Recently I had the opportunity to test drive the RSS Series Digital Snake produced by Roland. I was blown away by it! Everything I had read about it made it sound like the Holy Grail. It had a lot to live up to – and it did just that!

We were doing a Christmas production at a medium size church in South Georgia. We were using the JBL VRX line array and a Soundcraft console. The link tying the entire system together was the Roland S-4000 digital snake. This 32×8 configuration of this digital snake was going to be maxed out in this production. We threw a lot at the RSS, and at every turn it exceeded our expectations.

The S-4000 has many features, but some of the most exciting ones are it’s built in redundancy, its ability to be split multiple times by the use of any common Ethernet router, the ability to send signal 300’ between common Ethernet hubs, and a remote control that allows the engineer the ability to control each individual channel pre-amp!

One of the things you will notice right off the bat is that signal degradation is practically a thing of the past! The lower noise to signal ratio made the sonic quality of the signal simply amazing. Along with the cleaner signal we gained significant headroom – and the added headroom was a true blessing for this performance.

The S-4000 has two Ethernet cables that connect to the system. The system carries all 40 channels of signal down a single cat5e cable. In the event of a failure, the system will automatically switch to the second cat5e cable and illuminate a light to let you know you’ve had a failure. The best part? It does this without signal loss! I’ve always loved the idea of using cat5e cable for audio, but I’ve had a constant fear of failure – at least with an analogue snake you have to have significant failure to lose an entire system. Roland has answered this fear with redundant cat5e cable paths.

While on the topic of redundancy, it’s noteworthy to mention the power supply has an optional redundant system as well. I think someone at Roland shares my concern for reliability!

Now keep in mind, at every station (stage, front of house, monitor console, recording console, broadcast facility – wherever you have a breakout station) you will need a 110v outlet for power.

As I mentioned earlier, the headroom on the snake was incredible. We were able to tweak each channel’s pre-amp via the Roland Remote Control to give us optimal results. The signal path was so clean we had considerably more gain-before-feedback. This was key given the number of open microphones (especially with the choir). The remote control also allowed us to see the signal passing through each channel – this was obviously helpful for a number of reasons.

Another sticking point for some people might be the issue of latency. Roland boasts super low latency in all of it’s promotional material, stating only .375ms! While we could not measure this for accuracy, we did not notice any latency whatsoever in our testing.

One super nice feature is the ability to use a standard cat5e hub to split the signal. Yeah, you read that right – take a regular off the shelf 5 port hub and split all 40 channels 5 ways – and do it as many times as you need! This is an ideal answer for recording studios, broadcast trucks, radio feeds, monitor mixes, and more! Forget running miles of copper wire and transformed splits – insert a hub, run a cat5e cable, and connect it to the appropriate Roland device. Whola! 40 channels of audio await you. The RSS can send signal up to 300’ between regular hubs. Need more distance? Insert an Ethernet hub and off you go! Talk about new technology, this is simply amazing.

Now, the way this snake is made makes it not cost-effective to use this in less than the 32×8 configuration. The cost of the snake is in the hardware – the actual channels are relatively cheap. So if you are looking for a 16 channel snake, this might not be the most cost-effective solution (unless you are making a ton of splits for recording and monitor mixing). But if you need 32 channels or more of audio – this is most likely the snake for you. It’s important to note that the snake can be configured for MORE than 32 channels of audio as well. Roland boasts that you can expand this system to over 160 channels, but we only tested the 32×8 configuration.

Another nice feature is the MUTE all switch on the stage unit. Press and hold this switch and it mutes ALL of the inputs and outputs – great for re-patching on the stage! Never pop your system again!

At an initial glance, you will look at the cost of this snake and do a double take. At a list price of $8,000 it seems expensive. But once you think about all the features – simply the ability to split it several times alone makes it worth its weight in gold. Add with that the sonic clarity, additional headroom, incredible preamps – and suddenly you’re asking how it could be sold so cheap! I simply can’t recommend this unit enough. It’s going to be specified in every design I can possibly put it in.