isn’t done with its original vision: to deliver a new musical instrument. He just says that such work takes patience. “The development of new successful instruments takes time,” says Lamb. “An instrument is a cultural object in which a whole series of parts must come together: the music that people make, the artists that use and teach it, and the hardware and software and protocols.”

According to Lamb, Roli “misjudged the time it would take for the coastal ecosystem to come together” but that Rise 2 should ease adoption. Not only do the keyboard’s frets make it easier to play, he says, but there’s a wider acceptance of the MPE Midi formatneeded to properly record and edit his music.

The Coastal Climb 2.
Image: Rolli

Lamb speaks convincingly of the challenges of bringing an instrument like the Seaboard to market. “It is extremely rare that a new form of musical gestural interaction is proposed and is successful,” he says. But it also seems that Rise 2’s announcement had as much to do with pragmatism as anything else. Lamb says most work on the keyboard was complete when Roli went into administration, and when I ask if the company is currently working on future Seaboard products, he doesn’t answer directly.

Instead, he says he sees Roli’s interest in instruments as a complement to its educational products, which seek to teach piano playing without the use of traditional sheet music. “Music has two sides. It has a learn and develop side and a perform and play side,” he says. “The long-term question is: What will a fully digital music world look like?”

Lamb’s suggestion is that Roli can offer something for both sides of this equation: not just a new instrument that’s digital first, but also educational products that will nurture a generation of new musicians without being tied to traditional learning methods. He says: “We will continue with the Seaboard, we stand by it. But we’re just taking it nice and slow, be patient. When it comes to growth investments, the focus is currently on Lumi.”

The Seaboard Rise 2 is available for pre-order at Roli.com for $1,399 (£1,099, €1,299). Roli says it has “limited availability” for the keyboard in 2022 and isn’t offering shipping dates.

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