1989. From a technical point of view, SR&D had materialized all the concepts that Tom Scholz had developed over the years. The basis schematics have not really evolved since, and time had come to develop and optimize more than create gear. That's what SR&D has done during the next period, from 1989 to 1991.
The Rockman Sustainor was designed as an all-in-one amp simulator, featuring in a compact size the basic bricks of guitar tone: compression, filtering, saturation and noise control with the Smart Gate. The Guitar Compressor and the Smart Gate, created in 1989, were designed in the same mood as the Distortion Generator, created in 1987: extracts from the Sustainor with additional controls. The objective was to answer market's expectations, with general application effects, at a lower cost.
1990. SR&D has raised the standard of guitar analog gear at its best. Yet, digital is getting more affordable for the end-consumer, and the huge possibilities of this technology makes it a serious competitor to the conventional gear. The tonal result can be discussed: it's usually admitted that analog devices have a sound of their own, and digital gear can only copy what analog has always done. But the capacity to store different sounds and to recall them at will was a clear advantage of the digital approach.
The answer of SR&D to this new era was, in 1990, the XP Series. The XPR is an analog 1U rack that contains all the main functions of a classic Rockman rig, and the XPR is programmable! A sort of "perfect" and "definitive" multieffect ? Almost. Making the XPR perfect would have been a serious marketing mistake, that would have killed the job. The XPR, and the matching derived products, has everything to make a Rockman player happy:
The XPR can thus replace a 6 modules Rockman rig, its only weakness being the Echo/Reverb unit that cannot compete with the half-rack Stereo Echo. All in all, the XPR is probably the most comprehensive tool that SR&D has produced. But less than 3000 XPR, to include the programmable amps (XP100, XP212, Superhead 100) and the rare professional version, the XPRa, were produced between 1990 and 1994: this makes the XPR hard to find, much harder than the classic modules.
The apogee of SR&D corresponds to the PGE2: Dual Channel Programmable Graphic Equalizer. Two analog 14 bands EQ's, made programmable and controled via Midi.
99 PGE2 only were actually produced, in 1991, and this 19' studio rack is clearly the most desirable SR&D unit. The technical characteristics of the PGE are close to perfection, and the smart interface merged with the know-how of SR&D in the analog domain makes it a unique, extremely powerful tool.
The PGE2 was not the result of a design-to-cost effort: it was a genuine "design-to-Scholz" item, and the cost of the PGE2 was too high to allow a decent tag price. The PGE2 was therefore discontinued right after the first 99 items batch was sold.
The most recent stage pictures show a PGE2 in every Boston head or so. It is thus not surprising that Tom Scholz buys them back when he can: as of Rockman-Central, the PGE2 is "very difficult to find one for sale at any price. Even Scholz is looking for them."
The design of the XPR and of the PGE2 show the dilemma encountered by SR&D in the beginning of the nineties. The competition with digital gear obliged to create costly and complex programmable rack units. Two solutions were available: set some limits to the product, as in the XPR case, or switch to first-class items such as the PGE2, with little chance to find a large market for them.
This dilemma was the beginning of the end for SR&D's adventure, as the hesitations during the last years will show.
Copyright Rockman.fr 2007