Reviving a Roland VS880 with an SD card

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This is more of a reminder to myself than a blog post, but it might prove useful to others.

I have an old Roland VS880 multitrack recorder which looks like this:

Roland VS880 - what a beast

After letting it languish in my loft for a few years I had a need to do some location recording recently and decided to fix it up.

Following the instructions here I bought myself the following:

  • a cheap Compact Flash to IDE adapter link
  • a more expensive Compact Flash to IDE adapter link
  • an 8Gb Compact Flash card link
  • a 32Gb SD card link
  • a Compact Flash to SD adapter link

Basically, I tried every combination of the above but nothing worked. Whatever I did resulted in SYS Init = No DRV being shown after booting the VS880.

People on the VS Planet forum were complaining of similar issues, suggesting that manufacturers had silently changed the components which caused these parts to lose compatibility with the VS880 hardware.

I was ready to give up, but when trying to recover data from my (broken) old IDE drive that I pulled out, I noticed that the formatting was unusual

/dev/disk5 (external, physical):
   #:                       TYPE NAME                    SIZE       IDENTIFIER
   0:     FDisk_partition_scheme                        *2.2 GB     disk5
   1:                 DOS_FAT_16 VS-880ST25B             1.1 GB     disk5s1
   2:                 DOS_FAT_16 VS-880ST25B             1.1 GB     disk5s2
   3:               DOS_FAT_16_S VS-880ST25B             20.2 MB    disk5s3

I thought I’d try formatting the SD card to match this using a Mac first and then see if the VS880 would recognize it. After some googling I came up with this command:

diskutil partitionDisk /dev/disk2 MBR "MS-DOS FAT16" "VS880" 2048M free "" 0B

where disk2 was the ID of my SD card - if you decide to run this, check where your SD card is mounted by looking at the output of mount first!

I think the 2048M part here was important, as the next time I plugged it into the VS880 everything worked! I could follow the instructions to initialize the drive from here:

At the time of writing it is 17% of the way into a surface scan but I’m more hopeful that it’s back now.