BOSS Katana-100 Mk II, macOS Big Sur and Apple Silicon M1
The Katana-100 guitar amp is a marvelous piece of equipment. It’s compact yet powerful, the hardware quality excellent and sounds impressive for its size and features, especially since it’s a strictly solid-state amp.
However, the macOS software quality is lacking severely. BOSS brand owner Roland Corporation has to face serious issues in their software quality management. Ever since macOS Catalina was released, their driver and BOSS TONE STUDIO for KATANA Mk II Ver.1.0.2 are not working as expected for me. There is severe latency between input and application of a setting. After a minute of letting the application sit idle, it takes up to ten seconds for it to become responsive again. This prohibits using the software as intended and breaks some major functionality in controlling and accessing the sounds and effects of the amp.
Roland customer support was an exercise in frustration as well. To spare you all the details, I’m just going to document the timeline of events and their results — which to date is very little. Often, there was no follow-up and finally I was told I had to re-submit my inquiry through a mandatory portal. This portal apparently does nothing more than to force you to register your equipment before you can submit a support request — all in the name of “steamlining support workflows” as one anonymous representative told me. By the way, their support workers are all anonymous, they don’t even sign their first name. I find such policies highly suspect and they demonstrate a lack of corporate understanding with regard to human interaction vs company image.
- Initial issue report regarding latency, delays and unresponsiveness of BOSS TONE STUDIO for KATANA Mk II Ver.1.0.2 software.
- Reply from customer service: apparently the issue is as of yet unknown. They request that I update the firmware, which is already current. Response with a screen video recording demonstrating the application’s unresponsiveness.
- Reply from customer service: clarification regarding environment requested. Response with information and explanation that the issue appears even on a clean system with no other software installed and running.
- Reply from customer service: need structured information about my system to send to corporate headquarters for analysis. Response with all requested information.
- Reply from customer service: we’re going to take care of it and approach you when we have new information.
- I send a message requesting a status update and to confirm that the issue does not occur on a machine with macOS Mojave, which I have had the opportunity to test this on in the meantime.
- Reply from customer service: we have forwarded the issue and information. We have no way to request a status update from software engineering.
- I express my incredulity about the apparent inability to get status updates regarding bug reports from corporate headquarters and ask for escalation to a more proficient contact.
- Reply from customer service: generic troubleshooting instructions.
- I send along detailed step-by-step instructions to reliably recreate the issue on Catalina as well as the same steps on Mojave that do not result in the issue reported.
- Reply from customer service: does the issue occur while not connected via USB? Response: yes, it does.
- Reply from customer service: corporate headquarters in Japan were able to recreate the reported issue and are working on a fix. Response that they should consider macOS Big Sur when creating a fix as it will break their software since it relies on an already deprecated kernel extension to function.
- I ask for a status update and information regarding macOS Big Sur and M1 compatibility. Reply from customer service: our service workflows are being streamlined globally. You’re going to have to register yourself and your gear on this website and submit your entire request again. Response: I have done so but please supply me with the contact information of your managing director as I have some remarks about service and product quality. (The information is not available on their website, despite being mandatory information in Germany.)
- Reply from customer service: we have no update regarding your issue, we’re going to request one from headquarters. Supply generic information regarding macOS Big Sur and M1 compatibility.
Since it has taken this long to effectively get nowhere with my support request, in the meantime the world has of course moved on and Apple has not only released Apple Silicon based Macs that pretty much blow every other processor out of the water. They also have released a significant new operating system. The former changes the whole processor platform, the latter removes support for kernel extensions entirely, something that was already explicitly deprecated in Catalina. Nevertheless, to this day, Roland software for the Katana amp series heavily depends on a kernel extension when there is no good reason why it should. The communication with the amp happens via USB. There’s no reason at all why software designed to exchange simple real-time parameter information with an external hardware device should require kernel-level access. Actually, the very fact that it does inspires distrust in the the software engineers responsible. It signals that they did not do their jobs properly and opted for shortcuts — by using kernel-level access for their software, no less. Like asking for a master key to a secure building when all you need is to lock your bike in an outside shed. This very much reminds me of the flood of third-party extension cards from generic vendors out of South East Asia that provide some barely-working Windows drivers. These almost as often break stuff as they make the device work. Not the kind of mentality you’d like to see from a company which manufactures your high quality audio equipment, to the tune of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
The latest customer support reply directed me to these two links regarding macOS Big Sur compatibility and support for Apple’s M1 platform:
- COMPATIBILITY WITH MACOS BIG SUR (MACOS 11) (INTEL-BASED)
- COMPATILIBITY WITH MAC COMPUTERS USING THE APPLE M1 CHIP
At the time of writing the information is basically “we’re testing it” — no specifics. A support representative let me know that “under testing” means “close to release” in Roland corporate parlance.
Let’s see if the new software fixes my original issue as well as supports Big Sur in a proper manner. In the meantime I can use my presets with the amp itself but modifying them is an exercise in frustration, so I don’t. Technically the amp works but one of its main features is effectively broken. Given my experience so far with software quality and customer support, I’m not going to hold my breath for a proper, working, compatible software release. Maybe they will surprise me. One can only hope.
Update 2021/03/26: It’s been a quarter of a year since the last update and Roland still haven’t managed to update their software, not even for Intel-based processors. At this pace, Apple will release macOS 12 before we get working software to use the Katana. Since Apple is shifting its entire product line to Apple Silicon, this means that shortly, most BOSS products will effectively be broken on all new Macs.